BAD ROAD: ‘’If you go inside the port now, hardly can you find three or four vessels inside the port’’
President General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN); Comrade Adewale Adeyanju in this interview with Shipping Position Daily Correspondent; Dapo Olawuni in Lagos last week raised an alarm that members of the union are facing redundancy because vessels are no longer calling at Nigerian ports due to the delay in evacuating cargoes from the port. According to him, the vessels are reluctant to come to Nigerian waters because of bad roads. Adeyanju stressed that the dilapidated port access road has caused terminal operators and the NPA to lose huge revenue.
‘’I think 24 hours port operations cannot work; it is when the roads are okay that you can begin to suggest 24 hours operations’’
What prompted your decision to embark on a physical inspection of the failed portion of Lagos port access roads?
We have given ultimatums, but it is not about ultimatum anymore, it is about total show down, for us to see what is on ground, the NPA management yesterday including the Executive Director Finance and Administration decided that we should come and access the road and see what is on the road so that we can put what we call palliative measures, because if the rains should start now, there would not be any vessel inside the port. The bad road is affecting our members and all stakeholders in the port including the clearing and forwarding agents, they are also part of stakeholders. However, the transporters are not helping matters, if they don't have any business to do at the port, they need to stop coming around.
We are not going to rest on this matter, whoever is involved, the Minister of Works, I believe he is the owner of the road, but what efforts has he put in place? No efforts. They said that they have set up a task force, but where is the task force today and what are they doing? Our members are suffering, they are dying everyday, we lost two dockworkers in 2017 as a result of this road and we cannot continue like. As the Maritime Workers Union, it is not that we are weak or that we cannot do anything, but we feel there is need for us to meet with top management of NPA who are the landlord of the port and we have spoken to them, this is why you see the delegation from NPA; for them to see that we are suffering, the whole of Nigeria is suffering.
What has been done to compensate the families of the deceased workers?
Everything is being put in place to ensure that their families are compensated, one is from Ibru Jetty, he was hit by one of the truck drivers from Sifax, we are on top of the matter and they have promised that the families would be compensated.
How would you access port activities as a result of various government policies?
If you go inside the port now, hardly can you find three or four vessels inside the port, even at ENL terminal where we used to have eight vessels, it is only one vessel that is there now, so there is diversion of vessels to other countries very close to us and it is affecting our members, it is equally affecting the revenue drive of the terminal operators including that of NPA, it is only when investors are coming into the country that you can talk of collecting revenue.
If the vessels are not coming, will this not affect your members?
There is no way you can rule it out, when the vessels are not coming, the management would consider laying-off their workers, and for them not to think about it, we have decided to come out and cry to the whole world that enough is enough and we can not continue like this, we are even looking for how to collaborate with the transport owners, they are also contributing to all the problems, if you don't have anything doing inside the port, why are you bringing your trailer to the port.
In those days, the holding bays will issue you Authority to Load (ATL) but today, we found out that all these arrangement are no longer there, if I am a transport owner, I need to get a space to be parking my trucks, not just to come and constitute nuisance on the roads leading to the port, the roads do not belong to truckers alone, but they are denying other ports users the opportunity of performing their legitimate duty.Also in the past, all shipping companies have holding bays where they store their empty containers, but now things have changed, people are not putting it into consideration that everybody has a stake in this port. If you go to Cotonou port, their port access road is as free as anything, why must it now be the Nigerian Ports Authority, the largest port in West Africa, our stakeholders are now trooping to other neighboring ports, this is already affecting our members as shipping companies are sacking them everyday, it is as a result of the bad roads, it is not that we are weak, we know what we are doing.
NARTO and AMARTO in the past have applied palliative measures on these roads, what effort are you making on your own?
We want to collaborate with them, the Central Working Committee (CWC) of the union is going to meet and we would call the NARTO and AMARTO and the Road Transport Workers to see how we can partner with ourselves and see how we can manage the road. I learnt that a task force was being formed, but my question is, where are the task force, what job are they doing? At least, they should be able to create one access lane to the port where other ports users with legitimate businesses can access the port. Everyone in the port is passing through a great deal of stress, some workers would trek from port gate to Ijora, and if you are coming from Mile 2, there is no access road for you to come in, it is affecting the health of everybody. It is also affecting the revenue drive, I was privileged to talk to the Executive Director Finance and Administration and I told him that there is no point being at the port if you are not collecting revenue? And we don't want the management of the terminal operators to think otherwise because there is no vessel coming in, so there is now going to be redundancy, we don't pray for that. What is the latest about the Ports and Habour Bill that the union protested against last year?
