By Godwin Oritse
Since the appointment of Hadiza Bala-Usman as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, there have been radical changes as the agency is beginning to experience a port order in terms of work ethics.
Besides the improved revenue profile of the agency, industry stakeholders have also passed a vote of confidence on Usman as she has proven her critics wrong.
Quite a number of players had been skeptical about the appointment of such a young woman to head a strategic agency like the NPA. Some critics argued that she did not have the experience to run such a huge enterprise having only worked at the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) before being appointed Chief of Staff to Kaduna State Governor. Others were not convinced that Usman has the skill and experience to pilot the NPA.
However, all the doubts may have now been put to rest as the NPA boss has, in a short time in office, achieved what took her predecessors ages to achieve. Top industry players believe the maritime sector will never be the same again given the reform being embarked upon by the NPA under the leadership of Bala Usman.
One of the major achievements of the NPA under Bala Usman is the implementation of open budget system and implementation of a public data dissemination programme. In a bid to rid the agency of corruption, the NPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with BudgIT, an information technology network firm, to provide Nigerians with all the necessary information during its budget preparation and implementation.
Another major achievement of the NPA boss in her first 100 days in office is the launch of the harmonised Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and Port Service Support Portal (PSSP) designed to stem corrupt practices and ensure a user-friendly port. The SOP is a collation of operational procedures of all maritime government agencies, shipping companies, terminal operators, freight forwarders, associations and other stakeholders.
The PSSP, on the other hand, is a management portal for operators to lodge complaints if any agency fails to follow the SOP. This is anchored by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC). The Minister of Transport had said that the SOP and the PSSP are a direct response to a Corruption Risk Assessment (CRA) report on Nigerian seaports released in 2013 by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) which labeled Nigerian ports as the most corrupt in the world.
One of the ports concession crises that bedevilled the industry was the issue of the monopoly in the provision of oil and gas logistics, a feud that delayed multi-billion dollars of investments. But the appointment of Bala Usman has, to some extent, put an end to the crisis because of her commitment to ensuring that no organisation operating in the sector enjoys monopoly in the provision of oil and gas logistics.
She promised to bring all operators to the table to fashion out ways to improve the sector and make sure Nigeria gets the maximum benefit that it can attract for itself within this environment.
Resolving Apapa/Oshodi Road gridlock to ensure efficient operation at Apapa ports and increase revenue for the federal government, Bala Usman convened a stakeholders meeting where she presented a holistic plan to free the road.
At the meeting, she solicited for support from stakeholders in the maritime sub-sector with a view to eradicating the traffic gridlock at the access roads leading to the Ports in Western Ports and its industrial environment – Apapa and Tin Can Ports and indeed nationwide. In a bid to ensure a healthy competition among existing ports and the on-going Lekki Deep Sea Port and Badagry Deep Sea Ports, the NPA is working on a port development master plan.
Bala Usman believes a master plan is important because the existing model where port development are not well thought out will see the ports compete each other out of business, a situation she said will bad for the industry.
For regular visitors to the ports across the country, it is no longer news that decaying ports infrastructure has become worrisome. However, the NPA under Bala Usman has also embarked on efforts to boost revenue generation through the provision of infrastructure and technologically up-to-date equipment at the ports.
Part of her plan is to reposition the ports industry to play its key role as the gateway to the nation’s economy. Growth in trade volumes, she said, is a strong factor in the need for port investment to boost efficiency, build robust, responsive and competitive port economy in tune with global best practices. In addition, the NPA has taken steps to ensure that goods are moved in and out of the ports through the railway line that stopped operating several years ago.
To achieve this, the agency has partnered the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) to improve rail facilities from the Lagos ports to the hinterlands. Operators in the industry have also agreed with the NPA that cargo movement by rail would be more efficient and economically benefiting.