By Stephen Ubanna
Hajia Bala Usman, a Kaduna state born politician and Managing Director, Nigeria, Nigerian Ports Authority,NPA, has a big task at hand: how to restore Foreign ship owners confidence back to the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tin can Island and the south east ports of Port Harcourt Area 1, Onne, Rivers port, Delta port and Calabar port, in Cross river state.
This is because the END SARS protest which took the nation by storm and subsequently hijacked by hoodlums, had sent a wrong signal to the global Shipping Community forcing many of them to abandon the Nigerian ports for other o ports in the West African Sub-region. The greatest beneficiaries of the Nigeria crisis were the Autonomous port of Cotonou, Benin, described as one of the largest ports in the West African Sub-region and Bollore port, also in Benin Republic.
There are reports making the rounds that for the two weeks that the END SARS protest which may have forced the Nigerian ports into a temporary closure, as some cargo and Container including RORO vessels meant for the Nigeria ports were diverted to Cotonou port, Benin or Bollore port where the cargoes were trans-loaded into smaller vessels, awaiting when the coast would be clear to resume ailing to Nigerian ports and discharge.
With the crisis over, Hajia Usman and her Management Team are working round the clock to convince the big time Foreign shipping Companies , like Maerskline and several others that Nigerian ports are safe for Container and other cargoes vessel to come in and discharge instead of re-routing their vessels meant for the Nigerians through Cotonou or Bollore ports in neighbouring Benin Republic.
The Value News learnt that hajia Usman, the NPA Managing Director and the Executive Director Operations, particular, including the terminal operators in the recent time, have never had a moment of rest as they are concerned in winning back the regular Customers of the Nigerian ports.
Even before the END SARS protesters took to the streets in major cities across the country which had informed why most of the Foreign shipping Companies diveredt Nigerian ports bound cargoes to Benin Republic, the Shippers Association of Lagos had raised alarm that over 50% of cargoes meant for the Nigerian ports were being diverted to Cotonou oand Bollore ports in Benin Republic. They had attributed the diversion of such Nigerian bound cargoes to the Benin Republic ports to the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN’s forex restriction on some 41 or more imported items. It was not very surprising why there had been fewer cargoes discharged in Nigerian ports while the Autonomous port of Cotonou, and Bollore ports are booming.
Admitted that the Nigerian ports had maintained skeletal operations since the country was thrown into crisis by the protesters for much of October, 2020, Hajia Usman had said that ‘’all ports operations had continued within 24 hours , despite attack on its facilities by the hoodlums. Hear him.’’We were able to ensure that critical information and documents are safe for smooth ports operations’’.
Many believe that but for the two weeks END SARS protest, The Lagos ports of Apapa and Tin can Island ports had already taking the shine of Cotonou and Bollore ports, going by the number of vessels calling at the Lagos ports, forcing Hajia Usman, the NPA boss, to take the bold initiative to divert some of the cargo vessels to the abandoned south east ports.
The 3-year old closure of borders across the country with the neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African Republic of Cameroun, may have made the situation worse for the Benin Republic ports as most of the Nigerian transit cargo importers were forced to relocate back to Nigeria, particular, Lagos ports to avoid playing into the hands of the Federal Operations, Unit, FOUs, Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Strike Force, and the Border Drill personnel, across the country, in an attempt to engage the services of smugglers to bring into the country their transit cargoes through unapproved routes.
Recall that last August the Maerskline Stardehorn vessel, the biggest vessel ever to arrive at any Nigerian port was received at PortHarcourt Area 1, Onne, Concessioned to West African Container Terminal, WACT, an indication of Foreign shipping Companies confidence on the Nigerian maritime environment. The Flagship vessel, which had sailed from the Asian country of Singapore, had discharged 9,971 TEUs, at the WACT Facility, which gave NPA officials and the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, Port Harcourt Area 1, Command, much job to do.
Maritime experts believe that but for the END SARS protest more of such big time ocean going vessels could have called at the Nigerian ports. But all hopes are not lost, a top official of NPA, had told the Magazine. This is because of the policy measures that had been put in place by the Hajia Usman led Management in the recent time to attract more cargo vessels to the Nigerian ports., notwithstanding the two weeks set back.
In a related development, between October 25, 2020 and Wednesday, November5, 2020, the NPA, Managing Director , had played host to different groups of people who had visited the Authority over , N5 billion rehabilitated Corporate Headquarters and other items which were set ablaze by the hoodlums, who were said to have hijacked the END SARS protest on Wednesday, October 21, 2020 .
The latest to visit the NPA burnt facility to Commiserate with Hajia Usman, and see things himself, was Nasir El-rufai, a former minister of Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and now governor of Kaduna state, north west Nigeria, described in political circles as her godfather. He was said to have showed up at the NPA burnt building on Thursday , November 5, 2020.
The members of the Senate Committee on Marine and Transport, as well as the House Committee on Ports and Harbour were said to have also visited to Commiserate with the NPA Managing Director and THE Staff to see things themselves, on Thursday, November 5, 2020. The Lawmakers , who were said to have had audience with the NPA boss, were said to have promised to do everything within their powers including making adequate budgetary provisions to mitigate the building process of the agency. This should serve as a cheery news to the NPA, as the support would facilitate the rehabilitation of the building. The Consortium of Insurance Companies which had insured the building are also evaluating the cost of rehabilitating and bring it to the former state before the END SARS protest.
Another group tohave visiteduh the NPA burnt building were the Authority Board members led by Chief Akin Ricketts. The Board members were said to have been conducted round the premises by the NPA Managing Director, who is also a Board member.She may have gladdened the heart of the Board members when she disclosed that some six suspects were arrested and in Police custody. The suspects, she had said are currently being interrogated, preparatory to dragging to Court to face the full weight of the Law as a deterrence to others who may want to take the Law into their hands to resort to arson in the future.
Recall that on Sunday, November 1, 2020, She had played host to some selected Journalists from the Print, Electronic and On-line publications amidst tight security to see things for themselves instead of relying on hearsay to do their report. It was a no hold bar discussion after the tour as she was said to granted the Journalists interview outside the building with armed security men strategically positioned to ward off any intruder.
. the Journalists were said to have taken advantage of the meeting to ask questions connected to the burnt building and how soon work on the rehabilitation process would commence.
She had said that the facility was comprehensively insured with a consortium of firms and the agency had never defaulted in paying its premium to the Companies. The message was very clear : we will not have any problem with the rehabilitation f the building as the Consortium of Insurance Companies that had insured the building were equal to the task.
Attempts by the her media Team to cut short the question and answer session to give her a breather was rebuffed as she insisted that every Journalist must be allowed to ask their questions as she was prepared to answer no minding the mood of the nation over the burnt building. True to her words, she responded to all the questions asked and even gave more insider information to some of the technical questions asked, which most government appointee Chief Executives could have avoided.
Perhaps, what may have surprised the Journalists was when she said that in terms of employment the youths of the Community where the NPA Corporate office is located are well favoured. She was emphatic: most of the drivers engaged by the Agency are from this Lagos Island Local government area Community while those who have Professional qualifications like Engineers and Medical Doctors , are made to Compete with others from other area for available vacancies which are conducted in a very transparency manner.
This may have informed why she is pained that NPA, Corporate office, could be singled out for destruction when there are other imposing government agencies, building along the busy Marina street. A former National Electricity Power Authority, NEPA, Corporate Headquarters, now inherited by ECO Distribution Company, one of the Companies carved out from the old NEPA, The Bank of Industry Industry and several others.