Hadiza Bala-Usman and NPA: The Numbers That Matter, By Bukola Ogunyemi

For most countries, developed and developing ones alike, income from port operations represent an enormous revenue line, the sort of which funds significant capital projects and social security systems. Singapore’s maritime industry, as an example, contributes about 7 percent to the country’s $300 billion Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But in Nigeria, as with most things, an anomaly exists, or rather used to, until the appointment in July 2016 of reputable activist and University of Leeds alumnae Hadiza Bala-Usman as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Prior to that appointment, successive administrations in Nigeria treated the NPA as a cash-cow, milking revenue that accrues to the agency and sharing lucrative port contracts to their cronies as a reward for political loyalty and support. This perhaps explains why even though 75 percent of exports and imports pass through Nigeria’s seaports, the NPA has grossly underperformed over the years in terms of revenue generated as quota contributed to the Nigerian economy.

It hasn’t however, taken the erudite Hadiza Bala-Usman long before reversing the retrogressive trend at the NPA and turning the fortunes of the agency around. From the moment her appointment was announced, Hadiza did not waste any time in kick-starting a chain of reforms geared towards blocking all the existing avenues for revenue leakages at the NPA, including the implementation of the Treasury Single Account of the Federal Government as well as the adoption of an automated revenue and invoice management system.

These reform policies implemented by Hadiza Bala-Usman have already started bearing fruits as the NPA a few months ago declared the sum of N299.56 billion as generated revenue for the 2017 fiscal year. This figure is almost double the N162.20 billion generated by the agency in the preceding year and is, in fact, the highest generated revenue by the agency in the past five years. A further breakdown shows that the sum of N136.04 billion represents revenue generated by the NPA from “traffic” in 2017 alone, while N66.80 billion was generated from “harbours”, N86.06 billion was generated from “administrative”, and N10.75 billion from “others”.

Effectively, within 18 months of Hadiza Bala-Usman’s leadership at the NPA, the agency has witnessed a magnificent turnaround, from being a hotbed of corruption and monumental fraud, to becoming one of the highest revenue generating agencies under the Buhari administration and a pillar for the diversification of Nigeria’s economy to break the overreliance on oil.

A key element of this remarkable success story is the revenue and invoice management system which was put in place as part of Hadiza Bala-Usman’s efforts to further strengthen transparency in revenue collection and remittance, and to make doing business at Nigeria’s seaports easier for all stakeholders, the Nigerian Ports Authority.

The revenue and invoice management system is a web-based billing and revenue collection application which has fully automated the entire billing cycle of the NPA from invoice generation, payments, and maintenance of books. This has proved to be a hugely successful mechanism for keeping the proverbial yams from the goat as far as corruption and revenue leakages are concerned at the NPA.

The revenue and invoice management system have made it possible for NPA customers to view their account details and balance on the portal while viewing their bill/invoice status as they are generated and approved by the NPA. Customers are also able to apply for sailing clearance online and download their Sailing Clearance Certificate on approval by the NPA.

The implementation of this revenue and invoice management system has considerably reduced the cost of doing business with the NPA and increased the efficiency of the agency especially in the area of revenue collection. As a result of this visionary move by Hadiza Bala-Usman and her team, the billions of Naira that used to get lost in translation during the revenue collection process that was previously in place at the NPA are now being remitted directly to the right accounts.

This move follows the full implementation of the Treasury Single Account policy by the NPA which has uncovered how companies backed erstwhile strong political forces were pocketing revenues collected on behalf of the Nigerian government and diverting same into their own purses. One of such companies has been collecting revenue from shippers on behalf of the NPA for several years, keeping the bulk of all the funds and remitting to the agency a tiny percentage as it pleases. This was the order of the day until Hadiza Bala-Usman stepping into the picture.

Another testament to the strategic revenue generation policy instituted by Hadiza Bala-Usman at the NPA is the acquisition of four new 60-tonne buller-pull tugboats with state-of-the-art equipment and fully computerised engines at the cost of $30 million. This forms part of efforts to boost marine operation and service delivery in the Lagos Pilotage District and to improve NPA’s towage services and thus enhance the nation’s revenue as bigger vessels can now call at the ports.

Hadiza Bala-Usman has also enforced quick payment of concession dues by all terminal operators and sanctioning of defaulters, ending the era of anyhowness that results in government revenue being kept away in private pockets.

So thorough has Hadiza Bala-Usman being in her pursuit of transparency and full accountability in NPA’s revenue drive that it took less than one month after she assumed office to uncover about N11.23 billion belonging to the agency and that should have been transmitted into the TSA but was kept in certain commercial banks.

According to sources familiar with the fraud investigation, the funds were collected as revenue for NPA through some commercial banks, but through a collusion between the bank officials and some officials of the maritime agency, the funds never made it into NPA’s Treasury Single Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria. The former management of the agency also failed to disclose the funds in the handover note passed to Hadiza Bala-Usman during the handing over process. Strategic efforts have since been put in place to recover these unremitted funds.

These far-reaching reforms have definitely unsettled a lot of vested interests who were beneficiaries of the status quo that existed at the NPA before July 2016, but Hadiza Bala-Usman, who was listed by Financial Times amongst the most influential women of 2014, has remained undeterred in her resolve to put the NPA on a pedestal where it can stand shoulder to shoulder with its peers in more advanced economies. Therein lies the good news for Nigerians whose lives are being touched through projects that are funded by the revenue that the NPA transmits into our commonwealth.

Bukola Ogunyemi is a public affairs analyst.

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