“On the Ports and Harbors Bill, we are not sleeping; our two eyes are wide open because of the experience we have got in the past”
In this interview with Dapo Olawuni, the President General of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN); Comrade Adewale Adeyanju spoke on sundry union and maritime industry issues.
“The election has come and gone and the aggrieved parties that do not want to see my face then, l have brought all of them closer and we are all working together now, I have given them positions and they are now working with me”
A review of the NJIC agreement has started, what are your demands this time around on welfare of dock labour?
We have started the deliberations last week Monday, a committee has been inaugurated and we are about to start the NJIC proper and to review it upwards. I cannot tell you all that we are demanding now, but all I know is that we have sent our proposal before them, the area of technicality that has to do with the last one that was not approved or not implemented, these are the technicalities involved and we want to effect the correction this time around, and those ones that they refused to implement; one thing is to sign an agreement, another is to implement it, these are the technicalities involved in this review, vis-à-vis the condition of service, the gratuity, the terminal benefit, pension and so on, these are the technicalities we are trying to streamline so that by the time dockworkers are leaving the industry, they should leave the industry with smiling faces and not ugly faces. We have satisfied the terminal operators and the government by bringing innovations into the ports and into the life of dockworkers through enlightenment programmes, this union has sent so many people overseas for training and professional courses, this is what brought about the glory that all the terminal operators are enjoying today, we want to enjoin the terminal operators too to extend the hands of understanding to the union and the workers that have sacrificed immensely to the growth of the industry and the nation in general.
In year 2017, your union decided to maintain current wages due to economic recession, do you think things have improved for the terminal operators now, how confident are you that your demands will be accepted?
Our demands have to be accepted because we have sacrificed, as a responsible union, at the period of the last review, we felt that things were not moving, the recession has crippled the economy, but now, we believed that things have improved and they also need to change with a good package for the dock workers in the port, we don’t need to waste our time on this review because, when you step down so many areas involving the terminal operators because we all know what was happening then, this time around I think they should see reason with whatever proposal we have sent to them.
On the bad state of the Tin Can Port access road, is it true you are embarking on another strike?
We are not joking about it, when you sign a communiqué with the federal government, we are still keeping the tempo, the fact is that they have reneged in their agreement, when you suspend a strike because of intervention of the people that matters in the industry- the minister of labour, the minister of transportation, the NPA Managing Director and the terminal operators, they all intervened on this matter, we signed a communiqué and we agreed that by second quarter of the year, all the roads would be put in place, but the beauty of it is that the road into Apapa is now moving gradually and there is 70% progress at Apapa, we want them to extend this to other ports too, it is not about Lagos port alone, go to Port Harcourt port, the access road to the port is nothing to write home about, if you go to Warri Port it is the same. So, we are generalizing it because it is not only Lagos port that is facing this problem of bad road to the gateway into the nation’s economy, it is all over our seaports but the Tin Can Island Port is the worst and I think our agreement speaks for itself, the communiqué we signed with the federal government is very clear; that by second quarter of the year, all the condition must have been met, if they have reneged on these agreements, I think they will see the union in another form.
Foreign companies have been alleged to be doing ship chandelling jobs which we believe should belong to some of your members
We are on it, even the ILO does not allow this, we know what the law says, the job that Nigerians can do, you should not allow foreigners to come in and do our job, we are going to intensify efforts for the government to see reasons that jobs that we are capable of handling should not be given to foreigners, the union is working seriously on it; mostly, it is affecting the seafarers.
You recently inaugurated a monitoring task force on the waters to check how seafarers are being treated onboard ships, how far have they gone?
We have started work, the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria doesn’t just make noise, we are doing our job the way it should be, the monitoring task force has started in Warri, we even have sub-committee which is working seriously, whatever problem they discover at any port, they report back to the task force executives who in turn reports back to me, so we are working seriously on this.
Your sister union, the merchant navy senior staff recently raised an alarm on extortion by marine police, immigration and customs at sea, are you aware of this?
Extorting money from seafarers at anchorage is against the rule, if the agencies have not been committing this act, the Merchant Navy president would not come out to say so, and if they are doing it, I think they should put an end to it because we are Nigerians, and before you get a job you know how many months it took you, the job is six months on, six months off, and the little salary they are going to pay the seafarer, somebody who does not even know the implication of what he is doing would now collect money from them. I think it is absurd and very bad, as a union we are going to resist this, any time seafarers are asked to pay a dime, we might write to the authorities and that person would be severely dealt with.
In view of this, the seafarers day 2018 celebration is here, what does the future hold for our seafarers?
The future is bright, because even at the recent ILO, what we saw over there is worth emulating, the welfare package here whereby a sailor would die onboard vessel and there is no gratuity, no pension, no death benefit, these are some of the packages that are now going to be introduced into the lives of seafarers in Nigeria. A situation whereby somebody would serve his country for 30 years and nothing is given to him after retirement, the ILO has ratified that and I think something better is coming into the lives of Nigerian seafarers.
