Before now the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) was in dire need of sanitation due to unfriendly mode of operations, poor management polices, incompetence and financial impropriety, which have been major factors drawing back the agencies in the past years.
With huge maritime potential and significant level of seaborne trade, Nigeria should be celebrating the ports as its economic mainstay, but issues bothering around corruption, incompetence and lack of tactical methods of generating funds in an encouraging business atmosphere has dragged the past administrations of the agency to the murky waters.
But when the Managing Director, NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman took over the mantle of leadership of the Authority on 20 July, 2016, amid criticisms largely based on gender, there was no doubt among some optimists who saw light at the end of the tunnel.
Barely two years after, the journey continued notwithstanding. The tunnel appears to be long but some ray of light is actually visible from afar.
The challenges are numerous and expectations are high.
For Bala Usman, the past 735 days in office has been so hectic, interesting and challenging, but unrelenting, some of the expectations are fast coming to fruition.
Speaking on a lighter mood in a brief chart with The Guardian recently, Bala Usman said: “The job is so challenging, but I feel I am making a headway.
NPA is an interesting place to work and if I were asked to write a book, the chapters will be limitless. I think I will actually write a book.”
Weighing her performance in the last two years, President, National Associations of Government Approved Freight Fowarders (NAGAFF), Increase Uche said: “From the onset we saw her as someone that has passion to bring change into the agency and make it better than how she met the place. She has actually tried.
She readjusted their approach to managing the ports.
On the ease of doing business, she pursued it vigorously to ensure that the agencies comply, although some operators complied and others did not, but I will say she has tried.
“She even did some things outside her pursuit such as the case of port access roads.
She took it up and pursued it with vigour because she knew that a port without good access road is as good as not functional. It is not her duty but she took it up.
Despite that she is not a career maritime person, she has tried.
Besides, I will like to advice government that in future they should consider a career person for that critical positions in the sector,” Uche said.
A staff of NPA who preferred anonymity, said: “I hope the managing director will perfect her way of celebrating the two year anniversary for staff members. We learnt she wants to celebrate with us in a special way, and I trust she will do that”
On her performance, he said: “Bala Usman has performed wonderfully well, although she is not perfect, but she actually tried.
In terms of staff welfare and capacity development she has done wonderfully well.
She was able to do what the past managing directors could not do.
She created a sense of belonging in every staff to the extent that we get greeting messages for every celebrations and even birthday wishes.
Our salaries are paid promptly and trainings are done as at when due,” he said.
Although, the elegant NPA boss might have done certain things to warrant such commendations, operators believed that struggle continues as many more issues are still waiting for her golden touch.
Such includes, the cost of operating at the seaports, which is currently considered too high; supporting government on sanitizing and fixing access roads in the Lagos port area; dredging of ports channels, particularly Calabar port and the need for good policies that would drive cargo to Nigerian ports among others.
However, the management of NPA said it was carrying out a survey of the Calabar channel so as to do proper planning for dredging, but the operators are still waiting for the all-important channel to be dredged.
Meanwhile, areas where the NPA boss has made impact includes the commissioning of the Command & Control, Communication and Intelligence Centre for the Authority, as this will serve as surveillance of all activities and as an information network center for security agencies in the Port.
She has also launched the provisional, final billing and customer portal module of revenue invoice management system aimed at improving NPA’s service offering, partner relationship, create efficient payment method, maximize revenue and eradicate loss associated with fraud and revenue leakage.
The acquisition of four new tug boats namely MT Daura, MT Ubima, MT Uromi and MT Majiya has no doubt improved operational efficiency, at is aided the successful berthing of Egina FPSO in Lagos.
The NPA management under her watch has also established and entrenched a level playing field for all operators in the port industry by removing all bottlenecks that hinder healthy competition in the industry.
To ensure transparency and accountability the organization became the first MDA to open 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.
The development of Standard Operating Practice (SOP) and establishing of a dedicated terminal to handle export aimed at diversifying the economy and improving earnings is also a laudable feat among others.
However, the industry operators are expecting that the NPA boss would see to logical conclusion some projects appears to be work in progress. These include port access roads.
Although, NPA was able to accomplish the signing of memorandum of understanding with Federal Ministry of Works and Housing for the reconstruction of the port access roads.
The project cost is about N4.34 billion, while NPA will contribute of N1.829 billion, but operators seek quick completion of works to ease movement into the ports.
The authority is currently working in collaboration with Nigerian Customs Service to introduce the much awaited Single Window Platform aimed at simplifying and harmonizing formalities, procedures and the related exchange of information and documents between the various partakers in a supply chain.
Also notable among the on going projects and prospect is the flagging off of the Lekki deep seaport, which need government’s support to meet the completion target.
The DP World signing a partnership agreement with Josepdam Port Services and the Tanger Med of Morocco indicating willingness to develop a green field terminal logistic base; the award of contract for the dredging of Warri-Escravos at the cost of N13 billion by Federal Executive Council and the approval secured for N9.7 billion for the purchase of additional two Tug Boats for NPA to further improve safe navigation and operational efficiency at the Ports among other projects are currently seen as work in progress.