By Isaac Anumihe
Hadiza Usman is a young Nigerian woman endowed with beauty and brain. Her stint in Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) during the privatisation and concessioning of the Nigerian ports prepared her for her new position as the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). This implies that she knows and understands the industry very well. Her mastery of the industry was further demonstrated when she interacted with newsmen to mark her 100 days in office.
In this interview, she answered questions on the problematic Wharf Road project, the knotty tug-boat issue and the huge indebtedness of NPA, among other conundrums.
Ban on importation of vehicles through land borders
We have seen the ban on importation through land borders and Nigerian ports are very ready to take this on. We are very ready to have seamless operations of increased traffic. Some of the traffic we have seen dwindling was a function of some of the government policies on the importation of new cars. With this ban through land borders, we will see an increase in activities within our ports and we have put in place mechanisms to ensure that additional traffic will not form any bottleneck. But as you see, we have always had that capacity. That capacity was not just utilised now. Hopefully, we will have more traffic following the ban. Our terminal operators are keen. They have been actively wanting increased traffic. So, we are ready to take this increased traffic on.
Obligation to ISPS Code
We are very mindful of our obligations to all stakeholders which is why we have been leading in compliance on International Ship and Port facility Security Code (ISPS Code). And as I apologise to you this afternoon, one of the meetings we had was with US code card who had come to look at our facilities to see our level of compliance with ISPS code. We are much familiar with it. Our General Manage security is on hand on that. He is actually now with the team from US code card to assess the situation we have in our ports. We are coming in February to do another assessment on which they will provide grading for our terminals. That is something we are on top of and we have communicated to our terminal operators and they are all very much compliant on ISPS.
N400m trapped in Aso Savings
On the N400 million that is trapped in Aso Savings, we are working to see how we can get that out. It helps if we can have a letter, which will say what the account is for, when it was opened, the account details to enable us follow through. Indeed, during the submission, they had mentioned Aso Homes. I had asked them to provide the exact names and proper detailing on the account opening, the account name so we can pursue it the same manner we are pursuing our money in Heritage Bank. We still have indebtedness in Heritage Bank. We have paid certain amount of money. But we still have about $19 million still with Heritage Bank. We are having meetings with Central Bank to see what we can do to have the monies of NPA being returned to the coffers of government. I am sure all of you will recall that when we took office, we discovered this amount of money not being transferred into the Treasury Single Account (TSA) by Heritage Bank. We are still pursuing it and we will pursue it aggressively and ensure that those monies are returned to us.
Command and Control Centre
This is an IT that not just captures vessels but also highlights security concerns. The CCC has been very useful in providing us with data, security on locations of vessels and we have linked it up with our payment platform. This is not fully effective yet but we are working to see how the command and control will be linked to capturing the revenues and also having the exact revenues that are attributable to command and control centre. We are working with that. One of the things I said during the commissioning was that whatever IT platform, we have to deploy it across board to all our operations. If we deploy x-billion naira to a project, we have to get value for our money by ensuring it is utilised by all our services. If security has to plug into this platform for us to get maximum benefit, that is Phase 2 of the project. The Phase 1 needs to be fully operational so as to optimise the value for resources that have been deployed to Command and Control Centre.
Level of indebtedness
NPA has a huge debt profile accumulated over 10 years. We currently have N10 billion indebtedness in local currency and $585 million in foreign debts. Some of these indebtedness are considered as bad debts but we need to go through the legal process of considering them and classifying them as bad debts and taking them out of our books. We have debts that are accrued by terminal operators. We are working actively to ensure that they pay us. We also have debts of lease agreements. These are tenancy payments that have accrued over a period. NPA had continued billing for leases of land, a situation where the lessees have been unable to get access to their property. When you do not have access to a piece of land leased to you, you are unable to make that payment because you are not utilising that land. And NPA continues to put that amount and bill that entity and considers it as debt. These are debts that we are working on removing, reverting some of the lease allocations because fundamental to leasing is the fact that the lessee has to be able to take occupation and not lease a land that is encumbered. When you lease a land that is encumbered by encroachment, due to topographical challenges and you bill that person for those leases, that is not a very responsible thing to do. We will identify all those leases that are encumbered by encroachment and topography and we are going to remove that amount of money that NPA is claiming is being owed by these lessees because they cannot pay if they are not utilising the premises. And that lease, indeed, if you look at it might not be a valid lease because you are not able to take possession of your premises. We also have indebtedness where entities pack up and leave. They are not there in the location. In the address, they don’t exist anymore. We have quite a significant amount of indebtedness in that manner. So, we have developed a framework on debt collection. We are actively pursuing that. So, we remove the bad debt and to recall the so-called debt that we claim on lease and tenancy for land and then reconcile and have a proper position on what our indebtedness actually is.
We have received a report on the modalities of doing towage services by the authority. We appreciate the fact that we are paying for services and another entity is also collecting. Those relationships are going to change. The report will be presented and deliberated upon for implementation. We will look to have a proper structure of public-private partnership for our towage services. This needs to be done taking into consideration the fact that NPA staff that provide services to the extent that they are not providing the services is anywhere clear on the amount of monies that will be paid for such services.
We know that some of the concerns also have to do with the level of deployment of vessels that we are able to do, how effective is NPA in procuring and maintaining those vessels, how efficient are we? A lot of our vessels are not classified. We have been unable to meet up. Most of our vessels that are not under management are not being dry-docked when due. So, that shows our own weaknesses. It shows our own inability to manage some of our assets. So, we are looking to have a PPP framework that takes into consideration all the challenges that are obtainable and all the personnel and also on appropriate payment that does not shortchange the Federal Government.
