My Vision, My Legacy Dreams As NPA MD- Bello-Koko

By Kingsley Anaroke & Sabastine Mbah
My Vision, My Legacy Dreams As NPA MD- Bello-Koko
Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mr. Mohammed Bello-Koko

It was a long wait. But it seemed to have turned out a purposeful wait. Many lost the patience to carry on for the hopelessness of being a victim of a dream that never was. Many had equally concluded that he had nothing to offer. That could be why he was playing busy. For a man who had incubated himself in the system as the Executive Director, Finance and Administration for over four years before fortunes smiled on him as the Managing Director after a stint in acting capacity, so much professional and technical vibes were expected. The news you may want to hear is that Mr. Mohammed Bello-Koko did not hit below the belt in his inaugural media outing as substantive MD of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). I personally had thought that he was playing Samuel Becket’s “Waiting for Godot”. In his elaborate presentation of vision, mission, programmes and projects on course, punctuated with legacies of his dream, Bello-Koko left no one in doubt that he is ready to sail seamlessly to success in his new brief at NPA. His programmes and plans seem so rooted that no banana-peels can derail them because he is a good product of consolidation that found expression in a charted leadership with vision that is capable of driving itself on auto pilot in case a visionless and unfortunate successor takes the baton tomorrow. Bello-Koko spewed mastery of his brief and the industry in this encounter. It is revealing and engaging. Excerpts:   

In The Beginning

On assumption of duty, what I did was to determine what NPA is all about, and one of the earliest things I did was to call for a management retreat and that management retreat took place as planned. We felt it was an avenue for everyone to actually speak up. Yes! We were able to say, this is how we have been doing this and this is how we have been doing that, but are we doing them rightly? Everything is dynamic, right? In that place, we came up with changes in policies, change in focus and so on and so forth. For me, I did that because I felt I needed the management team to work with me for us to achieve something.

I was acting then and didn’t know if I was going to be confirmed or not. But as at that time, I was acting the responsibilities to ensure that the right things were done. It helped, and after that I ensured that there was a board retreat and meeting. The essence of the board retreat is also to ensure that, first of all, they know their functions, their responsibilities, but we also wanted their advice. So, we took them through the history of NPA, the concession era, what is happening now.

After all that, we decided to sit down, and walk the talk.   NPA is about trade facilitation. The responsibility of every port is to facilitate trade. Until that is made clear, then there is a problem.

While the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has been turned into a major revenue earner for the federal government, gradually some of our responsibilities are becoming impossible to carry because there is more focus on your contributions to Treasury Single Account (TSA), which is fine. What it does for us is that it makes us reduce cost and generate more. And for you to ensure that there is trade facilitation, it means you have to reach out to your stakeholders. One of the first things we did was to start reaching out to many stakeholders. The port environment is a conglomerate of so many players. We need the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for you to be able to deliver, you need the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), you need the Quarantine and then of course, you have the shipping companies. Everybody knows we do not regulate, it is the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), they are the major stakeholders and of course, the terminal operators. So, with this mapping done, we set a goal on those things we need to do in order to improve trade facilitation. And it’s only when you do that, that you start having a better flow of traffic, shorter time of cargo and the ship. And we reached out to as far as the Nigerian Navy. There is an issue that has not been resolved for over 20 years. The Chief of the Naval Staff has practically become a staff of NPA for this reason of finding a way out.

 Some of our signal stations in the South-South are now relocated to Nigerian Navy command. This means that our signal stations will no longer be vandalized. They are assisting us in training our Hydrographers because they have more robust and most experienced Hydrography department. And now we are going to start publishing charts, and so on and so forth.

However, we also realized that the modern ports are all moving towards automation and automation cannot be haphazard but full automation. Once there is manual interference with some of the things we do, then you have not been fully automated.

