Mr. Musa Iliya is the Assistant General Manager (AGM), Corporate Affairs Department of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). In this interview with Segun Oladipupo and Emeka Chukwuaku; he bares his mind on the achievements of the NPA under the leadership of Mallam Habib Abdulahi, the terms and conditions of the conssionaires’ agreement, and NPA’s pension scheme, which according to him has been improved for the welfare of retired pensionable workers. Excerpt.
What were the achievements of the NPA in 2014?
I will like to talk about the present administration under the leadership of Malam Habib Abdulahi. In the past two years a lot have been achieved in transforming the NPA. The Port Authority has gone digital. A lot of policies have been introduced, a lot training and manpower acquired so that the staff can be re-oriented, the efficiency of operations been achieved both locally and internationally. In the area of infrastructure, you can see that we have the 1.6 kilo meter road in Lagos Port almost being completed. We also have another project, that is linking Apapa port to the National rail in what is called the intermodal system, where the rail, the land and the sea are connected, that project was also completed. If you go to Delta, Warri Port, you will see the fenders, very modern fenders that were also installed. If you go to Apapa Port you will see another project which is an extension of the Getty that was done within a short time. Then we have the project we called the east/west moles, that project was meant to protect the Lagos harbor from being washed away, it was also completed. You understand the importance of these projects to the port Authority. Most of these developments were done under a short time by this present administration. I think the present administration has done well. There are other issues like the e-payment that was introduced; it has saved a lot of time, make the processes more efficient. The e-payment has eliminated the encumbrances in operations and improved efficiency. So far these are the things we have done; even our HR department is documented now. You want to apply, all you need to do is going online immediately and do it, and these were not done in the past. So, the Ports Authority have actually gone digital.
How have the e-SEN and the e-payment turned around the fortunes of NPA?
The responses by the stakeholders have been very positive, things that will take two or three days to do can be done in less than 30 minutes, it means that things are faster now. There is also the human factor where you have to come and talk to somebody and the person to another person; those are the delays that have been eliminated. It increased the efficiency of our procedures here. Customer service is also deepened.
Has that not in any way affected the jobs of some people?
No, most of the people that have been doing it manually have been taught to do it electronically, there are no job losses, we haven’t retrenched anybody. It is for the benefit of the workers to go electronic. If you had checked, you will know that we have retrenched nobody, nobody has been removed. It improved the capacity of the staff to perform efficiently.
I heard that there are some pensioners that were re-absorbed in the pension scheme, what was it all about?
In 2006, some people were paid their benefits based on the number of years they served that was during the pay-off system. The system was for you to move on. After five years, most of them were agitating, they wrote formally to the NPA, but when this administration came on board, they look at it critically and decided that since these people were pensionable and it had taken at least five years since the stopped work, so the NPA decided again to call them and verify those that were pensionable, the exercise is still going on, I can’t give you the exact number that has been absorbed into the pension scheme now. As soon as you are verified, all those that have served for certain period, pensionable period may be ten years and above have been restored to the system. Apart from that we have our regular pensioners that are paid as at when due. It is an ongoing process there were regular pensioners that have been receiving pensions, they have given these people time and they are undergoing the process, as soon as the process is completed, those that are pensionable will be included into the scheme.
There were complaints recently that ships that came into the country find it difficult to get tugboat, what is your take on that?
The more volume of ships that come in, the more need for tug boats. Even yesterday, my marine director informed the Navy about the acquisition of more tugboats and most of them will be delivered to be able to meet up with the requirements. More tug boats are coming in now, I will give you the details later after I consult with the marine department, they will be able to tell me the number.
Let’s talk about the wrecks in the water, what is NPA doing about them?
If you are aware of the developments in the maritime sector, you will know that the official responsibility for removing wrecks rests with our sister organization, NIMASA but in NPA we have what we call the critical wrecks that draw our attention, we have to clear them to make sure that the channel is free so that ships can come in, but NIMASA takes responsibility of other wrecks. When we remove wrecks they are taken to the dump site and officially handed over to NIMASA.
Why are the agreements of some of the terminal operators extended and some not? Are we likely to see more terminal operators coming into the country?
Each terminal has a concession time. Some were 15 years, some 25years. And there was agreement on how developmental processes will be, if there is need for extension, definitely the port Authority will look at it, the government will look at it. Those are the essentials if there is need for extension. There are terminal period and there are developmental stages. The other core investment area the Port Authority plans to develop is ship-building, Ship yards. We are still looking for investors. There are other investment opportunities apart from concessioning terminals.
Are we likely to see any review in the concessionaires’ agreement?
