A powerful vision defines or redefines specific objectives and accordingly realigns ideas, people and other resources. It creates the needed momentum and will to make change happen. It inspires individuals, complementary organisations and institutions to synergise and commit to give their best.

Navigating with this enduring philosophy, substantive Managing Director (MD)/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mohammed Bello Koko, has demonstrated impeccable professionalism, discipline and persistence to shake up the old-fashioned narratives at the nation’s premier maritime agency. And this is hardly a picnic.  The ongoing Koko-led transformation, re-engineering and repositioning of the NPA speak to fundamental changes that are afoot at the apex maritime organisation. This swathe of changes may lead to an unwitting mix-up in the proper contextualisation and appreciation of their scope and significance. The imperative of disambiguating the NPA MD’s trajectory, over his first hundred days in the saddle, then becomes necessary.          
The first order of business on ascending the saddle was to initiate fresh initiatives targeting cost and value maximisation by infusing greater efficiency in NPA’s diverse operations, plugging income leakages and cutting down on administrative overheads. The quick impact of this course could be felt. There are more. Connected to the foregoing adroit move was the astonishing improvement of the debt recovery and collection mechanisms, which triggered a remarkable decrease in the debt owed the agency for services rendered to stakeholders such as the NNPC, international oil companies (IOCs) and other partners.

Lacking precedents, the remittance of N45.08 billion over a four-month period and the fact that N26.83 billion constitutes year 2022 operational remittance hugely testify to the effectiveness of these initiatives and there are no indications that the Koko-led NPA plans to let up momentum along this trajectory. The agency actually has its operational focus locked on surpassing stakeholders’ expectations. In sync with global standards of transparency, the NPA successfully established an asset register aligned with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), a challenge that had long subsisted. Actual remittance into the Sinking Fund for the take-off of Lekki Deep Seaport also took off in the period within Koko’s first 100 days in office.
The successful fulfillment of the requirement for ISO certification of Harbours Department and some port locations also was a notable achievement. Aware that no institution can progress far without a properly-trained human resource, especially in delivering efficient port operations, NPA took a far-reaching step here. It inaugurated an ultra-modern training school and entered into partnerships with strategic capacity-building institutions such as the World Maritime University and Nigerian Navy Hydrographic Department, among others, to thoroughly equip its staff members with relevant competencies. Beyond human resource training and upgrade, the agency also equipped the workforce with the necessary tools for excellent service delivery. The control towers at Tincan Island and Apapa ports were fully furnished and equipped, and work commenced for the construction of a control tower at Takwa Bay. New pilot cutters and patrol boats were also acquired and deployed in the eastern ports for improved operations.    
State-of-the-art radio communication equipment were procured and are being deployed in NPA’s various signal stations. Also to lift employee morale, the unconscionable issue of non-payment of promotion arrears to serving employees was addressed. Gratuity arrears were paid to retirees accordingly. The staff members’ administrative buildings in Tincan, Warri and Rivers ports were also rehabilitated, while a fully-equipped archive centre was procured for Rivers port.    

Backing the Federal Government’s efforts at diversifying the national economy from oil to non-oil sector through promotion of exports, the agency has certified 10 export processing terminals, which are to serve as a one-stop platform for synchronisation of all pre-shipment requirements to eliminate delays that hitherto rendered Nigerian exports uncompetitive at the international market.
After weighing its options, NPA sought to promote multi-modalism and scale down the singular dependence on roads as means of movement of cargo from the port and to assure the safety of barge operations, a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), to govern movement of containers through the inland waters, and a tariff regime is being introduced to boost revenue. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed with the Lagos State Government to forestall breakdown of law and order along the port corridor. This move has resulted in the establishment of a mobile court for prompt dispensation of justice for traffic offenders. Motorcycles were also acquired and deployed for traffic surveillance.   
To de-escalate pressure on the nation’s western ports, the agency moved to reposition the eastern ports for increased patronage.
In this connection, work has commenced for the mapping and surveying of Warri-Koko-Sapele channel, dredging of Escravos bar, technical studies on the breakwater at Delta ports and rehabilitation of Road “D” at the Federal Ocean Terminal Onne Port. Indeed, the Onne port is already recording significant growth in vessel traffic.

The morning clearly predicts the day. After just 100 days in the saddle, the agency’s CEO has signalled that the old way of running the nation’s premier maritime agency is gone for good. The NPA is being fundamentally repositioned and infused with the essential enablers that determine the prospects of ports to garner market share and face the future with confidence. Many may not know that the history, growth and progress of nations are closely interwoven with the degree of development of the maritime industry. Not surprisingly, maritime trade has played a key role in Nigeria’s economic development. The maritime sector accounts for about 95 per cent of the vehicular means of Nigeria’s international trade. The maritime industry is a key sector of the nation’s economy putting into consideration the country’s status as a major oil exporting country.
An adequate and efficient maritime transport system plays a vital role in the development of a country’s market especially the market of international trade by transforming local markets to national, regional and international focus. This allows economies of great scale in areas that have promising comparative advantage with concomitant generation of huge employment opportunities. The maritime sector is capital-intensive and thus requires huge amount of funding.

Several challenges are also coming into play. Security is one. Risks have always been a challenge for the shipping industry, but today, they’re providing more issues to overcome. For example, pirates pose a bigger threat for shipping, especially since the number of maritime piracy and armed robberies on ships in West Africa, Southeast Asia and other maritime jurisdictions increased. But these threats can only stop the faint-hearted and Koko is certainly not one.  Additionally, even as Koko ramps up changes at NPA, modern technologies could make ships and the industry at large more susceptible to cyber-attacks.
In a recent Reuters article, a NATO-accredited think tank said: “Increasingly, the maritime domain and energy sector has turned to technology to improve production, cost and reduce delivery schedules. These technological changes have opened the door to emerging threats and vulnerabilities as equipment have become more accessible to outside entities.”
But then, the core meaning of leadership is to grapple with and defeat all of these. In just 100 days in the ship captain’s perch, Koko has demonstrated that he is a winner. Clearly, strengthening the effective operations of the nation’s maritime agency is certainly not a stroll in the park. As it is, the project is being guided by a patriot, who believes in Nigeria; who has unflinching faith in the ingenuity of Nigerians and who holds dear, the promise of the nation’s shared future.
Okoro, a lawyer and maritime expert, wrote from Lagos.

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