There is no doubt that the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) is a new brand, a brand that sprang up from the ashes of the old order where force and brute reigned, when the union was law unto itself and most parts of the Nigerian maritime industry.
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 history of the MWUN can not be complete without reference to the ignominious years of the then-leadership of Comrade Uzoije Ukaumunna, under which the MWUN went through hell, and who which 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, conveying 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 Comrade Tony Nted Emmanuel in 2009, he also handed over the reins to the incumbent; Comrade Adewale Adeyanju in 2017.
Glad to note that, 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.
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.
Without using its previously known approaches to fighting for the rights of its members, the union now gets its things done and gets results for its members.
Recently, the union was able to secure a directive from the Ministry of Transportation for the payment of severance benefits of tally clerks and onboard security men who were laid-off some years ago.
Before then, it was able to call attention of government to the plight of its members whose wags were not paid by the International Oil Companies (IOCs). Without brigandage or violence, but with subtle protest, the union was able to restart negotiations towards payment.
We also recall the recent signing of a Collective Bargaining Agreement that will guaranty a better working condition for its members (especially the seafarers. This is not forgetting the enhanced take home pay as well as other entitlements that the MWUN has secured for it members who are dockworkers.
It is instructive that all these were achieved without the aggression and violence that the union was known for, especially in the pre-port concession era.
No doubt, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju has done well in the past three years as the President General of the union, we can only wish him well as he rounds up the last lap of his first term of four years, which ends in March, 2021.