The rise of public administration and the discovery of petroleum and natural gas are two major events seen to have led to a litany of ignoble corrupt practices in Nigeria over the past half a century. The country has seen its wealth withered with little to show in living conditions of the average human being. Some analysts have posited about the different potential causes of flagrant and pecunious graft that exists in the country: many blame greed and ostentatious lifestyle as a potential root cause of corruption.
The same level of corruption was preponderant at Nigerian ports until 2003 when Chief Adebayo Babatunde Sarumi was appointed Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
Sarumi took up his position at the height of the port congestion in 2003 and immediately turned on his former peers. He blocked avenues of revenue leakages, sacked several top management staff, and ordered a series of probes and change in processes.
By 2006, he had completed the processes of handing over the usually inefficient terminal handling operation to private companies and cut the workforce of NPA by more than half. The rest, as they say, is history.
Sarumi is an enigma and it is unfortunate that we don't recognise, or perhaps we disdain, talents like his in Nigeria. Like outgoing Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi stated last week, intellect and genius are no longer virtues in Nigeria.
I find Fayemi's words quite instructive: "I know that intellect is not supposed to be popular in our country right now. If you are an intellectual, you are an elite and an elite is what should be thrown into the dustbin not to be associated with."
Sarumi is an elite and an intellectual. He is a patriot and a genius. I am therefore proud to have played a key role in galvanising the maritime industry to celebrate his 70th birthday and the response was beyond my imagination. Dignitaries and very senior citizens like former Head of State, Chief Ernest Shonekan; Senator Munir Muse, former and present chief executives of maritime agencies and several others identified with the need to celebrate this enigma. And the turnout at the 70th birthday colloquium held at Eko Hotel is indicative of the appreciation the industry has for the port reform icon.
Had Sarumi not executed the port reform in 2006, Nigeria would have been paying dearly by now. Sarumi may not be a perfect man; nobody is a saint but he sure played his part pretty well while on the scene.