As is usual with government, no reason was given for their removal. But a good number of industry operators felt sad about the development in NPA considering that Suleiman assumed office about a year and six months ago.
He was appointed in December 2010, when government in a similar manner removed the former Managing Director, Mr. Abdulsalam Mohammed. To industry stakeholders, NPA is gradually becoming NIMASA where in the past, government was changing the leadership almost every year. Apart from the concern that jobs of individuals are abruptly brought to an end, particularly as most of these CEOs are young people, there is a lot of negative implications on the industry. It does not allow for continuity or smooth acceleration of developments in the organisation affected. This is because it is believed that every individual has his idea different from what was met on the ground, a situation that affects progress in the industry.
However, what could be consoling is that the present NPA boss has been in the system, an industry person that is abreast of goals, set objectives of NPA as a landlord under the port reform system.
For the period that Omar Suleiman was in NPA, there is no doubt that he did his best. On assuming office, first, he set out to improve the welfare of the workers. Just recently, the NPA decided to pay workers who were disengaged about 21 years ago some of their entitlements. This showed that the former MD was interested in the welfare of the workers who served the organisation in the past. He introduced a lot of training programmes for workers as a way of preparing them to play greater roles for the authority as a technical regulator. The only problem has been in the area of technical regulation which will continue to be an illusion for any chief executive officer of NPA. To industry observers, it is not that they do not know what to do, but they lack the political will to do so. And this is because of their understanding of the body movements of the leaders at the head. Most times, their hands are tied, as a top industry operators said.
Suleiman, while in office continued with the projects of the former Managing Director, Mr Absulsalam Mohammed. He also initiated new ones. As former General Manager, Engineering Services in NPA, he understood the importance of such projects. The projects were massive infrastructure rehabilitation. There have been repairs and maintenance of buildings, wharves/corrosion, buoys, channels and waterways, including buoyage system, among others.
These include the Lagos harbour moles, quay wall and apron, Apapa Dockyard Wharf 3, installation of marine fenders in Zone 1,2 and 3, and rehabilitation of the NPA headoffice.
Other capital projects embarked upon include rehabilitation of Port Harcourt port Road Network and Water Supply; connection of Onne Port to National Grid (33KVA) from FOT Junction to Main Gate Federal Terminal; rehabilitation of Julius Berger Terminal 'C' Old Port Warri ,Delta State; reconstruction of Primeter Wall Fence, Warri; dredging of Escravos-Warri-Aladja to Koko Channel in Warri Pilotage District-proposal and rehabilitation of AMS Terminal 'B' Old Port Warri, Delta State. There are many of such projects that one cannot mention. Some have been completed, while some are ongoing. But one cannot leave out the issue of green port development plans in Akwa Ibom State and Lagos. The target for these projects, including the new seaport development, maintenance dredging, wreck removal, among others, is to make Nigerian ports the hub in the West Africa. The efforts have been fruitful with the rising cargo and ship traffic.
Challenges for Abdullahi
The ports industry, according to observers, welcomes the new NPA boss, Habibu Abdullahi, with basket full of demands. Although government failed to say what led to the removal of Suleiman, one hopes that the new MD will not be removed abruptly at a time when he is on top gear to implement port development plans. That is the issue. Sometimes, CEOs of government institutions are removed not for failure to perform or fraud, but most times for objecting to do the 'bidding' of some powerful people.
That explains why some chief executives exercise caution in enforcing certain regulations that will check some operators that are likely to plot their removal at government circles. One hopes that government will begin to allow CEOs to do the right thing in every industry, particularly the ports industry where lack of political will to right the wrong has impacted negatively on the national economy. Stakeholders have lamented the excesses of some terminal operators and multinational shipping agencies to no avail. Incidentally, those who should check them are in deep romance, a development that inflicts huge economic damage to Nigerians.
Ports Infrastructure Rehabilitation
One good thing about the appointment of the new NPA boss is the fact that he is an industry person. Industry stakeholders expect that he will continue with infrastructure rehabilitation. The reason is obvious. The infrastructure has been in a state of decay over the decades. That explains why the management of NPA has concentrated in rehabilitating them since 2006 when terminal operation was handed over to the concessionaires as part of the reform process. The former Minister of Transport, Yusuf Suleiman, had complained about NPA's shortcoming in tackling aggressively the infrastructure development to support the port reform after the concessionaires took over terminal operations in 2006. That was over two years ago, and it was from this point that the management of NPA hastened action on infrastructure rehabilitation. So, in effect, the new NPA boss needs to take the issue of ports infrastructure rehabilitation seriously because it is the key to achieving efficiency at the ports.
This is one area that the NPA has been weak in achieving. But, again, the blame can be placed on the doorsteps of government. However, the new boss of the NPA should improve the situation. He should aim to check the excesses of some terminal operators and shipping companies that are over-billing Nigerian importers who in turn transfer the cost to the consumers.
The Minister, Senator Idris Umar should be able to work with the Presidency and the National Assembly to have the National Transport Commission (NTC). This will help NPA focus specifically on other statutory functions that will help the industry. A separate regulatory agency for the ports industry should act like the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). NCC hits any organisation or service provider that goes wrong, thus compelling them to do what is right at all times. It is absent in the ports industry where the concessionaires and shipping companies are not checked because the past CEOs of NPA are not obvious of the fact that many of them are in romance with those at the corridor of power. The leadership of House Committee on Marine Transport and its Senate counterpart should create every enabling environment to have a regulator in the industry. It will help the country, and that will be one legacy that they should leave to Nigerians. Their names will be written in gold if they achieve this. The new NPA MD is expected to use his industry connections and goodwill to see that a regulator in the ports industry is in place.
Pressure from Politicians
NPA is a very viable organisation with close to N150bn annual budget. This means that NPA is richer than many state governments. This has exposed the authority to many politicians, both low and higher. As CEO of NPA, the pressure from these people is very high. And this is what the new NPA boss must watch to save himself of having to face the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) after leaving office. He is expected to learn from past experience of those who were there. As a graduate of Political Science, with Masters Degree in Public Administration, Abdullahi is expected to be wary of politicians or highly placed individuals who will try to compel him to give contracts without going through due process. Some are those who will go to the extent of name-dropping, claiming that proceeds from such contracts are to be used in funding political parties, all in a bid to have their way. To live peacefully after leaving office, he should as much as possible, stand up against any such coercion. Above all, he is expected to improve on the situation better than he met it.