“A country should be able to have a plan, but what I discovered in Nigeria is that every party comes in with its own ideology”
Until his retirement last week, Dr. Sunny Oby Maduka, was the Chief Internal Auditor of the Nigeria Ports Authority, (NPA), Tin Can Island Ports. In this interview with Anozie Egole, he talked about the challenges in the maritime sector. He also talked about the NPA he joined some decades ago and the NPA he is leaving and what the system has turned out to be. “No port in the world succeed without networking, it must be connected to the rail” Tell us about your background?My names are Dr. Sunny Oby Maduka, I am from Abia state. I started here in NPA with testimonial because there was not WAEC as at the time I joined the NPA. But I went back to University of Lagos where I did BSC Accounting before going to Ogun State University where I did MSC Transport and MBA Finance. Then I took it up to PhD in Calabar, and then I wrote a qualifying examination as a chartered accountant. That is it, now I am ending my career as a Principal, Chief Internal Auditor, Tin Can Island Ports of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
What were the challenges you faced while in service?Auditing job like I used to say is a thankless job, in the sense that you will be working and nobody wants to be checked and what we are looking at is the policy adherence. Sometimes we have got to a situation whereby somebody is not happy that you are checking him or you are correcting him. But there are two dimensions to that- how I do my own, I do not do my work to witch hunt anybody, I do it is such a way that we can collaborate. If I see anything wrong, I talk to you like a human being. We will sit down and talk about the issue together and we come out with the best solution. Because I look at it that audit and other departments are the same. One thing you will understand is that we have one vision to see that NPA is laudable everywhere. It has not been easy; I think my life has been exposed to danger some time ago in Warri. The work is risky but the issue is that you have to work with human heart because everybody wants to be respected. Even if you are checking somebody, you must check the person with respect, don’t talk to him with the mind that you want to dictate to him. In a situation where you come across certain anomalies, don’t first tag it as fraud. First, call the person because sometimes you discover that it is an un-intentional issue or calculating errors. Where I discover something that is very bad, I do my work by writing report and the management takes it from there.
What was the structure you met on ground when you joined NPA some decades ago? When we came in, there was this issue of bonding, we love one another. We work as a team we work like people who want to develop the country, you could see the zeal. I also discovered then that people who were appointed were the people within the industry, there was no nepotism or tribalism; it was all about merit then. We all came into NPA without bribing anybody; you just go for the interview write your exams and come in. So the difference then was that you come in because you want to contribute, but now we have mixed it up in terms of how we employ people. Because when you employ people based on segregation, you don’t expect the person to put in the best. When you employ people not based on competence but based on where the person is coming from, you don’t expect the person to put in his best. I think we should go back to the old system where we employ based on merit and competence not based on federal character system. Federal character is one of the problems we are having because it makes us jettison merit; it is all about where people are from. What about where you don’t have such competence within that state, you still go on to pick the person. Then when we joined the system everybody was eager to study and learn and also learn from the superiors but now it is not the same because some people are coming from a higher place more than others, some came with different ideologies, some came because they just want to be part of the system and not to do their best. Some people came because of who sent them so there are diversities and you cannot operate organizations in that way and you expect that organization to succeed. Things like these don’t happen in the private company; a private company cannot employ somebody they know is not competent. Here you discover that experts are not given the chance to do what they are supposed to do. When you want to do it, they will be calling you names and that thing does not help. In those days, it was not like that; when you know you are free to teach other people and they are ready to learn.
Now that you are leaving, what will you say were your experiences?The experiences are in two fold and one of them was the issue of what one has achieved since coming in here with testimonial kind of. I joined NPA with testimonial because WAEC was not yet out. But within that year, before the WAEC came out I took my A’ level and I manage to go further. I was catapulted from level 3 to 6, I was the smallest then, in fact the sit they gave me was as small as anything, I had to add pillow whenever I want to sit down. That was how the journey started up till now that I am a Chartered Accountant and also a PhD holder.The other ways we worked with some people who are not in line with what we call creativity and innovation. Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has a lot of intellectuals in terms of expertise vis a vis, the maritime sector. It’s just that the management does not want to tap into them and at the end of it we keep on being Nigeria where the system is not working. We can’t continue like that and that has been my preaching. We must take cognisance of merit you don’t put square peg in a round hole. We have up to four PhD in NPA and nobody reckons with them. I know I was the first among them, but these people could be used. You can tap their knowledge because to have PhD in Nigeria is not easy. So these are the experiences you see in public sector and you don’t feel happy about that. Because you feel like you want to do something right and somebody because of tribe or religion, won’t allow you do it, sentiments everywhere and it is not going well. And that is one of the reasons I am going out painfully, it is bad that a country does not recognise creativity, innovation and people that could turn around the industry for good. Until we stop it, we will keep on blaming the system and who is the system, we are the system. You have to implement the system based on ideology and of course here in Nigeria we do not have an ideology. Anybody can do anything based on where you come and your connection.
