Boosting NPA revenue through revitalizing Eastern ports
Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, the first female and incumbent Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA) was unequivocal about her mission when she was appointed to the exalted position on July 12th, 2016.
She came with a clear focus to plug revenue leakages and boost the sagging revenue profile of NPA and she minced no word about it.
So within her 100 days in office, she profiled the debts being owned the agency by its customers, especially the terminal operators. At the same time, she took a comprehensive tour of all NPA facilities at both the Western and Eastern ports.
Both exercises yielded shocking finds.
As at December 2015, the debt profile of NPA has risen to a whooping sum of $443.34m, about N86.2 billion, using the then exchange rate.
Ms Usman vowed to collect the debts to the last kobo.
Also, her tour of the ports in the Western and Eastern axis afforded her first hand information about the challenges facing the revenue drive of the agency.
Through her interaction with the stakeholders, the NPA helmswoman came to appreciate the enormous challenges that have over the years crippled the activities in the Eastern ports of Calabar, Warri, Port Harcourt and Onne which consistently make them liabilities on the NPA.
Her findings showed that Western ports of Lagos Ports Complex, Apapa and Tin Can Island ports have largely remained a cash cow for the agency, contributing more that 70 per cent of its revenue which, unfortunately is being used to sustain those ports in the Eastern axis that are on the throes of death due to lack of port activities and low utilization.
This development has therefore led to the continued dwindling revenue fortunes of the government parastatal, a trend Usman was determined to reverse.
As a result of her interaction with the host communities and her own spot assessment of the facilities at those ports, the Managing Director was able to distil the fundamental challenges that have stunted the growth of Eastern ports and make them revenue liabilities.
These challenges include shallow draft of channels which make bigger vessels unable to access the ports, security threats posed by the youth restiveness in the host communities which deter importers from patronizing the port and decaying port infrastructure at the facilities.
Shallow draft of port channel: One of the militating factors against full utilization of the ports in the Eastern axis is their shallow depth which discourages bigger vessels to call.
The most hit is Calabar port with its high siltation level that has defiled previous efforts to deepen its channel.
Successive NPA managements had sunk billions of naira into the dredging of Calabar port with nothing to show for it.
In 2006, the sum of $56million(9billion) was spent to dredge the port while in 2014 another dredging exercise on the port gulped N20billion.
However, the present management of NPA led by Usman was also willing to deepen the channel but with different approach in a bid to achieve the much elusive result.
‘’We will be having a meeting with Calabar Channel Management to determine the state of the job as it relates to capital or maintenance dredging. We initiated the first meeting and I have informed the management, we are going to have technical sessions to determine the level of dredging that may have been done.
‘’We have requested for the hydrographic survey from the onset. Those documents will enable us know the way forward .We believe there is need to resolve this issue so that the draft can be deeper and it can accommodate larger vessels.
‘’Indeed we will look backward to see what went wrong as relates to capital and maintenance dredging and see the work that Calabar Channel Management was said to have embarked on in 2015.
‘’Some of the amount we have spent on capital dredging is not translating in the amount spent on maintenance dredging. We are going to discuss this issue with the channel management company in our meeting.
‘’If you are familiar with the procedure, except its capital dredging, cost of maintenance dredging should not be so high. It’s clear that from the way the Calabar Channel issue is managed, we will know how to go about similar joint venture in future’’, that was the submission of Ms Usman at one of his interactive session with the stakeholders.
The MD also promised to embark on the dredging of Warri port to achieve increased patronage.
Security issue: Youth restiveness in the host communities at the Eastern ports has made the facilities unattractive to importers who shun the place due to the security threats to their cargo.
However, at her separate interaction with Governor of Delta state, Ifeayin Okonwa and Olu of Warri, Ogiame Ikenwole, Ms Usman promised to revitalize the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of the NPA to provide opportunities for the restive youths.
Both Gov. Okonwa and Olu of Warri have noted that dredging the Warri port will boost economic activities of the area and the agitating youths will be gainfully engaged, to which the MD agreed.
So both the NPA and the top stakeholders in the region are on the same page to bring back peace to the area and create peaceful atmosphere that will boost port activities and revenue profile of NPA.
Decaying infrastructure: The hallmark of the ports in the eastern axis is their decaying infrastructural facilities due to several years of neglect which led to low utilization of the ports.
Ms Usman came to the harsh reality of this fact when both the NPA staff and the stakeholders in the region reeled out grim statistics of the dilapidated facilities and the dearth of other critical ones such as deplorable berths, dearth of finger mooring jetties to berth NPA crafts, lack of operational vehicles and fire hydrants at quays.
In her firm belief that the restoration of the eastern port will further boost the NPA revenue, Usman declared her readiness and determination to upgrade the decaying infrastructure and provide modern equipment.
Dearth of technical staff and aged workforce: NPA performance is bogged down by dearth of staff to man core technical operational areas and its fast- ageing workforce.
To combat this menace, Ms Usman, as against the rumour of sack, gave approval for massive recruitment of technical personnel to man core operational areas in NPA and also starts grooming young staff through training to take over from the aged staff who are at the twilight of their career in the agency.
The Eastern ports, just like their Western counterparts, are not spared of this menace.
Vision and Objective: The motivating factor behind the zeal and push of Hadiza Bala Usman in her quest to restore the lost glory of the Eastern ports through restoration of activities was the need to shore up the fast depleting revenue base of the NPA which has largely being sustained by the overstretched Western ports of Apapa and Tin Can.
The belief and conviction of the management and board of the agency was that repositioning the hitherto neglected eastern ports will open a new vista of revenue –generating opportunities for the agency, thereby expanding its frontier of revenue.
Fortunately, Usman found a willing partner in the Chairman of the Board of NPA, Mr Emmanuel Adesoye, who is equally committed to the vision and objective of Usman to plug revenue leakages and boost the revenue base of the agency.
One of the ways they both agreed to achieve this was through massive and aggressive revalisation of eastern ports to make them attractive to importers and thus generating the much needed revenue to the authority.
To show their commitment towards this crusade, the NPA has captured in the 2017 budget all the infrastructural development programmes in the region such as channel dredging, provision of modern equipment and aggressive pursuit of its CSR to quell the security tension in the area.
With this quest to bring the dying eastern ports to life, the present management of the NPA is set to push through the revenue barricade posed by the successive neglect of the eastern ports and broaden the revenue base of the super rich agency.