NPA is always working together with the terminal operators, if there is need for review, it will be done but we cannot be talking about that because the terminal operators sign an agreement and the agreement terms of each terminal is different. AP Moller and ENL do not have the same agreement. Each terminal is developing according to its plan and agreements. We can’t be talking about a general review, we cannot just call a blanket review and moreover I am not in the best position to comment about that, but I know that each terminal has its own developmental stages. We have a department which monitors them to see the level of their compliance, the stages, each year they look at their plans, and the development of their key sites and so many other issues. The terminals are not the same. Some terminals specialize in general cargo, some specialize in container.
If any of the terminal is found wanting in some aspects of the agreement, is there any penalty for that?
Most of the terminals are concessioned since 2006. Government is aware of their work procedures and is involved. We have the BPE, a Senate committee that always come from time to time to know what they are doing and their progress so far.
Don’t you think that the activities of and NIMASA conflicts somehow?
NPA is not in confrontation with any sister organization because we are all sons of the same father. Government gave us an official role to carry out. We work closely with other government agencies to make sure that our duties are carried out effectively. So we are not in confrontation with any sister organization. We don’t clash; we work closely to achieve our main objectives.
Can you tell us more about the East/West Moles?
The East/West moles you cannot see them, they are as old as the seaport itself. The seaports are established over a century ago and that time the colonial masters built the moles. They are dropped in the water and the protect the port from being washed away by the ocean. This project was done about a century ago and later a contract was awarded to a Chinese company to improve on them in the light of recent developments in the world scene. They ensure protection of our port and Lagos itself from being washed away.
At Tincan, there was a time NPA stopped commercial motorcycle, and tricycle riders in and around the port, but some of them are still operating there, is NPA aware of this?
I was at Tincan recently but I didn’t notice that but I will check with our management there to know what is happening. It is not allowed at all in the port. There is also the Port Police command, I don’t think they will allow that to happen and we are working together too. So if that is actually causing a problem, I don’t think it will be allowed. Moreover, their operation is illegal. I don’t think you get your facts right because, that will not be allowed in port.
During the Port concessioning, was there room for review?
Of course, there are, even if they are not embedded in the contract but you having a contract with someone there should be room for that. We have constituted authority that you will apply to and they will look at it critically. Is it for the benefit of all? You have to really sit down and look at the terminologies that are involved. It is not only one company. Each company has its own agreement different from the other, their terms of operations, developmental stages are different. They have their own plans on how they want to develop their terminals. If you go to PTML for example you will see what they have done. They scheduled their development stages to suit their mode of operation while sticking to the terms of agreement. Moreover, if in the course of doing their work and these terms are not met, we have a compliance department that checkmates them, they can raise issues whether the Ports Authority can challenge them or not. They can also apply to Port Authority to look critically if there is need for any review, if there is, it is done accordingly through official means because everything does not start here and end here; there are other layers of government that must get involved.
I am aware that NPA provides infrastructures and collects developmental fee, how well have they been playing that role of providing infrastructure for the terminal operators?
From the projects I mentioned to you, you take Apapa Port for example, you will see that so many new things are coming into place, the construction of dual carriage way, provision of lights all done by the port authority. Security is also maintained in collaboration with the marine police. All these things are taken care of all done by the port authority. You look at the Warri Port we installed new fenders and even the construction of some key walls, it is done by the port authority, and you can visit the site yourself and see the projects so it would not look as if we are blowing our own trumpet. These are physical projects that you can see yourself if you visit the ports.
From your own opinion, can you say that the agreements are due for review?
I cannot say that. As I keep emphasizing, you cannot say we are going to review the agreements just like that. Each terminal is given terms. You are given terminal A, maybe you sign agreement for 15years, the other one is given terminal B for maybe 20 years, there are the development stages, if there is need for any particular one to be reviewed, the normal process must be followed. But I cannot now say that I can agitate for a total review of all the agreements, each of them is unique in its own.
What can you say about the rift between freight forwarders and the terminal operators as it has something do with some of the supposed terms of agreement?
As far as freight forwarding is concerned, I will not comment on that because that is what third possession is all about. That operation was given to a third party. It was concessioned to them and they have their own standards. Now the regulatory bodies are there. We have our own function as the port authority, NIMASA have their function of being in charge of safety and other issues to do with commercial regulations, so if they have any issues, they have the right to go to the appropriate bodies to complain and these appropriate bodies will look at whatever complaints and try to iron them out. There are complaints every day; it can never be 100% perfect. So if there are complaints, governments will definitely look at it and if there are specific areas that need improvements both on the side of either the ports authority, the terminal operators or whoever or even freight forwarders, government will definitely look at it. There are also complaints from the terminal operations that some freight forwarders will bring cargo and don’t check them out, have you asked them why they do this, the port is not storage facility, it is a transit point so why leave their cargo there?