In a matter of days, the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) will elect a new set of leaders to lead the powerful union. Elections into the union’s national executive council are billed for Friday in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state.
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.
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.
It was at that time that ‘akugbe’ became legalized (and institutionalised) in which case union leaders were directly involved in placement of dockworkers at the various terminals. For doing this, the leadership (or more precisely) the President General put less men on the job, collected wages for the men, paid them what he felt was okay for them and pocketed the rest.
At the peak of Comrade Ukaumunna’s tenure, he (or is it the union?) was allowed by the then- managing director of NPA, Engr. Wali Ahmed to operate a shuttle bus system, moving port users form the Apapa port main gate to the terminal; up to the ‘Bull Nose’ end of the port.
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 the incumbent; Comrade Tony Nted Emmanuel in 2009.
The emergence of the ‘new MWUN’ was consummated under the leadership of Comrade Onikolease Irabor.
No matter what anyone says, the union, under Comrade Irabor was transformed from being a ‘terror group’ to a recognized and respected member of the shipping community whose opinions are always sought by stakeholders.
We dare say that, this is the robust union that Comrade Tony Nted Emmanuel inherited eight years ago in Benin, Edo state capital, and which he is about to bequeath to a successor on Friday, March 17, 2017 in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. The MWUN and its four branches, namely: NPA, Dockworkers, Shipping and Courier and Seamen and NIWA, have not deviated from the enviable standard since Comrade Nted mounted the saddle as the President General in March 2009.
It is to the credit of the Comrade Tony Nted Emmanuel-led executives that there has not been any industrial unrest since they took over in 2009; rather the union and its branches have enjoyed a very harmonious relationship with their employers. The union leadership also enjoys the support and confidence of their 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. Granted, there had been pockets of threats, but they were mere threats that never led to industrial unrests.
It is remarkable that, unlike previous elections which were characterised armed fighting, threats to live, intimidation and so on, the build-up to Friday election has been very peaceful, another testimony to the rebranding that the union has undergone.
We seize this opportunity to congratulate Comrade Tony Nted Emmanuel for what the MWUN has been transformed to under his watch. He is no doubt leaving a very big pair of shoes for his successor.