By Kingsley Anaroke
There are too many things the Late Lady (Barr) Margaret Onyema-Orakwusi represent and must be remembered for. One, is her generosity of offering pieces of useful advice. She once reminded me of the need to pen a memoir on my reporting and gender activism in the maritime industry, with emphasis: “It must be fact-based”, she ended. I knew it was not an easy challenge but I swallowed it with a mixture of fear and delight and responded heartedly, “Okay, Ma. I will try!”
So, if you ask me, what I think could be her regrets as an enigma and maritime icon with the fluidity of philanthropy and humanism, I will simply pick her error of not leaving a memoir or biography behind. Oh, she departed prematurely, by human presumptions, with her wealth of experience, knowledge of using money to generate more money for the good of the people; multi-tasking skills of a mother, who ran a thriving law firm, sprawling fish trawling business, advisory role in many non-profits, corporate institutions and parastatals in the country and overseas. Margaret was a leader by any definition of leadership!
One can then appreciate the audacity of courage and time management efforts demonstrated by those who find book writing imperative. They need to be encouraged by patronage and readership especially when it is a value-time-bomb, speaking to the truth and reversing the unsightly trends.
I was privileged to be among the numerous knowledge seekers, friends and well-wishers of Hadiza Bala-Usman who attended the book reading and signing session of her new book, Stepping On Toes in Abuja on Saturday, April 29th 2023. It was a short session that has left an indelible memory in people. It featured reading of excerpts from the book and questions flowed from the anxious audience. She provided reasons for some contents in the book, more revealing than she had narrated. She was the managing director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) between July,2016 and May, 2021.
Among the numerous dignitaries in attendance, were the vice-president-elect, Kashim Shettima; former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke; former director-general, National Broadcasting Commission(NBC),Danladi Bako.
The Lagos community and indeed, the maritime industry which the book is essentially centered on now have the opportunity to participate in the reading session billed for Saturday, May 13th at the Landmark Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos.
A couple of excerpts from the book as reported and made viral on social media and traditional media seemingly tend to misrepresent the real intent or pigeon-hole the memoir as vengeance-seeking and politically motivated to spite a known political god-father.
The truth is that the 196-page book is a treatise on transformational leadership on port management and administration in the Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA) under a given leadership underscored by reforms, tenacity of purpose, audacity for change, revelations of different shades of impunity and sleazes, technology transfer, local content empowerment, capacity building and reduction in capital flight.
It could pass for a handover guide for successive managing directors of NPA and road-map on the industry for every Minister of Transportation.
I acknowledge that controversy, well-managed can be a smart strategy to market a book, but Stepping On Toes, is too revealing a book to be cast in a mold of a disquisition on leadership betrayal and an instrument of a tiff between a god-father and a political mentee or daughter.
This toga could undermine the relevance of this expository piece of leadership, coming as a challenge to many leaders and public office holders.
One can imagine the knowledge base of the industry today if Aare Adebayo Sarumi, a former managing director of NPA and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) at separate times had authored a book on his stewardship, especially his critical roles in port reforms of 2006. He is an Iroko in the maritime industry with details of the sector at the snap of his fingers. The late Otunba Kunle Folarin departed with staggered written thoughts on many subjects in the industry without a collection as a book. We miss his insightful contributions on matters.
Let’s also imagine that Mr. Hassan Bello has written a book on his capacity to engender positive and impactful reforms in the port sector and maritime industry in general. The leadership diplomacy he exerted always to manage crises, surviving two opposing governments as the Executive Secretary of NSC, maintained a sustained cordial relationship among all the stakeholders in the maritime industry. What other lecture class does successive public office holders need to succeed in the sector?
When Dr. Bashir Jamoh, as the executive director, Finance and Administration in the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA) authored, Harnessing Nigeria’s Maritime Assets-Past, Present and Future, the industry glowed in a moonlight of rediscovery which up scaled the bargaining argument for more investment and attention from the government. While not preempting his thoughts, his leadership experience, especially how he braved all odds within and outside the agency to grab the NIMASA leadership mantle as well as the blue economy politics and challenges are expected to come in book form on stepping aside from the agency as the Director General.
Dr. Dakuku Peterside, a former director general of NIMASA seems to have set the pace on the path of making a chronicle of leadership stewardship with his, Strategic Turnaround-Story of a Government Agency. However, a close appreciation of the book reveals that “It is just what it is-an explicit, simple and easy –to-understand narrative of the principles, processes, patterns of reasoning, strategies and approaches that my colleagues and I took to transform NIMASA..” the author penned in the preface. It is essentially a cup of lessons to be learnt from the profuse insight on leadership and management principles applied for the rebranding efforts at NIMASA. Is the maritime industry expecting a stewardship account from Dr. Peterside, since this book is on a change process and not the total change in itself?
The story of NIMASA from its transformation as the National Maritime Authority (NMA) and its change management politics, challenges and inherent lessons will be a game-changer any day if the pioneer director general of the agency, Mrs. Mfon Usoro can oblige the industry, Nigerians and women in particular her experience in office.
Usoro’s experience as the first female chief executive officer of a maritime agency offers insight into the scourge of barriers before women public office holders. And this is why the unceremonious removal again of another and in fact, the second female CEO of a maritime agency, Hadiza got many tongues emotional on gender lane. “Why stigmatize women in leadership always?” This was the refrain among many minds across genders.
While hoping that Stepping On Toes has broken the jinx on book writing by CEOs in the industry, it touches on the most controversial issues that have defined the recurring inefficiencies in NPA and the maritime industry over the years.
It gives insight into the politics of dredging Calabar channel, which has assumed a fresh controversy lately; the Intels’ oil and gas monopoly; non-compliance of some private firms with the Treasury Single Account(TSA) policy; the excesses of some terminal operators like APM Terminals and their untouchable disposition; the Ocean Marine Solutions Limited(OMSL’) Secure Anchorage Area controversy; the tango with BUA Ports and Terminals; and the Dangote Group’s alleged excesses which happens to be a key subject of departure between the author and her principal. There are some individuals bigger than the government in the maritime, oil and gas industries. Who can curb their excesses?
The nation needs women and men of steel like Hadiza and Usoro to sanitize the system but not without the assurance of cover from the President and the Minister who have the aim to drive change. Where the Minister is compromised and the President is clueless, agency CEOs become endangered species. The advice, at this point is, throw in the towel. Don’t join them if you cannot win them!
Hadiza had quipped at the reading session in Abuja that if her boss, Hon Rotimi Amaechi, who gave her the job of NPA unsolicited had known her pedigree, he would not have made the offer. She meant that she was groomed by her late human rights activist father, Dr. Yusuf Bala- Usman to be principled and always stand and speak to truth.