The English say that a new broom sweeps clean. Generally the expression is used when a new leader in an organisation embarks on sweeping or innovative changes. Barely four months after being appointed the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), are some asking whether Hadiza Bala Usman is a new broom at the government agency regarded as one of the juiciest of the juicy agencies in the country. It is partly because of the perception of the NPA as a cash-cow that her appointment generated negative reviews and conspiracy theories among sections of the media.
Born in Zaria, Kaduna State on January 2 1976, Hadiza, whose father, the late Yusuf Bala Usman, a distinguished historian who helped to define Nigeria’s historiography, neither had maritime-related academic qualifications nor relevant industry experience. She has a B.Sc. degree in Business Administration and also did postgraduate studies in Development Studies at the University of Leeds, UK. She had worked as Enterprise Officer at the Bureau of Public Enterprises (July 2000-August 2004); Special Assistant to the Minister of FCT on project implementation (October 2004 – January 2008) and Director of Strategy at the NGO, Good Governance Group (2011 -July 2015) from where she was appointed Chief of Staff to the Kaduna State Governor, El-Rufa’i. She held the position until her appointment as the MD of the NPA. Ms Hadiza was a co-founder of the Bring- Back- Our Girls – a campaign group founded to advocate the rescue of the missing Chibok girls who were abducted in April 2014.
While her critics questioned her qualifications for the plum job, her supporters claim that her experience in both the government and the civil society sector adequately prepares her for the office. It could be argued that in a world that is paradoxically getting more complex and simpler simultaneously, the notions of qualifications and experience are also being redefined. And that was perhaps what goaded the American politician Bruce Lowell Braley to declare that being “a farmer is a great qualification to have to serve in the United States Congress.” Donald Trump was to exemplify this further when he won the recent presidential election in the US – arguably the most powerful position in the world – without ever holding a public office.
When Ms Hadiza formally assumed duties on July 18 2016, she declared she would have zero tolerance for corruption. She also promised to enshrine best practices and professionalism in the NPA, which is one of the country’s major financial arteries. Barely four months after she assumed office, the Sahara Reporters of August 26 2016, reported that the management of the NPA under her had uncovered fraud totalling N11.23 billion at the agency. The revelation did not surprise many because the NPA has always been one of the government agencies suspected of being a cesspool of corruption. Of the said N11.23 billion, $24.1m was allegedly traced to Heritage bank; some six million Euros were reportedly concealed at the First Bank of Nigeria and First City Monument while another $5.4m belonging to the agency was allegedly moved to a TSA account in the CBN that does not belong to the agency.
Recently the management of the NPA announced that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the not-for-profit IT firm, BudgIT Information Technology Network. Under the agreement, which the NPA says costs it nothing, BudgIT will develop an online portal for the Open Agencies Budget System with a “Follow the Money” approach, which will provide linkages with other civic tools, as identified by both partners. Under the MoU, relevant initiatives and channels will be identified by both partners to help engage policy-makers and private sector stakeholders as well as permit inputs from critical stakeholders.
According to Ms Usman, the benefits of the MoU include the development of an open budget system platform, implementation of a public data dissemination programme, blocking revenue leakages and enhancing transparency in the running of the agency. The MoU, she said, would also promote effective and efficient management of NPA’s terminals across the country as well as ensure that key research and industry policies and innovations are effectively communicated. It is equally expected to help ensure that critical data are generated and made accessible to policy makers, private sector actors, stakeholders and the general public.
While the objectives of the MoU seem noble, Ms Usman needs not be reminded that several of the country’s agencies do not lack good, innovative and even revolutionary ideas. As always the devil is in the details. How does the NPA ensure that there is sufficient buy-in by the stakeholders, including the staff of the agency, to ensure that the policies are not undermined at the level of implementation? What plans are in place for sustainability and follow-throughs?
While the steps taken so far by the new MD of the NPA are encouraging, it may be germane to observe that the problems at the agency go beyond promoting transparency and blocking leakages – as important as these are. The MD also needs to design strategies that will help in achieving faster clearance of cargoes, quicker turn-around time for ships calling at the country’s ports, removal of unnecessary duplications in security clearance and enhancing overall trade facilitations.
There is also a need to find ways of reducing port service costs for users so as to make the country the hub for international freight and trade in West Africa. There is equally the need not to overlook the small things that matter such as regular update of the agency’s website. For instance on the agency’s website, the most recent statistics on cargo throughput, container traffic, number and gross registered tonnage (GRT) that entered all the Nigerian ports is 2014. I am not sure such is good enough and the new management needs to address such lapses.
Is Hadiza a new broom at the NPA or are all these the usual effusions and ‘gra-gra’ of a new sheriff in town? I think we can paraphrase Hilary Clinton’s position on Donald Trump’s victory in the recent US presidential election: we owe her an open mind.
Exodus from ICC
The recent indication by Russia that it is formally withdrawing its signature from the founding statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is ominous. The indication came a day after the court published a report classifying the Russian annexation of Crimea as an occupation. Russia accused the tribunal of being “one-sided and inefficient”. Though Russia signed the Rome statute in 2000 and has cooperated with the court, it has not ratified the treaty and thus remains outside the ICC’s jurisdiction. This means that its indication to formally withdraw its signature from the statute is merely symbolic. But it adds to a sense of exodus within the intergovernmental tribunal.
Currently, only 124 countries are party to the Rome Statute and therefore members of the ICC. Notable countries that have not joined include the United States, China, Russia and India.
In recent months, three African countries, which were all full members of the ICC – South Africa, Burundi and The Gambia – have signalled their intention to pull out on accusations that ICC prosecutions focus excessively on Africa. Only Africans have been charged in the six ICC cases that are either on-going or about to begin.
Withdrawal from the ICC does not happen automatically when a country announces it. For the withdrawal to be effective, the country must officially notify the U.N. secretary-general of its intention to leave, and the pull-out becomes effective only one year after the receipt of that notice.