By Steohen Ubanna
When Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, the 43 year-old , Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari, of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, in 2016, not many people gave her opportunity of succeeding in a male-dominated maritime sector.
This is because of her age and lack of experience on maritime issues. Industry watchers believe that her participation in the ‘’Bring Back Our Girls’’, Campaign with the likes of Oby Ezekwesili, a one-time minister of Education, under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, may have exposed her to governance.
The ‘’Bring Back Our Girls Campaign’’ may have given her the needed opportunity of meeting top government officials both at the national and state level , to discuss with them on the kidnapped Chibok school girls and how to secure their freedom .
Many, however, believe, that her link with Naisir el-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna, her home state, described as her mentor, who was said to be instrumental to her appointment may have added to her administrative boldness in running the agency.
Aminu Bello Masari, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives and now, governor of Katsina, Buhari , home state, who was said to have visited her at the agency Marina Headquarters, Lagos, may have further strengthened her resolve to deliver on her Presidential mandate.
Given the number of other prominent APC gladiators who were said to be behind her, particular, the Katsina state born Nigerian President, described as a ‘’leader who does not ‘’interfere in getting any of his political appointees to compromise their position and who is supportive of her reform agenda in the NPA’’, she was determined to excel.
She was said to have made herself the sole approving person for all contracts in the agency that even Executive Directors and Heads of Department have little or nothing to do. she did not give them their approving limits to avoid abuse.
Insiders believe that she may have been toughened by the politicians, who were said to have made several attempts to force her to compromise her position in the award of contracts . She may have alluded to the political jobbers, Terminal operators, the indigenous and the International Shipping Companies which have the money to throw around.
The fallout was that proposals had piled up in her office untreated, missing or shredded after staying for too long without being sent out to the appropriate Department for action and then, return to her office for final approval.
She was said to have told the management Team at their first meeting , that her policies would be anchored on the Katsina state born Nigeria President economic agenda for the nation ‘’ based on diversity’’. The NPA boss was emphatic when she told the management : we will strive for enhanced operating efficiencies to facilitate improved revenue generation and inflows into the national treasury’’.
Based on the historic speech, she had outlined her programme for the agency which includes capacity building , dredging of the ports, particular, Delta and Calabar ports to accommodate big ocean going vessels, blockage of areas of revenue leakages and improved revenue generations at the ports.
This is in addition to investment on information communication technology, ICT, and rehabilitation of access roads to the ports, infrastructural development, trade facilitation, Capital maintenance, operational efficiency and building a succession plan for the agency
Close sources informed The Value News that she had pursued the implementation of the programmes to its logical conclusion that the staff are happy, describing her as a woman of her words. Thre may be staff that have their reservation about her policies bu had maintained sealed lips.
She may have gladdened the heart of terminal operators , shipping Companies, importers, exporters and other government agencies personnel working at the ports when she promised to give them a listening ear as a way to improve the agency service delivery to the nation to world class standard.
As a prelude to ensuring the realisation of her port reforms, she was said to have taken staff Capacity building very serious. This is evident going by the training and retraining of the staff both within and outside the country. She was said to have engaged the services of Consultants who had been involved in the training of the staff. Some staff of the essentai Departments, particular, Safety and Environment and Operations, were said to have been sent abroad for training.
The cost implication of sending the staff abroad for training programmes may have informed why NPA, under the close watch of Hajia Usman entered into a Joint Venture partnership with a Lagos based firm to build a Simulation centre for training of pilots .
The Kaduna state born politician has said that the local training of the pilots will save the country over $1 million or N360 million annually , based on the current official exchange rate of N360 .00 to a dollar. This is the amount , which s he had said , had been spent yearly in the past in the United Kingdom, UK and other European countries including the north American country of the United States, US.
Another thing that was said to have drawn ajia Usman immediate attention on assumption of duties was the rehabilitation of the access roads to the Lagos ports, which maritime watchers, said handle over 90 percent of the volume of cargoes coming into the country. She was said to have taken up the matter with Babatunde Fashola, a former Lagos state governor and now, minister of Works and Housing on the need to repair the Lagos ports access road.
Her persistence that the government must give priority to the reconstruction of the major access roads to the ports to sustain is tempo as a revenue earner may have informed why the Federal Executive Council, FEC, at the instance of the President gave approval for a N72 billion contract for the Apapa access road.
Note that Truck laden Containers have often fallen off the road on entering into a pothole on the Apapa bad road that Hajia Usman and her Management Team had to go back to the drawing board to find an alternative way out to the crisis situation until the Apapa road reconstruction work is completed and commissioned for use. The agenc which had no option was forced to synergise with the Nigerian Railway Corporation , NRC, to use its wagons as well as the engage the services of some private Barge Operators to evacuate cargoes at the ports to the hinterlands.
