Attack on Bala-Usman over $133.24m SAA Fees Cancellation

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Hadiza Bala Usman

Last week, hoodlums gained access to the premises of the National Assembly and attacked the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala-Usman, who was invited for a hearing on the operation of OMS Limited by lawmakers. The attack signposts an attempt to perpetuate illegality, providing the government to take urgent steps to protect its officials, writes Eromosele Abiodun

While speaking in Daura, Katsina State, when a delegation of Katsina State Elders Forum visited him at his country home, President Muhammadu Buhari said the country’s land borders, were closed because of deep-rooted dishonesty in Nigeria.

He said farmers were among the biggest beneficiaries of the government’s decision to close the borders, which had led to a remarkable drop in the smuggling of goods, especially rice. Acknowledging the efforts of farmers, Buhari said, “Farmers must be protected. Dishonesty is deep-rooted in the country. Otherwise, the border closure would not have been warranted.”

The president’s statement to some extent has been the story of Nigeria, as corruption seems to be a culture or a way of life. Those who dare to stand out and do the right are seen as the enemy rather than celebrated. In the last 10 years, the Nigerian government has lost over $100 billion to corruption and stealing of public funds in one form or the other and that is been modest. In the midst of the anomaly in the country, a few are still standing strong despite the threat to life while a few have joined the rest.

According to some people, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) used to be a meeting point for sharing dollars. Contractors, they said, would rather pay NPA officials than execute contracts for the benefit of the country. This explains the recent alleged attack on the Managing Director of the NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman, at the investigative hearing on the activities of OMSL and other security agencies at the Safe Anchorage area in Lagos at the Senate building on December 3.

The NPA had recently informed the Nigerian Navy of its decision to dismantle the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA) where fees of over N50 billion are being charged by a private company, OMS Limited, to secure ships calling at the Nigerian ports.

Analysts and stakeholders applauded the NPA’s decision believing that the dismantling the safe Anchorage Area is in the national interest. Meanwhile, OMSL has not hidden its desire to maintain the status quo at all costs. The company has taken steps to retain the lucrative business by employing all kinds of measures including accusing Bala-Usman of planning to award the contract to her brother. The NPA has, however, said there is no going back.

The NPA boss while reacting to claims that the port authority intends to give the business to another company, stated categorically, “NPA believes that there is no need for privately managed SAA, Nigerian Government through NN, NIMASA and NPA should secure the waterways at zero cost to the shipowner. We need to consciously reduce the cost of doing business in Nigeria and such charges are what translates into an additional cost of calling in our ports. More so with the ongoing deployment of the maritime security project being implemented by NIMASA costing the government billions of USD why do we need anything called SAA run by a private company with a cost to vessel owners? The NIMASA project is to secure all our waterways, which includes any locations Vessels choose to anchor.”

 Senate Intervenes

Appalled by the news of the SAA, the Senate had questioned the rationale of another contract by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to an Israeli security firm, HSLI, to police the nation’s waterways at a total cost of $198million.

The senators queried Rear Admiral Tariworio Dick, who represented the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ekwe Ibas, at a joint investigative hearing on the activities of the Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMSL), which hitherto provided security services at the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA) at the Lagos Pilotage District.

The OMSL had been providing security at the SAA to international oil companies’ vessels at the cost of $2,500 per vessel each before the NPA dismantled the SAA, citing national security and port cost

A member of the committee doing the investigation, Senator Tolu Odebiyi, said Nigerians are aware that a foreign firm was brought into the country to carry out security services for some Nigerian government agencies, notwithstanding the position of the Navy that only indigenous companies are allowed to render security services in the seas around Nigeria.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Navy, Senator George Sekibo, who also chaired the joint committee, comprising the Senate committees on Finance and Marine Transport, asked, “Are you aware that NIMASA has given a contract called Deep Blue Sea to an Israeli company, HLSI, to the tune of $195.3 million for promoting security of the riverine areas? I have the contract number here. Are you aware?”

In his response to the question, Dick said, “I am aware that there is a contract like that ongoing and that facilities are being provided. I am aware.”

When asked if the firm is to secure Nigerian waterways or provide platforms for the Nigerian Navy, Dick said, “For me, the aspect I have seen is that they are providing some platforms for the Nigerian Navy which we are going to use.”

