By Abdulrafiu Lawal
When ThisDay newspaper on July 12, 2016 broke the news of Hadiza Bala Usman , then chief of staff to Governor Nasir El-Rufai being considered by President Muhammadu Buhari to head the Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA) based on the recommendation of Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transport, I was very happy and optimistic for three reasons.
I felt Buhari has finally seen reason to do the needful by bringing more young people on board, that the Nigerian project under the change mantra was on course and, most importantly, Nigeria is moving away from ethnic politics.
That an Ikwerre man is now recommending a Hausa woman to the President for a very sensitive and tedious national assignment is gratifying. This is because the Buhari cabinet has been bogged down by criticism of having too many ‘’dead wood’’ in its fold. This, according to critics, is because some of the ministers are too old to cope with the demands of governance in a digital age.
Second, some of them have been part of past governments that have taken the nation to its present state where Nigeria is still learning to crawl at 56.
Few hours later, her appointment was confirmed by the federal government. I am at a loss why some Nigerians have continued to criticize Usman’s appointment on the basis of where she comes from. It is gratifying that no-one, to the best of my knowledge, has talked about her capacity to do the job, which is a plus for her.
This, to me, should be the focal point. Her appointment signifies a paradigm shift by government and a ray of hope for our generation that the much talked leaders of tomorrow slogan of many years is finally materializing.
The NPA is also too strategic in these lean times to be left in the hands of some political god fathers who consider juicy appointments their birthright.
I believe her critics are missing the point. The founding fathers of Nigeria have always stressed the need for us to emphasize issues that bring us together rather than those that divide us.
The question is should Hadiza Bala Usman reposition NPA in the next 24 months, up its revenue base just like Hammed Ali has done for the Nigerian Customs; will the money go to Northern Nigeria or federation account?
It is an undisputed fact that our infrastructure have gone so bad that one will think there is no government in place to fix things. This is why many Nigerians have become their own government fixing their roads, drilling boreholes for their homes in the absence of public water supply, paying vigilante watch to guard their houses due to inefficiency of the Nigerian Police and relying on generators as an alternative to Disco’s ‘’festival of darkness’’.
All these challenges underscore the fact that the system is not working due to weak institutions. I see a new NPA as a partial step towards ending budget deficit that has become Nigeria’s middle name in the last few years.
I guess this is what the president had in mind when he accepted Amaechi’s recommendation. Then, why the issue of where she comes from? I believe many years of nepotism have so much blinded some us that we find it difficult to see the larger picture in any situation.
Any attempt to talk about her state of origin amounts to throwing away the baby with the bath water. It is unprecedented for an average Nigerian to recommend someone outside his/her ethnic stock for sensitive political appointment.
Rotimi Amaechi could have used his position by recommending someone from Rivers State and the candidate will still scale through. He chose merit over ethnic solidarity and political patronage.
I have lived in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the East Coast of the United States for the past six years where I went to graduate school. I have never experienced power failure for a second, never driven on a road ridden with potholes or has my tap run dry.
The power in my house is a supplied by a company popular on the East Coast called National Grid. I have never thought or heard someone raising the issue of where the Chief Executive of National Grid should come from. Or whether he is black, African American or Hispanic?
This is because it is irrelevant as what matters is service delivery and people knowing that they have a government that is caring and responsible. What has made the United States great is the focus on what one is bringing to the table, rather than his color of skin or state of origin.
Why can’t we begin to have a civilized conversation about how to move this country forward without bringing ethnicity or religion?
Since my sojourn in the US, I have been to Nigeria over a dozen times, especially in the last two years. One thing that makes me sick is the epileptic power supply as someone who has an aversion for generators.
I also pity people who do business in Nigeria due to the high cost of powering generators and double taxation. Why then should we rubbish a bold attempt to move the nation away from its sordid past?
There is the need for us to do away with this Nigerian mentality that makes us look at things as Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa or Idoma. This mentality has done so much damage to our psyche that Nigeria is today more divided than we were during the civil war. I have never been a fan of federal character or quota system.
It is responsible for the rot in the civil service today that a barber or welder gets the job of a permanent secretary without having the requisite experience to do the job.
I have never met Hadiza Bala Usman, but only read about her at the early stages of Bring Back Our Girls Group (BBOG) and her stint as Chief of Staff of ‘’Chief Feather Ruffler’ of Kaduna state, Nasir El-Rufai.
I see her as someone with vision. Hence, I do not care where she comes from, knowing what transpired at the NPA during the Goodluck Jonathan years. All that I care about is the repositioning of this strategic parastatal for improved revenue generation as a place where every Nigerian will be proud of.
On the other hand, I never met her late father, Bala Usman, either but was opportune to be at an event where he presented a paper at one of the Northern states some years back. I had to go to the mini secretariat of the event organizers within the same premises to ask for a copy of Usman’s paper.
As I entered the room, a Yoruba woman who was manning the computer told another young man who was making photocopies in Yoruba, “Can you imagine this Baba from Ahmadu Bello University came with his return ticket, when other resource persons were waiting on government to pay for their flights? He is just too principled and honest that he never wants to take anything that is not for him’’.
The young man beamed and said ‘’Olododo ni Baba yi’’. This means Dr Bala Usman is a man of integrity. I could see admiration and respect in the eyes of these two people while the conversation lasted. Inside me, I shared the same respect for Bala Usman’s conduct.
It is a radical departure from the culture I know as a journalist where resource persons invited by governors bill upfront regardless of how important is the presentation to the people and wanting their host to pay for everything including the polishing of their shoes.
The import of this flashback is that in Hadiza I see her late father or what some call a chip of the old block. I see determination, courage and a change agent. Thus, she should be given a chance to justify the confidence reposed in her by President Buhari.
Hadiza should see the criticism trailing her appointment as a shot in the arm to prove her critics wrong, by surpassing everyone’s expectation at NPA. The organization as it is today is in dire need of reforms that even an “F’’ candidate in school knows the NPA is sick, malnourished and infected with the disease of Nigerian mentality. Her appointment among the many qualified persons is a litmus test for our generation and a challenge to test whether the Nigerian youth is still his own worst enemy.
Go, Hadiza, as the torchbearer of this generation and the daughter of a comrade who never had the word ‘’impossible’’ in his dictionary, change the face of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) just like your father brought Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) from relative obscurity to a center of academic excellence of national and global significance.
Lawal, a public commentator writes from Boston, United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org