Let me confess that at the Government House, Kaduna, we all received the news of the appointment of Hadiza Bala-Usman as the new Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), with mixed feelings. It is an appointment roundly deserved. But the Kaduna State Government House without the gallant Hadiza seems unthinkable, at least for now as she is one of our finest. Following her appointment, slightly over a year ago, by Governor Nasir el Rufa’i as his Chief of Staff, Hadiza speedily become the bulwark and the engine room of sorts of the ever-busy Kaduna State Government House. However, moments after digesting the news of her appointment, it downed on me, once again, that our great nation is truly at the cusps of change – positive change, that is.
In placing the young but extremely energetic and innovative Hadiza Bala Usman at the helm of the Nigerian Ports Authority, President Muhammadu Buhari underscored the direction of the new Nigeria: a nation where mediocrity will no longer find space; a nation where the energy of young, educated, talented, patriotic and incorruptible citizens will be harnessed to re-work a country that was totally ran down by successive uncaring and insensitive governments.
I will not dignify the few critics of the appointment of Hadiza as the Chief Executive Officer of the NPA with a reply. It is not necessary. The Hadiza Bala Usman that I have known and worked closely with for almost two decades, has shown serially that she is more than able to defend herself and even other unduly oppressed persons at all times. But I concede that it may well be true that some persons do not actually know Hadiza Bala Usman beyond her role as the co-convener of the Bring-Back-Our-Girls (BBOG) Campaign that she and few other persons commenced in 2014 after nearly 300 girls were abducted from their secondary school in Chibok, Borno state.
The BBOG Campaign forced the Goodluck Jonathan government to act expeditiously to rescue all the girls alive. The very tenacious Hadiza and other members of the BBOG, fearlessly and relentlessly called out the government to act and their campaign helped to draw global attention to the plight of the hapless Chibok schoolgirls. Although the 276 abducted girls have not been rescued, the story might have been different if the Jonathan administration had acted fast and decisively.
Long before the BringBackOurGirls campaign commenced in 2014, Hadiza at a relatively young age had begun living indelible marks in the sands of time. Groomed very early in life to speak truth to power and to take responsibility for her actions by her equally indefatigable father, the famous Historian, Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman, Hadiza has never missed an opportunity to make a mark. I had my first close interaction with Hadiza in 2001 at the Abuja Head Office of the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) whilst she worked as an aide to my very close friend and associate, Mallam Nasir el Rufai, the current Governor of Kaduna State. At the BPE, Hadiza, though fresh from the University was generally viewed as way older than her age. She was bold and courageous in her handling of huge projects at a time the BPE was at the peak of the disposal of federal government’s interests in hundreds of firms and enterprises.
Under el Rufai, she and several other young Nigerians cut their teeth in the management of very complex projects. She and a number of her colleagues while at the BPE benefitted from several management courses both within the country and abroad. It did not come to several of us as a surprise when el Rufai absorbed several of these well-groomed aides into the Federal Capital Territory Administration structure when he became the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory in 2003.
It is an open secret that el Rufai inherited an FCT administration that was steeped in uncommon corruption and land racketeering that had culminated in the total distortion of the Abuja master plan. Defying huge odds, el Rufai and his team of young and well-groomed aides commenced the arduous task of restoring the dignity, beauty and original master plan of Nigeria’s federal capital. They generally succeeded.
At the FCT, Hadiza was feared. Being the special assistant to the no-nonsense el Rufai on project implementation was never going to be a tea party but she was clearly tailor-made for the job. She never bent the rules for even the closest friends and political associates of her boss. I had the privilege of being a fringe political adviser to el Rufai while he served as FCT minister and I was always of the impression that Hadiza was rather too strict and I dare confess here that I had on more than one occasion advised el Rufai to prevail on her to be a bit ‘politically correct’ without breaking the rules. el Rufai typically would not have that and would always insist that anyone who was not prepared to meet the strict project implementation guidelines of the FCT administration should not seek to have anything to do with the administration. In fact, on several occasions, I heard him telling her: “don’t bend the rules even for me.”
Hadiza is a good student. She has, over the years been well tutored by some of the nation’s best brains particularly her dear father, the highly revered Bala Usman and the phenomenal el Rufai.
It is absolutely important that I mention here that Hadiza brought her training, discipline, dexterity, tenacity and sheer ruggedness to bear on the Campaign Office of President Muhammadu Buhari, who was then the candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC). She was the Administrative Secretary of the Presidential Campaign Organization and worked very closely with the Director-General of the campaign, former Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi, who is now the minister of Transportation.
Hadiza’s administrative acumen helped the campaign office to achieve a seamless liaison with all other campaign and electioneering organs of the APC during the hard-fought 2015 presidential election. Party leaders have not stopped lauding the efforts of the APC Presidential Campaign Office.
Since the appointment of Hadiza as the Managing Director of the NPA, I have had series of discussions with el Rufai on this matter. Of course the Kaduna State governor, like a good father or teacher is extremely proud of her and he is also proud of the leadership recruitment prowess of President Buhari. It is the view of el Rufai that Hadiza’s appointment would help unlock the huge potentials in the nation’s maritime sector at a time the diversification of our economy has become compellingly inevitable.
But from our discussions, I gleaned very unmistakably that the governor might find it extremely difficult finding a suitable replacement for Hadiza at the Kaduna State Government House.
––Uba Sani is the Special Adviser, Political Matters to Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna State.