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Transport Minister in Foreign Account Scandal

By PAUL UDENTA
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. Breaches Code of Conduct Law
. Secret deals with Atiku's firm
. Penciled by presidency for removal
. The UBA Connection

By PAUL UDENTA

These are indeed trying times for Yusuf Suleiman, Honourable Minister of Transport (HMOT) as sordid details of his past as a public servant, regarding his secret foreign accounts has come to the open. Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, Part 1 Section 3 states that “The President, Vice -President, Governor, Deputy Governor, Ministers of the Government of the Federation and Commissioners of the Governments of the States, members of the National Assembly and of the Houses of Assembly of the States, and such other public officers or persons as the National Assembly may by law prescribe shall not maintain or operate a bank account in any country outside Nigeria”.

Also, Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, and Tribunal Act, Chapter 56 LNS 1990 gave the Bureau the mandate to establish and maintain a high standard of public morality in the conduct of Government Business to ensure that the actions and behaviour of public officers conform to the highest standard of public morality and accountability. More so, Section 3, part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution has provided an enabling legal environment for the Bureau to receive declarations by public officers under paragraph 11 of part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution.

Going by the information at the possession, it is almost certain that Suleiman may have contravened the constitution because in contemporary human society, transportation is crucial to the economic life of the nation, to evolve a world class transportation system and position it as a hub in West/Central Africa in line with global best practices.

Secret foreign accounts with UBA
From the months of May to November 2010, Suleiman lodged the sum of $1.9million in his domiciliary dollar account number 03540131001727 in United Bank of Africa, UBA. Similarly in the same bank, he lodged another sum of N519million in account number 00120020018111.

Dirty deals at NIMASA
Scroll learnt HMOT single-handedly gave approval to several mid-stream discharge in the sector against the law that established NIMASA, due to his alleged partisan-relationship with Intels Nigeria Plc., a leading oil and gas company in Nigeria, owned largely by Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President. The dirty deals of Suleiman,an in-law to General Aliyu Gusau, former National Security Adviser has gravely brought untold-bickering and effect on this major revenue earner in the martime agency.

Gusau's influence against Presidential directive
Investigation by our correspondent revealed how late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua declined to grant the Intels right to collect various levies on behalf of the Nigeria Ports Authourity, NPA. With the influence of Gusau, then as National Security Adviser, Suleiman overturned the presidential directive few months after he became a Minister.

Sources in the maritime agency alleged that since Suleiman became HMOT, the maritime industry has witnessed retrogression, because most of his flight tickets for foreign trips were purchased by one Akeem, his personal assistant who liase with Intel's management for funds.

Controversial exit from Nigeria Maritime Authority, NMA

His controversial exit at the defunct Nigeria Maritime Authority, NMA, as Director, Administration & Personnel was put in secrecy to avert barrage of attack from the press. It was alleged that he imposed pressure on the chief executive officer for 'kick-backs', which led to why maritime laws like Procurement Act, Fiscal Responsibility Act were suppressed then. It was when the information reached the board of the maritime agency, that a panel was set up, which eventually found him allegedly guilty for incompetence and financial malpractices.

Faulted by Audit Report
It is an open book that the finding of Akin Omoriodion & Co, a private audit firm contracted by Suleiman, an ally, re-christened 'government audit report' exposed the excesses of the agency board under the direct supervision of HMOT by circumventing due process in its operation through splitting, over-pricing and awarding contracts worth billions of naira beyond their approval threshold. The report accused the Board of awarding contracts in local currency worth $1.863million between January to June 2010, with traces of fraud in refunds, cash advances and supplies. Unfortunately, this minister commissioned the project and claimed “NIMASA awarded 451 contracts during the period at a total cost of N5.4billion”.

Division in NIMASA
Also, we learnt how capital project for 2009 already advertised in the agnecy were delayed due to the 2009 NIMASA budget passed by the National Assembly that halted the award of the said contract. For proficiency, same budget was released to a new management under Temisan Omatseye, a maritime technocrat barely a week after their appointment. The management continued the process relying on the adverts for pre-qulification. Appriopriation for the implimentation of the capital projects was received by the new team in October last year. For the first time, their Internal Generated Revenue, IGR, increased from $12million per month to $18.5million, which translated to reducing the staff renumeration to 20 percent, thereby allowing a ratio of 45 percent for recurrent and capital expenditure.

Presidential fiat for IMO seat
Recent report confirmed how President Goodluck Jonathan ordered HMOT and Foreign Affairs to support the candidature of Mrs. Monica Mbanefo to be the next scribe of the International Maritime Organisation, IMO. The memo, our correspondent learnt was sent earlier through the office of Suleiman that all cost to be incurred for the campaign will be borne by NIMASA board. Right after Mr. President's approval, both Ministers swung into action and note-verbal was communicated to all 169 member countries of the IMO, the UN, OIC, AU, D8 and other bodies.

Further investigation showed that Williams Azuh, Nigeria Alternative Permamnent Pepresentative to IMO could not carry out his responsibility to give material and financial support to Mbanefo due lack of money. This eventually led to a formal request and approval of £300,000 from NIMASA main account in Barclays Bank as directed by the agency's board based on Mr. President earlier order. Only the sum of £26,666 was taken out of the lump sum paid directly to the housing-agents for an office, used as campaign secretariat, while the balance of £270,000 was still intact in the bank.

The EFCC Angle and NIMASA Board Conspiracy
There were fears in the maritime agency that Omatseye was on the path of history as the first Director General of the agency who surged the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund from $11million to over $80million and released Primary Lending Institution for onward disbursement to Nigerians. Some aggrieved board members wrote a petition against him to HMOT for a probe, without waiting for the outcome of the panel set up by the government to dispassionately and thouroughly look into the case. This same board member summoned an emergency meeting and had Omatseye 'suspended' contrary to Section 11, sub-section 4, NIMASA Act of 2007.

Position of Federal Ministry of Transport

When we sent an electronic mail to Federal Ministry of Transport for a reaction through [email protected], we got a reply which reads: “Thank you for contacting us. We have received your feedback, and if necessary, we shall contact you as soon as we review it. Best Regards,

Federal Ministry of Transport, Nigeria”. Further calls made to 07098822952(the ministry's hotline) did not go through at press time.

Reaction of Code of Conduct Bureau

All attempts made to speak with an information officer at Code of Conduct Bureau through their public phone line on 07035475303 on the asset declaration of HMOT failed as an answering machine kept saying “Your call cannot be completed as the call subscriber is switched off”.

Presidency's plan to Sack him

Sources in the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, said the presidency was troubled by the scandalous attrocities of Suleiman and as at the time of going to press, security operatives have been ordered by the presidency to collate all the 'crimes' commiitted by HMOT against the laws of the land.

Udenta is a veteran journalist and Executive Director of Harmony Media Communications, Abuja