In a scorched earth attack on the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and in particular its Managing Director, those arrayed against it showed scant regard for the interest of the NPA and by extension the interests of Nigeria; their concern is personal and pecuniary, period!
When you hear talk of the fight against corruption, places like the NPA are the trenches where it must be won, a coal face to be conquered. It is precisely in such places where government revenues are collected and dispensed with in prodigious quantities that corrupt activities have long thrived and become second nature.
So, it comes as no surprise that the NPA MD, Hadiza Bala Usman finds herself a lightning rod for the fight back of the vested interests that stand to lose the most from the being introduced at the NPA. The attacks are calculated to undermine the management of the NPA by questioning and misrepresenting the changes and best business practices being introduced, and the motivation behind decision making. The use of insinuation is particular misleading and intended to divert attention from the depths of the rot that must be excised.
The range of criticisms and accusations levelled against the Managing Director do not go to integrity or competence; what they do is proclaim that if the persons making them were in her position, they would not hesitate to breach and betray trust after trust, time after time.
One particular hatchet job suggested that the positions of the MD and her ex-husband, Mr. Taminu Yakubu represent a conflict of interest. Nothing could be further from the truth!
The scurrilous piece titled "Crisis of confidence rocks integrity of Nigerian Ports Authority", failed to reflect that the so-called couple are in fact divorced and were so at all materials times; that contrary to the writer’s positive affirmation, Mr. Taminu Yakubu was never a member of the APC presidential campaign policy advisory committee so couldn’t have chaired such a committee (the committee chair was in fact Dr. Kayode Feyemi); and, the piece also failed to state that Mr. Taminu’s resignation from the technical advisory board of the port operator Ladol, renders any claims of a conflict of interest nugatory.
This willingness to ditch the truth and deal instead in conjecture and convenience is the hallmark of those that would block the route to change. What is in the best interest of the vested interest will more often than not get in the way of policies directed to achieve the best interest of all Nigeria.
The vitriolic nature of recent publications, alongside the deployment of deliberate falsehoods, means there must be particularly strong and passionate vested interests threatened by the broom of change sweeping the NPA. There is little attempt to inquire, investigate or validate; rather it is conjecture built on supposition, and conclusions that are self-serving.
The spiteful commentary has been delivered with such passion as to leave none in any doubt as to the jaundiced perspective of the virulent critics of the changes being effected at the NPA. Yet, no one has stepped forward to claim ownership of the outlandish assertions. By following the money however, we may draw certain conclusions that will not be far from the truth.
The distinguished feature of the way the affairs of the NPA have been traduced lies in the cavalier attitude of some of the operators and stakeholders in the maritime sector towards the regulatory environment. Operators have for a long time been accustomed to incontinent rules being bent to their will, or avoided altogether. The process of rolling back these impunities has ruffled the feathers of several large operators who would rather thwart the nation’s best interest than regulate their aggressive acquisitiveness.
As a matter of policy, this government and it agents have sought to introduce nationwide benchmarks; one of these is the use of the Treasury Single Account for domiciling government revenue, howsoever generated. The coming into operation of that directive means that the NPA must collect and pay all proceeds coming to it in the ordinary course of business into a designated account, as an activity separate and distinct from the appropriation and disbursal of funds for budgeted activities.
That single directive has introduced a degree of fiscal discipline into the affairs of all MDAs and served to reduce corruption and the scope for impunity. The systematic introduction by the NPA has further reduced the opportunity for malfeasance and compounded the distemper of the vested interests.
A principal part of the reforms required has been tackling the monopolies that have grown out of a system more attuned to the interest of operators and concessionaires that the interest of the country. Nowhere do such monopolies threaten more that in oil sector port operations and none of the machinations playing out will be far removed from this most lucrative of sectors.
Significant challenges have manifested in the drive to recover huge indebtedness from various operators and introduce strict compliance with the requirement that remittance of throughput fees and other levies be dollar denominated, pursuant to their concession agreements. This management has challenged an existing order that reflects and represents the problems and historical burdens of the NPA.
The level of outstanding debt owed the NPA (over N30bn) is staggering and yet despite that the Management found some of the stakeholders and other operators unwilling to partner with the NPA. Instead of partnering, they have constituted themselves an active obstacle to reforms that are clearly overdue in the NPA. Those in line to profit most from the continuation of a clearly corrupt, monopolistic and inefficient operating environment are the unseen hand behind the thrust to the heart of an organisation that is key to the government’s overall reforms.
If Nigeria is to become the continent investment hub it needs to be to sustain its large population, its main gateway must speak to that aspiration in deed as much as in words. The reforms of the NPA are a journey that must precede that objective or we labour in vain. The level of resistance is not unexpected; the resort to vitriol and a no-holds barred mind-set speaks volumes of the stakes in play.
These agents of retrogression must no longer be allowed to shape the narrative of the NPA. The fact that the messenger of change comes in the form of a hardworking persons impervious to the usual pressure to return to the bad old days is the main reason they are hell-bent on bringing a halt to the Management championed by the Managing Director.
“Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: Is it popular? But conscience asks the question: Is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular…. but one must take it because it’s right‘’ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.