….Digital system to clear gridlock in coming weeks
Bala-Usman, NPA Boss
By JEROME ONOJA
Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman, was appointed the Managing Director of Nigeria Ports Authority by President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2016. Before her appointment as the first female Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in its 63 years of existence, Hadiza worked at the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), after which she was hired by the UNDP for the Federal Capital Territory Administration as Assistant to the Minister on project implementation. Her wide-ranging impact on these positions culminated in her appointment as the Chief of Staff to the Executive Governor of Kaduna State, again, the first female to be so appointed in that part of the country.
She is currently pursuing an aggressive 25-year port development plan that would prepare the NPA for the future of the global maritime industry. In this interview with JEROME and MARGARET, she spoke about the short, medium and long term goals of NPA. She also bares her mind on the right attitude of a winning female professional.
What is the 10-year strategic plan of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration as regards the nation’s ports?
We want to ensure that our ports are competitive by providing the needed infrastructure. This is by developing our deep sea ports because the trend is going towards having deeper draughts and having larger vessels. So, Nigeria needs to have those deep sea ports to ensure competitiveness. For us, this decade defines the need to expand and have deep sea ports within our country and to deploy automation in our port locations. That is, having a Single Window system, which is a tool that would facilitate interaction between all government agencies that are operating in the port. Therefore, this decade is geared towards these two critical achievements.
As regards deep sea ports, how is that coming along against the backdrop of government’s prohibitive directive on acquisition of foreign built vessels, two years from now?
As it relates to deep sea ports, we have Lekki deep sea port currently under construction.
This is a project we have embarked on, and we are focused on seeing it come into operation in the next two years.
We also have the Ibom deep sea port that is also ongoing. We are going to make the necessary reviews of the outline business case and provide the necessary approval. These initiatives will allow vessels of any size come into Nigeria. Our ports will then be able to comply with restrictions around vessel types and ensure that those specifications are met and that we have the necessary infrastructure for those big vessels to come and berth in our ports.
Concerning automation, are there specific plans?
Well, it is an existing tool that other ports have. It’s called a Single Window system. Other countries typically have various names for it, but it’s a trade facilitation tool that needs to be deployed. The lead agency on that deployment is the Nigerian Custom Service (NCS); then we will have all other government agencies plug in. This would seek to reduce human intervention in the processes. That way, you can sit from home and clear your cargo. We also seek to ensure that customs deploy the necessary scanners in the port locations. This is an integral part of trade facilitation that is currently absent in our operations. We have a situation where our cargoes are all physically examined and that definitely translates to delay. That is contrary to what is obtains in ports around the world, where cargoes are scanned and items in them identified through the xray. These equipment need to be deployed. Back to the Single Window system; as the Customs are working on deploying the needed equipment, we are doing everything to provide the necessary infrastructure for larger vessels, and to institute an intermodal transportation for cargo evacuation. One of the challenges we had is that our port locations are not all connected to the rails as we need to have rail connection to the terminals. However, this is currently being done as you must have seen aggressive rail projects that is ongoing nation-wide. Right now, there’s an ongoing linkage of the Lagos port to the rail there. In fact, certain demolitions of warehouses in the port are being carried out to make way for the rail tracks construction.
Aggressive pursuit of digitization will ensure increased traffic from efficiency, and eventually increased revenue. Does NPA have the capacity for an increase in activities from all over the world?
Yes! This is why we are talking about having deep sea ports and expanded scope of access for vessels that are calling into our port. We noted that for every increase in infrastructure and digitization, expect a commensurate increase in the volume of activities. We are mandating and tasking our terminal operators to have the necessary equipment for cargo offloading. We regulate the activities of the terminal operators that are operational in port locations. We ensure that they provide
the necessary equipment like the cranes needed to move the cargoes from the vessels. We are enforcing that they need to be up to date with the current modern equipment that will facilitate faster offloading of cargoes.
It excited a lot of stakeholders to see you revoke the Secure Anchorage Area fees which comes to about US$133 million. What spurred that decision and are we likely to see further sanitisation?