Do you think the idea behind outsourcing for contractors to handle some projects instead of using the in-house personnel is for selfish reasons?I don’t think so, maybe it is because there are conglomerate of policies whereby a shift is not done in such a way that it will truncate what the plans are. Like now China is having 100 years policy plan, other countries have long and short term plans. A country should be able to have a plan but what I discovered in Nigeria is that every party comes in with its own ideology, it is not national, it is not something you can say, we have a 20 year plan, let’s look at it. But here you come in and you have a four-year plan and that is what you will look at, you don’t look at the long term aspect that even after now, your policy should transcend to other generations. I was just telling someone that the problem we have is the mind-set of how many years I am going to stay. For instance a Chief Executive is appointed and he knows he is going to stay for four years, so his idea and plans is just for four years. He is not looking beyond four years- what next. So it is all about evolving a system that will take cognisance of tomorrow not just today and we don’t have it; until we come to that position, it is going to be very difficult. Let me tell you, in Nigeria we neglect geniuses and that is why we see foreigners coming here to poach some of us. I decided not to travel, it is not because I have not been poached. But one thing about life is that you have to ask yourself why I was created to be in this country. If all of us just jump out of the country, who will help the country; this is why I am staying. The systems you are in, they do not even recognise you instead they tend to pull you down, they don’t even like to see your face. Something happened recently, I was to present a paper on Cabotage law in Ogun state and when I got to the hall I saw other agencies like, NIMASA, Shippers Council, even FAAN sent people and except Western port that sent two or three persons and I asked the organiser where is NPA. The answer he gave me shocked me, he said that he sent a proposal to NPA and the reply they gave him was that it is not necessary for NPA. So I was really shocked because if they actually understand what Cabotage law is, I don’t think anybody could say that it’s not necessary. So this is some of things we saw, we must have professionals in some professional sectors. NPA is in the maritime industry, so you do not put any how person there, the same thing applies to other agencies. We must have people that have gone through the process. People should be thinking of where next are we are going to take this organization to, not what they are going to get from the organization. I will tell you that the organisation does not understand what innovation and creativity is all about. They are not looking at what impact you’re going to create. They do not see the goodwill that you are extending to the rest of the world because your work is going worldwide. So we have a problem and it’s a general problem.
What do you have to say about the ports infrastructure and operations?When you have the right human being in the right place, the infrastructure and operations will function well. You cannot talk about Nigeria without talking about the citizens; it is the citizens that make up Nigeria. We are supposed to be talking about the human elements they are the people that are supposed to transform the infrastructure and operations you are talking about into high level. Yes now that we have concessioned and the operational area is now privatised, I think in terms of speedy delivery, equipment, man power, limit to bureaucracy, security of cargoes among others, they are now good. The issue is that there are still things that are not there and the basic thing is the road and the networking. No ports in the world succeed without networking, it must be connected to the rail if you have a rail system connected to Tin Can, it can pick 200 containers at a time. Many countries are doing away with road transport. Dubai has gone further to what we call air cargo terminal whereby if you bring your goods and you don’t want it to go through the road or rail, they can air lift your cargo to anywhere you want. So things are supposed to be evolving and that is why it is paining some of us that instead of us developing as others are doing, we are retarding in terms of development. Look at the roads we are talking about, the rail system we are talking about they are all built up. People have built on them and are using them to sell and these are infrastructures that should be used to ensure that cargoes at the ports are delivered at the appropriate time. You know the main essence of having cargo is to deliver it to the appropriate destinations. So if you have 1,000 cargoes and it is not reaching to the destination, it is still a problem.Another problem I can look at is talking about the 24 hours ports operation, you can talk about that where there is lighting and here in our ports, there is none for now. Some of the vehicles are dilapidated, no headlight. Talk about the issue of banking system, we do not operate 24 hours, so the whole thing is still the problem then we now look at the ICT, how far have we gone with that what is the trending thing there now, what is the basis we have. You see we are still jumping from one place to the other. In modern technology, human intervention is reduced now because everything is done online. We don’t have scanning machines which will aid speedy delivery, so these are the challenges and it all boils down to who manages the ports.