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Battle for the till of Nigeria Ports Authority – Part 2

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(Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

A cursory look at the strength of Ms. Usman shows that the areas where she showed more gumption in her tenure is in her contribution to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CFR). She has spoken candidly about it in many fora before this travail, when she said, “when we inherited the CFR, we had a contribution of N18 billion, but we remitted N30 billion in 2017, and N30 billion in 2018. These are clear differentials since my joining Nigerian ports. If you look at N18 billion contribution to CFR, and then a N30 billion contribution, you can see that there is a huge difference.”

Some of the works that defined the achievements of Ms. Usman in NPA are in the promotion of transparency and accountability which led her to making NPA the first MDA to open its budget to the public with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Open Budget System platform and implementation of public data dissemination programme. It was an initiative to bring sunshine into the opaque financing system of the Authority.

It is hard to believe that with all the problems at the port, the one that should strike the minister as a source for query is the CFR. There are the seemingly intractable challenges of the non-availability of scanners in the ports, the absence of a single window of an ICT portal for all the agencies at the port and the biggest of all, the failure to build a formidable intermodal transportation system for the ports.

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With this line of pursuit, the posers are raised as to whether the minister is conversant with the complexities and delicate issues of administering and supervising the Nigeria ports. Should he major in minor issues when there are matters of graver tendencies? It will be a good place to start if we know the efforts to get the president to create an inter-ministerial or inter agencies platform to resolve the problems of the absence of scanners at the ports or for the establishment of a single ICT portal for a seamless clearance of cargoes at the Nigerian ports or to create an intermodal system of transportation that will ease congestion and support the government’s ease of doing business. These are necessary and truly relevant resources available to minion countries all around the nation that has made them the go-to-countries and destinations for cargo clearance.

The Minister has enough in his hand and can work on how to reduce the burden of the physical examination of cargoes at the port. He should aspire to bring efficiency to the port by eliminating the limitations imposed by inspecting over 10000 containers without the aid of technology. There is everything to worry about in how much was remitted or not but the deployment of technology to increase turnover at the ports should be what is giving the Minister sleepless nights.

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While Ms. Usman is consumed by what legacy she would leave at the end of her tenure, it is important for everyone including the Minister who is superintending the ports look for ways that does not tar everyone at the ports. The former MD is working to stabilise the electronic call-up system as stop gap solution to the perennial problem of traffic congestion at the port as other stakeholders are improving their contributions to resolving the national embarrassment that the port has become known for in the past years. She is desirous of having deep seaports as the future of ports in Nigeria, she is looking at cost-effective ways of managing ports outside of Lagos like the Calabar port with a huge price tag of N50 billion for its dredging and utilisation and working out modalities for making ports in Warri, Lekki, Badagry and Port Harcourt functional for a holistic ports administration in Nigeria.

In the approach of the Minister, there was no recourse to extant rules in the public service for initiating the query. The whole process was shrouded in secrecy and the accused was not officially informed of the offence. Also, against the rules, the Minister requested that new sets of auditors be advertised for and engaged in negation of auditors that were already working for the Authority. Why would it take the Minister four years down the road to carry out the oversight responsibility vested in him by Section 85 of the Constitution and Section 38 of the Act establishing the Ports Authority?

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There is more to what is happening between the Ministers and Ms. Usman and it does not augur well for the sector because impunity may be coming into play as a currency of transaction in the governance process of the Nigeria Ports Authority. It might not be unrelated to the general impression that the NPA is awash with slush funds that can be for all comers with one level of political exposure or the other and who finds an unwilling pawn in the game to use the NPA as a conduit for taking the commonwealth and putting it in the hands of a few privileged Nigerians.

In comparison to the seas and the oceans which is a fundamental component of the resources required for a smooth operation of the Authority, the vastness of the work that will make Ms. Usman establish her institutionalisation process, demands that distractions like the ones unfolding should not be in the front burner of national discourse. She has a titanic job to do, and she needs the cooperation of all, including the minister.

The outcome of this audit promises to leave a sour taste in the mouth of all that are caught in the vortex, considering provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act and other relevant laws. The war in the horizon may be dragged and twisted, but in all appearances, it is the battle for the control of the till of the Nigerian Ports Authority. The personnel conducting the investigation need to separate the chaff of the issue from its whiff before making a pronouncement on Ms. Usman.

Concluded.

Ayela is a veteran journalist based in Lagos.

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