Absolutely. We felt that vessel owners should not be charged for calling for security when they’re coming into our ports. What existed was a secure area where vessel owners are required to pay US$2,500 on the first day for anchoring their vessel at the anchorage area. And we felt that no vessel owner should be made to pay for his vessels being secured in Nigeria. That doesn’t exist anywhere in the continent, so we cannot do that. We need to make our ports competitive, ensuring that we reduce the cost of doing business. That amount of money that is being paid by the vessel owner, automatically transfers into the cargo, and from the cargo to the consumers. So there’s a clear linkage. And I believe that a lot of times when we speak about making our country more competitive, reducing the cost of doing business, these are the activities or actions that increase the cost of doing business. So we must take concise actions. We cannot pay lip service and not take deliberate steps by removing such projects that we feel challenge our cost of doing business. Nigeria Navy and NIMASA are mandated to provide the security in the water ways. So, that should come at zero cost to the vessel owners. That is our position
If the Navy feels it lacks the capacity to secure the waterways and wants to engage the services of a third-party contractor, then they should.
I believe that action was in obedience to the Presidential Executive Order (EO1). Again, we recently saw you move against the customs as regards multiple layers of scrutiny. How is that coming along?
We felt that the Executive Order was required for all agencies to have a single interface of cargo inspection, and that interface is where all agencies do the inspection. After the inspection is done, the cargo is free to go because it has been certified. Having other layers of inspection outside the port or on the highway is duplicity and it hinders efficiency, as well as the ease of being business in Nigeria. That was the directive signed in the Executive Order. Following that, we observed that some agencies of government were not complying. Nigeria customs had units at port gates and outside the port locations; the Nigeria Police Force were stopping containers on the road, requesting same documentation which had been done at the port. That defeats the purpose of the Executive Order issued by the President.
About the Apapa gridlock, what immediate and long-term solutions are you proffering?
In the long term, it is having intermodal transportation for cargo evacuation..
It is not sustainable to evacuate 95% of the cargoes from a port via road.
It gets congested, and eventually the road networks become bad. So it’s important for us to have an intermodal to mini rail evacuation, inland waterways evacuation, pipeline evacuation. So right now, Nigeria Railway Corporation is deploying rails. Historically, there was marginal rail collection in the port. It wasn’t non existent, though very marginal. They didn’t have the wagons or the necessary cart. So now, there is an aggressive push towards providing intermodal transportation. Looking at inland waterways,
we are providing approvals for barge operations to move cargoes in order to facilitate de-congestion of the Apapa area
We are also keen on having truck parks that service the port locations. We are working at having an electronic call up system for trucks, whereby the trucks are kept outside the port environment, and outside the city. They are only granted access
to the port when they’re cleared and required to. Today, we see trucks arrive on a daily basis, and they spend hours on long queues. To facilitate the introduction of this electronic call up system, we are in talks with Lagos and Ogun State governments, to provide for truck parks that would form the fulcrum for accessing the port location. Once achieved, only trucks coming from those parks will be permitted to access the port location. It becomes mandatory to park all trucks in such locations, and they only come out when called upon by the programmed electronic call up system.
When is this electronic call up system likely to be deployed?
That will be by first quarter in 2020.
Presently, what notable Public-Private Partnership arrangement does government have with private partners as regards the ports?
We have quite a number of PPP partnerships. One exists on our towage services where companies provide third-party towages. We are also looking to explore PPP in energy, to provide power in the port locations, as well as water to the vessels. So these are areas we shall explore this year: basically, having public-private partnership in the provision of energy, utilities, power and water.
What’s the relationship between NPA and Lagos Channel Management Company (LCM), as well as Bonny Channel Management Company (BCM)?
They maintain the channels on our behalf. These are joint venture partnerships. The Nigerian Port Authority has to ensure that the channels are navigable and deep enough for the vessels to come. There is no port that the NPA does not regulate.
In the same vein, are you open to private investors as regards ports infrastructure building and development?
Absolutely. We are working on developing our 25-year Masterplan that will enable us have clarity on the locations of new ports, and then we can have investors come in.
We’ve had several discussions, like the European government as it relates to port development. We’re working with them to identify a location where they could embark on that. We have also had
“DP World”, the largest marine terminal operators in the world, come to explore what they can do in the Nigerian port environment.
So we’re looking to see how we could partner with them and avail them the locations within the environment. We’re keen to have several initiatives that will drive that it. For example,
the Ondo state government has submitted a proposal to us on a proposed deep sea port in Ondo state.
