By Dele Sobowale
SELDOM does any appointment by the President bring about a deep feeling that a grave mistake has been made as in the case of the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority,NPA, under Buhari. To call the appointment a shock to those very close to maritime sector is to under-state the pervasive feeling of sadness felt by most people. Few of the former MDs of the nation’s second largest foreign exchange earner have come into the job with less than adequate qualification for the complex parastatal. None has been less qualified than the current MD for the task. This is not a case of square peg in round hole. There is no peg at all.
Traditionally, the NPA has been one parastatal Heads of State have reserved for those they “love”. It is a ceaseless cash cow – not all of which reaches the Government and the Federation Account. On the contrary, it has been and remains a cesspool of corruption depriving the country of close to $5 billion or more in legitimate revenue per annum.
A five year study, still underway, has established at least twenty-five different ways by which the nation is defrauded of badly needed revenue – a lot of it in foreign exchange – by a multiplicity of operators. These include the Directors and Management of the NPA, virtually all of its staff in every station, its clients and contractors. This is a 24/7 affair not an occasional thrust. Believe me.
To most people “Wharf Rats” are the miscreants who sneak into various parts of the wharfs to steal. That is a monumental mistake. For those people there are penalties to be imposed when caught. At any rate, they cost the nation very little. The real Wharf Rats are actually those on the premises legitimately; ostensibly to carry out legal activities but who instead commit heinous crimes. It is quite possible that the nation loses far more through the criminal activities of NPA personnel and their collaborators annually than all the money for which we are now holding Co. Dasuki (rtd), the former National Security Adviser.
Shortly after Buhari was announced as the President-elect in 2015, and Jonathan had conceded to him, a note was sent to one of Buhari’s aides, now a top official, regarding this matter with offer to assist in uncovering many of the loopholes in the NPA system resulting in such massive losses. It is not clear if the message was passed on to the President. But, it was also suggested in another article written on the NPA that the Authority needed someone with wide experience in port management to be able to quietly work to identify the fraudulent activities, those responsible and to close the leaks with little media publicity. Stealth was important because revealing that some loopholes have been discovered would make it difficult to close others effectively. An experienced Chief Executive Officer was indispensable at the NPA. The current holder of the position does not in any way fit the bill. If anything, her appointment reflects the nepotism which characterized most of the decisions made early by the administration. Today, the number of Ministers, Director Generals and heads of parastatals who can be said to be performing can be counted on the fingers of two hands and there will still be fingers to spare. NPA is not one of the performing agencies of government because most of the loopholes through which vast amounts in dollars disappear are still intact. That is certain.
A good part of the reason the NPA does not and cannot contribute its full quota to national development is associated with the leadership. The young lady who was tapped by Buhari to take over the NPA might have considerable talents that are unknown to many of us. But, what we do know is that she has never worked in any section of the Maritime industry – engineering, law, accounting, administration, logistics etc. Her first and last job in the public service of the Federal Government dates back to 1999 when she was recruited by the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE – Malam El Rufai. Records would show that she was recruited straight form university by Rufai and paid in dollars – completely outside the Public Service Guidelines. Rufai was to justify this act of insubordination bordering on willful corruption by claiming that she possessed special talents which were not disclosed. Apparently, the two had remained in close contact since the BPE days which witnessed the sale of choice assets to friends of Aso Rock under Obasanjo. All attempts to find out any appointments which she might have had to prepare her for this gigantic organization called NPA revealed none.
Buhari’s appointment of someone with such slim credentials to head one of the most important organizations in Nigeria was a massive error of judgment and can only be attributed to political pay-off. El-Rufai was still a ‘godson’, in good standing, of Buhari at the time; and the old man might have regarded this as a just reward for someone close to him. But, what was good for Buhari, El-Rufai and the NPA-MD is proving to be extremely bad business for the rest of us. It is coming dangerously close to the proverbial “robbing millions of Peters to pay Paul”. We are not getting value for money. That is bad enough.
Now with the legal conflict between INTELS and the NPA, we might be getting close to losing one of the largest employers of labour in Nigeria and a company that has invested heavily in the past, present and future of Nigeria. Worse still, we might be in danger of doing this because, as some observers believe, the NPA is being used to fight a private political battle ahead of the 2019 elections….
To be continued….