Because of this, we wrote to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to help us consult. Now, we are about to deplore the port community system. The port community system is an avenue that ensures that all stakeholders, from NPA itself, Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), shipping companies and everybody logs into that central system for exchange of data and processes. Meanwhile, we are upgrading our rates in readiness for that and we are getting stakeholders to buy into it. We are ensuring that we are going to start deploying the soft-wares soon. The IMO has mandated that we start to deploy the IT software and so on and so forth by 2025. Our target is actually 2023, maximum early 2024.

We reached out to NLNG, we have been trying to deploy Vessel Tracking System (VTS) probably for ten years now but since we came in, it has been one of the major challenges because you can’t get qualified people to deploy VTS. They are very few. We wrote to IMO, they gave us a list of some companies, they came and could not meet our requirements, some of them were not interested in working with NPA. However, NLNG has VTS in Bonny even though it is not robust. For some months now, we have been meeting with NLNG so that they do the survey and put the nose and the censor around the quays.

One of the most important things in maritime industry all over the world now is that you should be able to have visibility without censorship. And it should be a tremendous achievement and I believe that I will achieve it within the year.

Our application is also being updated and we are making sure that people keep using those applications and we have reduced manual processes. And we are seeing that things are improving, we are blocking leakages.

But we also have porous ports. The eastern ports have decaying infrastructure. The Tin-Can Island Port, we all know what is happening to it and for that we said we need to focus our budget towards the rehabilitation of those quay walls, but we must also look at the holistic review of those infrastructure and decide if it is really important we rehabilitate Tin-Can, Apapa and other ports. What we did was to start talking to lending agencies, people who intend to lend. We are discussing with the terminal operators who have been using these places for 10 to 15 years now. Some of them have their leases at the point of expiration and we want to know how much money they are going to put back into the system. For us to renew the agreements, we need to have categorical commitment from them, because if we give it to someone or have to borrow money for rehabilitation, the rates will go up. And if we don’t do that and keep managing those places, the places will keep depreciating and collapsing and because of their financial interest they won’t want anything to stop what they are doing to reconstruct the place.

And we have had interest from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), World Bank, AFRI-EXIM and so on and so forth. Surprisingly, the World Bank that attracted money many years ago to construct part of Apapa, has come back again to say if you need funding, we will support. But we have written to government to allow us use a certain percentage of the money contributed to Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) to reconstruct these ports. While at that, in the last few months, there have been this massive vandalism of the buoys (They indicate where safe water lies and where to navigate safely within a channel) in the channel and we have started deploying those buoys to eastern ports especially in Warri and Calabar. We have also started the rehabilitation of some of the locations that have fender shortages. The fenders are currently being deployed and hopefully in the next two weeks would have been cleared. We have cases of ships coming to berth but there were no fenders there.

What are we doing here? We are ensuring that we are not just providing physical infrastructure but also the other accessories that are supposed to be there, the fenders for safety of vessels. And that is our responsibility and those have been absent for some time. We went to Greece and one of the issues they complained was about fender, “your quays don’t have fenders”. So what we are doing is for a ship owner to say, “I don’t mind going to Nigeria because there are navigation aids, because they have fenders now, because there is better security now, because the signal stations are working now”. The more ships you have that are ready to come into Nigeria, the lower the cost of shipping into Nigeria. So, if there are hundred vessels ready to come in, the cost of freight and services will be lower than if there are only twenty. It is just basic economics. And the shipping lines are becoming more interested in allowing some of their vessels to sail to Nigeria.

On marine services, we have realized the shortages of mooring boats, pilot cutters, and many others. A few days ago, a vessel sailed from here to eastern ports. It carried 2000 pilot cutters and three security personnel. They are supposed to go to Onne, Warri and Calabar. Why we are doing this is to ensure that we are performing our responsibilities. A situation where our pilots use speed boats to go offshore to bring in vessel is not just embarrassing but also not safe for our staff.

We are looking at the third party towage services at the eastern ports and we will review the agreement to ensure better services. Even bunker alone is a problem to the towage company. So we will review that.

