Malam Habib Abdullahi has come to the headship of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) at a critical stage for the 59 year-old organization. As a state-owned enterprise, NPA is one of the thriving ventures in the category due to the pivotal role of its industry position as a gateway for Nigeria’s international trade. It officially owns all the river ports and seaports of Nigeria on behalf of Nigeria’s federal government.
In 2006, NPA formally handed over the operations aspect of the port industry to private terminal operators on various long-term leases. Today, its core functions revolve around pilotage, dredging, aids to navigation, security, access roads and other common services while the private terminal operators pay agreed tenancy rates and royalties.
Early in the new millennium, NPA penned joint venture agreements with some foreign technical partners for the management of critical channels into the Nigerian trade, such as Lagos and Port Harcourt, where special purpose vehicles like Lagos Channel Management and Bonny Channel Company were floated. These firms have made it easy for the port industry to cope with the boon of increasing port traffic which has been on the ascendancy since the return to civilian administration in 1999.
In late 2012, approval in principle has been concretized for the floating of yet another channel management company, this time, for the 84-kilometre Calabar port channel. The winner of that bid is Nigerglobal Marine Ventures Ltd.
In tandem with a new policy on public-private-partnership in the development of port infrastructure and new ports, especially deep sea ports, NPA is currently in the process of synergy for the development of the facilities in Lekki, Olokonla, Ibaka and Badagry. These would push Nigeria firmly into the domicile for large hub ports to serve the West and Central Africa sub-region.
In this special coverage of NPA’s technical engagements to improve the industry, Malam Abdullahi provides answers to some of the active issues connected with the task of change management in the sector.
Born in Kano State 56 years ago, Abdullahi worked in different capacities as a director of budget and managing director of some Kano State parastatals. According to an official bio-data, he was the first chairman of Kabo Local Government in Kano state before joining NPA.
He had also worked as the Chief of Staff to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. His career record in NPA shows that he was a general manager (administration), and subsequently Overseas Representative at the London office of NPA in December 2011 when he was appointed acting executive director (finance and administration) before being appointed as managing director in 2012.
With university education from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, the University of Bath and University of East Anglia, Malam Abdullahi also holds a masters degree in public policy and management from Harvard University. He is a fellow of the Institute of International Development, Harvard University.
On the general affairs of the Authority, he sees the port reform programme in NPA as a success, citing the reconstruction of the Apapa-Oshodi expressway and the provision of a trailer park as anchors of such success. In a recent visit to Port Harcourt, the MD clarified that the marine section of the Authority would not be in the imminent concession as is being speculated. According to him, the Authority would rather strengthen its marine services department with the recruitment of more competent hands. Excerpts:
DDH: Dredging the access channels to the ports of Nigeria forms a major part of the programmes of NPA. What is the at-a-glance profile of dredging activities in Nigerian ports as at 2013 and the near future?
Malam Abdullahi: The Dredging activities has been ongoing and consistent. The total dredged volume from 2006 to date executed by BCC for Bonny Channel is 43,537,000m3 while the total dredged volume executed by LCM for Lagos channels is 53,583,546m3.
DDH: We understand that the Calabar port dredging activity which was inconclusive since 2007 or thereabout is to be re-awarded and that thereafter a channel management company will also be put in place to manage the channel’s navigational access issues. How is progress in this plan?
Malam Abdullahi: I am very happy and eager to inform you that Mr. President has approved the capital and maintenance dredging of Calabar Port. This is a major feat and to ensure we replicate the success recorded by other channel management companies in Lagos and Bonny a Calabar Management Company will be appointed. There is progress in this plan considering the importance of dredging the Calabar channel.
DDH: Although many Nigerians agree that Calabar port channel should be dredged, there is a school of thought that questions the rationale for its dredging based on return-on-investment. As the helmsman of NPA with better knowledge of the scenario, is there rationale for Calabar port channel dredging?
