No politics in Nigerian ports' operations

21 Sep 2018
Hadiza Bala Usman


We have put structures in place to enhance transparency and remove all forms of opacity hitherto identified in the operations of our ports.

Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala Usman

Hadiza Bala Usman, Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority speaks with Financial Nigeria Editors in this exclusive interview on the performance of Nigerian ports under her leadership and the investment opportunities in the maritime sector.

Financial Nigeria (FN): Under your leadership, the country aims to become the maritime hub for West and Central Africa. What is the current profile of Nigerian ports?

Hadiza Bala Usman (HBU): The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) governs and operates all the ports of Nigeria. Since 2005, the agency has been repositioned for greater efficiency, accountability and safety. We are seeing an increase in the potentials of the ports in Calabar, Warri, Port Harcourt and Onne and I am glad that we are getting results in terms of better performance. For instance, over the first three months of 2018, the Calabar Port generated an unprecedented N3 billion in revenue.

We are working to ensure that all our ports are functional through the dredging of the channels into the ports so as to attain the required draught level even as we are encouraging shipping companies to deploy flat bottom vessels in the interim. Tugboats and pilot cutters have also been deployed to these ports to increase the capacity of NPA to fulfil its statutory duties of towage and pilotage.

In Lagos, we have recently commissioned a few tugboats, namely MT Daura, MT Ubima, MT Uromi and MT Majiya. This is one of the reasons we were able to receive the Egina FPSO (floating production storage and offloading) vessel in January this year.

There are also other very important areas we have recorded achievements such as dwell time and turnaround time. We have implemented the provisions for ports in the 2017 Executive Orders signed by then-Acting President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo on the Ease of Doing Business. The ports in Apapa went into round-the-clock Provision of Marine Services (Pilotage and Berthing of Vessels) in June last year. Other agencies of government involved in clearing of cargo also did likewise.

To address the challenges of bureaucracy, which leads to the chaotic clearance of cargoes, we have – in collaboration with Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) – developed the operational framework for establishing the National Single Window, Ports Community System and Scanning services. This framework is aimed at simplifying and harmonizing the formalities, procedures and the related exchange of information and documents between the various partakers in the port operations value chain.

We have also initiated a number of steps aimed at easing the evacuation of cargoes from the ports. Last year, we partnered with AG Dangote Construction Company and Flour Mills Nigeria for the reconstruction of the Wharf Road in Apapa. NPA contributed N1.8 billion to the N4.43 billion reconstruction project.

As we realise the importance of intermodal transportation in all modern ports, the government has made significant progress in its relationship with General Electric towards the concessioning of the rail lines that will terminate at the ports.

An efficient transportation system is a critical driver in enabling quick entry and exit of goods. It is important we have easy inflow and exit of cargoes for importation and exportation. The utilisation of inland waterways is also being explored. In the meantime, cargo is already being moved by barges. So, all in all, we are on the way to achieving our target and positioning our ports to be the best in the region.

FN: What are the investment opportunities for private sector and institutional investors in the maritime transport sub-sector in Nigeria, particularly those opportunities that are being promoted by Nigerian Ports Authority?

HBU: There are myriads of opportunities for investors in Nigeria’s maritime sector. As you are aware, the 2005 concession exercise made the Authority landlord of ports rather than owners and direct operators. What this means is that the Authority by virtue of the Nigerian Ports Authority Act 2004, CAP 126 LFN, ceded operating rights in Nigerian ports to the private sector while the NPA still retains ownership of port land as well as keeping responsibility for licensing operators and regulating their activities.

25 terminal operators, all private companies, emerged from the concession exercise. The NPA is also allowed by its enabling law to engage private entities to carry out its statutory responsibilities of pilotage, towage, security of the ports as well as maintenance dredging. There are opportunities in support services like power, telecommunications, computerisation and equipment leasing. This is not to talk about the enormous opportunities available in the upgrading of port infrastructure and the development of deep seaports as is currently going on. In essence, there is no limit to the investment opportunities in the Nigerian maritime sector.

FN: The need for reforms of Nigerian ports has been a subject of discussion in the last few decades. What are the reforms that you have prioritised since your appointments as NPA Managing Director in 2016, and what are the overarching reform goals you are pursuing?

HBU: Let me start from the goals of our reform efforts. My hope is that we would be able to deliver reforms that would entrench a culture of efficiency and transparency with the aim of making ours the ports of choice on the continent. To achieve this, we must lead by example, and show the capacity to govern by the books and be above board. Beyond that, we have also put structures in place to enhance transparency and remove all forms of opacity hitherto identified in our operations.