Some private jetty operators are still not engaging dockworkers at their jetties.
NIMASA is working seriously on that in conjunction with the Nigerian Ports Authority, they have raised alarm that dockworkers must be allowed to work in the jetty, where the jetty owners are not allowing us to do all the jobs, NIMASA is working on it.
On the Ports and Harbors Bill, you protested against it last year and we have not heard anything again, should we take it that the bill is dead?
I cannot say that the Bill is dead, because the sponsor of the Bill is still very much alive, how can you now say the Bill is dead? But we are watching, we are looking at them and how things are moving, our own primary concern is that our members should not lose their job because experience has taught us what happened in 2006 when they said the port was going to be concessioned and at the end of the day, from 14,000 workforce, our members lost their jobs and we now have 3,000 workforce in NPA. On the Harbors bill, no union will fold its hands and allow this type of bill to pass through, for them to pass the bill and keep sacking our members, the beauty of it is that the NPA management too supported us, they supported us and we are all on the same page, they have assured us that none of our members would lose their job, and this was the primary purpose of our protest, terminal benefits, pension and other packages belonging to our members would not be touched, if all these would not be affected, then why should we make noise?
Do you trust the government on this? In 2006, there were also assurances to the union that they will not lose jobs
This is why we are weighing the two options, when you wear two caps on your head; you need to allow the centre to stand, what is the centre? It is the union, we are watching them and we are waiting for them. On the Ports and Harbors Bill, we are not sleeping, our two eyes are wide open because of the experience we have gotten in the past, and I don’t think the present management of the NPA will deceive us because they have assured us that nobody would be sacked. I have to commend the effort of the NPA managing director for the welfare packages that she has introduced for NPA workers, the enlightenment is good and they would be increasing their wages anytime from now, we need to commend the management for doing a very good job.
At the last election that brought you into office, there were some aggrieved parties, what have you done to cement the relationship in the interest of the union?
I do not have any problem about that, you know me as a foot soldier, I work hand in hand with the opposition, even during my election period, the election has come and gone and the aggrieved parties that do not want to see my face then, l have brought all of them closer and we are all working together now, I have given them positions and they are now working with me, those that even lost their job, we have made sure that they got their jobs back, those that were asking for one, we gave them two, we have harmonized everybody, when you have a unity government, I don’t think you will have a problem, what we did was to harmonize everybody from unit to district and from district to branch, this was what I did at all the four branches of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, so nobody can come out now and say that he or she is in the opposition and he is not being carried along, all the people that were saying ‘No’, they are part of the people saying ‘Yes’ now.
Government has indicated interest of shutting down the nation’s borders, do you support this and how would this affect your members?
For the past two years that rice has not been coming through the borders, have we not been eating rice? Why are they closing the border because of rice, let us concentrate on our roads, if our roads are good, nobody would concentrate on smuggling rice, we have Nigerian rice that everybody is used to, Abakaliki rice is there.
But it is not available?
Go to the market, I am eating Nigerian rice, so you cannot tell me that it is not available, let government close down all the borders, it would not stop smuggling because the rice smugglers are cabals, they know how they would smuggle their rice into the country.
Sir, rice is no longer coming through the seaports, is this not affecting your members at the terminals?
It is affecting our members, but we are used to it, it is part of discipline, there are some advanced countries who also started like this, they closed their eyes and decided that they would not allow certain cargoes to come in through their borders, did they die? Since the government stopped importation of rice, did we die? We are still eating rice; we have it in this country.
Do you have dockworkers at the borders?
We do have our members, but because the border is very peculiar and very sensitive for the union to manage, I cannot put three iron inside the fire at once, our borders are very sensitive and we are trying to be very careful, in the past we use to have MWUN at the border posts, but when I discovered the way they were behaving over there I had to disband them, I disbanded them because of their attitude, the infighting and some of them were collaborating with bad eggs, when I was President of the Dockworkers Branch of this union, what I did was to disband the executives of the union at the border, I even wrote to the NSA, the IGP and others, telling them that the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria does not have interest at the borders for now because all the government apparatus are yet to be there-the NPA, NIMASA, and others are not there, so if those government agencies regulating dockworkers are not there, what is my business there? This was the main reason we stepped down activities of MWUN at Seme Border.
What is your assessment of the maritime sector in the first half of this year?
We all know what is happening in the sector, the roads to the port has contributed to the fallout of the economy, if our roads are good, no investor would run away, nobody would even be talking about shutting down our borders because of rice because those people that are now operating in Cotonou and other neighboring countries are from Nigeria, it was the bad roads that made some of them to relocate to Cotonou, we believe that as soon as the roads are fixed, all the investors that ran to Cotonou will come back to their father’s land.