We are concluding on that. As you are aware, NPA has signed into transparency in budget. So, our budget is available to everyone in the world to view and see what we have in our budget. As soon as we conclude on the budget, it will be posted on the website and you will be able to have access to that. We are increasing the percentage of our capital provision from what is obtained in 2016. We are deferring the modalities for improvement on our infrastructure. We budgeted appropriately for that. Some of the items we do not have – the vessels, the tug-boat. We will put them for procurement and develop the PPP framework of maintaining them. We have captured as much as we can within our capital project to have a strengthened deployment for infrastructure within our budgetary provision and therefore reduced our recurrent expenditure as it were.
World Bank ranking
I am aware of the World Bank ranking but we are working to move our ranking higher. It is important to appreciate that some of the components that will place NPA on a particular ranking are not only the authority’s because we have other government agencies that operate within the ambit that challenge our own efficiencies. We call on these agencies to turn around their own components. As hard as we work with other government agencies, it will be challenging to us to move up our ranking. I believe the ranking is a global ranking for the country. As agencies of government, we have to appreciate and understand the need to work together to appreciate that the success of every other agency is the success of Nigeria as a whole. Nigeria as a country and the Federal Government can work seamlessly towards having one phase and one position of the Federal Government driving and achieving our successes together beyond having enclaves of agencies and being stand-alone and trying to achieve in isolation of others, which does not really get us to where we want as a country.
Dry-docking outside Nigeria
We will understand that this is very important and it is a huge revenue enhancement activity for Nigeria. It is a huge employment generation initiative. But for us to have compliance on dry-docking for Nigeria, we have to have effective and efficient dockyard. In order for us to do that as NPA, we are looking on doing PPP for the management of our dockyards. And we are doing an assessment of our dockyards to determine how the PPP framework will be. We are mindful of the fact that we have very skilled personnel that have knowledge base in that and what the PPP structure will do. We will take into consideration these personnel and skill structures we have to make sure that we appreciate them.
Having vessels dry-dock in Nigeria is a huge employment and revenue-generating component that we are working actively to have. We are looking at concessioning and doing PPPs for our dockyards.
Service boat collection and existing contract with Intels
As I mentioned when I visited Onne, we are going to ensure full compliance on payment to the coffers of government. No entity should collect money and keep in their coffers for the government. We have put in place a standard operations procedure, which we have communicated to Intels. We have also given them a timeline with which they should revert to us. They are required to revert to us to enable us commence implementation whereby the funds are paid to the Federal Government. Any invoices or payments that are required to be done by the agent, the agent will give us an invoice and we pay that agent within a stipulated time. I think such an arrangement is in line with what we believe is enshrined within our constitution and no entity will stand in the way of preventing the NPA in adhering to the TSA policy, which is in compliance with the deployment of all revenue to the consolidated revenue account as enshrined in our constitution. We are going to enforce that.
We have given Intels the timeline within which to revert to us whereby our supplementary agreement will be entered into to review this position to ensure that we collect the monies into government coffers. Failure of Intels to respond to us, we are going to take all necessary actions to ensure compliance. To the extent that they are not complying, we will commence legal action on any agency or any entity that is not complying with what has been stipulated as a directive from Federal Government TSA policies.
Update on the port access road in Apapa
As you rightly mentioned, we have given timelines and deadlines to the agencies. On the one hand, on the Wharf Road, we have concluded discussions with Dangote and Flour Mills on deploying and fixing the road, taking into consideration the need for drainage. Final drawings will be submitted to the Federal Ministry of Works in four weeks and the Ministry will conclude on the framework with which this road will be built. There are considerations that the framework that was used with Obajana in the development of the road will be considered but the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing will communicate the details to the public once it is done. But the details on final drawings will be reverted to the ministry in four weeks and they would conclude and deploy.
We also discussed extensively and got our Creek Road and two other roads within Apapa into the 2017 budget of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. The Minister has confirmed that these items will be in 2017 budget and they will be constructed within that period. In addition, one of the challenges we have noted in the area is the need for holding bays and trailer garages. The Ministry of Power, Works and Housing has also confirmed that the completion of the trailer park it is building in Tin Can area has also been captured in the 2017 budget. As relates to the reduction in the number of trailers plying that road, I think a lot of you will see and understand that some of these trailers are not on their way to anywhere. They are just on the road because they don’t want to park or they don’t have any location to park. One of the things we are putting in place is a situation where a trailer can only be on the road if it is verifiably going to pick up a cargo. If you are not on your way to pick up a cargo, you need to be within a holding bay.
The World Bank initiative has come to us to put in place this electronic system whereby the trailers will remain in the trailer garages and holding bays. We have identified them but this is indeed a wholly private-sector driven initiative where the NPA and other agencies of government will work on compliance. On compliance, we mean ensuring that every trailer that is not going to collect a cargo is within the holding bay. The holding bays and trailer parks will be operated and run by the private sector. But we have to see that the respective associations of trailer owners operating in the ports are taken into consideration. We had extensive dialogue with them. Within the last one week, there is palliative work ongoing on the fixing of the roads. Julius Berger is working on this palliative programme from the Federal Ministry of Works, Power and Housing. The trailers are permanently on the road that even the contractors are unable to get access. One of the things I have had to do in the last two days is to contact the Chairman of Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO). On a daily basis, I am exchanging texts with Chief Remi Ogungbemi to see that he needs to speak to his people to move the trailers away so that the work can be done. If you are on the road there, how can the work be done? Ogungbemi has been very co-operative on having the association vacate and clear the locations. NPA itself has two contractors that are doing work. We have CGC Construction, which has an ongoing contract within the location. We also have DICS Construction, which also has an ongoing work within the Apapa area. But primarily, this decongestion will be achieved if we are able to have a seamless process of holding bays and trailer garages. That is paramount to keeping the area free of congestion and also having good road network that would prevent blockages and also ensure seamless movement of traffic.