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Hadiza: Good choice for the times

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Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman

Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman

Only few women have the privilege of being appointed Chief of Staff to state governors. Ifeoma Nwobodo, (Enugu 2007 to 2015) and Malama Hadiza Bala Usman, (Kaduna July 2015 to July 2016), are two such women.

Those who circulated around Samaru and Kongo campuses of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, would not need any introduction about Hadiza, because she is the daughter of a radical history professor of that university.

But majority of Nigerians would not forget the exploits and escapades of the #BringBackOurGirls grouping that celebrated the abduction of more than 200 girls from a secondary school in Chibok. If not for that opportunity, Hadiza could have been restricted to the Kaduna-Abuja axis, where she had been active in non-governmental organisation circles.

As a women libber, the search for the liberation of the kidnapped young ladies provided Hadiza the golden opportunity to canvass issues related to violence against women.

It was with zeal and passionate intensity that she activated the #BBOG. Yet, her entanglement with the uproarious former opposition political platform, All Progressives Congress (APC), while the #BBOG campaign lasted, helped to shroud the abduction as a possible group conspiracy to cast the government in power in bad light.

But despite the ambivalence of her political and activist position, the young woman exemplified the power of womenfolk to pursue a cause with single-minded attention. However, with her recent appointment as the first female Managing Director of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Malama Hadiza, no doubt, has stirred fresh contemplation about her activism.

Considering qualification, with a first degree in Business Administration from ABU and a postgraduate from Leeds, United Kingdom, Hadiza cannot be dismissed as an illiterate. And having worked as an Enterprise Officer, (a nation of titles!) at the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE), as well as being Special Assistant to the FCT minister on project implementation, the new NPA MD cannot be said to be lacking in requisite experience and administrative exposure.

While she worked at BPE and FCT, Governor Nasir El Rufai, who appointed her Chief of Staff, Kaduna State Government House, was then heading the institutions. Could she, therefore, be said to be El Rufai’s handbag? Furthermore, is it possible that #BBOG was actually the brainchild of El Rufai, who is reputed to be good in strategic development? And being an issue better championed by the womenfolk, did Hadiza’s benefactor select her to push forward the former director of World Bank, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, to mask the political motives and make huge capital gains from a despicable breach of national security, thus eliciting global outrage and sympathy?

Though Hadiza’s rise to stardom and national limelight underscores the fact that behind every successful woman is a propelling male figure, her recent appointment elicits further reflection. What happened before her eventual selection was like a script out of some Mafiosi plot.

Shortly after the new administration came on board, President Buhari continued the onslaught against the immediate past administration by reversing the appointment of Sanusi Ado Bayero and reinstating the former occupant, Habibu Abdullahi at the NPA.

Readers would recall how the Kano Emirate handled the selection of Ado Bayero’s successor, particularly the politics, rather than the trado-cultural imperatives. The last minute appointment of the young Bayero as MD NPA, after Abdullahi was sacked was taken as propitiation for his loss in the politics of Emirship tussle that mirrored the PDP versus APC electoral combat.

In fairness to the new administration, a transition committee, headed by octogenarian Ahmed Joda, had recommended to President Buhari to review all rushed appointments by former President Jonathan at the tail end of his tenure. The Joda panel had also underscored the fact that, if Buhari wished to succeed, he should effect the reversed appointments not later than three months. It added that while upturning Jonathan’s appointments in the last nine months of his presidency, President Buhari should ensure that strategic agencies demanding professional leadership were made on merit.

Merit? There is no way to equate Mrs. Hadiza’s degrees with a NEPA bill. However, the fact that the Transportation minister, who recommended her for the appointment, premised his decision on the need to strike geopolitical balance, suggests otherwise.

Former Director General of the APC Presidential Campaign Organisation, Rotimi Amaechi, having discovered that two chief executives of the foremost parastatals under his ministry, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), and the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) are from the South, was said to have desired to “have an equitable distribution of appointments under his ministry.”

