Bala-Usman: NPA Will Emerge from Attack Stronger

Managing Director of the NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman

The Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala-Usman spoke to newsmen during the inspection of a section of the agency’s head office building and cars burnt by hoodlums. Eromosele Abiodun present the excerpts

What was your immediate reaction when you saw this level of damage?
It is very disheartening that we are finding ourselves in this situation. Nigerian government has invested a tremendous amount of resources in insuring that this building is conducive for personnel. We have procured vehicles that are meant for operational use and some of the vehicles that you have seen burnt down, are brand new vehicles that were recently approved by the Federal Executive Council.

We have lost out on staff busses, on items that we need to use on our operational efficiency. But as I keep saying, they are trying to pull us down but we will not go down. We are resilient, we are committed to the values and ensuring that government gets value for all its third party agreement, and we will continue to do what is required. We are in a difficult position right now because of the state of our offices and infrastructure. But we shoulder on, that is the Nigerian spirit and we shall continue to do what is appropriate.

After seeing the extent of damage, what do you think as a Nigerian?
It is vandalism because items were looted; air-conditioners, water dispensers, printers, small tables and chairs were also catered away.
So you can see that, while there was burning on the one hand, items were also stolen. Two vehicles were stolen from here; a Hilux Van, a Prado Jeep, and motorcycles were catered away by the hoodlums.
So, there is an element of looting and an element of destruction. Those are the two elements that are evident in this attack as experienced.

We heard your office was also touched?
Yes, it was you touched. We have not determined yet if any documents were catered away, but all our documents that are critical are put in a fireproof safe. So we do have that. But yes, my office was vandalised, a lot of items were broken within the office.

It seems this was a targeted looting due to concentrated interest of attack, do you suspect any internal connivance?
Regarding the vandalism of our offices and the audit office, that office is an office where staff are. Critical documents on audits are not seated there. So the staff seats there but that is not where the depository of our audits is. As I mentioned, all our finances, payments and any critical documents on payments, or critical information on legal has not been tampered with. So it is only where staff seats. So the documentations still remains. On the issue of being targeted, definitely, critical infrastructure of the federal government, like the Nigerian ports, that is the biggest organisation of the federal government seated in Lagos. That is critically an indication that it could be targeted. We are also aware that the Marina area is also an area where you have many unemployed youth hanging around. So where we are allocated as the headquarters office in itself is a vulnerable location.

Within the Marina area, our office stands out because of the way it is, the ambiance of the office, and also the notable attendance increase in vehicles that we have had. Evidently in the last few years, the Nigerian Ports Authority has increased the number of busses. So all these staff busses you see were procured under this administration. So clearly, Nigerian ports stands out in Lagos and Marina so it’s noticeable and an easy target. On the issue of security, if you notice, on Tuesday, October 20, we had an attack on Tin can Island, and one of the important things for us was to secure the ports operations, as it is the gateway to the economy. So all efforts were deployed in the ports. And the Chief Security Officer will be able to tell better how we deployed Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Army to Tincan Island and Apapa to protect that area, because we felt that is more critical to our economy. And of course, that is where we had series of attack.

The Tincan Island was attacked not once within one day. They were determined to penetrate the ports, and we prioritized that. Definitely within the Marina area, we discussed on the attended security, enhanced the need for our mobile policemen to be on the spot, we did not deploy military to the headquarters building because we did not think this is a critical area of infrastructure. Military indeed are stretched, so we do not see the need to draw them into an area that was not considered a very high-risk area. Which is why we just have the mobile policemen. And when you look at the attack by hoodlums, we had over 300 hoodlums coming in with cutlasses, daggers, and knives, attacking numbers of security personnel.

These personnel are already in a very weak state. They were demoralised, policemen were being butchered across the country, so they were in a state of weakness and demoralisation, so to them, when 300 men comes into the premises to attack, the policemen will equally run for their lives. And that day, every policeman was at its weakest. So you do not expect the level of challenge that is expected of them to do that in that particular situation. So that was where we found ourselves. So you can imagine the huge issue it would have been if Tincan Island ports, Apapa ports, or Calabar were penetrated. And we felt that is the place where every required security should be deployed to secure the assets of citizens of Nigerians, and the whole ports economy as it were in that location.

