The Cost of Reforms: Hadiza Bala Usman as a Case Study


Buhari sets up panel to probe NPA MD, Hadiza Bala-Usman

Hadiza Bala Usman, Managing Director, Nigeria Ports Authority

By Theophilus Opaleye

The evolutionary trend of Nigeria’s socio-political journey since Independence has shown a clear path for the permeation of corruption, from an alien concept to the statutory way of getting business done. Corruption has become the existential reality of the ordinary man or woman in Nigeria trying to eke out a living for himself or herself.

The effect of this moral decadence is evident in both the political dysfunctionality and economic debilitation of the Nigerian state. The implication is that those who seek to do the right thing often find themselves alienated by the system while battling forces that are loyal to the status quo for various reasons.

It is a trend that takes vast amount of political will to undo as systemic reformers battle against the devastating current of blackmail, libel, insubordination and sometimes direct threat to their lives by machineries of the beneficiaries of corruption. The latest survivor of this onslaught is Hadiza Bala Usman, Managing Director of the Nigeria Ports Authority.

Hadiza Bala Usman’s appointment as MD of Nigerian Port Authority by President Buhari in July 2016 came on the back heel of dwindling revenue from crude oil and the urgent need to diversify the federal government’s income sources. The move signalled President Buhari’s resolve to make NPA one of the most efficient economic drivers of his administration. And Hadiza was the woman he trusted to make that happen.

Hadiza’s appointment sent ripples through the fabric of Nigeria’s civil service structure – it is an anomaly to have a 40-year old woman head one of the most important agencies of government in Nigeria. For stakeholders in the ports sector, it marked the end of an era of doing business at the ports the corrupt way, the end of defrauding the Nigerian state and people through sharp practices at the port.

Since her appointment, Hadiza has set about cleaning the Augean stable at the NPA, bringing to bear major reforms in the way stakeholders conduct business at the nation’s seaports. Under Hadiza, NPA became the first federal agency to fully adopt the open governance model and open its books to the scrutiny of the public and civil societies. By integrating the operations of the NPA with the federal government’s single treasury account policy, she ensured monies meant for remittance to the federation account were not locked in private accounts yielding interests for corrupt elements in high places.

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Also, the high and mighty who had made defrauding the Nigerian people the norm, by not paying due import duties suddenly found themselves locked out in a system where transparency and accountability reigned supreme. Those who had enriched themselves by using their influence to bring goods into the country without paying the appropriate fees are being forced to do business the right way.

These and more are reform policies introduced to the operations of the NPA that did not go down well with a section of the Nigerian elites that made Hadiza Bala Usman a target for the campaign of calumny and character assassination as characterized by the recent report as published by the faceless online platform – The Breaking Post NG.

The powers that be who are used to having their way have now decided the best way to do it is no longer through the ports because illegality has been blocked there but now through internet infestations of lies, half truths and alternative facts. Their latest effort in dragging Hadiza’s name through the mud in which they themselves have permanent residence have failed, but they are not likely to stop.

Less than 24 hours after posting with all glee and certainty, an “exclusive” report on Hadiza targeted at painting her as corrupt, The Breaking Post tweeted an excuse-ridden apology to save face after Nigerians rose in Hadiza’s defence. In the interest of a just and equitable society, and to serve as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to make themselves available as tools for the propagation of falsehood on social media, Hadiza’s determination to go ahead with a lawsuit against the fake news platform is a welcome development.

There is perhaps no better visualization of the cost of doing things the right way and enforcing progressive reforms in a society as ours as the barrage of falsehood against the person of Hadiza and her position as MD of the NPA. It is however heart-warming that rather than dampen her morale, this campaign against her by the enemies of the Nigerian people have strengthened her determination to see through ongoing reforms at the NPA.

Theophilus Opaleye is a public finance expert based in Lagos.