Ports play an important role in shaping the economy of countries when the potentials are well harnessed through efficient operations. Singapore’s maritime industry, for example, contributes 7 percent of the nation’s GDP with revenue in excess of $3 billion as at 2012. Nigeria in contrast barely made $500 million in revenue in 2015 through the Nigerian Ports Authority. This among other reasons informed the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint in July 2016, Hadiza Bala Usman as the Managing Director of that agency.
Since her appointment, Hadiza Bala Usman has instituted a number of key reforms with focus on tackling endemic corruption at the ports and putting an end to an era of monopoly in the maritime sector. She is profiled in Forbes Magazine as the incredible work she has done at the Nigerian Ports Authority continues to attract commendation locally and internationally.
The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is saddled with the role of managing Nigeria’s seaports through which over 75 percent of imports and exports pass. However, a blend of corruption and cronyism has rendered ineffective what is one of the most critical agencies of government as a revenue generating organ and gateway to the nation’s economy. For a long time, the fastest and sometimes only way to get business done at the ports in Nigeria is to be someone in government, know someone in government or pay a bribe. This is fast becoming the outlier rather than the norm now, thanks to one woman.
A 2006 concession of ports and consequent transfer of cargo handling operations from the NPA to private firms did little to improve the efficiency of the agency. The average clearing time for cargo at Nigerian ports ranges from 19 to 21 days while neighboring ports in Lome and Cotonou take between 3 to 7 days. Conversely, the demurrage free period at Nigerian ports is lower and terminal handling charges higher than what obtains in other countries.
President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Hadiza Bala Usman, 41, as the first ever female Managing Director of the NPA in July 2016. Until then, she was the Chief of Staff to the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, helping to spearhead reforms in a state that badly needed rejuvenation. By entrusting the herculean task of reforming one of the most important agencies of government to a young Hadiza, President Buhari seemed to dispel all sentiments of his aversion to youth and women inclusion in government. The appointment also signaled the intentions of his administration to tackle corruption in a major revenue generating agency to diversify the nation’s revenue stream and break away from the over-dependence on oil.
A Master’s degree holder in Development Studies from the University of Leeds, Hadiza’s background and experience in policy research and public sector reforms has been instrumental in terminating systemic corruption and repositioning a moribund NPA for excellence in performance and delivery of quality services within 9 months. Unremitted funds represent the darkest shade in a spectrum of economic and financial crimes against the Nigerian people by those trusted with the resources of the nation. It took less than 6 months after Hadiza assumed her role as Managing Director to uncover a N11.23 billion fraud at the maritime agency. Investigations revealed that some commercial banks in collusion with some officials of the agency hid funds collected as revenue in secret accounts instead of remitting same into the NPA’s Treasury Single Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria.
$24.1 million of NPA revenue that should have been remitted to the federation account was found hidden in an account at one bank and another 6 million Euros in separate accounts at two other banks. Another $5.4 million was cleverly moved to TSA accounts in the Central Bank of Nigeria, but those accounts do not belong to the NPA. A determined Hadiza Bala Usman has since put strategic measures in place to recover these unremitted funds as well as recoup debts of about N250 billion owed the agency.