Malam Abdullahi: The dredging, when completed, will enable bigger vessels to call at the port, thereby boosting economic activities in Cross Rivers State and the entire geographical coverage area the port is intended to serve. There will be return on investment and government took that into consideration before approving the contract for dredging.
DDH: We also understand that Escravos River dredging is one of the plans of NPA to enable bigger vessels to go into the Warri ports much more easily. We would like to know if this is true and whether progress is also being made on that dredging plan?
Malam Abdullahi: There is progress on the dredging of Escravos river .The activities in the Delta port has tremendously improved .To exhibit commitment and in readiness to accommodate the resultant effect of the dredging, the Authority has commenced major rehabilitation works of the quay walls in Delta port. You will recall that the Delta Port served as logistic base for the construction of the EGTL (Escravos Gas-to-Liquid) plant in Escravos .The plan is on course.
DDH: How do you assess the success of the last port concession programmes across the country which ushered in the tenures of the current terminal operators? Do you think that experience encouraged the new move to put more fields under concessionaires?
Malam Abdullahi: The NPA, by the port reform which has been adjudged as hugely successful, hold this as a sign that public/private partnership works. Already our terminals are handled by private operators, both foreign and local. The NPA also entered into partnerships with world class dredging companies and a waste disposal company, as a show of confidence that it (reform) has yielded great results. So far we have fared well even though there is room for improvement. As a reflection of these major infrastructural developments in the sea ports, our cargo throughput increased from 74 million in 2010 to 82 million in 2011. Ship traffic also increased from 4,962 in 2010 to 5,327 in 2011. This also reflects in the revenue that the organisation generates. This obviously has encouraged more investors into the port sector.
DDH: Is there a long-term solution to the problems of commercial businesses and factories within port lands which result in much traffic congestion at Olodi Apapa and Tin Can Island Port, especially the movement of tanker trucks lifting petroleum products from tank farms located around the ports?
Malam Abdullahi: Government is committed to solving the problem. You will recall that a task force which involved the Ministers of Transport, and Finance, including the Lagos state government, is on this matter. They have recorded some measures of success and with the ongoing rehabilitation of the Apapa-Oshodi expressway and the building of a trailer park, we will witness a great change in this direction. However the long term plan will be the construction of the deep sea ports which will reduce the traffic generated by port operations around the city.
DDH: During the concession programme proper, around 2005, there was a lot of retrenchment in view of the fact that NPA was shedding some of its roles in the industry. In the new concession agenda, what will the rate of job losses be like?
Malam Abdullahi: There are no plans for further job losses; rather we are building capacity of our present staff to strengthen its marine services department with the recruitment of more competent hands.
DDH: What is NPA’s role in the construction of new ports, the so-called green development? Will there be a use for vacant plots of land at Ogogoro Island opposite Apapa port?
Malam Abdullahi: By the concession programme, the functions of Nigerian Ports Authority are pilotage, port manning, licensing and control, marine services, conservancy, technical regulations and channel management. Our role will be to perform these functions in the construction of new ports.
DDH: By our count, about four new deep sea ports will be developed around the country in the near future, at Olokonla, Ibaka, Lekki and Badagry. How feasible are these port proposals?
Malam Abdullahi: These deep sea ports are feasible. Already the Lekki and Ibaka projects are at various stages of developments. The Olokonla port, being pioneered by Ogun and Ondo states, is ongoing while the Badagry port is being handled by APMT. They are feasible.
DDH: Is everything going well with the services of NPA joint venture partners, LCM and BCC, or would there be need to fine-tune their operational modalities vis-à-vis NPA’s interests?
Malam Abdullahi: The channel companies are doing well for port operations. Their efforts have witnessed arrival of deeper draught vessels into our ports. The partnership is working well.
DDH: Do have any special appeals or messages to staff of the Authority or to port industry stakeholders on cooperation with your tenure to achieve set objectives?
Malam Abdullahi: We have witnessed tremendous development in our ports mainly due to the cooperation of all stakeholders and with our plan to be the leading port in Africa we need more cooperation to achieve our objectives.