Would it be right to say it was an oversight, considering how security was deployed?
Well, you cannot consider it as an oversight. Because as I said, the level of security deployed to the head office, considering the vulnerability assessment of our ports infrastructure is adequate. As I said, we prioritise ports locations and infrastructure as opposed to the headquarters building. And to God be the glory, I believe that what happened in the headquarters, would have been more catastrophic if it had been Tincan Island or Apapa or any of our ports locations. Yes, they could have been more, bit looking at the prioritisation of security within the port operations, and port area under Nigerian ports, we felt those locations required priority consideration on deployment of security.
And as I also mentioned, police were demoralised, Nigerian military were stretched, to enable them do the necessary coverage of the area within this challenging period for the country.

What do you think is the adverse implications of this vandalism?
The impact will be huge because a lot of the items that we need to replace, we may not have the resources to do that. As you are aware, our budget has been slashed, everything we are doing is under the COVID budget, and that is very limiting and restricted, so we will not be able to procure what is needed to replace what was lost. But what is important is that, operations remains, our ICT infrastructure was not tampered with, and this is the core of Nigerian Ports Authority. So that impact is more administrative and logistic as opposed to key and core operational.

Don’t you think the hoodlums attacked the ports out of feeling of neglect?
We do have CSR that we do within our environment and port location, and that is something that we do frequently. But is CSR sufficient for unemployed youth? Is it something that will be able to stop a carnage that was going on in the whole of Lagos state? So we do the CSR that is required, we also recognise that we are in a location were we have more youth that are unemployed. We also have information that other government agencies within these areas were also attacked but they repelled the hoodlums to the best of their abilities. So indeed we do our obligation to the best of our ability, but there is a limit to what government organisations can do as it relates to engagement with unemployment youth and hoodlums within the environment. And in terms of recruitments, we recruit people based on the availability of needs within the organisation. We have been recruiting medical doctors, nurses, engineers, to the extent that, some of these unemployed youth within this environment that has the necessary qualifications are also employed. And if you are aware, some of the recruitments such as drivers are done specifically to local environment and we do that. We always employ within the community. When you look at the vast number of youth that are unemployed it is not something that only the Nigerian Ports Authority can single handedly take care of. And we know that, and we don’t even think that is our responsibility. We are very mindful of that. There is a state government; there is a local government, whose priority is to ensure those people are given the attendant consideration that is required.

Can you put a value to what was lost within this attack?
I will not be able to tell the amount of money that was lost within this period. But imagine if this level of arson was done in Tincan Island, it will not be a funny issue. The port would have been shut for a longer period. So looking at the fact that this was attacked, and our network was shutdown for that period, it’s actually a positive horizon from the level of intended carnage that was targeted at critical infrastructure of the federal government.

What is the insurance cover for this incident or the level of insurance involvement, and will you be requiring assistance from the federal government to bring this place back to life?
We have engaged our insurance company, all our assets are fully insured and the insurance companies are coming in to do the necessary assessments. They are conducting an integrity test on the premise, which is an integral part of the insurance process. We need to conclude on what insurance can cover and where the gap exists. It is that gap that we would like to seek the federal government assistance in filling, which will remain uncovered following full insurance deployment.

A contract was awarded for the rehabilitation of the head office, what has happened to that. What are the measures put in place to ensure there is no reoccurrence?
Regarding the contract on rehabilitation, that was something we inherited and it was concluded, and the contractor exited over two years ago. So there is no more lingering contract on rehabilitation that we inherited. As I mentioned we have insurance cover and that will determine the measure of coverage and measure of payment that they will make do for us to rehabilitate the premise. As you see now, we have military personnel that are guarding the port. We intend to retain as much military deployment as possible, until we determine the state of the country at large and also the state of the security in Lagos state, which will form how we will react to the necessary security deployment. All our locations and offices have been amplified with the necessary protections required. There is a directive by Mr. President to ensure that the entire federal government infrastructure is protected, which definitely prioritise the Nigerian ports, so we have all that covered.

Will you consider relocating the head office from Lagos?
Right now we are focusing on claiming insurance cover, and everything that is needed to make this place functional. The issue of relocating has not arisen, what we are doing is prioritising our operations to ensure that we replace what has been damaged.