By Stephen Ubanna
Not may people were surprised that President Muhammadu Buhari, reappointed Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, an indigene of Katsina state as the Nigerian Ports Authority Managing Director, after completing her first term of four years in office, described in maritime circles, as very eventful. This is because she had succeeded in putting the Nigeria on the global map as a maritime nation that major International shipping Companies struggle to bring their big-size Container vessels to Nigerian ports. Maerskline Stardhorn, one of Maerskline biggest Container vessels that landed at Port Harcort port, I, Onne, Rivers sta, speaks volume. The Maerskline vessel could not have successfully sailed to the port from the Bonny if the Hajia Usman led NPA, Management had not been consistment in maintaining the port channels from Lagos, Bonne, Delta to Calabar, showing judicious use of its available resources.
Until her appointment as the Managing Director of NPA, IN 2018, may international Shipping Companies had feared bring their Container vessels to Nigeria, for fear of Pirates attack in the country waters and the Gulf of Guinea. The NPA boss who was said to have reached a working arrangement with past and present Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Bashir Jamoh, with the backing of the Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, a Vice Admiral led Nigerian Navy, were said to have put the pirates and other Criminals operating in Nigerian waters and the Gulf of Guinea on the check. This may have informed why more Container vessels have been calling at Nigerian ports instead of taking transferred vessels from the high sea to the country or the vessels discharging in Benin Republic ports and the cargoes subsequently smuggled into the country through unapproved routes.
The 10.month Closure of the Border with the neighouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the CentralAfrican country of Cameroon to forestall smuggling of Foreign rice , small and light arms into the country may have brought the best on Hajia Usman on port Management. She was able to bring back the Nigerian shippers, who had relocated to Benin ports and other ports in the West African Sub-region with the support of Hassan Bello, a Lawyer and Executive Secretary, Nigerian shippers Council, NSC, to Nigerian ports to do their transactions.
The fallout was that for much of last year the Nigerian ports were running out of space due to increasing overtime cargoes in the various port terminals. This may have informed why she has thrown her weight behind the establishment of deep seaports to reduce the high cost of tariff and policies of government on some banned products which had remained the major reason for cargo diversion in Nigerian ports.. ‘’We currently have huge volumes of overtime cargoes in Lagos port terminals awaiting to be auctioned’’, she had said.
She had told Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor o Rivers state and minister of Transportation, but who sees himself as minister of Railway, that here is need to facilitate and conclude the ongoing deep seaport projects being proposed in the country within a time manner. She believes that the Completion of the Lekki deep sea port project this year and the take off the Badagry project , and which must also be completed on schedule will bring the Nigerian ports into a Competitive state within the Sub-region.
The NPA boss may have realised that the Lagos ports of Apapa , Tin can Island and Port multi-services Termnal limited, PTML, and other ports in the south eat are currently not Competitive because the trend the world over now is to bring in very large vessels in view of economy of scale.
The recognition of the good works of the NPA , Managing Director may have been acknowledged in international maritime circles that she was elected for the second time as the Vice –Chairman of the International Maritme Organisation , IMO, Facilitation, FAL, Committee in October 2020.
Going by its mandate, the Committee, addresses the efficiency to shipping by dealing with matters related to enabling international traffic, including arrival, stay and departure of ships, persons and cargoes from ports. The Committee also ensures that the right balanceis sruck between maritime security and the facilitation of international trade.
This may have informed why she was able to engage the support of Amechi, to plot for the Cancellation of Secure Anchorage Area, SAA, contract , won by the Ocean Marine Solutions Limited, OMSL, from the Nigerian Navy. The NPA, Managing Director, had described the contract as scandalous and against the ease of doing business policy at the ports of the Buhari Administration. She had explained that with a charge of $2,000 for the first day and $1,500 for the subsequent days paid by every ship calling in the nation’s waters to use the SAA, which made cost of shipping in the country to escalate , forcing many shipping Companies to avoid Nigeria.
She had said that the $70million which was realised by the Company in the last 18 months for carrying out the operation in Nigerian waters was nether remitted into the Federation account or accounted by OMLS. Given her determination to cancel the illegal SAA deal, she was said to taken the case to the Ahmad Lawan led Senate urging the members to defend the decision to scrap the SAA. She may have won the heart of Buhari to cancel the SAA.
The Katsina state born Nigerian President may have come to the conclusion that Hajia Usman is very ‘’hardworking and a goal getter’’’. More so, he believes that it is not the issue of pumping more money for the dredging of the port channels that would make Nigerian ports Competitive, with other ports in the West African sub-region or invest on the deep seaports but someone who understands why the projects are being executed to pilot the Affairs of NPA.
The Nigerian President have no option but to give Hajia Usman, another four years to run the Affairs of NPA. He may have also been encouraged also to renew her appointment as the NPA, Chief Executive officer, CEO, because of her international records which is yet to be equaled by an former Managing Director of the agency dead or alive.
Many believe that even if Amaechi, the minister of Transportation may not have wanted her appointment to be renewed for another four four-year tenure, it could not have made any impact. This is because the Nigerian President had already made up his mind to reappoint her to her position as the NPA Managing Director because of her excellent performance in turning the fortune of the nation’s ports around in the last four years and the development of the deep seaport to remove the pressure from the regular ports.
Hajia Usman, may not have been the only person that survived in the 2015, inaugurated Board of NPA. The newly reconstituted Board of NPA, as announced by Sabiu Zakari, the Permanent Secretary, ministry of Transportation shows that Akin Rikkets was returned as the Chairman of the Board. Others appointed to the Board, included Mohammed Bello Koko, Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Idris Abubakar, Executive Director, Engineering and Technical Services, and Onari Brown, Executive Director, Marine and Operations.
The Nigerian President was said to have also appointed Ghazali Mohammed, John Akpan Udoedehe, Binta Masi Garba, Mustapha Dutse, and Abdulwahab Adesina ans Non-Executive members of the NPA, Board based on political patronage. The minister of Transportation is expected to inaugurate the new NPA Board, soon.Hajia Usman, may have seen reappoint as the Managing Director of NPA, as a ‘’call for service to complete her unfinished works’’.
A close observation of the ministry of Transportation agencies former Chief Executives who were appointed by the Nigerian President in 2015, shows that only Dakuku Peterside, a close political ally of Amaechi, who was instrumental to his appointment as the Director General of NIMASA, that was not retained for a second term.
He was replaced by Jamoh, the Kaduna state Executive Director, Finance and Admin. Of the Agency on March 10, 2020. But Bello, NSC and George Moghalu, Managing Director , Nigerian Inland Water Ways , NIWA, were retained on their expiration of their term in office. The latest to be appointed was Hajia Usman, the Managing Director NPA.
The refusal of the Nigerian President to reappoint Dakuku, described in maritime circles as a fast learning Maritime Chief Executives may have forced into political Oblivion enjoying the wealth which he had accumulated over the years a member of the House of Representatives and a former Director General of NIMASA.