But the discovery that President Buhari promptly considered Amaechi’s recommendation for the simple reason that he enjoyed a robust relationship with the late Professor Bala Usman, Hadiza’s father, plays up a new aspect to the appoint of the #BBOG campaigner.

There is a great wall separating merit from cronyism. Malama Hadiza, it would be recalled, also served as the administrative secretary of the Buhari presidential campaign organisation, member secretary of APC elections planning committee and member of APC strategy committee. She may have shown exceptional performance in those offices, but there is no record that the NPA MD had any hands-on experience in the management of such intricate sector as the Nigeria Ports Authority.

Therefore, it is either that Hadiza was hired to bridge the gap in women versus male ratio in the Buhari administration or to bring back investors who invested heavily in the 2015 hate-filled and divisive presidential election, but who now feels shortchanged.

The Transportation minister may have settled for a loyal member of the revolution rather than a capable hand to man the NPA. Being a system man, the minister knows that 2019 is not too far away, especially that election in Nigeria cost money. Above all, there may also have been the consideration that a man in such a sensitive and highly juicy appointment may not render returns honestly or maintain absolute loyalty.

In the light of the foregoing, Hadiza should be judged by the degree of her loyalty to the system, particularly in getting the grounds ready for the next campaign in 2019. President Buhari, the General Officer Commanding the fight against corruption may not know the details of how his presidential campaigns were funded. But Hadiza’s godfathers know that unlike PMB, they have a future political life to live.

Hadiza may have been favoured, not so much out of her shining credentials or understanding of the intricacies of managing Nigeria’s Ports. She must have been found worthy in character and carriage to bring back the investments expended in the last presidential election. NPA being a strategic cash cow, the narrative of engaging only trusted and loyal allies among the ‘97 per centers’ found a good expression in the 40-year-old mother of two from Kaduna State or is it Katsina? Never mind.

Speaking during the handing over ceremony at the NPA, the new MD noted that “our ports are a critical artery of the economy, and it is our duty to ensure that the operators deliver port services at the standards that our businesses deserve in the 21st century in supporting President Buhari’s administration agenda of economic diversification …

“As team leader, I have come to add my best efforts to yours, so that we can collectively achieve results for our industry. We must work as a team, pursuing common goals with professionalism and diligence. We shall prioritise investment in primary equipment and infrastructure and services committed to by NPA in the concession agreements to hasten clearance of imports and exports from the ports.”

With Retired Colonel Hameed Ali as Comptroller General of Customs, Hadiza must have brought a necessary diversity by serving the need for gender mainstreaming in decision making process of critical sectors of the federation. But, given the fact that like the ministry of Agriculture that has always been ceded to citizens from the north, the Transportation minister may have read the president’s body language effectively by nominating somebody he knows and can connect to easily.

But in the days to come, Malama would find that port management is not mission in grammar or activist genuflection. She has given promise of her preparedness to listen and take advice. The NPA MD would also discover for herself, how tricky it is to serve two masters. Would she listen to the minister more than the entrenched and experienced interests in the NPA?

When it comes to contract awards and other avenues for patronage, where would her greater allegiance lay, with the minister or the northern interest? NPA being the natural forte of riverine areas, Hadiza would learn that bridging the gap and bringing back investments, like swimming in high flowing streams, have grave consequences.

Whether Hadiza’s appointment was a clever decoy to divert attention from the #BBOG or a prodigious way to reward her for job well done in championing the cause of the missing Chibok girls would be seen from how far she swims against the shark-infested corporate politics at the Nigeria Port Authority.

One question she would answer as she serves her term is: was the search #BBOG to gain attention and social mobility or serve the genuine need for empathic attention to the missing girls? And stuck somewhere in Apapa, Lagos, Malama Hadiza would no longer find occasion to participate in the sit outs at Abuja. Her activism is now of a different sort.



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