In the 2022 budget, the focus is to provide more of these marine vessels and ensure that we provide services according to our responsibilities and as many of these equipment as possible should be there. And also ensure that those ones that are on ground are also serviced properly. The problem is that servicing of these equipments takes time and nobody looks at it but the vessels management department is taking responsibility for that. One of the key focus we have is to rehabilitate the eastern ports. I was in Delta some days ago and we all know that in the past few weeks, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) awarded the contract for the dredging of the Escravos channels.

The draught there, in some places is about three or four metres instead of seven, the reason is because of the break water and the high siltation. The breakwater collapsed probably ten years ago and it has not been repaired. We have given a contract to Royal House Company to do the Biotechnic and Geotechnical survey together with royal marine and the first three surveys have been submitted. What they are now working on now is the design and when that is ready, a decision will be taken weather to reconstruct the existing breakwaters which is over 8km long or to look into another location. But it’s a very expensive structure, probably the most expensive single structure in any ports. We are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars here based on projections.

We also realized that probably for over two decades the port has never been properly mapped and surveyed, so the mapping and survey of the channel from the Fairway buoy to Warri, from Fairway buoy to Koko and Sapele have begun. The essence here is to know the draught along the channel. To also know if there are wrecks along the channel that need to be salvaged and other safety issues. And then it also helps management to take a decision. It helps the user, the oil companies, tank farms, and many others. It is NPA that is responsible for that channel.

One of the complaints that the international shipping lines are giving about the channel is lack of mapping of that channel. So, when you do that you will be able to make it public. What we have now is from Fairway buoy to Warri port. We didn’t have information on the other parts of the channel and that is being done. Fenders are also being deployed there.

In recent months you must have been hearing of the proliferation of so many deep sea ports around the country and Lekki Deep Sea Port will start operations by September. One of the last items that is needed is the ship to shore cranes which will come in June for installation and by September the first commercial ship should come into Lekki. There are promoters that come up with the construction of Badagry Deep Sea Port construction and another one in Ibom and in Bonny. The promoters of Badagry are very serious probably seeing the competition that it is going to bring and the OBC has been concluded and the FBC submitted and it is just for it to go to FEC for approval and then the construction of Badagry Deep Sea Port will begin. The one for Bonny, a location has been found and it has a natural draft of 17.5metres, which is amazing. However, there is the issue of additional land but it is the community that has the say but there should be a deep sea port in the other parts of the country also, we can’t concentrate everything in Lagos. So, the NPA is working with the Federal Ministry of Transportation really to push for the kick off of the construction of deep sea port in Bonny. This is just to give Nigerians alternatives and ensure that we return Nigeria back to being the hub of maritime activities in West and Sub-Saharan Africa. We have a large captive cargo that we are loading to other countries but we are also ready to bring down the rates because what affects transit cargo is cost, transit cargo, if it touches here and its final destination is B, and there are high charges at point A, it will rather find a way to take it to point B straight.  Negotiation on that has begun and we are ready to work with Lekki deep sea port that is about to start operations soon. The vessels coming will be massive, bigger than any size we have been seeing in the country.

On staff welfare, those that have been to Delta port, Tin-can here and headquarters of the former Western Port also, will see that they are really dilapidated and contracts have been awarded. Rehabilitation of Delta and the one in Tin-can, the essence is to provide a good working environment for our colleagues. Furniture have been bought, some of the furniture have been there for over 20 years, we have changed them. Again, we are ensuring that they have the right working tools, computers etc. The sports facilities around the port are also being looked at. It has been worked on and will soon be operational. The clinics have been provided with more equipment. Some of the clinics did not have laboratory but I have asked them to ensure that all the clinics should have the basic laboratory equipment for the test of malaria etc. We have bought x-ray machines for our clinics. Clinics in the port are actually supposed to be able to attend to any seafarer that comes into the country at ports and that’s the target and we have started achieving it and I am sure that in the next one month or two we would conclude all that and be proud of our clinics.

And then there is this location in dockyard, lovely building where we have the simulator, so we just renovated that simulator building few years ago and I felt that we have a knowledge gap.

