By Stephen Duru
Going by the audacious projects that he serially embarks upon and the great accomplishments he continues to record within the short time he stepped in the saddle as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mr Mohammed Bello-Koko is ostensibly living by the words of an American scholar, organizational consultant and author, who was widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of Leadership studies, the late Warren Bennis, who was once quoted to have said: “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Those ideas that were hitherto locked up in the inner recesses of Bello-Koko’s mind as potential contributions to make in defining and redefining his leadership template have been crystallising since he assumed the driver’s seat at the Authority.
Having envisioned taking the Authority and industry which he regulates to a higher level, much higher than the levels his predecessors attained, Bello Koko’s audacious contributions to the growth of the NPA and developments in the ports and marine industry have continued to shape and define for him what watchers of developments in the NPA now refer to as a luminous epoch of the 54-year old technocrat whose rise to the plum position of chief executive officer and managing director was meteoric. He happened at the NPA as Executive Director in charge of Finance and Administration from the private sector where he was a consummate banker and would later be appointed as acting CEO/MD in 2021 and then substantive CEO/MD in 2022.
With the power of clear insights, Bello-Koko did not waste time to hit the ground running. He was able to galvanise his staff members to key into his visions of enlarging the coast and expanding the frontiers of the NPA in terms of emplacing iconic projects that would conduce to raising revenues and remittances to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) of the Federation. His idea of new ports development gained traction as soon he mooted it. He provided necessary technical guidance for Outline Business Case (OBC), Full Business Case (FBC) and eventual approval for concession of the following new ports: Badagry Deep Seaport, Ondo Deep Seaport, Snake Island and Burutu Port. What these ports would achieve in the immediate term once they are operational is to decongest the traffic the traffic to Apapa Port. They would open up the various locations where they are and create new vibrant commercial and socio-economic hubs in aid of societal growth and development.
Bello-Koko did not only come up with the idea of new ports, he also matched his vision with action by fast tracking the construction of deep seaport/port capacity enhancement and promotion of national preparedness for African Continental Fee Trade Area (AfCFTA). He bolstered this by enlisting Nigeria in the league of countries with Deep Seaports by providing uncommon support and fast tracking the approval processes that culminated in the speedy designation of Lekki Deep Seaport as a Customs Wharf and subsequent commencement of operations in record time; inauguration of actual work towards the 25-year Port Masterplan; International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Certification of Onne and Calabar Ports with all other ports at advanced stages of certification; Securing of approval for the commencement of construction of Badagry Deep Seaport and provision of technical guidance for the construction of more Deep Seaports; and the full automation of Lekki Deep Seaport, which positions Nigeria to optimize opportunities inherent in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and win back transit cargo hitherto lost to our maritime neighbours.
On Bello-Koko’s watch, the ports have, indeed, witnessed improved navigational aids. For instance, the Authority provided and installed navigational aid and buoys in Warri and Calabar Pilotage Districts, for proper channel marking and route mapping. It acquired Marine Crafts (Pilot Cutters and Patrol Boats) to eliminate delays associated with berthing and sailing of vessels and to improve efficiency at the Ports.
Other developments at the ports included dry-docking of various marine crafts to increase the fleet of marine crafts available for vessel support operations; enhancement of Port Security through procurement and deployment of Security Patrol Boats (SPBs) to all Pilotage Districts to address incessant attacks of vessels along the channels and at Ports’ waterfronts; and, establishment of a robust partnership with the EU-funded West and Central Africa Ports Security (WeCAPS) towards risk prevention, vulnerability assessment of port infrastructure, skills acquisition to port personnel to strengthen the security and safety of the Nigerian Ports.
The Authority also ensured standardization of operational procedures for different activities such as barging, private jetties, pilotage, vessel berthing/sailing, etc.; significant reduction in the traffic gridlock along the main Port corridor and on the internal access roads through enforcements, proper batching, continuous access control mechanisms and movement of cargo via barge operations.
In addition to the above, the Authority on Bello-Koko’s watch also provided traffic surveillance motor cycles deployed in the ports in aid of effective monitoring of Truck E-Call Up operation at Apapa/TCIPC/Ijora axis to ease free flow of traffic; even as it also established a standing partnership with the Police high command resulting in the reduction of illegal checkpoints along the port corridor to stem abuse and extortion as well make traffic management more effective.
The accomplishments enumerated above are solid ones that could only have crystallised from the clear insights of a sharply-focused technocrat, who craves the achievement of legacy projects at the NPA. As his achievements are celebrated by industry watchers as well as other members of the external publics, and adulations come his way from top management staff members and other members of the internal publics for the collective achievements, Bello-Koko’s audacity must be particularly commended for not following where the path might lead but, instead, going where there was no path and has succeeded in leaving not only a trail, as posited by an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, abolitionist, and poet, who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century, Ralph Waldo Emerson, but also massive trails that would in the future commend his era at the NPA for remembrance by posterity.
Duru, a maritime lawyer writes in from Apapa, Lagos.