The bill is still in doubt, we have not heard anything about it, you know the union is seriously on that Bill, we are still there, the lawmakers have not called us for any public hearing, we are waiting for them, our prayers is just for the bill to die naturally, nobody should remember about the bill, this is the prayer of all the workers in the port.
The Federal Government has been talking about 24hours port operations and ease of doing business
It cannot work. To clear a vehicle out of the port takes several days, before you can finally make your way out of the port takes very long hours, so I think the 24 hours port operations cannot work, it is when the roads are okay that you can begin to suggest 24 hours operations, nobody can talk about 24hours operations. I just came back from Warri port, the same problem we are having in Lagos State is prevalent in Warri port; the tanker drivers have taken over all the roads, the federal government needs to look into all these challenges. I know that all these problems go straight to the office of the Minister of Works, he is in charge of the road, but I don't know maybe he is waiting for the roads to collapse. So please, let us not talk about 24hours operations because it would not work.
If you go to Port Harcourt port, you will see what is happening at PTOL, the access road to PTOL in Port Harcourt is as bad of the Apapa roads, it is a general sickness affecting all maritime stakeholders in the port. So, the Minister of Works and Housing should wake up and do the needful by putting all the roads in shape.
What efforts are you making to ensure shipping companies get their holding bay?
We were told about a place being constructed opposite Tin Can Island Port, but I am afraid the place cannot contain more than 1000 trucks, and even if the place is commissioned today, it would create problems for port users. Let the terminal operators, NPA and all the stakeholders put their heads together. At APM Terminal for instance, the rate at which containers are coming out of the terminal is faster than how they receive empty containers, they are too slow. The truckers have now taken advantage of this to put their trucks on the road looking for customers. As maritime workers, we could decide to withdraw all our members because we are the ones doing the job.
Are you confident that NPA will fulfill its pledge of applying palliative measures on the Tin Can road?
If the assurance is not there, they would not send a powerful delegation, we have seen today joining us for the road assessment as directed by the Managing Director. The NPA is ready to apply palliative measures to Tin Can road, but the speed of the construction on Sharf road is very slow.
Another thing is that, I want to advise Nigerians buying fish now to be very careful because most of the fish coming from the port, before it gets to their cold room, it would have spent a whole day and it would have gotten spoilt. This is the main reason fish vessels are no longer coming to ENL Terminal again.
The union in 2017 threatened to picket APM Terminal to clear the long queue of trucks to the terminal, how did it go?
We were invited by the top management of NPA and we were told that all efforts would be put in place, this was why they set up the task force and we agreed with them, but at the end of the day, members of maritime workers union were not included in the task force, if tomorrow eventually we withdraw the services of our members, where is the task force going to operate
Rail movement of cargoes from the port has begun, will this bring some succor?
It has been a long time business, in the past there was nothing like trucks, we were using rail to transfer containers to Kano, Kaduna and other bonded terminals, right now that they are reintroducing it, I think it is a welcome idea, but it all still borders on the road. For example you are transferring containers to Ijora through barges or through rail, there is no access road for the freight lifter to come in and pick up the containers. The terminal operators are seriously crying, I learnt that some of them have reduced their tariff in order to attract more customers, but the customers they have succeeded in bringing in are now crying because of bad access roads.
I hope all these challenges will not eventually lead to the union withdrawal of service?
There is no how we are not going to withdraw the service of our members if this thing continues, but the assurance we have heard from NPA management is that they are going to do it. We are not stopping there, we are going to meet the Minister of Works who is the owner of the roads, he visited the place sometimes ago and promised that all will be well, but up till now we have not seen all the changes he promised.The NPA muted the idea of PPP construction for Wharf road , the NPA has fulfilled its end of the bargain, if the other parties had fulfilled their end of the bargain, the slow pace of the work will not be, probably, majority of those companies that promised have not fulfilled their pledges, we only saw it on pages of newspaper that the road would be constructed for N4.5billion. However, I have the confidence that the management of NPA has contributed part of their own, they showed us the documents and we saw it. So, we would withdraw the services of our members because we cannot afford our members being placed on redundancy. It is only APMT that is still having vessels, this is why we said that most of all the containers littering the ports are caused by APMT, if you say that your system was hacked, for how long are we going to continue like this because your system was hacked, they should look for an alternative, they are the owners of Ijora, they should transfer some containers over there, I learnt they have started doing so by rail.
On the NJIC and the welfare of your members have you signed the new wages?
We have spoken with our people and we are writing letter to NIMASA to reconvene the meeting. I know the excuses will also be there about the bad state of the roads. It is better to manage the little in your hands than to lose it completely, however we are pushing seriously.