We are beginning to have high number of retiring staff and we need to have our own training institute to reduce cost. We are almost 4,000. If every year you train just 1,000 it’s really a lot of money. It will be able to train almost 400 people at once in different classes. There is a 34 bed accommodation for staff there, there is also a kitchen, canteen and a gym about to be equipped. I just want to make it a sustainable small training school and the idea also is to bring back our retired members of staff to come back and teach our colleagues. Knowledge is important to our industry and in NPA, we realized that most of them just go away without impacting knowledge and even if they do, it’s not enough and we are beginning to see gaps. And we will look for the intelligent ones that have retired rather than pay consultants money, we rather just pay one of our retirees even if it’s 50% of that money to come back and train our people, so that training school is to ensure that our Staff are more trained. We got more operational vehicles, such as Hilux that are necessary for monitoring and security departments and more staff buses known as welfare buses in NPA.

One of the major problems affecting the NPA which we have been writing about is the issue of budget. We have an expenditure limit such that formerly you can spend 75% but now we spend only 50%. We are providing services, if you don’t spend money you won’t be able to provide those services. For instance, if you don’t have money to buy the marine vessels, if you don’t have money to rehabilitate your quay walls, if you don’t have money to deploy your VTS, amongst others, what happens? We will work with the relevant agencies to achieve that for them to see that our situation is peculiar and we believe to a large extent they will give us more breathing space to perform our responsibilities.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am telling you all these things so that you know what we have been doing and what is going on.

The Problem of Eto

I know that some of you have questions regarding Eto. Even with the deployment of Eto we are still having traffic problems but you will all agree with me that the worst of Eto is still better than no Eto. The problem is enforcement.

 About a month ago we signed an agreement with Lagos State Government to deploy a mobile court to that location. We called the two AIGs there and a certain weekend we went round and I was really impressed with what the AIG did. He practically told some DPOs to go to their office and wait for their redeployment letters.  Moving around, he saw check points that were not supposed to be there. And that is why that outing is good. We identified the locations where there should be check-points, so if at the end of the day there are 60 check-points and you decided that you want 20 check-points, where are their locations? If you are coming up with a signage that would be put at those locations so any check-point outside those locations is an illegal check-point.  Also, what are the check-points for? It’s not every check-point that should be checking Eto tickets. There are check-points that are there for national security, community policing and we don’t want to interfere with them. But what we are saying is that don’t stop trucks, you have no business with trucks.

We are looking at the possibilities of another application. Eto once in a while has delay or glitches, so there is a possibility that a second app will be introduced. Like everything in life has an alternative and it also creates competition. We have worked with Dangote and we have been speaking with them and Hitech. That point between Sunrise and Coconut bustop at that Tin –can axis if they are able to finish that space before the rain comes, it will really reduce the traffic. Whenever Tin-can has a problem, everybody going to Tin-can goes through Apapa and then that thing you have achieved in Apapa is rubbished.

And we are giving real priorities to export boxes and we can really achieve that when the roads are freer, the roads can only be free when Tincan road is completed.

Standard Operating Procedures For Barges

 And that is why we also encourage the use of barges. Very soon we hope to come up with an SOP for Barge operations. Because we have all sorts of barges and sizes that are not safe. The same way we created minimum safety standards for trucks, we have also created for barges. We have also called them for meeting, they have been operating on free ticket for long and that has to stop, they need to pay port tariff. And that’s what we are going to do, we give them concessions and the government generates revenue from it. Most of the barges do not have communication systems, they are not branded, when they commit an offence you don’t even know who owns them. Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you will be hearing vessels horning, everytime they are horning they are not telling us bye bye, they are telling someone to get off the channel. In fact, we have had situations where ships anchored in the middle of the channel because of a barge in front and that has to stop or we start seizing them so you are likely to hear complaints that’s why I am mentioning it here. We are going to be very firm, we need to be brutal with them. The day a ship sinks in the middle of the channel, we are doomed. And then somebody will be blackmailing you that you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that because of his economic interest. We will not allow some of these barges to operate and we will also insist that they don’t operate at night. Some weeks ago a barge sneaked out to operate and it bruised a vessel that was offloading liquid cargo. Imagine if that vessel had gone aflame. You go to Kirikiri you see them double-banking, in fact, in some places, you see them triple-banking. So we are going to have big issues with barge operators and I am saying it in advance so that when you hear it, call us we will tell you the truth.


