Posted by News Express | 26 January 2018 | 2,263 times
It is about nine months since Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Jime took office as the 7th Managing Director of Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA). And if the truth must be told, it has been nine or so months of action, innovation, eventfulness, pragmatism and unusual promise.
In truth, nine months may be too brief to make a comprehensive review of a tenured appointment of four years and come up with an objective score, but even Jime’s first steps can give Nigeria a peep into how his full tenure would look like. After all, the Chinese say “the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first steps.”
And, so far, Emmanuel Jime’s sure-footedness at NEPZA is a pointer that the thousand-mile destination is possible. Although he is best described by such adjectives as “cosmopolitan,” “urbane,” “cultured,” “articulate,” and “principled,” the reality that confronted him at NEPZA was beyond adjectival distinctions – it was a challenge that required pragmatic, hands-on experience; and it bothered on the urgent. But Jime had none!
A complete stranger to the executive side of governance, Jime’s handicap was compounded by the fact that, perhaps, like millions of other Nigerians, he knew next to nothing about NEPZA! The vibrant Jime was, nonetheless, decided on hitting the ground running.
But how do you run if you do not know the destination? Therefore, between 13th April, 2017, when his appointment was announced, and April 19th, when he took over, the former Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly took time to “return to school” as he later admitted.
According to him, “For a lawyer of many years standing, I found myself in the position of a student again: I had to return to school – learning everything from the scratch. But I was determined to know: from the files, from the books, from my interactions with my management team and so on. And the humility and the adult education, if I may call it that, paid off. Yes, I knew next to nothing about NEPZA, but I settled down quickly.”
When he met with staff shortly upon assumption of office in May, to outline his vision, sue for cooperation and sketch innovative, staff welfare schemes, he confessed as much. It was at this maiden meeting that he gave NEPZA two of his quotes that have today become staff favourites: “If there is welfare, there would be no warfare” and “If there is celebration in the house, there would be no solidarity songs.”
But his one other quote that day also remains memorable: "We have our eyes on history. We have a clear vision of where we want to take NEPZA to. We won’t be here forever, but while we are here, we intend to transform this place; we plan to make a positive difference. And we are looking at models right here: models like Dora Akunyili, Ernest Ndukwe, etc, and their salutary or transformational leadership models.
So, right from Day One, Jime took the initiative of connecting with staff of the Authority – and even going beyond the bounds of propriety to give out his private cell-phone numbers and his e-mail addresses!
Since one of the unique things about his service in the public space is his dynamism, Jime has brought to NEPZA all that dynamism can offer in its broadest sense i.e. dynamic quality, dynamic energy, a dynamic mission, a dynamic vision and a dynamic pace. And this dynamic side of his public stewardship became practical on April 25, 2017, when he began the first leg of his tour of Free Trade Zones (FTZs) across the country just six days after taking office. A man with a mission or on a mission is a missionary; and every true missionary must walk the field and do field-work!
And because of the preponderance of FTZs in the Lagos axis as well as the sheer volume of investments in the zones therein, Jime faced Lagos. It was after this that he went to Ogun, Cross River and Kano states on familiarisation-cum-fact- finding tours.
Although Jime made indelible impressions on staff and the Zones operators, it was in Kano, at the Kano FTZ, that he made his biggest impression. That was on May 22, 2017.
After a management-led tour of the Zone, the MD repaired to the Conference room where he held a no-holds-barred meeting with staff. After Jime spoke and sat down for comments or questions, there was pin-drop silence: no one had a comment – not even the intractable unionists. The KFZ had never seen such openness or humility or simplicity since its inception!
It was too much for both staff and management. When the Senior Manager, Research and Development, Hajia Aisha Iya Tahir, broke the ice, it was to change the narrative. She described Jime as “a man of extra-ordinary humility and simplicity,” adding: “Since power intoxicates even innocent people, our prayer for you is that God will preserve this innocence so that power doesn’t intoxicate you.”
It was partly in-between the tours, but especially after them, that Jime sat down with his management team to look at critical issues such as policy, direction, staff welfare, administrative/governance structure, inter-agency cooperation, building investor-confidence and planning for the future.
Being a politician, many thought the managing director would fancy the glamorous side of governance over and above the executive side. As such, there were pressures on him to meet the press and unveil his vision immediately upon assumption of office. But being more of a chief executive than a chartered politician, the NEPZA helmsman deferred meeting the Fourth Estate of the Realm to 8th December, 2017! By then, it was not just to unveil his vision – it was to showcase to the pressmen something concrete.
He told the crème of the media establishment at Newton Park Hotel: “Under my stewardship, we have so far been able to licence three new industrial parks i.e. Nasco Town Free Zone, which is valued $2,086 billion. It is estimated, at completion, to be able to provide 15,000 direct jobs.
“The second is Quit Aviation Services Free Zone, valued at $215million, and is estimated to provide jobs in their thousands. And there is: Tomaro Industrial Park, in Lagos, valued at $450million. It would also provide jobs running into the thousands.”
Today, the salutary outcomes of that back-to-school move are evident in the restructuring of the corporate governance structure, the injection of life into the free zones while licencing new ones, the rebuilding of investor-confidence, the introduction of innovative staff welfare schemes, the cementing of inter-agency relationships as well as a robust and sustained engagement with industry stakeholders on multi-levels.
And it is the handsome hope of every NEPZA staff, and, indeed every industry stakeholder, that the new board would solidly stand by Jime and offer him the critically needed support in his repositioning, rebranding and re-invigorating agenda at NEPZA. And with Engr. Oni’s rich, composite and cosmopolitan experience as a public officer, teacher, unionist, journalist engineer, bureaucrat, technocrat, grassroots mobiliser, entrepreneur, sales specialist, international consultant, former governor and honorific chieftaincy title-holder, the Asiwaju of Ifaki-Ekiti, the hope appears well-invested!
•Simon Imobo-Tswam, a public affairs commentator, writes from 2, Zambezi Crescent, Maitama Abuja.
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