By Jackson Olali

IT has taken Mohammed Bello Koko, the Acting Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, just six months to justify President Muhammadu Buhari’s confidence in him. And it took him even far less time, barely two hours, to convince the House of Representatives that he’s the right man for the job.

Appearing before the House of Representatives Committee on Ports and Habours recently, Koko cut the image of a maritime Czar, displaying deeper insight into the workings of ports regulation, management and administration in the global maritime matrix. Appointed in May, 2021, albeit in acting capacity, he simply rolled up his sleeves.

As an industry technocrat, he knew the weak points, understands the dialectics of ports administration and the imperativeness of the NPA as one of the strong pillars for effective diversification of the economy, the dream of President Buhari.

But despite operating in acting capacity, Koko has carried on with transformational zeal and clinical empiricism of a nifty surgeon. First, he effected a shift in the psyche of the staff through a retreat. If anything, the retreat achieved a fundamental purpose. It weaned many of the staff of the mentality of ‘government workers.’

He demanded more from his team to position the authority towards greater efficiency, safety and accountability. He outlined several strategies that would help him and his team place the NPA on a solid pedestal that would help them do more and build capacity for greater market share.

He listed his strategies to include infrastructural renewal and expansion, introduction of barge operations, automation of truck transit through the electronic call-up system and improvement in the sources of revenue and collection, plugging income leakages, and reducing overhead costs.

He also sounded intent to eliminate unwholesome monopolistic conducts within the value chain as well as formulation and implementation of policies aimed to incentivise patronage of the Eastern ports. Overall, he rallied his team to birth a new order of efficiency and competitiveness.

Knowing that the nation relies on the NPA as a redoubtable anchor in the quest to expand the economy through divestment from oil and gas, he reeled out a fresh set of targets and creed of excellence which include, abiding by the spirit and letter of the Consolidated Revenue Fund and Fiscal Responsibility Act, compliance with international best practices and elimination of red tape. To achieve this, he offered to help boost workers’ morale through capacity building, welfare, among others.

And just six months after, Koko’s action plan seems to be paying off in what is now referred to as ‘six months of exceeding expectation’. The statistics paint the picture most succinctly. Revenue has jumped. Operational expenses have declined, a clear evidence of fiscal prudence; and contributions to the national treasury have gone up within the Koko-era.

Not even the negative global impact of COVID-19 pandemic on global trade and supply chain logistics could hold down the NPA as it raised its Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, by 120 percent between January and September 2021. Such leap in a season of lockdown and restrictions means it could have been more bullish in IGR if there were no lockdowns.

A breakdown of the performance shows that the new management has successfully cut operating expenses by 20 percent of its budget for this year in line with the Buhari government policy of cutting costs.

As at the end of September 2021, the NPA earned N256.28 billion in IGR as against the expected N214.65 billion (approved estimate was N271.70bn) for the same period, representing a performance of 120 per cent or 95 per cent of its total annual budget for 2021.

Further breakdown shows that operating expenses, as at the end of September 2021, stood at N55.10 billion as against the budgeted figure of N65.49 billion. This include funds spent on employees’ benefits, pension costs, towage services, supplies, repairs & maintenance and other administrative overheads. This shows a savings of N10.39bn or 85 per cent performance of the approved budget of N87.32bn.

Remittance to the Consolidated Revenue Fund, CRF, has been one area many ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs, failed. While some have been known to remit irregularly, some don’t even bother to remit against Executive directives and pleas from the National Assembly. In adherence to this and in compliance with provisions of the Finance Act 2020, the Authority has remitted the sum of N62.66bn to the CRF for the year 2021 as at October 31, 20221.

Going by the strides already achieved in revenue collection, it is projected that the authority will exceed its 2021 revenue target and the projected transfer to the CRF for the year 2021 which is expected to be over N80bn. And should this happen, it would be the highest in the history of the authority, meaning that in just six months Koko is already on the path of history.

It’s no rocket science. It’s leadership at work. Where there is effective leadership, there is vision. Beyond the vision, there is the will to actualise the vision. It’s obvious that Koko’s banking experience has helped him undertake critical cost-effective analysis of operations in this all-important authority.

It’s usually the lot of persons who migrate from the private to public sector. They come well-heeled in the nuances of strategic service delivery. They know how to communicate their vision to their team. They are adept with managing the figures to maintain a healthy bottom line.

Koko is in this class of corporate voyagers who were directly head-hunted from the private sector ecosystem with all its efficiency into the public sector space. He practices what he preaches; that every staff must earn his or her pay; that public service is not where you reap without sowing but a place to impact on the nation by your little positive actions in whichever station you find yourself.

In a period of dire economic constraints for the nation when President Buhari has tasked non-oil sectors and their operators to double their efforts to achieve genuine backward integration, grow their internally-generated revenue profile, ramp up exports and reduce imports of certain goods especially those which can easily be produced at home, the likes of Koko have, in the spirit of Buharinomics, become game-changers, acting as buffers against the global low economic tide.

It’s for their sake that the nation has recorded modest economic growth these past months against all odds and against the projections of international rating agencies and even the Bretton Woods institutions.

Koko’s first six months at NPA raises a flag of hope that the glass in not half empty but half full. A genuine reformer is on duty, and it shows.

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