Port Automation

I would love to see our ports fully automated, automation will be the backbone of efficiency in our ports. It will improve revenue and achieve a lot of things we want to achieve. I am really interested in getting this done. We have so many automation done in silos that need to be integrated. So, we need to copy something that is being used in other parts of the world that can add value. And that is port community system and harbours automation. I am looking forward to a legacy of rehabilitated port infrastructure with the right marine equipments and that’s what we have started working on already. We have gotten the design of Tin-can, the concern is how it can be reconstructed, what is the likely cost of reconstructing Tin-can, what are you going to do to some parts of Apapa? We are pushing BUA to start reconstruction and he has sent some of his final drawings.

Staff Welfare

Staff welfare for me is very key. We cannot satisfy the staff but it’s something we want to pay special attention to. These are the first sets of legacy I want to leave.  Everything I read out to you is a legacy that I want to leave. Hold me responsible for everything I have said before.

 Port Rehabilitation

So if you are pursuing the rehabilitation of Ports infrastructure, under it  you also have duplication of deep sea ports, it’s all encompassing. And we will work with relevant government agencies, investors and lending agencies that are interested in lending, weather direct or indirect lending. Some of them just need a clarification from NPA to say if there is default who will take responsibility for that.

Someone asked what we are doing to revive the Burutu, Koko and Sapele ports.

For the Koko port, there is an interested investor who wants to use Koko port for mineral export. There is a lease there but the government needs a long term lease. But it’s when we finish these mapping and surveying of the channel that we will now be able to, because they don’t need a channel that they don’t know what is there. They need a channel that is also deeper.  The channel has an NNPC pipeline that is buried about 7.5 meters so you cannot dredge deeper. Discussion has started with NNPC to see if there is a way they can bury the pipe deeper, if they take it to 14, that means we can dredge deeper. Yes we know that’s going to be the longest channel, so it makes it extremely expensive to dredge.

For Sapele, we have been having meetings with the Nigeria Navy, I mentioned it earlier on that we are collaborating with them to see how the port can be operational, what part of it that will be operational and not pose security threat to them because you cannot bring civilians into a military zone. That place has practically been turned into a naval base and the reason for that we know what happened in the past and what led to their presence, but that discussion is taking place between NPA and the Chief of Naval Staff. We are assessing the facilities of Koko and Burutu. We are going to rehabilitate especially Koko, make sure that there is electricity, the quays are collapsing. It is one of the things we are going to do in 2022.

Two weeks ago, when I went to Delta, we visited the Olu of Warri and we pleaded with him to help us talk to the community that their actions and inactions will determine the kind of businesses that will come to those locations. And as at that time, I was also getting complaints from the companies that were doing the survey of the channel. The company that is supposed to do the mapping and the Survey is going to do 50 laps, they already have problems on where to stay over night. And each community they get to, there are issues.

But what we have done is to bring the traditional rulers into these issues so that they help us speak to these people to understand that whatever is done there is to help the economic activities of that place. The Olu of warri has given his commitment and promised to also reach out to other community rulers to ensure there are no disruptions to shipping and other activities in those locations.

Complaints Of Eto And Extortion

Stakeholders are complaining of extortion, and that’s why I have also mentioned the collaboration we are having with the Lagos State government, the Police commands, the Navy and everybody have been quite cooperative. We are trying to ensure that we have the roster of people that are on duty on weekly basis, so that if there is an offence at point 9, we will check point 9 and know who was responsible. And then we ensure that there are no illegal check-points. We bought about 20 motor bikes and gave to riders that are going round. Lagos state government has created mobile courts to prosecute offenders and also they will be on the water for illegal check-points.

