Hadiza Bala Usman: “You need to be strong to take up a task like the NPA.”
Daily Trust: How difficult – or easy – have you found your job, especially with the entrenched corruption and interest in the ports sector?
Hadiza Bala Usman: It’s been challenging, to the extent that you are faced with pressure to compromise some of the procedures and compromise your opinion on some of the issues. We have maintained our neutrality in providing an objective recommendation on every aspect. To a certain extent, we have insulated ourselves from the pressures. I have refused to be pressured by anybody, or to take any recommendation or position that is outside of national interest as a whole.
When I assumed office, I didn’t have knowledge of the maritime industry, and I remember clearly saying to the outgoing MD that this attribute could be an advantage. Because when you come into a place you have little or no knowledge of, you don’t have the burden of having an entrenched interest. You have no knowledge of who is what. All you want is putting things in the right place. Coming in with a blank slate, and fresh perspectives assist you in identifying where all the challenges are.
Indeed within this one year period, it is an advantage because I am oblivious as to who owns what or who is behind what. I take decisions based on the objectivity of what is brought before me and not based on the knowledge of anyone I know or anybody in the industry. Based on that, it is an advantage. My colleagues, the executive directors, all came in with a blank slate to drive the process.
Another issue was to do with being seen to be ‘young’. I am the first female managing director of NPA in 63 years. I was 40 when I was appointed, I’m 41 now. I think being young, makes you more energetic to do the job, and you have the capacity to have vision and think outside the box. Taking up a task like the NPA, you need to be physically strong to do the quantum of paperwork that you have to deal with on a daily basis. Overall, we need to have people that are younger, taking on positions of authority because they have the energy and the mindset to think outside the box. They are not afraid of confronting entrenched systems.
My team and I are relatively young, so we are not afraid to challenge the status quo. They say when you are young, you tend to want to drive things. Also being the chief of staff in Kaduna State prepared me.
DT: What part of your previous experience would you say you tapped into, doing what you do now?
Hadiza: Like I had said, being chief of staff to a governor makes you see every mail of the governor, so you can imagine the quantum of mail that a governor receives on a daily basis. I did that for one year and that prepared me for the amount of paper work that could come out of the NPA. Also, reading helps. If you are able to read and learn from other examples, looking at international best practices and not being afraid to ask questions. One of the things I do is that, if I’m not clear about anything, I ask questions. They use all the maritime terminologies, but I ask for the literal interpretations.
DT: How did you dive into your current job?
Hadiza: I literally just walked in, and kept reading. I was dealing with the work that I had and also reading on the sector; studying each of the critical areas. Reading is very important and the capacity to absorb what you have read and asking questions. Also asking why certain things were done and requesting for historical documents is critical. ‘How were you able to come up to this?’ and so on.
As young people, you need to apply yourselves. No matter how you talk the talk, you have to walk it. You can get appointed by fate, by anyone or some random thing but being able to take it further and drive the vision is what matters. You have to work hard. Having a team to work together is important. My EDs were appointed the same time as me, so we work together as a team, and we don’t have boundaries. Also, if you are making a mistake, there is nothing wrong with stopping. If you are taking the wrong turn because you were misadvised or you didn’t think it through, it’s better to say ‘hold on, let us re-look at it and go another direction’ rather than piling on more mistakes.
DT: By the time all the Chibok girls are home, what will you and other campaigners be doing?
Hadiza: The Chibok girls are symbols of anyone that has been held captive by Boko Haram. They are symbolic because they are a large number and they were young girls. They provided symbols for anyone that has been held captive and the insurgency in the North-East. I still wear my badge everywhere I go, and we shall sustain until all the girls are returned. But the end of insurgency is what everyone wants.
DT: What’s a typical day like for you?
Hadiza: I’m up by 5:00am, say my prayers, prepare the children to school, and at about 7:20am I drop my children in school. By 8:00am I’m in the office, and till at about 5:30-6;00pm. I go home, my kids are back from Islamiyya, we eat, we do their homework and they go to bed. I also go to bed early. I have an early rest so I can wake up and be refreshed. I go to bed at the same time as my children. By 9:00pm I go to bed. I started that in Kaduna and it has helped me. In certain instances, I wake at about 4:00am and work into the morning, but I go to bed early.
Even after a whole year, the staff of NPA haven’t gotten used to me coming to work at 8:00am. By 8:10am max, I’m at my desk. Sometimes I come to work and half of the building are not there. But they are trying to catch up.