By Shola Fadeyi
The appointment of Hadiza Bala Usman as the first female Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, (NPA) by President Muhammadu Buhari about a year ago has indeed paved way for the organization and the seaports in the country to witness reforms, which have gone a long way to sanitise their operations and improve efficiency level.
Thus she has been able to prove her competence to actualize her mandate with the way she has utilized her educational background , exploits in public sector reforms coupled with her intelligence and ability to manage men and materials to battle sleaze, boost revenue and repositioned NPA within a very short time of her tenure.
Usman, a co-founder of the Bring Back Our Girls group which has fought relentlessly for the release of the abducted Chibok girls holds a Masters of Arts in Developmental Studies from the University of Leeds while she commenced her carrier as a research assistant with the Centre for Democratic Development and Research Training in Kaduna.
She later worked a the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), then hired by the UNDP for the Federal Capital Transport Authority (FCTA) as a special assistant to the Minister on project implementation after which she was appointed in 2015 as Chief of Staff of the Kaduna State Governor, before she emerged as Managing Director of NPA in July 11, 2016.
Usman uncovered an alleged fraud of N11.23 billion committed through a process whereby some commercial banks in collusion with some officials of the authority hid funds collected as revenue in secret accounts instead of remitting same in the NPA’s Treasury Single Account (TSA) with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
A sum of $24.1 million of NPA revenue that should have been deposited in the federation account was likewise found hidden in an account at one bank and another 6 million Euros in separate accounts at two other banks. Another sum of $5.4 million was secretly moved to TSA accounts in the Central Bank of Nigeria, which do not belong to the NPA.
NPA has also approved an independent study of respective tariffs across seaports in West and Central Africa for a comparison with what obtains in Nigeria while its management has pledged to recommend to the Federal Government to reduce Customs charges and tariffs in Nigerian ports accordingly, to enable more cargoes come into the country and to increase NPA ‘s revenue, if the findings deem it necessary.
Improvement of welfare
Knowing full well that the workforce constitutes the wheel of progress of the Authority, in the area of capacity building she has already partnered with the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM) for effective training of NPA workforce to boost efficiency at the ports. As it concerns staff welfare, the NPA Managing Director has ensured prompt and regular payment of salaries and allowances as well as promotions of personnel as at when due.
Open budget system
To lend credence to her openness, she has since last year signed an MOU with budget tracking and transparency platform, BudgIT, making NPA the first revenue-generating agency in the history of Nigeria’s public service sector to open its budget and accounts to public scrutiny during implementation. While the step has restored government and public confidence in her management, it has instilled framework for transparent budget provisions for the authority.
Anti- corruption office at NPA
To implement the recommendations of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), which reported in 2011 that Nigerian ports were the most expensive and as a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption, she has concluded arrangement to have the Committee set up an office at the NPA Headquarters, Marina, Lagos.
As part of her anti–corruption crusade she has decided that the management will conduct a thorough investigation into a recent allegation against some former top officials of the NPA indicted in Switzerland for alleged corruption in a $20 million bribery scandal for which a Swiss company and its officials have been convicted in Geneva.
It was not a surprise that various stakeholders such as the Executive Vice Chairman of ENL Consortium Limited who is also the Chairman of Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Princess Vicky Haastrup, President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu and the Founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam have lauded her on her efforts.
The management has also procured vital equipment and facilities necessary for the NPA to adequately perform its marine function. NPA recently took delivery of four new ultramodern tugboats for this purpose, thus improving on pilotage service.
Prompt removal of wrecks and derelicts has also made the waters navigable.
NPA’s commissioning of the command, control communication and intelligence system (CCCIS), a technology which tracks ships movements within the country’s ports domain and the launch of the harmonized Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and Port Service Support Portal (PSSP), a portal meant to stem corrupt practices coupled with the increase in the level of investments in automation have assisted to boost the authority’s revenue profile.
Port access road
To boost patronage of the seaports, NPA has embarked on rehabilitation of infrastructure.
Currently, in its bid to ensure that the access roads at Lagos ports is in good state, NPA is collaborating with Dangote Group to reconstruct the Apapa port access road for about N4. 3 billion.
Revival of eastern ports
Also having realized that the Eastern Ports have for a long time depended on the Lagos ports for survival, because of their very shallow depth, the current management has concluded plans for the massive capital and maintenance dredging of the ports in Calabar, Warri and Port Harcourt, while it has made provisions for their massive infrastructural development in this year’s budget to also make them yield more revenue.
She is also backing the call by stakeholders for the introduction of a call up system for trucks doing business at the ports and the setting of minimum standards for the trucks, as well as the enforcement of tonnage limits for trucks and the use of railways for cargo movement.
Usman has promised to work with the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) to ensure that the necessary rail tracks are in place and provision made for rolling stock all in a bid to boost goods delivery, ports efficiency and NPA’s income.
Shola Fadeyi, a Lagos-based journalist is the Managing Director of Simofad Communications.