By Kingsley Anaroke & Kenneth Jukpor
The Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman had an exclusive chat with MMS Plus newspaper recently. She recounts the highpoints and top challenges as Managing Director, reveals the goal maritime sector goal for 2023. She also speaks on the challenges at the Eastern ports and NPA’s interventions, the opportunities for women at the Authority and the educational challenges facing the girl child in the Northern part of the country. Enjoy all these and more in this thrilling interview.
By July 2020 you would have spent four years in office as the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA); how would you describe your experience?
NPA has embarked on reforms across board in terms of operations as well as the administrative system. We have been able to restructure the personnel in terms of our organogram. We have a new structure and there is clarity in relations between the divisions and the directorate. Governance is a continuum; hence, it was important to further strengthen the organizational structure by providing such institutional reforms which we have done. We also sought to embark on instituting ISO certification within the Harbours department. In order to obtain this certification, there are clear needs for certain improvements and that is currently ongoing. We have deployed the largest number of operational vessels the Nigerian ports have ever seen. We have additional tugboats that have arrived and we have pilot cutters that we procured and security patrol boats and mooring boats. All of these are aspects of procuring and improving on our operational efficiency. They are some of our key deliverables we achieved within the last three years.
We also recognized the need to improve operations at our Eastern ports and we have embarked on certain initiatives to achieve that. The dredging of Escravos and providing incentives for vessels calling at the Eastern ports have led to an increase in vessels calling at those ports. In December 2019, we had the largest vessel calling at the Eastern ports in Onne precisely. These are container vessels that never called at the Eastern ports. We have also had an increase in vessels calling at Calabar that never occurred in the last twelve years. We have flat bottom vessels that come in as well as additional container vessels calling in Calabar. We also witnessed an NLNG vessel that recently berthed in Port Harcourt port and that is a feat that has never been accomplished at that port.
At Lekki deep seaport, we have given approvals for them to commence and they have achieved 20 percent deployment of the construction required. We have also given approval for the development of the Ibom deep seaport. We have posited that the projects in Ogun and Ondo States are collapsed into one because the two locations can’t have independent deep seaports. We have provided the necessary approvals because we understood that the trajectory of shipping is around larger vessels and these vessels can only be accommodated by deep seaports. That is why we are pushing to see how we can have at least three deep seaports in Nigerian by the end of 2023.
At Lekki deep seaport, there is fear that logistics tragedy may erupt as there is no rail connection, pipeline and alternative roads. We don’t need to repeat the mistakes of the Apapa port. What is your take on that?
We have directed that the rail connection is done. I remember one of the first comments I did on the project in 2016 when I visited the Lekki deep seaport was to observe the absence of rail connection. We have notified the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) and the Ministry of Transportation to provide that linkage between the railway master plan and rail deployment that is ongoing. We are also mindful of transferring this traffic from one part of Lagos to another.
The sponsors of the Lekki deep seaport have been discussing with the Lagos State Government and they have gotten an approval to build an alternative road to the corridor of the port and this road will be dedicated to the port activities and link towards Ijebu-Ode as it exits Lagos State. In addition, the Ministry of Works is embarking on another road project to see that there is an expansion via additional lanes traversing into the Lekki Free Trade Zone, Dangote Refinery and the Lekki deep seaport. This shows that there is recognition of the need to have rail and road connection and to have them ahead of the increased traffic. It’s not when we have the traffic crisis that we should that looking for the solutions.
For liquid bulk evacuation, this is also something that Dangote refinery has factored in for bringing in crude products from offshore and also for the products that are going to be exported. We are working to ensure that this is done and sustained. However, whatever would be consumed in Nigeria would be offloaded in the refinery in Lekki and moved upcountry. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) needs to look at the existing pipelines in the country to cater for the distribution of these products to across the nation. The deployment of NNPC pipelines relates to offshore, bringing the crude for refining and pumping out refined products meant for exportation. The ones for import would be deployed from the refinery into Nigeria. We would also have some respite from the traffic caused by liquid bulk movement in Apapa because some of those tank farms will not have the market when the Dangote refinery takes off.
