When George Moghalu resumed duty as Managing Director/CEO of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), on October 2019, he promised to continue with all ongoing viable and justifiable projects of the agency as long they conform to due process and the Act establishing the agency. In this interview, he shares his experience and challenges in the past one year. We bring the excerpts:
Take us through your effort in repositioning this agency in line with your mandate in the past one year.
Like I said, the first day I got into office, precisely in October 2019, if there was anything I knew, it was the fact that this agency is under-reported. People didn’t know what the agency is expected to do; but not only what the agency is expected to do, but even the responsibility of the people to the agency. Most people didn’t know about it. And the fact that it’s even an agency under the Ministry of Transportation most people didn’t know about it. So, I felt that it was quite under-reported, so I solicited the support of the media to help us let the people know who we are, what is expected of us and then to let them know what we expect of them. So far, so good, the response has been quite encouraging. The press has been there for us. I think that majorly that was a challenge. And don’t forget that within a few months of my coming to office, came the Covid-19 pandemic. So, it kind of distorted the entire arrangement, so we had to deal with it. We tried to model ourselves in line with approved protocols, looking at what we can do to be part of helping our people and re-engineering the economy. These were not anticipated, but they were challenges we had to overcome.
So, how did you respond to the challenges?
We had to plan and respond immediately to address the problems. Now, everything appears to be gradually normalizing. But we had to adapt to the protocols and make provisions for the washing of hands, sanitization, wearing of facemask. To enter any of our facilities across the country, you must obey all the protocols. We also made financial contributions both to the Lagos State government and to the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19. We also offered some of our vessels to be able to move palliatives and other supplies to the hinterland. Basically, it was a challenge, a serious challenge, but we were able to key into the arrangement in the scheme of things.
Is finance a problem?
I always say that funding is a challenge; but it is not limited to NIWA. It is a universal thing because the resources available to the federal government is not as much as it used to be in the past. So, emphasis is now on making efforts to grow the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), so that we can have, if not all the resources, but part of it to address the challenges and live up to expectations in line with the expectations of the people and mandate establishing NIWA. Financing is a challenge, but we are also making every effort to improve on our IGR. But for the pandemic, we know where we would have been. But be that as it may, we are still doing our best to make sure that we use technology to standardize our operations, identify our clients and those who are owing us and then see how we can build synergy to ensure that things work well.
Within this period also, we realized that there are strategic locations that require jetties. Fortunately, during the 2019 procurement process we set in motion the procurement of a jetties for places like Odoekpe in Anambra State, Iwopin in Ogun State, then a few others. Even building some platforms. Within the period, we were able to secure a federal government’s approval through the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for the contract for the Jamata River Port to be reviewed upwards because of some hiccups in the past. So, from four point something billion naira to over N6 billion now. It is expected that the contractor will soon go back to site so that they can proceed on the actualization of that project which we consider key.
Tell us about the planned concessioning of some of your jetties
We have fast-tracked the concessioning of Onitsha River Port, commenced the concessioning of the Baro River Port and you may have heard; because in the last few weeks, the news has been everywhere that we are trying to do Barge-operations between Onne in Rivers State and then Onitsha through Lagos. As we speak, the pilot scheme for Onitsha/Onne has been carried out and we have moved cargo between the two locations. We are now putting final touches to our plans as it affects Lagos to Onitsha and vice versa. So, these are some of the things we have been able to do. We have undertaken the renovation of our headquarters and a few other things we have been doing to reposition the agency. But most importantly, we have been able to win back the confidence of our staff. We have done a lot of work in terms of boosting morale so that they can contribute as expected of them. I embarked on a tour the moment I was appointed, of all our 26 area offices across the country. I had done about 16 of those area offices with the hope to do the rest before covid-19 slowed us down. But the truth is that we are happy with the responses we are receiving with regard to our staff. A lot of them have seen our vision and they have keyed into it and we need to conclude with that and move ahead. So far, so good.