Usman: The NPA Change Challenge

Judging by his appointments alone, President Buhari has hardly exuded the “change” slogan of his party, for most government agencies are still manned by members of the old brigade to which he himself belongs. When, therefore, he named a 40-year-old woman, Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, as the new managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), penultimate week, he deserved kudos at least from those clamouring for “generational change”. He was denied this accolade, I guess, by the noise over his lopsided appointments in favour of the north-east.

While I cannot defend Buhari for selecting mainly people from his home zone for top positions, I however fully endorse Ms Usman for headship of the NPA. At least, the president has responded to the murmurings of young people, women, activists and educated people. Those who go beyond the issue of lopsidedness (that is, when all of Buhari’s appointments are considered) to say that Usman is too young or inexperienced for her new position make no sense at all. In fact, she is over-qualified. If someone with 16 years of post-graduation experience in public service is not qualified to head an organization, then who is? And her gender is an added advantage – the first woman CEO of the NPA in its 62-year-old history. My opinion would have been different if she had been asked to head “NDA” (as one writer mistakenly wrote), that is, Niger Delta Avengers! Or if she were to do strenuous tasks at the ports like manually loading/offloading cargoes onto/from ships – such tasks require the strength of a man.

The Buhari regime’s economic policy has made the job of managing NPA lighter for the relatively young boss. With the drastic reduction of imports and encouragement of exports, it is not expected that Nigerian ports will experience congestion like during the “cement armada” of the mid-1970s. Moreover, some 24 terminals have been concessioned to private operators since 2005; NPA only acts as the landlord.

As she demonstrated last Monday, while taking over as leader of the “NPA family”, Usman will face the change challenge at NPA squarely. “We will listen to our customers, importers, exporters and other agencies working in the ports to improve on our service delivery to the nation; anything less than world-class services is simply not acceptable,” she said in an address that could well be regarded as her mission statement. “We shall prioritize investment in primary equipment and infrastructure and services committed to by NPA in the concession agreements to hasten clearance of imports and exports from the ports.”

All that is required for a CEO to do well is an ability to take right decisions or do what is right. Indeed, organisations in this digital age need young people with integrity as well as competence in ICT at the helm. A person doesn’t have to rise through the ranks of an organization before they can become CEO; integrity and ability to work with others matter more. And Usman’s comment on her first day at work shows she clearly recognizes the importance of team work and expects her teammates to pilot the ship with her: “Everyone at the NPA has a role in promoting best practice, in upholding governance standards and in delivering quality services. We will work hard, with integrity and with zero-tolerance for corruption.”

The last time I had cause to berate “experienced” and “seasoned” bureaucrats in this space [see “Menace of Experienced Officeholders”, November 3, 2013], was when the National Assembly graciously moved to erase the phrase “20 years cognate experience” from the Pension Reform Act 2004 as requirement for a candidate for the post of DG of PenCom. In fact, I referred to those who prescribed 20 years’ minimum experience as fools and thieves – the kind of people who have been retarding the nation’s march to greatness.  Were Barack Obama a Nigerian, they wouldn’t give him a chance to become even a local government chairman. They have ensured the failure of every government in Nigeria by their resistance to change and refusal to give the younger generation a chance.

What has the age of Methuselah got to do with the wisdom of Solomon anyway? And why have almost all treasury looters named been “highly experienced” Nigerians? We have seen the role of “experience” in padding budgets, wrecking banks, running down public enterprises, mismanaging the nation’s economy, creating ghost workers, killing jobs, rigging the income policy for politicians, and other abracadabra. This jaundiced view of management has ensured that few mentors exist today in Nigeria – young people are hardly prepared for leadership, so nobody knows where to gather 20 or 30 years of experience.

If old age was too important for good administration, where were the proponents when young, barely educated and inexperienced soldiers were the leaders of this country? On the day Usman was born in January 1976, Nigeria was being led by a 37-year-old general. That leader (Murtala Muhammed) had ousted another general (Yakubu Gowon) who became head of state at 32. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo became head of state at 38, Gen. Buhari at 41, and Gen. Babangida at 44. Most military/civilian governors (of large states with public corporations) for the past 50 years have been men in their 30s and 40s. Obasanjo’s second coming as civilian president would have been a total disaster but for the appointment of young eggheads in his government: Chukwuma Soludo, Nasir el-Rufai, Oby Ezekwesili, Omoigui-Okaru, Osita Chidoka and scores of others headed ministries, departments and agencies. Right from the First Republic, Nigeria has had ministers in their 20s and early 30s.

I have never met Usman or associated with her in any way, but I have read articles suggesting that she took after her father, the late Dr Yusuf Bala Usman, whom I knew well.  [The trait was noticeable in her role at the “#Bring Back Our Girls” campaign.] Change or adherence to due process should therefore be expected at the NPA. Dr Usman, the radical historian from ABU, never hid his aversion to the several ills of corruption, hypocrisy, mismanagement, incompetence, nepotism and tribalism that had combined to ruin Nigeria. His daughter is not likely to betray his ideals.


‘Night of the Long Knives’ in Turkey

A modern version of Hitler and Mussolini, put together, has been developing in Turkey without the world paying attention. Likely, what happened on July 15 was not an attempted coup but a rebellion orchestrated by the country’s fascist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his henchmen to get rid of their enemies, real and imagined. A similar thing happened in Germany under Hitler – the “Night of the Long Knives” of 1934.

Never far away are proofs that the Turkish dictator is up to some mischief: If 70, 000 “suspects” already punished and or arrested, including 100 generals, really staged a coup, could unarmed civilians have withstood them?  If Erdogan’s intelligence agents were so good as to detect 70, 000 “conspirators” within a few days, why couldn’t they act in advance? Without any shred of evidence, the dictator quickly pointed to the respected Islamic scholar and inspirer of the Hizmet Movement, Fethullah Gulen, who lives in America, as the one behind the “coup”.

Turkey’s descent into fascism under Erdogan is indisputable. All basic freedoms and human rights are gone. It’s government of one extremist for a few extremists. Let the dictator know, however, that mass discontent by teachers, judges, policemen, soldiers, public servants, university deans and media people is a sign that the Turks reject fascism. The world must not permit another Hitler or Mussolini to sprout from Turkish soil.


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