By Kenneth Jukpor
Following the recent arson at the headquarters of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Managing Director of NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman had a media chat with newsmen. She narrated the unfortunate incident and revealed NPA’s strategy to address the challenges. Enjoy it:
Can you give an update on the recent attack on NPA headquarters and other assets?
NPA had an attack on Tuesday October 21st at Tin Can Island Port. The Commissioner of Police with the support of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) was able to quell the attack by hoodlums on that day. On Wednesday, the headquarters of NPA was attacked by hoodlums. They were able to disarm the security personnel and gained access to the premises. They also burned 27 vehicles within the premises and a whole wing of the building. However, we were able to get the Nigerian Armed forces to disperse the hoodlums and the Fire Service came into the premises to put out the fire. There has been a lot of work in terms of cleaning and we have reached the insurance company because all NPA assets are duly insured. What is paramount is that our services aren’t interrupted and our networks were restored within two days of the incident. We were also able to ensure that all critical information especially in finance was safe. Our payments systems were protected and they haven’t been affected. However, the whole building was affected as you can see the level of damage that was done.
As much as possible, we are doing our best to ensure that NPA personnel can resume work as soon as possible.
Were there any fatalities?
No, there were no fatalities. Our Information Communication Technology (ICT) and security personnel were here but there were no casualties. One of the ICT personnel had a fracture on his side while he was trying to jump down from his office to gain access into the next building. He was the only person who was hurt as the military personnel were able to get hold of some of the hoodlums. Some are undergoing investigations with the Nigerian Navy and necessary actions would be taken afterwards.
How many suspects were apprehended?
There were six of them and investigations are ongoing. So far, we haven’t heard anything that insinuates that there is more than meets the eye. As we have seen, it is an attack on a critical government institution. Similar incidents were also recorded in Calabar where people fought within the port area as they made efforts to access the ports. All necessary investigations on this matter would be done and also the necessary judicial proceedings.
At the moment the Nigerian military are providing security for port business to continue uninterrupted. We are also working to recoup some of our assets as the hoodlums stole computers, refrigerators, etc.
Lagos State Police Command has been able to recover some of the stolen assets during this period and some of our colleagues will be going to identify these assets to see if NPA’s properties are there and recoup them.
Looking at the damage, can you place a monetary value to the loss?
We cannot ascertain the financial loss at the moment because the insurance company is yet to conclude with their findings. The insurance company would be able to provide the value of the damage or monetary cost.
An integrity test is also being done on the building to determine the safety of the building to continue housing NPA personnel. The actual amount would be shared with the media as soon as the insurance company concludes its report.
How soon would NPA workers return to their duties and are there plans to redeploy some members of staff following this incident?
The entire wing has been affected and we are considering getting a temporary space for the members of staff so that they can resume. We are still cleaning because debris and smoke went in and we need to be sure that it is safe for the workers to go into the building.
However, the offices of the Executive Director and my office will be open because this is the corporate headquarters of NPA. Tin Can Island ports, Onne, Apapa, Calabar, Port Harcourt, and others are all functional and they are the core of NPA operational services.
What was your immediate reaction when you heard about this?
It is very disheartening that we are able to find ourselves in such a situation because the Nigerian government has invested a lot of resources in ensuring that the NPA headquarters is conducive for the personnel. We procured vehicles that are for operational use and some of these vehicles that were burnt are brand new vehicles recently approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC). So, we lost vehicles that we could use for operational efficiency. However, NPA is resilient even though people try to pull us down. We would remain committed to do what is required despite the fact that we are in a difficult situation with the current state of our office. The Nigerian spirit is to push on and we have shown that.
There are insinuations that this is more than arson. What do you think about that?
It was vandalization because items were looted such as air conditioners, water dispensers, television sets, printers, some small tables and chairs, among others. So, you can see that new items were also stolen. Three brand new NPA vehicles were also stolen. Motorcycles were also stolen. So, there was an element of looting as well as vandalism within the attack. We want to see what the insurance company can address and the gap that may require the intervention of the Federal Government.
We learnt that your office was also touched. Are there documents of interest that were looted?
All NPA documents that are critical are put in a fireproof safe. We don’t have a situation where documents of special interests were stolen. Yes, my office was vandalized.
It does seem that we have targeted looting at the Audit, Finance and Corporate Planning offices. There seems to have been a concentrated interest in this vandalism. Could there have been an internal arrangement or sabotage and lax in security is also worrisome?
