Nigerian Ports Authority’s Hadiza Bala Usman on managing the country’s ports
Nigeria’s acting president Yemi Osinbajo signed three executive orders in May, one of the orders was a directive for the resumption of 24-hour operations at the ports. Hadiza Bala-Usman Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) spoke to CNBC Africa’s Onyi Sunday about the peculiarities in managing Nigeria’s ports.
It’s been a year since you were appointed as the Managing Director of the NPA. Talk us through this. How has the last year been?
It has been very interesting and challenging, and we’ve been able to put in place some initiatives to assist us in improving the efficiencies of our ports.
When you came in there were a lot of wrongs that needed to be righted at the NPA. What has your biggest challenge been in trying to address some of these issues?
Our biggest challenge has been trying to institute transparency into our operations and trying to have third party contractors comply with the provisions of the government. We have sought legal advice in our dealings with several of those entities where we’ve had concerns on compliance with government approved policies. We consider those to be among our challenges but we will not relent until there is full compliance with these obligations.
Let’s start with the most recent executive order to do with the NPA from the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, talking about the resumption of 24 hour operations at the ports. What was the norm before the executive order was given?
Before the executive order you would have government agencies that were not at the Port locations after 9-5 operations. The Nigerian Ports Authority provides berthing services and these services were 24 hours but beyond that there are other agencies of government that need to perform and indeed if they are not there, the ports cannot function 24 hours, so with the executive order that has been issued to the Nigerian Ports and all other agencies that operate within the port, now everybody is there to provide 24 hour services in the port locations.
Now, Apapa Port is operating 24 hours following the executive order and one of the issues that we’ve noticed since then is the need for the clearing agents to come forward and clear their goods within the 24 hour period. We have discussed with them and raised concerns about security as they evacuate their cargo. How secure are they, and how secure is their cargo as they evacuate because night operations might be considered challenging, so this is what we are seeking to define modalities of ensuring that there is patronage by clearing agents outside the normal 9-5 working hours. So while the NPA and other government agencies of the government have deployed 24 hour services it is important for the customers and the clientele to also patronise these services outside of the normal 9-5 working hours.
Did you have to make any major changes in order to accommodate these changes, or did you have everything already set to accommodate this new order?
We needed to for example ensure that the areas were lit. We needed to ensure that security apparatus are provided. This includes walkie talkies for the security agents and importantly providing security for health concerns within port operations. We deployed ambulances n our port facility in Apapa to ensure that in the event of any emergency there would be quick evacuation of any patient in need. We have noted the need to provide shift and roster systems for staff who hitherto had not been working 24 hours because we have to issue billings, we have to have our personnel on the ground on 24 hour shifts. Some of the things we deployed were not necessarily infrastructure, they had to do more with maintaining and ensuring and enhancing efficiency. In commencing the operations I visited the port at midnight to ensure that all we had aspired to do was actually on the ground, because whatever you deploy on paper you need to physically visit the port locations are well lit, to see that the officers are there deployed in their on duty roster system so that has been operational within the period. Now we need to encourage the use of the off peak period which is outside the normal 9-5 timing.
Has this really been smooth? What remains the biggest challenge on the side of your clients and how has the 24 hour service been for them?
Well they’ve highlighted that they would like to see security enhanced. They would like to see our port access roads made more navigable because as challenging as it is during the day time, they also find it challenging for the truck drivers to be plying the locations at night, so we’ve highlighted these concerns and sent them to the agencies of government responsible to see how they can ensure that they can provide the necessary support to solve the problems highlighted by the customers.