Saturday, January 28Nigeria's Authoritative Maritime News Magazine
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Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi: A Minister’s Last Laugh

Former MD of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Ms Hadiza Bala Usman with Minister of Transportation,Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi

That only death can be worse than betrayal is an age-long aphorism; and for more than two and half years into the five-year tenure of Ms Hadiza Bala Usman as Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), this was the burden Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi had to contend with.

Rotimi Amaechi did not know jack about Hadiza until Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El Rufai introduced her to the Buhari Campaign Council in 2014. And true to the recommendations, Hadiza proved in the various tasks assigned to her that she could be relied upon. She came into the Buhari Campaign Council with very brilliant ideas which endeared her to Amaechi.

“I found in Hadiza an unquestionable passion for excellence in Project Nigeria. Her contributions to discussions at various sessions were top-notch. She saw herself first as a Nigerian before tribal, regional, or religious considerations. She was one of the most detribalized Nigerians I had come across”, Amaechi had confided in a friend who prefers to be anonymous.

The former Rivers State Governor also described Hadiza as someone who was exceptionally brilliant and intelligent. So, when the opportunity emerged to appoint a new team at the NPA, Amaechi did not hesitate to nominate her for the top job despite protests by political pundits and stakeholders that she may be overwhelmed by the enormity of her responsibilities.

“I didn’t regret forwarding her name to Mr President, as I regarded her as eminently qualified and competent for the job’, the Minister was quoted as saying.

However, events of the past few years have proven sceptics right. Hadiza did not only betray the trust and confidence Amaechi reposed in her, but she stabbed him in the back at will, making him a laughing stock in the federal cabinet. As the years progressed, she had become obsessed with power and fame such that she frequently bypassed Amaechi and was dealing directly with the Presidency.

Amaechi was stunned by Hadiza’s complete volte face even as she took advantage of her closeness to El Rufai and the Presidency to thwart his authority on numerous occasions. She leveraged her position to woo Emirs and traditional rulers and doled out money with reckless abandon in order to garner support and establish loyal backing.

For the Minister, his reputation was in tatters, and his ability to carry out supervisory functions on the agency was called into question, but President Muhammadu Buhari did not lose his faith in Amaechi. For full effect, recall that Rotimi Amaechi earned the hatred of his kinsmen when in 2014 he was appointed Director General of Buhari’s campaign council. He abandoned his people and staked his life to ensure that Buhari was elected and repeated the feat with Mr President’s re-election in 2019, thus establishing his indispensability to the Buhari administration. Amaechi was in fact and purpose, Buhari’s man Friday, a role that could only be entrusted to a loyal and disciplined disciple. Yet, the significance of this relationship seemed to have been lost on NPA’s emerging enfant terrible.
As Hadiza’s influence grew, so did her nonchalance and impunity. She did not let any opportunity to undermine the Minister go to waste, as it was alleged that she had a hand in the process that led to the removal of Mr Akinwunmi Ricketts as Board Chairman of the NPA just about 10 months after he was appointed.

Furthermore, in her brazen display of newfound power, Hadiza was quick to throw money at problems and people who she felt stood between her and her desires. She even went as far as lobbying the Presidency to renew her appointment six whole months before the expiration of her tenure and without the knowledge or input from the Minister. This development met stiff opposition from industry stakeholders as a suit was filed challenging Buhari’s powers to reconstitute the NPA Board, appoint Executive Directors and prematurely reappoint Hadiza six months to the expiration of her tenure without recourse to the NPA Act.

Save for his political experience and sagacity, Rotimi Amaechi was on the cusp of spiralling into depression as evinced in the melancholy-laced statements about disloyalty and betrayal which dominated his WhatsApp status, thereby revealing his predicament with Hadiza. He had been hurt badly, but Amaechi had been here before and was willing to wait patiently as the tiger likes to wait for its prey to come within striking distance.

Just as Hadiza thought she possessed a carte blanche at NPA and in the corridors of power, Rotimi Amaechi, who had endured her betrayal for close to two years, revealed the ace he had up his sleeve all along. Following some irregularities related to the audit and payments to the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the federation by the NPA, Amaechi recommended Hadiza’s immediate suspension as Managing Director to President Buhari and got his approval to set up a panel of inquiry to investigate the management of the agency.

The panel of inquiry had its job cut out to investigate the administrative policies and strategies adopted by Hadiza and confirm compliance with extant laws and rules; investigate issues leading to the termination of other contracts and confirm compliance with the terms of the respective contracts, court ruling and presidential directives; examine and investigate compliance with channels of communication as obtainable in the public service; examine and investigate the procurement of contracts from 2016 to date; come up with suggestions and advice that would strengthen the operations of NPA and forestall such occurrences in the future and any other matter that may be necessary in the course of the assignment.

Hadiza’s suspension reverberated within the industry as she desperately called in favours and debts from allies and cronies alike in her bid to be reinstated. Meanwhile, the panel of inquiry went through the NPA’s affairs under Hadiza with a fine-tooth comb and the revelations were damning. Even in that period, she sneered at advice from intermediaries and arbiters to tender an apology to the Minister, instead, Hadiza chose to pester the President through emissaries requesting that she be reinstated, a request which of course was turned down.

In comparison to her father, the famed social critic, Hadiza is worlds apart from what earned his fame and respect. She has in fact soiled his good name, and to what purpose; pride? Hadiza should have known that with the level of trust President Buhari reposes in Amaechi and responsibilities entrusted to him, she could not have slighted the President’s flagship minister and the ‘Ɗan Amanar of Daura’ without consequences. Blinded by ambition, she failed to read between the lines to realize that she could not have had the last laugh. That last laugh, the one that is usually the loudest, is Rotimi Amaechi’s prerogative.