Berthing Reforms at Nigeria’s Ports, Hadiza Bala-Usman and the Journey So Far, By Theophilus Opaleye


Her reforms have repositioned the organisation in line with international best practice. Through her dedication to institutional effectiveness and all-round improvements in performance, welfare, efficiency and safety, she has set the Nigerian Port Authority on an exemplary path of continued progress and prosperity.

For a country whose median age is 17.9 years, there is an obvious lack of adequate youth inclusion in Nigeria’s political leadership. Any keen observer could in fact be forgiven for believing an unwritten rule exists among the ruling class in Nigeria that young people are not to be trusted with power. Being a young woman, there, in what is in practical terms a largely patriarchal gerontocracy as the reality suggests in Nigeria’s political setup, is an absolute double jeopardy.

Bearing that in mind, when President Muhammadu Buhari nominated a 40-year old female activist to head one of Nigeria’s most important agencies in July 2016, not a small percentage of people were both shocked and elated at the same time. Of course, detractors were quick to point out that Hadiza Bala-Usman had little prior experience in maritime operations to be managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, but no pirate can stop a fleet of reforms whose time has come to berth.

Before Hadiza Bala-Usman was appointed as the managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) on July 12, 2016, the agency was in a state of disrepair. Riddled with the hydra-headed challenges of poor revenue generation, widespread corruption, redundant staff and overall inefficiency, the NPA was in less than excellent form. Two years after that historic appointment, Hadiza Bala-Usman has changed the face of Nigerian Ports Authority through her exceptional leadership.

Through her vision, dedication and diligence, she has achieved the following milestones and revamped the agency’s public image to the awe of admirers and critics alike.

Revenue Generation

In the 2017 fiscal year, N299.56 billion revenue was generated, the highest figure in five years, exceeding the 2016 figure of N162.20 billion by 84.65 per cent. Bala-Usman championed the introduction of e-payment system for cost reduction, identification and blockage of revenue leakages and the unveiling of automated web-based billing and revenue collection system fully integrated with the Authority’s Oracle Financial module in Oracle E-Business Suite. Under her leadership, the NPA also acquired Four 60-tonne buller-pull tug boats worth $30 million to attract larger vessels.

Staff Welfare


As part of Bala-Usman’s devotion to ensuring the members of staff are rewarded and motivated she organised the 2017 Long Service and Merit Award. At the 2017 Long Service and Merit Awards, 530 staff members of the NPA were rewarded for their hard work after 25 years in the service, seven staff members were given merit awards, 30 gallant fire service men and other crew members rewarded for rescue operations at Port Harcourt port and 12 principal managers were promoted to assistant general managers.

As part of her commitment to the welfare and health of the workforce, she organised the vaccination of employees against meningitis. She also established wellness centres in all ports, 24-hour emergency clinic to cater for health concerns of NPA staff at Apapa Port Complex and commissioned a Labour Call Hall Unit at Delta Ports, built in collaboration with Intels, Julius Berger and Associated Maritime Services.

Operational Efficiency

Under her leadership, as part of efforts to increase the operational efficiency and the safety of the NPA, the NPA has partnered with the Federal Roads Safety Corps to organise capacity building workshop on Minimum Safety Standards for trucks doing business in the ports.

In line with efforts to eliminate staff redundancy and create vacancies for qualified candidates, she has also instituted a sustainable and transparent recruitment process: one that ensures recruitment into vacant positions are done in accordance with Federal Character Commission regulations. In recognition of the strategic importance of the Hydrography and Dredging Department, it was upgraded into division status to be headed by a General Manager.

Ease of Doing Business

Recently, NPA partnered with Lagos State Government and private investors to establish an electronic call-up system for trucks at designated holding bays and implemented a zero-tolerance policy against touting at the ports by official or unofficial persons. Sensitisation workshops on ease of doing business are also frequently held for all terminal operators and other stakeholders in collaboration with the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council, to ensure there is no dearth in knowledge and skill in the workforce.

Infrastructural Development

When Hadiza Bala-Usman resumed office in 2016, one of her first assignments was overseeing the completion of renovation works on the Quay Apron at the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal, Ikorodu, which has been accomplished alongside the reconstruction of the access roads leading to the ports in Apapa, Lagos State, the reconstruction of the four kilometre stretch of the Apapa Wharf Dual Carriageway (jointly funded by Dangote Group and Flour Mills of Nigeria) and the flag-off of the Lekki Deep Sea Port project to ease congestion at Apapa Port. N1.829 billion out of the N4.34 billion required for the reconstruction of the Apapa Wharf Road has also been duly contributed under her watch.

As part of her commitment to infrastructural development in the sector, she facilitated the approval of N13 billion contract by the Federal Executive Council for the dredging of the Warri Escravos Channel in Delta State.

Fight Against Corruption

As with most government agencies in Nigeria at that time, the NPA was a cesspool of corruption when Hadiza Bala-Usman took over the reins of leadership. In her bid to run a corruption-free agency, Hadiza Bala-Usman led NPA to become the first and only government agency to sign an open budget partnership with BudgIT. She also commissioned a comprehensive review of all concession agreements that violate due process and global best practices.

In an exceptional leadership decision, she terminated the joint venture with Calabar Channel Management over non-compliance in the Public Procurement Act, terminated pilotage revenue collection agreement for failure to comply with TSA policy and dismissed officials caught soliciting or receiving bribes from port users in line with extant laws and regulations.

Economic Development

Hadiza Bala Usman flagged off solid mineral export from the Ikorodu lighter terminal as part of economic diversification efforts of the federal government and designated the Lily Pond Terminal in Ijora and the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal, specifically for the export of agro-produce. To boost export activities, she also enforced 24-hour operations in all ports.

She also facilitated the successful removal of the crippling monopoly on the oil and gas cargo and liberalization of oil and gas logistics to open up the sector to more investors.

Furthermore, she facilitated the berthing of the #EGINA Floating, Storage, Production and Offloading (FSPO) with Gross Tonnage (GT) of 219,800 tons at Lagos Harbour.

Port Security

To ensure a safe working environment for her staff, she collaborated with Lagos State Security Trust Fund for 24-hours security at Apapa Port and acquired proper lighting in the port environment.

These are just highlights of her visionary leadership as the head of the Nigerian Ports Authority. Her reforms have repositioned the organisation in line with international best practice. Through her dedication to institutional effectiveness and all-round improvements in performance, welfare, efficiency and safety, she has set the Nigerian Port Authority on an exemplary path of continued progress and prosperity. We look forward to the next accolades this exception leader will gather.

Theophilus Opaleye is a public finance expert based in Lagos.

Picture credit: Femi Adesina’s Facebook page/State House, Abuja.