By Sylvanus Ekpo
Not too long ago, a quiet revolution took place in the chambers of power in Lagos with the appointment of a BBOG activist and first woman to head the Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala Usman. The decision to appoint her to that position was taken by President Muhammadu Buhari on the recommendation of trusted aides. Nine months into her tenure, it has become obvious that her choice to that exalted office was good and in good faith, not minding the cacophony of muffled voices saying the contrary. In spite of their blighted, slanted, unbridled and uncouth media histrionics, madam Usman continues to ‘walk the talk’ by engaging powerful interests in the industry, in an attempt to free NPA funds for port development.
With the Procurement Act in place, as a responsible corporate body, the NPA upholds the highest ideals in the bidding process for contracts. It is therefore, uncharitable to insinuate that the Managing Director directly or indirectly influences the outcome of bids for services.
Ably assisted by three Executive Directors in charge of Marine & Operations, Finance, Engineering & Technical Services, Usman has aggressively pursued her core mandate which includes building a world class institution that can stand the test of international best practices, reduce corruption to the barest minimum through automated and transparent systems, blocking leakages, push the frontiers of customer service to new heights and generally make money for the federal government.
Under Bala Usman’s watch, great strides have been recorded in the way things are done in the organisation. Meanwhile, entrenched interests prefer to turn a blind eye to those fine achievements, preferring rather to engage in mudslinging and name-calling. At a recent training programme for members of the Federated Maritime Media Chapel held at the Eyis Resourecs Centre in Apapa, Lagos, the Managing Director delivered a keynote address in which she enjoined journalists to use their pen to mould public opinion and safeguard the nation’s interest and cultural heritage. Her speech was delivered by the AGM Public Affairs, Western Zone, Mallam Isa Suwaid.
At yet another forum on ‘Making Nigerian Ports As the Preferred Destination in West and Central African Subregion, ‘ the Managing Director presented a lead paper on the subject. Reiterating the need for hub status for Nigerian ports, Usman canvassed the upgrading of port facilities to earn the status.
POST-CONCESSION ACHIEVEMENTS UNDER USMAN
Ten years after the ports were concessioned, so much has been achieved to include:
* improved operational efficiency and increase in cargo throughput
* improved provision and maintenance of port infrastructure
* higher availability of cargo handling equipment and capacity
* deepening of port channels and berths draughts attracted larger vessels to Apapa, Tin Can and Onne Ports.
*furthermore, the NPA acquired more marine crafts such as tug boats and pilot cutters.
In line with the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council ( PEBEC ), it has fully automated its systems and processes to include Oracle e-Business suite, Electronic Document Management System, Revenue Invoicing Management System (RIMS), e-Payment System, Electronic Ship Entry Notice (e-SEN), Customs NCIS Integration Platform and Port Control Management; deployment of Virtual Private Network (VPN) to link the ports with the head office.
Recently, Usman at a public forum called on agencies operating in the port to streamline their operations, re orientate their work force to accommodate a culture of transparency and good governance. In case we have forgotten so soon, a very powerful body in the maritime sector, the Association of Nigerian Licensed Cusyoms Agents, ANLCA, pushed out a resolution threatening to shut down the ports over increasing acts of extortion in the ports which invariably push up the cost of doing business. It took the direct intervention of madam MD to bring about a truce and accommodate dissenting views on the issue. She visited the ANLCA office in Amuwo Odofin and NAGAFF in Apapa, all in a bid to find creative ways to solve the problem. It is left yo the imagination how much the nation could have lost if the ports were shut down for three days. Her managerial acumen, dexterity and diplomacy put the impending storm at bay!
At a time like this, with the Change mantra in full swing, we should shun the tendency to aggravate issues of national import and stand behind this Amazon who has vowed to take port operations to enviable heights. I submit.
*Ekpo is a Lagos based Maritime analyst