The Hajia Usman NPA Management was said to have moved a step further to complete the trailer park at Apapa that was said to have been started by a former managing Director of the agency including transforming its Lilipond property initially handed over to the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, for use as a Bonded Terminal , into a Trailer park to ease the pains of importers with their agents .These measures may have reduced the pressure on the Oshodi –Apapa Expressway in the evacuation of cargoes to the Importers’ warehouse from the ports in Lagos.
Another issue that he was said to have attracted the attention of the NPA, managing director, was the dredging of the port channels, particular, the neglected ports of Warri, Delta state, and Calabar port, Cross River state in order to accommodate Container vessels. The dredging of the Calabar port, alone , was said to have gulped N50 billion .
It was not surprising why a Container vessel arrived the Calabar port in 2014. Before now, only flat bottom vessels had access to the port because of the alleged shallow depth of the long channels. The NPA boss, who believes , that what matters in governance is the ability to deliver on one’s mandate may have informed why she could beat her chest that she has opened up new sources of revenue generation for the agency.
She had said that the which inagency which herited a yearly contribution of N18 billions into the Consolidated Federation Account has improved on the performance over the last three years .
Given an insider information she claimed that the current management had succeeded in blocking areas of revenue leakage at the port which had improved on the agency revenue generation and remittance into the Federation Account According to the Kaduna state born Human Rights activist the agency generated and remitted into government coffers N30 billion, in 20 17 and 2018 respectively, barely two years in office.
The revenue generated by the agency in 2019, was said to be much higher than the two previous years record because of the debt recovery measures put in place. There were speculations making the round that the agency generated and paid into the Federation Account a whopping N300 billion in two months in 2019.
The information may have been very embarrassing to the NPA managing Director who reportedly described it as untrue . Putting the records right, she was said to have said that between January and August, 2019, the agency had generated nN177 billion , which was remitted into the Federation Account. She was said to have attributed the improved revenue generation to the 10 percent increase in the volume of cargoes traffic at the ports.
She had further attributed the improved revenue generation to ensuring prompt payments from third party Contractors , for any contractual relationship that requires remittance .
She may have alluded to the terminal operators and the shipping Companies which take their cargoes to the Nigerian ports which were said to have defaulted in making their remittance to the government coffers. This is in addition to the debt recovery drive of the port managers as directed by the Management. Aware of the rot in the Authority in the past, the NPA current management were said to have given the port mangers target to ensure they do the right thing by collecting all the debts owed the agency .
Maritime analysts believe that NPA , under Hajia Usman could beat its chest that it had successfully blocked areas of revenue leakages at the port which had improved revenue generation at the ports because of the regular auditing of its Financial Statements. ‘’We had inherited a backlog of unaudited Financial Statements and cleared it’’. She he had said.
In spite of the lofty achievements that had been made by the NPA boss in the areas of Capacity, dredging, ICT and revenue generation, analysts believe that the greatest achievement that had been recorded by the NPA boss over the last three years was in the area of of Safety and Environment.
It was learnt that she was instrumental in ensuring the domestication of the Basel, MARPOL 73 and 78 , United Nations , Conventions which had been in existence over the years. The good news was that the domestication of the Conventions have become a major source of revenue Authority. Take for instance the MARPOL 73/78, Convention, which has become a revenue spinner as it had prescribed different fines of $15,00 and $50,000 for minor and major oil spillages.
It was gathered that the agency fines for non- Compliance t the MARPOL 73/78 Conventions by Industry operators have been included in the agency Dues and Rates Regulation which had been approved by Rotimi Amaechi , the minister of Transportation.
Some Oil Producing and Exploration Companies which were said to have contravened the Conventions because of machine or equipment failure to cause minor or major spills were said to have been fined. The situation is the same for shipping Companies which ships are exposed to operational and accidental pollution.
An environmental expert fisclosed that the MARPOL Convention is very ‘’robust in terms of regulation to curb the menace of marine pollution’’. The expert has said that what is lacking for now, in the agency is ‘’doing what needed to done to implement the principles of the Convention. It is believed that with strong commitment from the ‘’port state, Flag state and ship owners the full implementation of the principles of the MARPOL Convention would be achieved and marine pollution minimised .
There was an incident where a company in Niger had wanted to use Nigeria as a transit country to ship uranium element to France. A source disclosed that the agency officials were invited for a meeting in Niamey, the Capital for a meeting but the request turned down.
One UN Convention which Nigerians are still looking up to NPA to domesticate is the Ballast Water . The agency may not have done anything yet to ships that have contravened the law because it was not yet come into force in the country. There areindications that the agency is loking seriously into domestication as the sister agency, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety has done it it.
The refusal by NPA to domes Convention bfore npw my have informed why ship Companies behave like law unto themselves as thy could dump anything in Nigeria waters and go without facing the full weight of the Law. This may have informed why the water hyacinth which is a plant species in Argentina was exported to Nigeria waters.. Ever since information leaked out out that the agency has made all the necessary arrangement to domesticate the Convention fear appear to have gripped the shipping Companies as they know what the NPA Safety and Environmental Department officials could do..