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Panel fails to quiz Bala-Usman six months after suspension as NPA boss

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The panel inaugurated by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to probe the suspended Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala-Usman, has failed to quiz her over six months after she was suspended, The PUNCH has learnt.

Bala-Usman, a former Chief of Staff to Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, had been suspended by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on May 6, 2021.

Following a publicised feud with Amaechi, Bala-Usman was accused of breaching some unspecified rules and was suspended pending the outcome of investigations, while an NPA Director and close ally of the minister, Mohammed Koko, was asked to resume as acting managing director of the agency.

On May 11, barely six days after her suspension, Amaechi set up an 11-member committee to investigate the activities of NPA dating back to 2016 when Bala-Usman was first appointed.

The committee’s terms of reference, Amaechi said, included examining and investigating the administrative policies and strategies adopted by Bala-Usman and confirm compliance with extant laws and rules from 2016 till date.

The panel was also empowered to examine and investigate issues leading to the termination of other contracts of the NPA and confirm compliance with the terms of the respective contracts, court ruling and presidential directives. However, it was given no deadline on when to submit its report.

In July, the President, while responding to a suit instituted by a group, which challenged the premature re-appointment of Bala-Usman in January, said she had been sacked already even though no letter of termination had been handed over to her.

Documents sighted by The PUNCH showed that seven months after her suspension, the panel had not quizzed Bala-Usman.

A document conveying an invitation to the suspended NPA boss showed that she had been invited twice, but the invitations were later withdrawn by the panel.

A letter dated September 23, 2021 marked T0160/S221/Vol 1, which was signed by the Assistant Secretary of the panel of inquiry, Mrs Balaraba Wali, asked Bala-Usman not to appear before the panel anymore.

In the letter titled, ‘Re: Invitation to Appear before the Administrative Panel of Inquiry on the Management of the Nigerian Ports Authority’, the suspended NPA boss was informed that she would be invited at a later date.

It read in part, “I am directed by the chairman to inform you that the panel will not be able to take you on September 28 and 29, 2021 as earlier scheduled due to unforeseen circumstances. In (the) light of the above, kindly note that a new date will be communicated to you in due course; the panel regrets any inconvenience this postponement may cause to you.”

The spokesman for the Federal Ministry of Transportation, Eric Ojiekwe, said he had no update on the matter when he was contacted by our correspondent.

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