Stakeholders in the maritime sector have urged the Federal Government to give fear hearing to the suspended Managing Director of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) in the N165.3 billion non-remittance dispute.
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi had petitioned the presidency about an estimated shortfall in remittances by NPA between 2016 and 2020.
However, Bala Usman in her response said the total of N76.384 billion (2017 and 2018) and another N82.687 billion for the period 2019 and 2020 were remitted to the government in line with the template issued by the Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC).
Few days after her suspension, stakeholders have clamoured for sincerity of purpose in the process, calling on the presidency to give the process fair hearing.
The Guardian gathered that the 11-man investigative panel of inquiry, headed by the Director of Maritime Services of the ministry, Mr Suleiman Auwalu, has immediately swung into action, on looking into the books of the agency,
The objectives of the committee are to examine and investigate the procurement of contracts from 2016 to date, and come up with suggestions and advice that would strengthen the operations of NPA and forestall such occurrences in future.
Coordinator, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders, Dr Osita Chukwu, in a chat with The Guardian said: “If an allegation is made, you should allow the person to defend herself rather than suspending her.
“This suspension is to ridicule the whole maritime sector. For me it’s a very unfortunate situation. We were thinking that NPA has arrived; taking cognizance of what the woman is putting in place.
“She has been the one making moves to reform the industry, a lot of things that were not done before now were done by her, such as automation and seamless operations in NPA.”
President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Increase Uche said that Usman’s removal could be a setback to campaign for women inclusion in government and the maritime industry in particular.
“If it was misdemeanor or her undoing, that will seriously damage the promotion of gender inclusivity in the workplace. We pray that it is for good. We pray that she did not commit any crime.
“The industry needs to be rejigged to improve maritime operations,” he said. He urged Koko to swing into action to ensure that the reforms being championed by Usman are brought bear to ensure efficiency of the seaports.
A renowned Maritime Lawyer, Barr Osuala Nwagbara, in an interview with The Guardian, said, the removal is invalid in the eye of law, as the person was not given fair hearing to defend the allegation.
Nwagbara said: “As a matter of fair hearing in law, if anybody is accused of wrongdoing in the course of discharge of their employment, such persons are supposed to be given opportunity to refute or to deny the allegations against them. That is to meet the principles of fair hearing before taking a decision on an allegation against someone”.
He explained: “For instance, you have removed the person without giving the person a fair hearing; it is for the court to determine the removal on the person. Various judicial opinions have been given in this regard.