I finally found the time last week to read Hadiza Bala Usman’s polemic titled “STEPPING ON TOES: My Odyssey at the Nigerian Ports Authority”. It is a small book that took only a few hours to read. The main body consists of just 143 pages while the rest is the appendix – a collection of official memos, letters and news articles. A significant portion of the main body of the book is also a replication of official documents and news articles.
Hadiza’s book, I must point out, is replete with errors including faulty sentence structures, sentence fragment, wrong nomenclatures, improper use of punctuation marks, poorly integrated quotations, unnecessary capitalization, wrong use of apostrophe, tautology as well as repetition of sentences and paragraphs. I documented 99 errors in the main body of the book. The errors can be tracked from page 25 to 142.
The worst error in the book is the use of a non-existent word “Sedefaulcure” in the second paragraph of page 94. This word has no meaning in any language. It is neither an English nor a maritime word.
A section of the first paragraph of page 25 was repeated in the first paragraph of page 26. The repeated paragraph reads: “Seaports activities started around the Lagos Lagoon and ultimately resulted in the opening of ports at Apapa and Port Harcourt. The Authority commenced operations on 1 April 1955, assuming responsibility for specific ports and harbour activities previously performed by some departments of Government of Nigeria.”
The repetition of paragraph also happened on page 139 where the second paragraph was wholly repeated as the seventh.
Elsewhere on page 25, the author wrote “mid – 19th century”. This is wrong, as there is no need for space before and after the hyphen. It should have been “mid-19th century”.
The use of the word “Concessionary” on the seventh line of paragraph five on page 26 is faulty on two counts. Firstly, it is wrong to start the word, which appeared mid-sentence, with a capital letter. Secondly, the word “concessionary” conveys a meaning different from “concession”. I suppose the author’s reference is to the 2006 port concession programme, which refers to the granting of rights by the Federal Government to private companies to undertake cargo handling operations at the nation’s seaports. Concessionary, on the other hand, means an offer at a lower price than usual for certain people. For example, an airline could offer concessionary tickets to students or the aged.
On the third line of the last paragraph of page 28, the author wrote “multi-billion – naira”. This is another hyphenation error. Words prefixed by “multi” need no hyphen. It is also wrong for the author to insert a space before and after the hyphen preceding “naira”. She should have simply written it as “multibillion-naira”.
There is a punctuation error on the third and fourth lines of page 35. A statement running on the two lines reads: “Right from the gate, I could see people milling around some discretely hawking their wares.” Obviously, there should have been a comma or hyphen between the words “around” and “some”.
On page 38, paragraph five, line two to four, the author writes: “I was of the view that there many well-known names in the furniture business and that the Authority should go for one of those reliable ones.” The verb “were” is missing between “there” and “many”.
On page 44, paragraph three, the author states: “Although we met a relatively effective training model at the Authority, the new management felt it was expedient to make the training initiatives more need specific.” The word before “specific” should have been “needs”.
There is a grammatical error on page 45, paragraph one, line four to six where the sentence reads: “The Authority realised that was no mid-stream refineries from where any of these vessels could have loaded so, it was obvious that their claims were false and poised at making Nigeria lose revenue.” The statement will be meaningful only if the word “there” is inserted after the first “that”.
The next sentence also has errors: “A memo date 6 June 2018 directed that such vessels must receive invoice as foreign vessels from that date and that put an end untoward practice and loss of revenue for the country.” Clearly, the “date” after “memo” should have been “dated”. Something is also missing between “end” and “untoward”.
The repetition of the word “ports” in a sentence in the second paragraph of page 45 is an example of inelegant writing. It is common writing advice to avoid repeating a word in the same sentence.