When further asked by Sekibo whether the Israeli company is going to provide security for Nigeria or to carry arms, Dick said, “The vessels they are providing for us have not arrived Nigeria, but there will be weapons on these vessels.”

When asked who will man the vessels by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, Solomon Adeola, the naval chief said, “The vessels will be manned by the Nigerian Navy personnel. As I speak, one of the vessels is on the way. We have nine of our personnel on board that vessel.”

Adeola further queried: “You have informed us that there are ammunitions on board on that vessel which does not belong to the Nigerian Navy.”

Dick replied, “What I said is that I am aware that it exists. I am aware that the vessel is on the way. I am aware that the vessel will be armed. I didn’t tell you where the arms are now.”

Senator Francis Alimikhena sought to know whether contracting a foreign firm to provide maritime security would not be a breach of national security.

On her part, Senator Betty Apiafi, said, “The Navy has told us that internationally, foreign merchants are not allowed. Then why are they allowing this?”

 Bala-Usman Attacked

Things, however, took an ugly twist when Bala-Usman, who was also invited to the meeting was attacked by hoodlums while trying to exit the meeting room.

Consequently, Bala Usman has called for the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of the harassment and humiliation to which she was subjected to by people believed to be hirelings of Chairman of Ocean Maritime Solutions Limited (OMSL), Captain Idahosa Okunbo on the premises of the National Assembly on Tuesday, December 3, 2019.

Bala Usman, in a petition addressed to the inspector general of police, the senate president and director general of the Department of State Services (DSS), explained that she was at the senate on the said date to honour the invitation of the Joint Committee on Navy, Marine Transport and Finance to its public hearing on the Safe Anchorage Area of the Lagos Ports.

This followed a motion on “illegal security activities by OMSL at the Safe Anchorage Area of Lagos Ports and the need to investigate their excesses”, moved by Senator George Sekibo during the senate plenary on November 7, 2019.  She explained that the committee had invited other parties, which included the Nigerian Navy and the OMSL.

“In the course of the session, Captain (Dr) Idahosa Wells Okunbo of OMSL, having made his submission, stormed out visibly angry breathing fire and brimstone. Following Captain Idahosa Wells Okunbo’s outburst and abrupt exit, the chairman of the Joint Committee closed the session,” the petition said.

It added: “On leaving the meeting room some hoodlums that accompanied Captain Okunbo to the hearing ambushed me at the exit door and tried to push their way towards me to physically attack me, raining abuses on me that I was taking food away from them and their boss, and that they will find me and destroy me.”

The petition explained that it took the efforts of her security detail and the Executive Director, Marine, and Operations, Dr. Sekonte H. Davies of NPA and security personnel deployed from the office of the deputy senate president for her and her entourage to leave the premises unhurt.

While calling for a full investigation of the incident with the intent of bringing the culprits to face the full wrath of the law, the NPA boss said she takes the direct threats to her life issued by these hoodlums seriously. She further informed the IGP, the DSS’ DG as well as the public that Okunbo should be held responsible if any harm should befall her or any member of her family.

Bala-Usman expressed shock at how these hoodlums gained access to the premises of the National Assembly and the audacity of attacking representatives of the federal government.

OMSL/Okunbor Denies Attack

OMSL denied any involvement in the physical attack on Bala Usman at the National Assembly.

OMSL’s AGM, Business Development and spokesman,  Commodore Chuma Adogu (rtd), said the allegation was false. According to him,  Chairman of OMSL, Captain Wells Okunbo, could not have sponsored thugs to attack Bala-Usman.

Adogu claimed  on the said  Tuesday, there was no sign of such alleged attack or its  semblance  neither was there any rented crowd in the premises of the National Assembly that could warrant such allegation.

‘’On the day of the investigation at the National Assembly, we came like other invited organisations and we never came with any thugs or rented crowd to harass anybody talk less the Managing Director of NPA.

The security at the premises of the National Assembly was very tight as everybody was routinely checked and controlled while entering thus forestalling any rented crowd or thugs to gain entrance. We came before the panel and presented our position in the SAA without nursing hatred against anyone.

‘’Let me make it clear to the Nigerian public that OMSL is a responsible corporate organisation with a lot of Nigerians working as its employees. We are mindful of this and never can we trade it away. I repeat, we do not have hands nor did our Chairman sponsor any group of thugs to attack Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman. We see this as part of the attempts to discredit OMS and distract attention from the main issue which is already with the Senate,” noted Adogu.