Bala Usman’s appointment: A reward for service by Kayode Oluwatoyin

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President Muhammadu Buhari’s Thursday reappointment of Hadiza Bala Usman as Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), indorses the administration’s appreciation of hard work and commitment to fatherland.

If not for any other thing, Bala Usman has in the past four years, shown uncommon passion for the entrenchment of transparency and the prioritisation of national rather than class interests. If only for the hitherto untouchable forces that this lady has confronted and fought to a standstill, her re-appointment is not just worthy but an example of a nation’s appreciation of service.

It is in fact an interesting coincidence that the announcement of the renewal of her tenure came on the same day that a newspaper report indicated that Buhari may have finally decided to cancel the curious Secure Anchorage Area (SAA) operated by the Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMSL).

Bala Usman’s NPA, with the support of Minister Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi spent most of the last one year showing why this SAA was illegal, scandalous and against the ease of doing business policy of the government.

In different interviews where she spoke about it, the NPA MD explained that with a charge of $2,000 for the first day and a $1,500 for subsequent days paid by every ship calling in the Nigerian waters to use the SAA, the cost of shipping in the country would escalate. What is worse, according to her is that these monies, which Thursday’s THISDAY report put at “over $70 million in the last 18 months” is neither remitted to government, nor accounted for!

She argued further that the provision of security on the waterways as well as for vessels calling at the Ports remain the duty of the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). These agencies of government were increasingly getting the attention of government as it relates to the requirements to get their jobs done effectively and so there was no need to engage a private entity that would impose new charges on stakeholders, who will ultimately pass it onto the end user.

Bala Usman went as far as the national assembly to defend the decision to scrap the SAA. Reports indicated that she was physically harassed at the end of the session at the senate and most painfully, members of the national assembly would eventually stay on the side of the SAA to the chagrin of many industry players. Recent event, which the THISDAY reports suggested may have influenced President Buhari’s decision to cancel the contract have however revealed what may have swung the legislators’ opinion in favour of OMSL and its patrons.

Here is what THISDAY says: “The ownership of the company had also become a subject of controversy between two business moguls, Captain Hosa Okunbor and Dr. Tunde Ayeni, last week with the latter alleging a grand design by the former to edge him out of the company.

“While Ayeni had dragged Okunbo to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for alleged mismanagement, stealing and diversion of funds from OMSL, Okunbo in a press statement obtained by THISDAY said Ayeni was no longer a part of either OMSL or its associated companies as he resigned since in 2018 after selling all his shares.

“Ayeni among other sundry allegations had also accused Okunbor of using a whopping $18 million to peddle influence at the National Assembly and the presidency to ensure that the company continues to operate the contract despite the fact that OMSL had made over $70 million in the last 18 months without remitting any money to the federal government.” Wow! Whether the allegation of bribe is true or not, what seem to be obvious now, is that there is nothing personal about the insistence of the NPA on the cancellation of the SAA as Okunbo tried to insinuate during the last gubernatorial elections in Edo State.

Bala Usman has also been dogged in her position on the activities of Intels, another major player in the industry. Intels provides multiple services first as terminal operators and then as service boat operators to the NPA. The current leadership of the NPA has employed hitherto unseen courage in dealing with this maritime superpower since it assumed office.

First was the de-classification of ports terminals which removed the categorization of some ports as strictly oil and gas. Until the de-classification oil and gas cargo could only berth in specific locations in Nigeria and this already caused a disaffection for which some terminal operators, namely Berger and LADOL already protested and were ready to go to court! By that decision, the NPA ensured a level playing field for all operators in the port industry by removing all bottlenecks that hinder healthy competition in the industry.

There is also the dispute on the alleged failure of Intels to remit monies accruing from service boat operations to the TSA as directed by the federal government. For this, the NPA has been at odds with Intels for the better part of the last four years and even though the latter has tried all sorts of blackmail, alleging that NPA action was motivated by politics. Bala Usman always insisted that there was nothing political about obeying the laws of the country and that no entity would be allowed to impose its will on Nigeria.

In several of her interviews that I have read or watched on television, Hajia Bala Usman says one thing that makes me pray that we have more people like her in public office is the commitment to ensuring that all third-party contracts with terms skewed against Nigeria’s interest are corrected. And even then, she shows that she isn’t interested in a government agency that cheats investors. She states in her interviews that reviewing these agreements must put measurable responsibility and sanctions on both parties, that is government and investors alike. What a way to assure investors of the safety of their ventures.

I have also heard her speak about her determination to leave behind a legacy of efficiency and transparency in the Ports. If she achieves that in addition to the noticeable efforts being made to increase traffic to the eastern ports, improve infrastructure in all port locations, ease traffic access into all the ports and ultimately develop deep seaports in the country, one can be sure that the port operations will not remain the same in Nigeria.

I commend President Buhari for rewarding hard work and excellence in this case as an incentive that will encourage more people to give their all in the service country. I wish Hajia Bala Usman an even more focused and successful new tenure.

Oluwatoyin is a Lagos based public affairs analyst

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