Why there is no vacancy at Marina House

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Tunde Babajide writes that the new helmsman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Mohammed Bello-Koko, has demonstrated his ability to take the agency to greater heights.

In June 2021, the Nigerian shipping industry was taken by surprise following the suspension, investigation and eventual dismissal of Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman as Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) for allegations of financial irregularities, corrupt practices and cases of insubordination against the Minister of Transport, the Honorable Rotimi Amaechi.

Hadiza’s impeachment, which was approved in a presidential directive, came barely a month after her still-to-expire term was hastily renewed for another five-year term much to the chagrin of stakeholders who turned away. revolted against development. While her suspension came as a surprise, it was even more shocking to find out how extremely unpopular Hadiza had become in the halls of power and among industry players.

The industry had yet to come to terms with the seismic changes to the NPA when Mr. Mohammed Bello-Koko, executive director of finance and administration, was appointed on an interim basis to replace the suspended Hadiza Bala-Usman.

Not knowing what to expect and just like his predecessor, a discordant air greeted Bello-Koko’s appointment as stakeholders argued over his professional credentials, technical abilities and industry connections seen as clues. keys required to land the highest position.

Whatever intrigue may have influenced his appointment, Bello-Koko inadvertently assumed the unenviable and mine-laden responsibility of holding the gateway to the Nigerian economy; a task he has administered over the past six months, with a clear understanding and unwavering commitment to the viability and competitiveness of NPA.

While some industry observers have described him as a child of Providence given the circumstances that led to his appointment, other commenters believe that whether he chose the path or the path has it. chosen, the honorable thing would be to make the most of the opportunity and write your name in the sands of time.

Despite Bello-Koko’s unprecedented achievements so far, industry watchers are of the opinion that his pedigree as a financial expert does not reflect the core skills required to fulfill the NPA’s mandate. In some cases, stakeholders have likened his appointment to that of Hadiza in that they both appear to have come to power at the expense of their political sponsors in Rotimi Amaechi and Nasir el Rufai respectively.

However, it is instructive to note that since his appointment as Executive Director, Finance and Administration in 2017, Bello-Koko has benefited from seminars, trainings, conferences and other initiatives aimed at consolidating his knowledge and skills in port administration, the financing of projects and human capacity management. Over time, he has honed these skills and used them in his statutory responsibilities, which has increased the overall performance of the agency’s executives.

With more than two decades of experience in the upper echelon of the Nigerian financial sector, Bello-Koko’s track record of prudent management of resources is well documented and has been evident since taking charge of Marina House. . In the same vein, he has also accumulated an extensive network of high-level contacts in various sectors of the economy. In his current role as Interim Managing Director, Bello-Koko has consistently leveraged this vast pool of technocrats to optimize operations, improve efficiency, and increase NPA revenue.

In no time, the former director of Zenith Bank has shown himself to be a team player able to adapt to divergent views and opinions, while pushing his own vision for a more productive NPA. Its open-door policy has ushered in a new era of direct engagement between management and stakeholders leading to cross-fertilization of ideas and transparent information sharing.

Bello-Koko has also learned from the mistakes of his predecessor and is unlikely to repeat them. Her humble disposition, her willingness to learn and her loyalty are her strong characteristics, especially as Hadiza Bala-Usman lost in the face of problems of disloyalty.

As President Muhammadu Buhari seeks a permanent senior officer for the NPA, relevant industry players have observed that the appointment of a new helmsman who will have to relearn the ropes would be counterproductive for the agency and the sector. . Instead, they advise that the selection be based on knowledge of the industry, skills and achievements recorded so far.

Six months ago, no one gave Bello-Koko a chance; yet his brief tenure recorded remarkable milestones that cannot simply be ignored. By focusing on the fruits at hand, Bello-Koko has focused on optimizing costs and delivering quality services, while maximizing business value for port operators and users.

The short-term results of this approach include a 120% increase in NPA Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) between January and September 2021, from NGN 214.65 billion to NGN 256.28 billion; and a reduction in operating costs of N10.39 billion. The NPA also forecast that its revenue projections for 2021 and the planned transfer to the treasury for the year 2021, which is expected to exceed 80 billion naira, would be the highest in the history of the Authority.

In Bello-Koko’s next major assignment after taking office, his team consulted with a range of stakeholders across the top hierarchy of the armed forces, police and other security agencies, the state government. from Lagos and other key industry stakeholders to address fundamental issues affecting the flawless operation of the electronic truck call system called ETO. Among other things, they launched the “green operation” to remove and clean up all illegal structures and slums on the access roads to the ports of Apapa and Tin Can Island. The result is a significant improvement in travel time along the access roads to the port of Apapa in Lagos.

In a related development, management also reviewed the barge registration and operation procedures. The new regulatory framework which includes a new standard operating procedure (SOP) entered into force from September 2021. It provides for the application of safety and operating standards, including the obligation to install radio communication equipment. on board to facilitate the sharing of traffic information. In addition, the Authority is in the process of deploying an electronic call system for barges in order to streamline their operations. It should be noted that the NPA recorded the movement of more than 200,000 TEUs by barges in 2021.

In the area of ​​process automation to improve the overall efficiency of the country’s ports, the management led by Bello-Koko is working with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to consolidate all its electronic platforms under a community port system. unified. These include Oracle Financials and human resource planning; Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP); Revenue and Invoicing Management System (RIMS); Electronic Ship Entry Notice (e-SEN); Customs portal for online invoice submission; Hyperion budgeting; 3CI (Command, Control and Communication & Intelligence); Access control to truck controls; and Harbors System Linked to 3CI for the harmonization of ship operations.

Regarding the operational infrastructure, management has renovated the control towers at the ports of Apapa and Tin Can Island, while new communication gadgets have been installed to ensure fast and efficient communication with ships entering. port canals.

In the area of ​​security and ISPS code compliance, NPA is addressing identified areas of security vulnerabilities with the deployment of electronic access control in Apapa and Onne ports as pilot projects, while the procurement process has started for the Tin Can Full Perimeter Fence. Port area of ​​the island with full compliance. This is in addition to the 13 newly purchased Security Patrol Boats (SPBs) that will be deployed to all Pilotage Districts, including the establishment of Maritime Police units in the ports of Calabar and Delta, where there are none. currently none.

In preparation for the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area initiative and in support of the federal government’s economic diversification program, the NPA under Bello-Koko is working with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) to establish Dedicated third party export terminals or export parks to be located in Lagos and Ogun states. The initiative aims for export processing, packaging and certification under a one-stop-shop platform for all relevant bodies responsible for quality control and regulatory validation of exports prior to shipment. A pilot project has been set up at the Lilly Pond container terminal in Lagos, while 10 more export terminals are in the process of being certified to begin operations by the first quarter of 2022.

Staff and stakeholders demonstrate inclusiveness in Bello-Koko’s administrative style. He has won their trust and in return, they are committed to supporting his administration’s initiatives without fail.

Nothing happens by chance and every incident happens at the precise moment for which it was intended; usually when it will have the greatest impact on our lives. For Bello-Koko, the above statement rings true and aptly describes the path fate has drawn before him. Few other options exist but to seize the opportunity and lead the Authority into viable and profitable waters, with the overall objectives of anchoring a business-friendly port system and positioning Nigeria as a hub for maritime commerce in Europe. Africa.

* Babajide is a Lagos-based social commentator

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