NPA came up with the decision to divert cargoes to the Eastern ports as part of efforts to decongest Lagos ports. However, this would mean an infringement on the consignee’s right to route his cargoes to choice port of destination and additional cost for the consignees. What’s your take on this?
This is an emergency situation that we find ourselves and everybody has to be mindful of the fact that when there is an emergency there would be causalities. What we said was that in the first instance we would divert cargoes into the Lagos ports so that a vessel stemmed for APMT, for example, would be taken to other terminals in the Lagos area in the first instance. What we seek to do is to have vessels come into the Lagos area and fill up the terminals in Lagos and when we still have some with long waiting period at the anchorage we would send them to the Eastern ports. So far, that measure hasn’t been required because we have been able to accommodate the vessels within the Lagos area. We have vessels stemmed at Eko Support, ENL, and others are taken to the Tin Can Island.
What is important is that vessels can’t be waiting outside the anchorage for thirty days to berth. Would the consignees rather have their cargoes wait for thirty days than to take it to Onne and have it delivered in one week? These are some of the things they need to look at. The opportunity cost in terms of the waiting period vis-a-vis the additional cost needed to move the cargo from the Eastern ports to Lagos. NPA is mindful of its role and trying to prevent a situation where there is congestion because certain persons don’t want their cargoes taken to Onne. At NPA, we wouldn’t permit a vessel to wait at the anchorage for thirty days when it could be taken to the Eastern ports and offloaded within two days. It is an issue of national interest that we can’t have that manner of congestion in our country when other ports are idle. We have been able to address the congestion because we hitherto had eighteen vessels waiting but it has reduced to just four vessels at the anchorage. We are monitoring closely to see if the need would arise for us to take those vessels to the Eastern ports.
Concerning the Eastern ports, do you think the dredging have been done sufficiently because the operators still complain about the shallow draft?
Let me speak on the Escravos dredging that was done to 6.7 meters because we can’t go lower than that. We can’t go lower because of the pipelines that were buried there. So, that is the maximum draft the Warri Escravos can get. The additional issues attributable to patronage of the Eastern ports also have to with insecurity. Vessels calling there with armed guards onboard escorting the vessels and these are additional costs that vessel owners need to bear in mind if they choose those ports as destination ports.
The other angle to it is the need to have road and rail connection for the destination of your cargoes. Recently, I met with Hublit vessels owners who now call in Calabar because of the discount on harbour dues and the frequent interaction we have with them. One of the things they asked us to do is to provide support with the Ministry of Works to rehabilitate the road networks linking Calabar to Akwa-Ibom. The movement of cargoes from the ports to the final destination is very critical. We have had engagement with the Ministry of Works after they awarded the construction of a bridge that prevented the movement of goods in the Northeast part of the country.
The shipping companies have confirmed that they would continue using Calabar ports and this has never happened before. They made this decision with the current draft of the port without additional dredging. We are thinking out of the box and dealing directly with the shipping companies to know what the issues are and what we need to do to resolve them. This would enable us record an increase in vessels calling at these locations. Beyond dredging, insecurity is also an issue and in Port Harcourt port we have decayed infrastructure were the quays are about to collapse. They have reached the expiration period. These are some of the issues that affect the Eastern ports.
What would you consider as your biggest headache since your appointment as Managing Director of NPA?
There are quite a number of them such as the push back on reforms by entities that don’t comply to certain regulations. The resistance to compliance has been an issue and we observe this when dealing with third party contractors and other companies.
I will quickly speak on vessels classified as TWA. Vessels are classified as TWA when they are deemed to have come into Nigeria after picking goods from the tropical West African coast. Hitherto, vessels that carry petroleum products were classified as coming from West African coast. What we did was to ask them to indicate which refinery they brought such products from and we have the list of every refinery in the sub-region. We found that there was nowhere they were doing such refining. So, these operators were shortchanging the government by claiming that their products were from the West African coast and they were getting rebates attributed to that category of vessels.
There was quite a lot of push back by the Depots and Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPMAN). At that point they couldn’t accept our terms but we stood our ground and that translated to N10billion coming into the government’s coffers just by insisting that vessels carrying foreign and international cargoes are classified accurately. The resistance to compliance and resistance to regulations are the major challenges we have had.
