The trauma of vandalism and the dust of burning of the corporate headquarters and Tin Can Island offices of the Nigerian Ports Authority must have started to settle, but one cannot easily forget the events of Wednesday, October 21, when some persons hiding under the guise of the #endsars protests, vandalized and set fire to parts of the building of the maritime sector regulatory agency.
Recounting the incident, the Managing Director, NPA, Hadiza Bla Usman had said, ““The attackers at the headquarters numbering over 300 persons, gained access into the premises at 8:42am on Wednesday October 21st 2020 from the outer Broad Street wing brandishing, daggers, sticks and cutlasses.
“After attacking, disarming and chasing the security personnel on duty out of the headquarters premises, the attackers proceeded to burn and vandalise several vehicles belonging to the Authority and some members of staff. They thereafter set a wing of the office building on fire.”
Speaking further, the NPA MD disclosed that upon knowledge of the attack, officers of the Nigerian Army were deployed to the premises, adding that they successfully dispersed the hoodlums and reclaimed possession of the premises following which the Authority’s firemen were able to gain access into the building and put out the raging fire.
She added, “After an assessment of the extent of damage, it was discovered that apart from the annex wing that was burnt, many offices were vandalised, while computers, printers, water dispensers and other electronic devices were looted.
“A total of 27 vehicles, including cars, utility vehicles, pick up vans and staff buses were set on fire, while 33 other vehicles, 22 of which belong to members of staff were vandalised. A Toyota Prado SUV, a Bajaj Motorcycle and one Hilux patrol van were also stolen from the premises.”
Being the first and only female head of the NPA, the courage and professionalism Usman has deployed to cope with the attack is remarkable.
Hear her, “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,” she said in a recent interview with ThisDay newspapers.
Professional to the core, she had saved vital documents in places that could not be accessed by the attackers.
She also understood the need to protect the assets of the ports, bearing in mind that it was the gateway of the economy.
Usman once said that being a woman MD put a lot of pressure on her to be two times smarter and more pragmatic than a man in the same position, being aware that people will be waiting to judge and condemn the choice of a woman in such a sensitive post.
This according to her, guides most of the decisions she takes and it probably guided all the precautions she put in place that prevented a greater damage and loss of lives when the premises of the NPA were attacked.
Moving very fast, she had secured the protection of the NPA after the Tuesday attack on Tin Can Island port.
“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.”
Not forgetting the current situation of unemployment in the country, she says with empathy and understanding, “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.
“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.”
It is on record that the NPA, under Bala-Usman has generated billions of naira into the Nigerian economy and pursued balanced and equitable business dealings with clients and service providers of the company.
This has in turn, made her a preferred administrator among the service providers.
A former state governor who is a service provider with the company said, “Before Usman became MD, our invoices stayed at the authority for months and we had to keep pushing to make it come out.
“But these days, as soon as the invoices get it, they come out without delays. We don’t even have to visit the NPA.
“It has made our work faster and more efficient because we are able to buy equipment and spend on things we need to do our job.”
As a result of this, the attack on the corporation was condemned by many stakeholders in the industry.
Also, some of the service providers of the NPA, notably PTML and others went as far as buying new vehicles for the NPA.
Although like she rightly said, it will be difficult to replace some of the items that were damaged, Usman is grateful that no life was lost during the attack.
She can also count on the goodwill of maritime stakeholders who are her ardent supporters, to cope with the situation.