The role of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in the economic development of the nation cannot be quantified. As the gateway to the nation’s economy, more than 75 per cent of imports and exports pass through the seaports, hence the importance of NPA to the Nigerian economy.
Since the authority was established over 50 years ago, it has been playing its role of be incharges and amanaging the nation’s seaports and enhancing revenue yield for the Federal Government.
The 2006 port reform programme made the authority to go through a lot of transformation. Its cargo handling operation was transferred to the concessionaires. The authority then began to play the role of a landlord but still takes care of channel management, harbour services, general security and other ancillary services.
Ceding its cargo handling operation to the concessionaires notwithstanding, successive managements of NPA have all consolidated on the gains of the concession programme for greater efficiency and high revenue yield.
However, by 2016 the economic meltdown as a result of recession adversely affected port operations. Cargo throughput dropped considerably as a result of low imports and exports. Activities in the seaports dropped to the lowest ebb. This of course would have telling effect on revenue generation and by extension maintenance responsibilities of the organization.
Therefore, the Federal Government saw the enormous tasks before would-be chief executive of the authority. President Muhammadu Buhari realised the need to have an accomplished administrator and a goal getter who would be able to reposition the authority for greater efficiency and high revenue yield in spite of the state of the economy.
The president beamed his searchlight and the lot fell on a young woman of substance with an impressive pedigree, Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman who was appointed the Managing Director of NPA on July 11, 2016. She made history as the first female chief executive of the authority.
On assuming office, Usman held a maiden meeting with her management team as well as the staff of the authority where she reeled out her operational thrust.
Some of these include “open door policy, capacity building, operational efficiency, succession plan, port daily master plan, and maximising revenue generation. Others are blockage of staff welfare and motivation, revenue leakages, security of lives and properties.
Conscious of time, Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman set the ball rolling by undertaking familiarization tour of the ports facilities and infrastructures under her jurisdiction. The tour, which began with the Calabar Port, observably came on the heels of an official commissioning of a milestone security project: the command, control communication and intelligence system (CCCIS).
A cutting edge security technology capable of tracking, recording and delivering ships movements within the country’s ports domain, the CCCIS would no doubt assist in a remarkable boost of the authority’s revenue.
She said that with the commissioning, NPA has become also “a worthy stakeholder” capable of assisting the country in networking to surmount security and safety challenges in Nigeria and within the entire Gulf of Guinea, alongside the capability of an interface with other relevant stakeholders, to track as well as record maritime security breaches.
She was of the opinion that the technology will enable NPA to generate adequate revenue and ensure that all revenue leakages are blocked, in furtherance of the Federal Government’s efforts towards revitalizing our economy.
As a firm believer in inter modal transport, she fast tracked the rehabilitation of roads in Lagos ports in her first few weeks in office and called for the enforcement of the tonnage limits for trucks and the use of railway for cargo movement in order to actualize quick cargo delivery. She promised to work with the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) to facilitate the use of railway by ensuring that the tracks are in place and provision made for rolling stock.
In order to generate more revenue into the Federal Government coffers, Hadiza has blocked all financial loopholes and insisted that terminal operators comply with the terms of port concession agreement and pay directly to NPA. She vowed to pursue the collection of outstanding payments by the operators and other operators in the industry.
In as much as she wants to rake in more revenue into the government coffers, she believes that the nation’s seaports must be competitive. She frowns at high port charges and she is working with the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption to set up an office at the NPA Headquarters. Marina, Lagos in order to implement recommendations of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), which reported in 2011 that Nigerian ports were the most expensive and corrupt.
NPA under her is also currently embarking on an independent study of respective tariffs across ports in West and Central Africa as a whole in order to compare with what obtains in Nigeria.
If discovered that Nigerian ports are more expensive, the Usman led NPA management is poised to recommend to the Federal Government to reduce the port charges to enable more cargoes come into Nigeria legally.
Just as she fixed the bad roads in Lagos ports few weeks after assuming office, she has given approval for budgetary allocation which will ensure that all degenerated infrastructure would be repaired in order to increase traffic and operations in the ports.
Also, her management is determined to stick to the details of the agency’s 25 years master plan for development of the ports in the country, as this will remove overlaps and ensure NPA is properly repositioned for improved revenue generation. A clear development plan is on the way.
One area that Usman does not play with is capacity building. Knowing fully well that only experienced and trained staff can drive the authority to achieve set goals, she is set to partner with the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM), for effective training and capacity building of NPA workforce.
NPA intends to increase its patronage of the institute to train its staff and boost efficiency at the ports.
In the area of staff welfare, the NPA Managing Director has ensured prompt and regular payment of salaries as well as promotions when due. In fact, in August last year, just barely a month after she assured office, she promoted 26 principals managers to Assistant General Managers. Staff welfare is taken with all seriousness to ensure their wellbeing, safety and timely receipt of entitlements.
Under her watch, NPA is very much alive to its responsibility to its immediate port community and the society as a whole. As part of its corporate social responsibility, the authority not only doused tension over the death of an official of the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASMA) who was gruesomely murdered in Apapa in January this year, she also paid condolence visit to the wife of the deceased with a consolation gift.
In spite of her tight schedules, she made herself available at the Nigerian women against corruption project rolled out in the South-West by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) in collaboration with the Office of the President’s wife, all in a bid to ensure that the authority identifies with the society.
There is no doubt that Usman a consummate motivator, operator and administrator who has vowed to turn the authority into an enviable organization worthy of emulation by the comity of maritime nations in the West and Central Africa.
In order to improve on the efficiency level of Nigerian ports in this fiscal year, the Usman led management of the NPA is embarking on a number of infrastructural rehabilitation, among others, to make the seaports compete with other international ports.
She is currently making frantic efforts to revive the comatose Calabar port. This will be through capital dredging of the port to be able to accommodate ocean liners. The Calabar port dredging has been lingering over the years unexecuted.
Usman on a visit to the port recently described it as very economically useful because of its strategic location. Noting that the seaport is close to the North East, she said that with the revival of the seaport, mineral deposits in the North would be exported abroad through the port. She disclosed that efforts were being made to dredge the seaport to accommodate bigger vessels.
She added that the management held a meeting with the Calabar Channel Management on the issue. Already, the organization has called for the hydrographic survey carried out in the past. She said that there was the critical need to resolve the issue to make the draught deeper. There is no doubt that the NPA is undergoing transformation under the watch of Usman.