Talking about reforms, you started the review of the port concession agreement and the expectation was that by now it should have been concluded. What is happening?
We sought the technical support of World Bank and they provided a technical advisory firm to work with us. They developed a framework, concluded their assignment and proffered their suggestions on what needs to be done. We have written to the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the office of the AGF responded last week on the supplemental agreement for the revised concession agreement.
One of the integral parts of the review is that we have submission around compliance. So, if the government doesn’t adhere to the terms of the concession agreement there would be penalties that the government would have to adhere to. If the concessionaire also doesn’t meet its obligations there would also be sanction. There is objectivity and there are clear penalties for both sides. This is a key part of the concession agreement that we have been able to achieve. I would say that we should be able to finish by the first quarter of 2020. The concessionaires were very excited that World Bank participated by providing technical support. It gave them confidence that the review wasn’t just in the interest of NPA as there was a third party that brought international best practices into the review.
Sometime last year, you assured that the review would be open to other stakeholders in the maritime industry so that the challenges from their prisms would be captured, but that expanded stakeholders’ engagement is yet to happen.
We have already done that. We had interactions with the World Bank technical advisory team as well as the concessionaires. The concessionaires brought forward all their issues and it was in one of those sessions that they raised the commendation that they have confidence in the process because the World Bank team was part of the review. They understood that it wasn’t just done to suit the federal government or NPA, but it took into consideration everyone’s perspective.
On security, we recently witnessed the heated debate over the Secure Anchorage Contract. How is NPA partnering NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy on security and what advice do you have for private business persons who still patronize SAA as a result of security threats?
The Secure Anchorage Area (SAA) has been dismantled because we believe that vessel owners shouldn’t be paying directly to a private company for securing their vessels. Any vessel coming into Nigeria should be able to anchor at a particular place without a direct charge. The agencies that are statutorily responsible to provide security are the Nigerian Navy and NIMASA. They should be able to provide this security at zero cost to ship owners.
To the extent that the Navy and NIMASA are unable to provide this security, they should hire a third party contractors but the cost should be borne by the government and not the vessel owners. This has been our position and we have conveyed the directive of the Ministry of Transportation that no vessel should anchor at SAA or pay any company for anchorage. Anchorage would be secured by these two entities with the support from NPA.
We have had a working group comprising Navy, NIMASA and NPA on what is required to secure the anchorage. Securing the anchorage isn’t NPA’s direct purview but we would provide the necessary support to ensure that vessels are safe.
What would be your approach to the demolition of structures on the right of way for the standard gauge rail leading to the ports?
NRC has identified the part where we are going to deploy rail into the port locations. Those areas have been taken down and where there is need for compensation, such compensation have been paid. Where there was need to make any form of adjustment, they have been done. At NPA we have received the payments for compensation for the warehouses that were demolished and other things attributable to the right of way for the rail track.
I think it is a welcome development because having a port without multimodal transport provision for cargo evacuation makes the port inefficient. When you have over 99 percent of cargoes evacuated by roads, the roads would be congested and they would be bad.
We had the rail connection to the ports in the past. Apapa is connected to the rail but that connection is marginal because it doesn’t link to the terminals and doesn’t get to the quayside. It’s an additional rail connection that is being done and we are also going to ensure that henceforth all seaports would be connected to the rail.
You have been very active in empowering women especially at NPA. Can you give us the ratio of women in leadership at the Authority?
We are actually doing very well in terms of giving opportunities to women. Our key divisions are headed by females. Our head of legal services is a woman; our head of Administration is also a woman. The head of monitoring and regulation is a woman as well as the Head of Servicom and Marine and Operations. You would agree that these are crucial positions at the Authority. We have women leading strategic divisions but I keep telling them that it is beyond them being female. They need to bring to bear what is felt when a woman is leading a division. We need to see that in their works and we are grateful that these women have been doing very well.
Our port managers at the Lagos Port Complex and the Calabar port are also female. Nevertheless, we didn’t place them in these positions because they are female but because they are capable.
The literacy level for women is still low especially in the Northern part of the country. What do you have to say about this?