Regarding the vandalization of our audit office, that office is where staff of the department are seated but the crucial documents aren’t located there. The officers work there but that isn’t the repository of our audit documents. No critical document on audit, finance or the legal department was lost. If you look at the audit office, you would find that all the files are still in the shelf. The documentation still remains there but that isn’t where the core of the audit documents aren’t there.
NPA is the biggest government establishment that is located in Lagos and this could be an indication that it was targeted. The NPA headquarters is also located at a place where there are lots of unemployed people. Within the Marina area, NPA headquarters stands in a vulnerable area. NPA has increased in the number of staff buses and vehicles at the headquarters and this creates an ambience that the NPA staff can relate with. If you notice that on Tuesday Tin Can Island port was attacked but all NPA’s interest is to protect the operational area which is the port.
Western ports can attest to the fact that we have been able to deploy security agents to protect the port areas. That is a more critical area than the NPA headquarters and the operational areas are where we have had more attacks. Tin Can Island port was attacked twice within one week and you can see their efforts to attack the ports. We never deployed military to the NPA headquarters because we didn’t think it was a critical area for such a structure. The military is already stretched so we didn’t see the need to have them at the headquarters.
When you have over 300 hoodlums attacking with cutlasses, knives and dangers and police officers were in a very weak state because they were demoralized and subject to attacks. So, the policemen had to run for their lives when over 300 armed hoodlums attacked the NPA headquarters. Don’t forget that on that day every police officer was at his weakest level and you don’t expect them to be in a position to repel such an attack. You can imagine the huge issue it would have been if Tin Can Island port, Apapa, Onne or any other port was attacked. That is where every security should be deployed to secure the assets of Nigerians. What happened at the NPA headquarters would have been more catastrophic if it occurred at any of the ports.
What are the adverse implications of this attack on NPA operations?
The impact would be huge because we may not have the resources to replace a lot of the items that have been destroyed. Our budget has been slashed and everything is under the COVID-19 budget which is very small.
However, what is important is that our operations remain and our ICT infrastructure wasn’t tampered with. That is the core of NPA, so that aspect is safe and administrative is supposed to support the core operations.
NPA is the only government institution that was attacked on the Marina, even though it isn’t the only government establishment in the area. Could the lack of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) by NPA have stimulated this attack by hoodlums?
NPA has CSR activities usually carried out at the port locations. So, CSR is something that we do. Nevertheless, I don’t think CSR would be sufficient to address the huge unemployment in the area or resolve the carnage that was going on throughout Lagos State. We also have information that other government agencies in the area were also attacked but they were able to repel the attacks to the best of their abilities.
As an organization, NPA does its best to avail CSR activities in the port environment but there is a limit to what we can do when it comes to addressing the high level of unemployment. We recruit people based on the availability of needs within the organization. If we are recruiting doctors, nurses and other vocations and realise that some of these residents have such candidates, we would employ them. If you’re aware, some of the recruitment around drivers are done within the local environment. NPA has been doing this and we always employ those within the community. When you look at the vast level of unemployment in the area, it is definitely not something that the NPA can mop up by itself. We don’t even think that it is our responsibility to do that. There is a State government and local government that should ensure that such people are given the attendant consideration as required.
Nigerian ports have been shut for about four days, can you tell us how much revenue has been lost?
We can’t really equate the value of that but the ports which were shut have an attendant value chain. So, the Nigerian government lost huge revenue but you can only imagine what the situation would have been if this arson took place at the Tin Can Island Port. In such a scenario, the ports would have been shut for a longer period. Therefore, we can look at the fact that the ports were shut for only four days as a positive when considering the carnage that would have occurred.
I recall that the contract of the rehabilitation of NPA headquarters was given to the former Vice President at a huge cost. With this incident, how are you describing that decision to the nation and we want to know what you would put in place to ensure this doesn’t reoccur?
The contract of rehabilitation was one that we inherited and it was concluded over two years ago. As I mentioned earlier , we have an insurance cover and that insurance would determine the level of damage and rehabilitation that should be done.
Going forward, we have military personnel guarding the NPA headquarters and we intend to maintain as much security presence as possible until we determine the state of the country at large and also the security level in Lagos State. These decisions would inform the level of security to be deployed at the NPA headquarters. However, there is a directive by the President to ensure that all Federal Government assets are protected and NPA is one of the prioritized establishments.
Right now, we aren’t considering relocation to another area; but our focus is on the insurance cover to repair what has been damaged and recouping everything to make operations normal at the NPA headquarters