· Amaechi gives condition for Hadiza’s reinstatement
· Ex-Governors jostle for NPA top job, Bello-Koko leads the race
By Kenneth Jukpor
Four months after the suspension of the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman, the highbrow politicking for the top job as helmsman at the Authority lingers and the maritime sector gropes in the dark with the question – who will become the next substantive Managing Director of NPA?
Activities at the Authority have been affected since Hadiza’s exit with her successor in acting capacity, Mr. Mohammed Bello-Koko said to have been warned by the Presidency to tread cautiously on capital financial dealings.
While the competence of Bello-Koko isn’t in doubt, the major issue as some experts noted is that he can’t be unconnected to the monetary indictment which led to the suspension of Hadiza few months ago because he was serving as the Executive Director, Finance and Administration, NPA at the time.
Terminal operators, freight agents, maritime lawyers, among others are divided on the issue and only willing to speak in hushed tones as some lament that Hadiza was hastily dismissed, while others posit that the momentum gained under her leadership could be eroded.
Amid the politicking for the NPA Managing Director’s position, port stakeholders have lamented that there have been fewer stakeholders’ engagement by the Authority while Lagos seaports are gradually returning to the dirty state they were characterized by, prior to the emergence of Bala-Usman as the NPA boss.
The battle of the next substantive Managing Director of NPA is so fierce that some former Governors have indicated interest in getting the job. Meanwhile, Bello-Koko who is the Transport Minister, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi’s preferred option is winning the race to be confirmed substantive Managing Director.
Industry experts have also faulted President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to allow Amaechi step up the panel to investigate Hadiza as they perceive that the face-off has primarily been between the suspended NPA boss and the supervisory Minister.
Events took a shocking turn in recent weeks as Hadiza Bala-Usman met with her boss, Amaechi to beg for forgiveness as she sought to be reinstated for one year, but the Transport Minister is only inclined to grant six months.
Amaechi has also inserted a clause for granting Hadiza a soft-landing to be reinstated as NPA boss, by demanding a post-dated six months resignation letter ahead of her return.
With negotiations ongoing in this regard, some experts have linked this development to grand politicking connected to the 2023 presidential elections.
A former President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu subscribes to this school of thought as he told our correspondent, “I can tell you honestly whatever their relationship is; the bottom line is politics and 2023 elections.”
“Hadiza has bitten the bullet, but it could have been anybody else. Possibly, she was reluctant in playing ball that could have landed her in more trouble but it makes me also remember when a petition was written against me to one of this anti-graft agency, just for me being a nice man and head of ANLCA.”
“Look at the maritime industry today, who are the professionals there that are also Chief Executives? Hassan Bello of Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) who rose through the ranks but he has exited. We can talk about Dr. Bashir Jamoh at NIMASA. NPA is an agency where you’re assured of quantum sums of money being generated and the next thing is that those who put you there would want something. When you say no, they set you up, when you say yes you can still be a victim. So, I don’t have sympathy for politicians who eat themselves. That’s why it is said to be a game of dog eats dog.”
Also speaking on the issue, a port terminal operator who preferred anonymity stated that the suspended NPA boss was a show of solidarity to the Transport Minister from the President.
“What has happened is that Buhari has shown to Amaechi and his party loyalists that he still respects Amaechi’s decisions. It is just a show of support to Amaechi because Hadiza can’t be indicted unilaterally for issues that had to do with finance when she couldn’t have taken those decisions without approvals and recommendations for the Executive Directors and General Managers,” he opined.
The port operator argued that the Transport Minister also has to be wary about the members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who are dismayed with the development at NPA and may look to get back at the Minister when he unveils his ambitions for 2023 polls.
Speaking on the state of the ports since Hadiza’s suspension on May 7th, 2021, the Coordinator of Save Nigeria Importers, Exporters and Freight Forwarders Coalition (SNIEFFC), Dr. Osita Chukwu said that Lagos ports have become dirtier and unattended since Hadiza’s exit.
Osita Chukwu opined that the uncertainty at NPA has left Bello-Koko more concerned about securing the job substantially than utilizing his status in acting capacity to the fullest.
“It appears that Bello-Koko is being distracted with frequent trips to Abuja in order to secure the position. He hasn’t had any comprehensive stakeholders engagement at the ports, I doubt if he visits the ports because of the distractions. I loved the administration of Hadiza at NPA because she was dogged and result-driven. When confronted with situations where lots of criticisms were poured on her or on NPA, she was always keen to provide results that are tangible. She wanted to solve industry problems and she won’t be deterred by any challenge. This is the kind of leader required in Nigeria today, but we have seen the unfortunate events that led to her suspension,” he said.
He stressed that Nigerian seaports, especially Lagos ports, were notoriously dirty until the administration of Bala-Usman as Managing Director of NPA.
“She came in and brought some degree of sanity and orderliness. The ports kept getting cleaner and cleaner; however, the situation has quickly turned around for the worse since her suspension a few months ago. Since the new man came in, he hasn’t organized an engagement with stakeholders, let alone visiting the ports unannounced as Hadiza did on several occasions. How will Bello Koko know what is happening at the ports if he only works from his office in Marina,” Osita Chukwu said.
Recall that the suspension of Hadiza was revealed in a statement by the Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to the President, Garba Shehu, who said the President acted on a recommendation of the Ministry of Transportation under Hon. Rotimi Amaechi for the setting up an Administrative Panel of Inquiry to investigate the management of the NPA.
The details of the inquiry wasn’t revealed by Garba Shehu while Buhari approved that Usman steps aside while the investigation is carried out and directed Mr. Mohammed Koko to act in that position.
Some of the highpoints of Bello-Koko’s administration include; efforts to restructure and refloat the Electronic Truck call-up system also known as ‘Eto’, seeking the support and cooperation of the newly appointed Assistant Inspector General of the Nigeria Police in charge of Maritime as well as the Nigerian Navy to end the incessant cases of attacks on vessels, barge operators and other port facilities around the waterfronts and channels.
NPA under Bello-Koko has also frowned at the persistent extortion of truck drivers through multiple illegal roadblocks by uniformed security operatives from government security agencies, unions and associations along the port corridors, hindering the ease of doing business.
He said investigations revealed that the combined team of the police, Navy, military, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and NPA staff among others, have been impeding the free flow of traffic on all the port corridors, thereby causing inefficiency in the handling of cargo in and out of the nation’s seaports.
NPA also recently commissioned an e-documents management and records solution centre at its corporate headquarters in Marina, Lagos, to improve seamless customer-based services and operations as well as data storage.
The Acting Managing Director, Bello-Koko, who unveiled the centre, said it is the strategic intent of the authority to sustain competitiveness in the sub-region by giving priority to documents’ safety through automation and digitization.