This is something that bedevils the Northern region and the education of women. As we have more female role models and the communities understanding the value of education and translating it into improvement in well-being; we will be able to see more women getting educated in the region. I think the fact that we are seeing more women as school principals; I wouldn’t even take it as high as Chief Executive Officers like myself. Every day families in the region relate with women as school principals, nurses or counselors in the local government, these things would encourage education of women in the North.
I see female education on the rise in the North and I believe we would have the change in trajectory where we would have more girls in schools. We also want them to remain in school because we have observed that the enrollment of girls in schools is actually high but they don’t finish because they drop out.
The Executive Order on ease of doing business at ports came up with the expectation that it would address the port sector issues but that failed. What’s your take on that?
It depends on which of the Executive Orders you are referring to. The Executive Order (EO) 1 which is on transparency and accountability provided timelines for granting permits and approvals. Part of the Executive Orders also stressed 24 hours port operations in Apapa and I have reported that other agencies of government must be mandated to work. While NPA at LPC is providing 24-hours services, if other agencies aren’t there, what happens?
The other aspect is having an inspection being done in one place where all agencies of government carry out the inspection of cargoes in a single interface. This has been challenging because other agencies insist on having their separate inspection. I have notified the Chairman of the Ease of Doing Business Council which is the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo that this isn’t going on at the ports and the need to insist on that. We can’t afford to have additional inspection after a cargo has been inspected and they are also inspected at the port gates and along the highways. These are some of the things that have limited the success of the executive orders.
There is the notion that you were brought in by the Northern cabals to deal with Intels owned by Abubakar Atiku. How would you react to this?
The issue was always about Intels and their non-compliance. I always say that if you don’t have an issue of compliance what is topical? The federal government introduced the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy that it embarked upon and we asked the company to comply. What is wrong in asking the company to comply with a policy that was instituted in 2015? This administration inherited the TSA compliance. I’m curious about what is political about making the company comply with a policy that the government has adopted.
The other aspect to Intels is the issue of monopoly. How do you insist that all oil and gas cargoes must go to selected terminals? Monopolies are usually when an industry is new and you are trying to grow a sector. Intels enjoyed this monopoly for over fifteen years. So, they have no reason to insist on a monopoly.
One of the things that we saw from International Oil Companies (IOCs) in letters to NPA was that they couldn’t compete because the cost of oil and gas cargoes terminating in selected terminals was too high. It was challenging for them to compete in exploration of oil and gas because of this cost. When they had to compete at their headquarters on the places to go to for exploration, it was cheaper to go to other countries than to come to Nigeria. This is attributable to a monopoly where only selected terminals were allowed to handle oil and gas cargoes.
Why should Nigeria be shortchanged because of the interest of some terminals? When we removed the monopoly, it didn’t mean that the company could no longer participate in the business. It only meant that it mustn’t only go to them. Every business should be able to compete in a level playing field. I told them in some of our discussions that they had to compete. If you have been enjoying a monopoly for over ten years and suddenly the monopoly is removed; you have to reduce your prices to compete. Over the years, they had built their infrastructure and made enormous profit so why are they complaining. Other investors would be playing catch-up and investing in infrastructure but they already had that advantage. They only had to reduce their prices to attract people to their terminals.
Anytime this issue of Intels arises, there is the perception that Intels was targeted or Atiku was targeted. I’m curious as to how they were targeted because they had the advantage for fifteen years.
On the issue of Single Window, NPA has one and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has another. Would there be an integration to have just one platform?
On Single Window, Customs believe that what they have is the Single Window. However, there is a committee that is chaired by the Vice President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and the committee is working on implementing the Single Windows. At NPA, we are going to proceed with developing the Port Community system. At the point where the Single Window has been concluded in terms of the framework, we would plug in to have the total Single Window deployment. Right now, the VP is chairing the committee which has the Customs, Ministries of Transportation and Finance, sitting to develop that framework.
Besides the Long Service Awards organized by NPA to reward members of staff, what other initiatives does the Authority deploy to stimulate optimal performance of workers. NIMASA recent introduced Staff of the Month and Staff of the Year Awards, would NPA use similar strategies?
Besides the Long Service awards at NPA, we also have the Staff of the Year awards. However, the Staff of the Year awards it is not for the whole NPA but various segments. The holistic approach is an innovation that we can copy from our sister agency.