Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman is managing director/CEO of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), which is a key institution in driving government’s plan to build the nation’s non-oil revenue capacity. A strong institution is needed to accomplish the great mission and a strong personality is needed to build a strong institution. This is what government has accomplished in NPA with the appointment of Usman as its chief executive officer to drive the change agenda in the maritime sector.
Usman needed to first reshape the organization to give it a structure that can deliver on her mandate. She embarked upon a mission to restructure the organisation and has so far succeeded in elevating NPA to a leadership position in the maritime sector in West Africa.
Government needed to build non-oil revenue capacity desperately in the face of a large drop in crude oil earnings and NPA has become a key element of the present administration’s accomplishments in that regard. Usman has pursued vigorously the objective of enhancing revenue capacity and has in the process strengthened the role of the authority in the development of port operations.
In pursuant of the revenue generating task, she has effected a number of changes in the system that have paid off. These include new structures designed to enhance efficiency and strengthen weak processes. The result is significant reduction of revenue leakages and development of new channels of income. One of her early steps after assuming office was an aggressive debt recovery exercise, which has reduced the cycle of indebtedness and cash flow crisis between the authority and its contractors.
NPA is one of the government institutions where the change agenda has truly begun with sweeping reforms that Usman has implemented. It was no doubt a journey of a thousand mile to try to enhance the operating efficiency of a public sector institution such as NPA but Usman has covered a record level millage on the job.
According to Usman, NPA was not in any way different from most public sector institutions in terms of poor quality of job, delayed turnaround time, lack of transparency in operations and poor commitment of staff. She had to go down to the roots of a long standing structure to cultivate a new spirit and a new culture in the organisation.
The effort involved readjustment of staff structure, the goal of which is to strengthen the role of the agency in regulating the operators within the maritime industry. Many people often complain about the past as a reason for not accomplishing things in the present. Usman isn’t in the midst of this lot: she met a weak organization with a poor structure and changed it rather than lament over it.
Despite the extra mile effort she had to undertake to build a new structure and change the work orientation, Usman is ranked one of the top performers of the present administration. She has changed the system and its people to the extent that she can now boast of her team. “I think my team and I have the skills to drive the authority and position it to take on the responsibility it was set up for”, she said.
One key ingredient of organizational success – which is getting staff to follow willingly the lead of the CEO is now manifest in NPA. Usman has undertaken significant capacity building to achieve the elevated human resource quality she now has at her command. A lot of staff training programmes on ICT, modern equipment handling and general enhancement of management skills have taken place in the organisation.
One of her early steps is her Business Process Re-engineering Initiative, which worked to improve efficiency, reduce redundancy and position the agency as a professional body. The effort to enthrone efficiency also involved weeding out ill equipped contractors. With that, Usman has saved the system from the recurring cases of service disruptions due to failure of contractors to perform as per agreement.
Usman is on a mission to take NPA to a leadership position in the maritime sector in West Africa. This requires a competitive configuration that will enable Nigeria to capture an increased share of the maritime business within the region. Usman has embarked upon infrastructure development initiatives with a view to optimizing the competitive force of the agency.
Improvement of terminal facilities has been her major focus since 2017. A lot has been accomplished in expansion of sea ports and coastal areas. Modern port facilities are now in place, including tugboats capable of performing multiple functions, firefighting equipment and search and rescue vehicles.
She has also worked on NPA’s tariff structure with a view to achieving a better competitive positioning within the West and Central African coasts. This has brought the authority to a new era of operating in openness and transparency. NPA’s tariffs used to be held in secrecy until Usman unveiled it in 2016 for the world to see. This is a big step forward in ushering in transparency that has been lacking in the authority’s operations.
The NPA’s boss is the driving force of change that has ushered in a new era in port administration and competition within the Western and Central Africa. Some other African countries have followed her example in sharing data on the maritime industry. Usman therefore gets the credit for leading the port authorities across the West and Central African coast towards transparency and healthy competition.
The task of raising revenue in the face of declining import capacity due to foreign exchange shortfalls looked like a mission impossible. Usman has however turned the table around by shifting focus to encouraging exports. She has designated Lilly Pond Terminal in Ijora and Ikorodu Light Terminal for export of agricultural produce.
In partnership with terminal operators, export desks have sprung up and the effort in promoting non-oil exports has geared up. This is one big step for the Buhari government that has given non-oil exports a forward push with stimulatory effects on the agricultural production.
Usman has demonstrated that the culture of endemic corruption and inefficiency that characterize the public sector is changeable. What it takes is leadership that has the will and the commitment to shake up the system and rebuild it. It is a mission accomplished for Usman in NPA where she has challenged the status quo and introduced changes that are transforming the maritime sector.