Swinging from failure file to an emerging better run, biggest and efficient regional ports in Sub-saharan Africa, the story of a hitherto ailing and mismanaged Nigerian ports now enjoying a new lease of life and fillip is replete with rustled up management prescriptions and governement’s convoluted interferences.
The deep seaports being coordinated by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), a parastatal agency in the Federal Ministry of Transportation with the mandate of governing and operating the ports in Nigeria, had swung from grass to grace and grace to grass as their fortunes dipped. A rescue mission in the form of ports reform through concession was launched in 2005 to jack the ports back to life.
The concession was about promoting efficiency through the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with the attendant results of increased volume of goods and services in the Western and Eastern zones of the country. No fewer than 24 terminals were concession to private operators for agreed number of years with the NPA assuming the position of a “landlord’’, providing among others, technical oversight, policies, marine services and user facilities.
NPA has since devolved the duties of loading and unloading of cargoes to the operators.
But due to system failures and human foilbles, the NPA, the nation’s cashcow, slumped into a cesspit of corruption with some top officials prosecuted for graft-related offences in the 2000s.
This was the sordid state of affairs until President Muhammadu Buhari searched out and appointed Hadiza Bala Usman as the Managing Director of NPA in 2016, the first woman to pilot its affairs in the annals of Nigeria’s maritime industry.
Again, nobody gave the young, innocent-looking but suave and skilled with little or no industry experience a chance. In fact, industry watchers and stakeholders were stumped for words that if “juggernauts and experts’’ with several decades of experience could not “fare well’’, how will a little known “neophite’’ succeed?
The story of Hadiza Bala Usman can be likened to the inspiring and exciting saga of a Kenyan teenage-mother, a society’s reject, God-made and self-developed Jennifer Riria (PhD). Pregnant at age 19 after college, booted out by her deacon-father, was determined to brave all the odds, trained herself to the PhD level, built institutions including a microfinance bank to help over 4 million women by changing their economic status. The Kenyan Government spotted and appointed her just like Usman, as the CEO of Kenya Women Finance Trust as her first managerial job. Akin to NPA and Usman story, the financial institution which was established in 1982 but by 1991 when she joined, was already in bad shape, understaffed and losing money.
Jennifer took the roles of CEO, janitor, office cleaner, accountant, loan officer and receptionist and in no time, the institution stabilised under her stewardship with it evolving into two vibrant organisations in 2010.
With Usman in the saddle, the story of NPA has changed with massive infrastructure in Lagos, Calabar, and Onne in Port Harcourt ports to become the seaport hub for West Africa and Central Africa. In contemporary ports management, Usman has been able to revamp and expand port facilities with a view to increasing cargo traffic locally and internationally in response to globalisation demands, promoting standard global practices and logistics in port development.
The NPA CEO is also consolidating the gains of ports concession with her management team by ensuring that the agency takes its rightful place as one of the highest revenue earner for the country after the Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation.
Key among the successful initiatives of Usman is the decongestion of Lagos ports by diverting cargoes from Lagos ports to Onne Port in Port Harcourt, Rivers State because of the gridlock on Lagos roads particularly in Apapa in the last three years caused by petrol tankers and articulated vehicles which daily besiege the nation’s commercial capital in their hundreds to evacuate shipped containers, imported petroleum products and other commodities to other parts of the country.
“Onne Port is strategic as it connects Northeast, Northcentral, Southsouth and Southeast zones; cargoes for this sections of the country are expected to be discharged through Onne.
“We are calling on shippers and stakeholders to patronise Onne Port because of the friendly environment and the synergy among the agencies of government at the port,’’ Usman, the NPA helmsman, said at the inauguration of a $10 million (N3.6 billion) Mobile Harbour Cranes (MHCs) for the discharge of cargoes at the port in 2019.
With the opening up of the port, the terminal now attracts 700 direct jobs and over 2000 indirect service jobs.
On revenue generation, NPA under Usman has recorded progressive increase in revenue generation since 2016 when the current administration of the NPA took over. The figures in billions of Naira are as follows:
i. 2013- 152,268,374,130
v. 2017- 259,990,510,000
vi. 2018- 282,418,827,000
Similarly, the volume of NPA’s contributions to the Consolidated Revenue Fund Account has progressively increased since the current management took over in 2016. Records from 2013 are as follows:
i. 2013- N13.1m
ii. 2014- N18.5m
iii. 2015- N18.0m
iv. 2016- N23.8m
v. 2017- N30.3m
vi. 2018- N33.6m
Of note also is the reviving of the Eastern Ports as deliberate steps to stimulate economic activities in the Eastern Ports. For the actualisation of this, the following steps were taken:
i. purchase of and deployment of important navigational equipment
ii. Institution of a quarterly meeting of stakeholders where issues are discussed
iii. Encouraging the deployment of flat bottom vessels to Calabar
iv. Dredging of the Escravos Channel into Warri Ports.
v. Completion of the concession of Terminal B of the Warri Old Port.
vi. Introduction of 10% discount for the following vessels/cargo types:
a. Container vessels with at least 250 TEUs
b. General Cargo vessels with at least 16,000 MT.
c. Combo Vessels with at least 16,000 MT.
d. RORO Vessels with at least 250 units of Vehicles.