So before Eto, let’s just say that people were benefiting from the chaos, people were enriching themselves, they are not happy with the new order. And we are urging them that we will keep automating all that, we will keep doing all that until we get it perfect. I have said that we are likely to create a second app, it’s just to create competition and also keep people on target. If today Eto is attacked and we take five to six days to bring it back, we are all in trouble. So you see it is necessity and I would extend it to other locations, like Lekki. But what I am saying is that we would extend automation to port system, whether it’s Eto or another one I do not know. But I know that it’s something that will happen almost immediately.

Review Of Concession Agreement

On concession agreement, there were 5 that expired, each of them have different dates. Now, at the point of expiration, the then Legal Adviser said they can apply and we just renew but it was after the concession agreement that the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) Act came up. And the ICRC Act requires that there should be a tender, a new bid and so on and so forth. So there is a conflict. The Minister then said that some of these terminals are in the worst states, what are you going to do to them? NPA also requested for development plans from the terminal operators, and so we have to go to ICRC to get certification and so on and so forth. They have been given temporary extension of 6 months, the essence is to ensure that the right thing is done here, that is, we have value for money. If today you throw those concessionaires out, and you ask people to bid, the new bidders will naturally pay higher than what we collected from the present occupants and we all know that. So what we are saying is, let’s sit on the table and create an agreement that is fair.

We need an agreement that spells justice and accountability for both NPA and the concessionaires. Before going into a terminal even for inspection, you have to give them two weeks’ notice. So we agreed that these concession agreements are due for renewal and so on and so forth and that is being worked on and will be renewed as quickly as possible.

Calabar Port Dredging

 For Calabar port, there is a dredging contract given to Niger Dock, probably ten years ago and there was a problem suggesting that the dredging was not done, at the moment the matter is in court. So you can’t go to do the dredging neither can you appoint a new dredging company until that matter is resolved. There is an ongoing discussion with those involved, the Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of Justice and NPA. When everything is resolved, a proper survey will be carried out on the channel to determine how shallow or deep it is, but there is need for the dredging of the channel. For the usage of Calabar as a port we held a stakeholders meeting in Port-harcourt and made them understand that the ports in the east are not dead, they have limitations. Yes, but they are still going to be used.

On Lekki Deep Sea-Port Road

 The Lekki port road is outside the responsibilities of NPA, but what the Ministry of Transportation did was to get the Federal Government to be more aware of the state of the road. He also wants the President to agree that there should be a survey for a rail line to link up to Lagos-Ibadan line and carry cargo to some of the dry terminals there.

 We have also written to the Federal Ministry of Works informing them of the need to pay attention to that road, whether through budget funding, or concession or to use the tax. Dangote is supposed to pay to construct the road. We have brought the attention of relevant government agencies on the need to construct that road, as for the rail, I am sure that the survey will soon start.

New Licensing Regime For Barges

Someone asked when will we license the new barges? We have  frozen the licensing of  barges until we review the current ones. We will delist those that we feel do not meet our requirements and then those that meet the requirements, we will give them additional requirements to meet. It’s not the numbers that matter, it’s the quality. We have seen videos of containers falling off barges, we have seen barges sinking also, so it’s not the numbers of barges that are important but the quality. If we create standards, we can now increase the numbers of the barges and quality. I believe that shortly we will allow those that meet our requirements to have license but we are not issuing new ones until we resolve that.

On Vessel Maintenance

The vessel maintenance is one of the conversations we are having with the Nigeria Navy, because you cannot say pick a vessel in Calabar and bring it to naval base in Lagos for servicing. But because they construct some of these vessels, we will use their facilities for service. The security patrol boats we bought are meant for providing security within the port premises and not along the channels which are the responsibility of NIMASA and the Nigeria Navy. But where they were at large and we needed the help of Nigeria Navy, they had offered to help.

Nobody Owns Ports In Nigeria

There is a law in Nigeria that there is no private ownership of Ports. NPA owns Onne port, both the FOT and FLT. But the company that has invested in the first phase was paid later. It is Intels, they took over the port when it was at a terrible state and built phase 3, built phase 4 but it wasn’t free, they don’t own it and they have been paid.

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