The Maritime Workers Union Of Nigeria And Resurgence Of ‘Wharf Rats’

For a while now, stories of resurgence of pilfering, containers broaching and vandalism have resurfaced in the Nigerian port system.

Reports have it that, at Terminal ‘C’ at the Tin Can ports, multiple incidences of container broaching and pilfering and vandalism of sensitive parts and accessories of imported vehicles were uncovered.

The same scenario was reported at the Five Star Terminal also at the Tin Can port, where vehicle accessories were allegedly pilfered by thieves.

We recall that, earlier in the year, at the APM Terminal in Apapa port, a container laden with the banned Tramadol was pilfered and the contents almost taken away before they were intercepted by the Customs officers. The story trended for a while, Customs is still investigating the circumstances. 

Also very recently, a short video went viral revealing how supposed Nigerian dockworkers were removing tyres from an imported car at the terminal.  The video has however been dispelled by the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN).

But, before the denial, the union’s President General; Comrade Adewale Adeyanju had subtly acknowledged such practices in the port. At a recent meeting with the leadership of the dockworkers branch at unit, branches, he gave a matching order that perpetrators of such acts should be fished out.

It is instructive that the MWUN leader raised alarm at the meeting that non-dockworkers are already in the ports and working as if they were registered. 

He said: “The people pilfering containers and vehicles inside the ports are not our members. Many of these people who pilfer cargoes work with firms that provide services to some of the terminal operators, while others are ‘camp boys’ who assist Customs officers inside the ports. He ordered that such persons should be flushed out.

The resurgence of cargo theft and vehicle vandalism is a sad development in our ports. It is a gradual reversal to the pre-port concession era when dockworkers were demonized.

But, there is no doubting the fact that the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria is a new brand, the reemergence of cargo theft and wharf rats, notwithstanding.

For the once-dreaded and volatile union, the long journey to the present has been quite long, especially since it became the amalgamated union for junior workers in the nation’s maritime industry. 

We recall that, the MWUN had gone through hell in the hands of the then-leadership of Comrade Uzoije Ukaumunna who was forced out of office through the instrumentality of the Federal Government.

The removal of the Ukaumunna executives was allegedly based on petitions from users and providers of port services  to the effect that the leadership of Maritime Workers union of Nigeria had become a ‘terrorist organisation’; intimidating shipping companies, harassing the management of Nigerian Ports Authourity (which was at that time, the master stevedore)  and also intimidating other groups.

Four things were prevalent during, the Ukaummuna era- cargo theft, container broaching, ‘akube’ and thugery.

There were allegations of ‘hijack’ of incoming vessels pending when their agents would pay a ransom. The union leaders were accused of all manners of illegalities. The then-president general had his own ‘army of bodyguards’ which dealt with perceived enemies.

These unfriendly practices which made the union president general; ably backed by dockworkers to become a tin god, eventually got to the ears of then –Federal Government, which moved against them and constituted a caretaker committee of which the publisher of this newspaper was a member.

Ukaummuna was succeeded by Comrade Onikolease Irabor in March 2001; he handed over to Comrade Tony Nted Emmanuel in 2009. He also handed over the reins to the incumbent; Comrade Adewale Adeyanju in 2017.

No doubt, the emergence of the ‘new MWUN’ was consummated under the leadership of Comrade Irabor.

We dare say that, this is the robust union that Comrade Tony Nted Emmanuel inherited from Comrade Irabor in Benin, Edo state capital, and which he also bequeathed to Adeyanju in March 17, 2017 in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. 

But for recent happenings, the MWUN and its four branches, namely: NPA, Dockworkers, Shipping and Courier and Seamen and NIWA, have not deviated from the enviable standard since the incumbent; Comrade Adewale Adeyanju mounted the saddle as the President General in March 2017.

It is to the credit of the current leadership of the union that there has not been any major industrial unrest since they took over; rather the union and its branches have enjoyed a very harmonious relationship with their employers. 

We daresay that the union leadership also enjoys the support and confidence of its members; this is demonstrated by the fact that there has been no reported case of uprising at any of the secretariats of the branches and the union’s national headquarters in Apapa.

There has also been peace at the ports and at the various terminals all over the country. 

But, cases of cargo theft, vandalism, and other vices can only precipitate a relapse to the bad old days.

At the onset of the Federal Government port reform policy and the emergence of private terminal operators, the union appealed for an accurate record of the number of dockworkers in the ports. They asked for biometric identity cards for all dockworkers. 

The union had severally demanded for biometric identity cards for its members. As recent as April this year, the union also repeated its call on the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency to commence a fresh registration and documentation of all dockworkers operating across seaports in the country.

Apart from the issue of biometric identity card, it is surprising that there are still instances of unregistered dockworkers in the Nigerian seaports. The question is - who engaged them?

We think that the leadership of the union should do more than cry about absence of biometric identity cards. It should do everything to forestall a reversal to the era of wharf rats in Nigerian ports.

The current leadership under Comrade Adewale Adeyanju should be guided by the fact that since March 2001 when Comrade Onikolease Irabor emerged as the leader of a re-born MWUN, incidences such as the ones being reported have disappeared.

The Nigerian port system can not afford a relapse to the pre-port concession era, when our pors were rated poorly in the area of cargo delivery and customer service.

A situation where every Tom, Dick and Harry now enters the port either as a motor boy to a truck driver or as a freight forwarder, as staff of contracted firms who provide services to terminal operators, is unacceptable. 

When there is unhindered access into the ports in the name of being a port worker, it can only encourage unbridled vices.

We say ‘No’ to a return of wharf rats in Nigerian ports.