The fifth paragraph of page 45 also has four major errors. The paragraph reads: “According to the directive, the eight approved agencies were Nigerian
Ports Authority (NPA); Nigerian Customs Service (NCS); Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA); Nigeria Police; Department of State Security (DSS); Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and Port Health Services and the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).” The first error is that there is no entity called “Nigerian Customs Service”. The proper name of that government agency is “Nigeria Customs Service”. Also, NIS is “Nigeria Immigration Service” and not “Nigerian Immigration Service” as stated by the author while NDLEA is not “Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency”. It is “National Drug Law Enforcement Agency”. Also, the use of the coordinating conjunction “and” twice towards the end of the sentence is wrong. A comma would have sufficed before “Port Health Services”.
The last paragraph of page 45 spilling into page 46 reads: “In June 2017, we reminded stakeholders about this directive and our readiness to enforce it. We explained that this was part of the determination of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to improve the ease of doing business in the country. It was also in accordance with the implementation of the Executive Orders issued one month earlier, by Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo; and finally, with a view to the improvement of conditions under which business is carried out in all ports nationwide. We solicited the support of all agencies and stakeholders to make Nigeria a destination of choice for all legitimate businesses.” The writer erred in using a comma after the word “earlier”. I also think that the word “Acting” should have been preceded by the definite article “the”. The phrase following “Osinbajo” in the sentence does not add up. It is incomplete and cannot stand on its own.
Two sentences in the last paragraph of page 46 also have errors. One of the sentences reads: “We immediately committed ourselves to clear the backlog” (emphasis mine). That sentence should have been written thus: “We immediately committed ourselves to clearing the backlog.” The second sentence, “We were able to conclude all the accumulation with up-to-date audited accounts till 2019, and were in the process of auditing 2020, when I exited in 2021”, also has issues. I have a problem understanding what “conclude all the accumulation” means. It is a grammatical error. The comma after “2020” is unnecessary.
On page 49, paragraph four, the author mentioned “AP Moller Terminal”. There is no entity called “AP Moller Terminal”. The correct name of the company is APM Terminals.
Many other errors can be seen on pages 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 64, 65, 68, 69, 73, 75, 76, 77, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 102, 103, 108, 112, 115, 121, 122, 126, 134, 138, 139 and 142. I don’t think it is necessary discussing these one after the one. Interested persons may wish to refer to the book.
I also noticed a case of incorrect claims in the book. For example, on page 42, paragraph six, the author appeared to lay claim to the development of the Revenue Invoice Management System (RIMS) for “incorporating provisional, final billing and customer portal modules, which made port operations open to all stakeholders.” This claim is not particularly correct. As a maritime industry stakeholder, I am aware that the development of RIMS preceded her tenure in NPA. Anyone with further interest in the matter can easily verify this at the NPA headquarters.
Another incorrect claim in the book can be found on page 52, paragraph two where the author stated: “For the first times in years, we started to transport cargo by rail. This was important because it increased efficiency of the movement of cargo because one train movement is equal 70 truck movements.” No, that was not the first time containers were moved out of the port by rail. The Lagos Port Complex Apapa has been connected to the rail line since the colonial masters built it. The rail became dysfunctional at some point but was revived by one of the terminal operators shortly after the 2006 port concession exercise. The terminal operator and the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) restored evacuation of containers by rail at least five years before Hadiza was appointed NPA Managing Director. What the Buhari administration has been trying to do is connect the port to the standard gauge line. Also, the assertion that one train movement equals 70 truck movements is not totally correct. It all depends on the number of wagons attached to the train. There are also two grammatical errors in that sentence. Firstly, the fourth word in the sentence should have been “time” and not “times”. Secondly, the word “to” should have followed the word “equal”.
While it is good for people to document their experiences in writing, I feel strongly that they owe their readers the courtesy of doing it properly. Books should be written with the mindset that they will be read. I was particularly disappointed that the author, who had the privilege of overseeing the affairs of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) for almost half a decade, would use her still relevant platform to push such a slipshod work into the public domain. The least that could have been done would have been to delegate as appropriate to assure that the services of professional writers, proofreaders and editors were engaged prior to printing.
One cannot but wonder if the handling of the book is not a reflection of how NPA was run for so long.