What are your thoughts on China and some of the loans it gives to African countries? It has been revealed that, they tend to repossess the ports of defaulting countries.
I think it has to do with looking at the terms and the payment plan. For whatever loan is given, there should be clarity in the revenue generation of the project that would enable payback. So I think that our Federal Ministry of Finance have looked at those repayment terms before signing on. Currently there are no China loans on any of the port facilities in Nigeria. But even to the extent that we do that, we will definitely have clarity on the payment plan, whereby federal government is clear on how those loans will be repaid without us losing authority over the key infrastructure.
What’s the blueprint as regards the dry sea ports into the hinterlands in Nigeria, and how has it fared since introduction?
The dry ports are supervised by Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), so we don’t have oversight over them but they provide an avenue where cargoes are cleared. When they come, they are destined for the dry port. For example, the Kaduna dry port. When a cargo arrives the country, the cargo clearance will be done in that port location, not here. So once they come in here, it is only considered as part of the journey; it only arrives when it gets to the dry port. So, that is how it works.
You were very vocal with the Bring Back Our Girls (#BBOG) movement; thankfully, we registered some remarkable achievements with the global support via the hashtag. Have you always been a fighter?
I’m not sure that was a fight, in terms of asking the government to do its responsibility by protecting the citizens. I’ll call it more like making you do your work. I felt the need to raise the voice of the vulnerable. This is something that I’ll say, I instinctively respond to. I feel we should be more. We should, as a people, be conscious of rising up for vulnerable groups and persons that have found themselves in challenging circumstances.
For me, I would always be at the forefront to raise the voices of the vulnerable people.
Were you into activism back in school?
Well, it’s probably a second nature. My father was quite a very vocal person. I may have inherited that.
I’ve been nurtured to believe in standing for what you think is right, irrespective of whether it challenges the status quo and authority.
What’s the state of #BBOG campaign now?
It is still ongoing. I go to Falomo round about every Saturday when I’m available to raise a voice, but there have been successes. Girls have been rescued. I think we have 116 girls that are still held in captivity up till now. And I think the campaign for the Chibok girls is beyond the girls. It is also to raise awareness of the situation in the North East; to highlight the fact that there are many other people being abducted beyond the Chibok girls. They are symbolic to the whole insurgency. I think speaking about them and raising the voices for them is to highlight every other person abducted and rescued on a daily basis.
Former US President, Barrack Obama recently made a statement that women are better leaders. Do you agree with the statement?
I wouldn’t say that women are better leaders. But you know, the leadership traits are traits that are found easily in a woman and you can see that when a woman has the opportunity to lead, she tends to put herself out there.
And as I always say, women are factory built to multitask.
So we’re made to have the capacity to multitask, which is a critical skill for a leader.
What are your thoughts on feminism?
Well, for me, it has more to do with all genders having equal opportunity. I believe in equal opportunity. I don’t believe in being given a token because I’m a woman. I believe, when you are given the opportunity to sit on the table, you must excel.
Do you think we have more women in the maritime sector?
No, we don’t have more women in the maritime sector. And we have to make conscious effort to encourage women. For example,
I’m the first female CEO in 64 years of the existence of the Nigerian Port Authority.
What’s your support system like?
My extended family is a huge support that I rely on for strength.
As a woman, what’s that challenge you faced while climbing, and what is that guiding philosophy you hold dearly?
For me, any task you’re given, put your all in it and excel.
That includes being committed, dedicated and ensuring that you apply all the necessary skills. I believe in excelling, and accountability. A lot of times, people might undermine a particular task. But whatever you’re given, do it well. I have been Secretary for a lot of committees, taking notes and action points. That prepared me for what I’m doing now. At that time, I didn’t shy away from taking that responsibility. That is where you get your references. People around observe you. You must be wise to realize that. Experience itself has no substitute, it is a learning curve for understanding. People should also rebuild the reading culture. So before you’re given an opportunity, you must be seen to be capable of taking that role. So you must show diligence and hard work. That is what determines being given the position of leadership. You work hard when you’re not in the position of authority. Don’t wait till you get there. How will you get there, if you don’t have a reference for being hard-working and committed?
What is the Nigeria of your dream?
It is a Nigeria where we have equal opportunity for all and basic infrastructure are available to enable our economy grow.