On the long abandoned Calabar Ports, In 2017, the Managing Director of NPA had approached shipping companies to see the possibility of deploying flat bottom vessels built to navigate shallow draughts like that of the Calabar Ports. Two vessels namely; MV Desert Ranger and MV Desert Harrier laden with wheat made maiden calls to Calabar Port.
They were both about 200 metres Length Overall (LOA) and successfully manoeuvred across the Port’s windy channel to the berth, through the facilitation of an extra Tug Boat approved for the Port by the Executive Management of NPA. In 2019, three container ships called at the Calabar Ports in 2019 for the first time in 11 years ! They are MV Boreas made a maiden voyage (in September 2019), MV Zea Walawe called at the Calabar Ports (in November 2019) and MV MCP Adamax also called at the Ports (in November 2019) as part of the Next Level Agenda of the Buhari Administration.
Rivers Ports were not left out as for the first time ever, an NNLG vessel, with length overall of 160m and gross tonnage of 18311, NRT 5493 DW 233333 laden with BRUTANE berthed at any of the Eastern Ports. Until October 30, 2019 when this vessel, NAVIGATOR CAPRICON berthed at Stockgap Terminal, the product was only shipped to Lagos. In all, nine new vessels called at the Rivers Ports for the first time in 2019. Some of the vessels which called at Port Harcourt for the first thereby increasing throughput and revenue include: MV Zafer, which came in on September 8, 2019, MV Northern dance, which came in on May 22, 2019 and MV Kota Bakti, which came in on February 18, 2019.
Onne Ports received MSC GRACE at berth on August 1, 2019. It was the first time the port will received a container vessel in 12 years! 1The vessel made a total of five voyages before it was substituted with MSC MARIA, which made a total of Nine Voyages in 2019.
The Port also received JPO VOLANS, the first gearless and largest container vessel (LOA of 265.07 metres) to call any Eastern Port on December 8, 2019.
In the Usman administration’s turnaround strategies is transparency and accountability. To ensure transparency and accountability, the NPA opened its budget to the public with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with BUdgit Open Budget System Platform and Implementation of a Public Data Dissemination programme.
It also reviewed all agreements skewed in favour of the third party. This resulted in the dispute with INTELS, the decommissioning of Terminal B at Rivers Ports and the recent termination of the Safe Anchorage Area at the Lagos ports. Also worth mentioning are the introduction of new licensing regime to ensure transparency and due process; publishing of the tariff regime of the Authority on the website for the whole world to see in line with the vision of transparency and accountability.
As a result of the past rot, the current management inherited a backlog of unaudited financial statements from 2013 to 2016 when it took over. Interestingly, the backlog has been cleared with the Authority’s financial statements now audited up till 2018.
For the first time in years, the statutory Audit of the Authority’s financial statements for 2013-2016 and have been concluded, approved and submitted to stakeholders.
Equally, the NPA has reconciled and settled outstanding tax liabilities and upgraded the tax unit into a full-fledged department in its resolve to be a responsible and accoutable government agency. The exercise, which covers the period 2008-2013 has saved the authority the sum of 13,521,855.91 dollars and N5,292,375,480.92
The reconciliation of creditors accounts by the Usman management has led to the recovery of outstanding debts in the sum of 89,011,015.84 dollars and N2,404,342,763.89 out of the total debt of 849,800,471.00 dollars and N32,374,060,312.00 from 2016-2018.
Just like Kenya’s Jennifer transformed the institution into a bastion today, no doubt, Usman has repositioned and transformed the 66-year-old NPA with the consciousness of delivering on its mandate, from a near-failed government agency to a functional nation’s cashcow and making the country the regional hub.
Appointed on July 11, 2016, Usman had served as the Chief of Staff to Governor El Rufai of Kaduna State and was a B.Sc. degree holder in Business Administration from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and also has a post-graduate degree in Development Studies from the University of Leeds, UK. She had also worked at the Bureau of Public Entreprises (BPE).
Bala Usman is currently the Vice-President (Africa) for the International Association of Ports and Harbours (IAPH). In 2014, she was also named the CNN’s most inspiring woman of 2014.
I close with this profound statement; “Leadership is not about you. It’s about us. I believe women are God-made leaders.’’ (Jennifer). Usman definitely has a place in history for turning NPA around.