By Danjuma Suleiman
The Nigerian Ports Authority has threatened to sever ties with its joint ventures partners unless they come clean on recently-uncovered allegations of corruption,
The threat was handed down at a meeting Thursday, as ports’ management officials scrambled to contain the fallout of an audacious bribery scandal that calls the operational ethics of the agency into question.
The suspicious activities of Bonny Channel Management Limited (BCML) were put in the spotlight according to report which detailed how the technical partners were indicted in Switzerland for bribing former NPA officials to fast-track payments for contract awards.
The Managing Director of the NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, reprimanded BCML officials and demanded they furnish her with all they knew about the bribery allegations or risk prompt termination of their partnership, two sources with details of the meeting, which held in Lagos the BCML runs the Bonny Channel Company (BCC) with the NPA in a joint-venture -public-private partnership.
The BCML is a consortium of technical partners that include Dredging International Services (Cyprus) Ltd, Vinci, IPEM and Dapesa Limited.
The NPA holds 60 per cent stake in the BCC while the BCML controls 40 per cent.
On its website, the BCC said its responsibility was to “create and maintain a safe navigational passage for all marine users to and in the Eastern Ports of Bonny Island, Onne, Okrika and Port-Harcourt”.
According to reports last week, Swiss prosecutors, in early May, named four former Nigerian government officials in a multinational bribe scandal relating to contract awards at the NPA.
A former Managing Director of the agency, Adebayo Sarumi; a former Managing Director of NPA’s Eastern Ports, Felix Ovbude; a former Executive Director of
Finance at the NPA, Abba Murtala Mohammed; and Sullivan Nwankpo ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’special adviser on technical matters, were said to have received illicit payments from a firm working for the NPA. Swiss authorities believed Daniel Afam-Obi, a former executive assistant to Mr. Nwankwo, acted as a front for his principal.
They were indicted alongside Dredging International, one of the technical partners that was sentenced to a fine of one million Swiss Francs and asked to refund 36 million Swiss Francs in illegal profits for allegedly making the illicit payments to the Nigerian officials.
While Messrs Sarumi, Ovbude and Mohammed allegedly collectively received $2.6 million in kickbacks,
Mr. Afam-Obi was said to have been paid $157,000 for unknown reasons.
Another $18 million was passed to companies in which some yet unknown Nigerian officials have interests.
Mr. Sarumi, a 72-year-old retired maritime official who led the NPA from October 15, 2003 to May 2007, denied the allegations while Mr. Ovbude claimed ignorance of the matter, even though he was once quizzed by the EFCC over the issue, our report said.
In her reaction to the original story,Ms. Bala Usman had said last week that a “deeply embarrassed” NPA management would open an inquiry into the allegations and bring all culpable individuals to book.