In June 2017, we launched the Revenue Invoice Management System (RIMS), a web-based billing and revenue collection application which has fully automated the entire billing cycle of the NPA. Besides being an efficient payment method and improving customer service delivery in port operations, the RIMS has eradicated losses associated with fraud and revenue leakage.

We have made our budgets open to the public. We have also made information on tariffs accessible anywhere in the world because it is now published on our website. We have also directed all terminal operators to do likewise.

The management of NPA also immediately complied with the Federal Government’s directive for all revenues accruing to MDAs to be paid into the Treasury Single Account (TSA). The failure of one of our major partners to comply with this policy caused a major row in 2017 because we had resolved not to make any compromise.

In addition to the purchase of the tugboats, which I spoke about earlier, we have commissioned a Command & Control, Communication and Intelligence Centre. This facility is one of the most sophisticated in the subregion and it serves as a surveillance centre for all maritime activities and as an information network centre for security agencies in the ports. So doing, we have prioritised safety and security.

In addition to the 24-hour port operations in Lagos, there is the national single window platform, which allows all government agencies to come under one platform for the inspection and clearing of cargoes. We are also working towards the procurement of a modern scanning device that will speed up our processes.

FN: Would you like to highlight some other successes that have been recorded by the current management of the NPA that you lead?

HBU: There are a couple of things that have made us glad, even though we are nowhere near where we hope to be. One has to do with the condition of service at the Authority. We are aware that no matter what we do, it would be impossible to effect positive change if we do not pay attention to the welfare of our staff. We have embarked on what is arguably the most comprehensive condition of service review in the country’s public service.

When we came in as the new management of NPA, we found a situation in which people’s remunerations actually reduced when they got promoted. So, no one wanted to be elevated and people were happy with monies that came in from solicitations and kickbacks. To improve the level of transparency and efficiency, this system had to change and we succeeded. In addition to that, we set up a performance-based management system. I have talked about the process we have set in motion to effect transparency in our operations.

We also realised that a lot of agreements entered into by the NPA were to the detriment of the nation. We have reviewed quite a number of them in spite of strong opposition and even blackmail. I am also happy that we have been able to resuscitate activities at the Eastern ports. We have also secured the approval for the dredging of Warri Port.

All of these have increased investors’ confidence in the maritime sector. This is exemplified in the acquisition of NPA’s equity in the Lekki Deep Seaport by the China Harbour Engineering Company. There is also the willingness of the Tanger-Med of Morocco to develop a greenfield terminal logistics base in Nigeria, amongst many other such ongoing discussions.

FN: The horrendous traffic congestion on the dilapidated roads to the ports in Lagos, often exacerbated by the trucking activities in and out of the ports must be taken as a public relations nightmare for the NPA. The roads are being reconstructed now. But is the NPA also renewing its infrastructure, perhaps as part of its sustainability commitments and strategy?

HBU: Oh yes, we are. I have given some example of such infrastructure renewal programmes in the course of this interview. We are also insisting that terminal operators and shipping lines working in the country must also renew the infrastructure at their terminals and facilities. It is the only way we can remain competitive and there is no way we would allow any compromises in that area.

In terms of the roads to the ports, we have actually mooted the proposal for NPA to take over the roads through the Federal Ministry of Transportation. The roads are currently under the management of the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. But we think they would be better maintained by organisations like the NPA who do business in Apapa.

FN: To what extent does the NPA act independently, serving the maritime sector of the Nigerian economy, as opposed to the political agenda of the government of the day?

HBU: The NPA is an independent body and we are fortunate to have President Muhammadu Buhari, whose vision is for a better Nigeria, and Rt Hon Chibuike Ameachi as Minister of Transportation at this time. We are here to ensure that Nigerian ports become the best in Africa and we are getting all the support that we need from the government.

There is no question of politics in our operations as long as people conform to the law of the land. When people or organisations run afoul of the law, we will not fold our arms. It does not matter how much blackmail and false news they peddle.

FN: What are your leadership values and how are they brought to bear in your leading the NPA?

HBU: I would say hard work, first of all. Then I would also say leading by example, and providing the leadership that is required to ensure NPA is run professionally.

The advantages of being relatively young is that you have the physical and mental energy to take on your responsibilities. When you are leading by example and doing the heavy lifting, your colleagues respect you.

Having worked as Chief of Staff to the Governor of Kaduna State kind of prepared me for this job. I also insist on transparency and accountability. That message is currently permeating through the Authority and stakeholders in the sector.

FN: What is your outlook for the Nigerian maritime industry in the next five years?

HBU: I see the sector becoming the foremost on the continent. We have got all that it takes, so we just need to put our acts together. I am confident that with the necessary political will, like that which the Authority is currently getting, we will get there. We are also committed to getting there by providing a level playing field for all investors and emphasising the ease of doing business at the ports.