"We are praying for this present administration, we are still on "God bless you", I hope they would not give us reason to say "God punish you"
Comrade Ifeayin Mazeli is the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Branch President of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN). In this chat with Shipping Position Daily Correspondent; Dapo Olawuni, he spoke on several issues bordering on the NPA and its relationship with the union. He however lamented that the NPA workforce, especially those in the junior cadre are going into extinction and there is an urgent need for the NPA under Ms Hadiza Bala Usman to recruit more workers.
“I am first an NPA worker before becoming NPA president"
What are the immediate steps you intend to take in alleviating your members’ condition? The steps are very clear, when we came onboard, there were some thriving issues and these issues were such that the workers’ welfare and the job itself was threatened, these were the issues I highlighted, such as the Ports and Harbours bill which the union tackled headlong, another area is workers’ welfare, these are the things we are treating right now.
On the Port and Harbours Bill, where are you with the fight presently? What we did was an awareness programme, by this, we decided to draw the attention of the Federal Government of Nigeria and members of the National Assembly, right now they are already handling the matter, but at that time, we needed to draw attention to the fact that the union was not carried along and we are not in the picture, we did the protest and thereafter we decided to interface with some members of the House. I can assure you that we are doing this seriously, even also we have been able to meet the sponsor of the bill and we are discussing, we are not just lying low, we have no issue with the management of Nigerian Ports Authority, we are only protecting our job. To that extent, we cannot just do it and leave it there, for now it will look as if nothing is happening but a lot is happening.
We hope we would not see NPA workers being retrenched again? This is our major area of concern, we are not against the government carrying out any form of restructuring, but we are asking that such restructuring should not affect the fate of the workers. We made mention of certain sections in that proposed bill where the workers welfare was threatened; in section 15A where it was stipulated that a worker who has worked for over 30 years and is due for retirement can be dismissed at the shortest notification, this is not acceptable. These conditions were not well clarified and they are a threat to the union and so we are kicking against it. If you are moving someone from the old Port to the new Port and Harbours and you are saying that anyone who is not moved to the new agency could have the option of either resigning or be dismissed, then it is a clear indication that the conditions were not clearly defined, this is why we are telling them that there are certain areas we are not comfortable with. It is true that you can redefine the agency, after all, there was a time that NPA was turned to a PLC, but it was later reverted, we know that governments come and go, but we are only concerned about the welfare of our members, we don't have a problem if the intention of Ports and Harbours Bill is to give them wider coverage but we are looking at the core operational areas like the pilotage, the dredging and the harbours, all these areas should not be given out, the towage, the fire service, in fact we are looking at the entire harbours itself which is a foreign currency earner for the government. If you go to ports all over the world, they own their ports, why is it that in Nigeria we would not have the Nigerian Ports Authority? Giving out these areas is like giving out national cake to an individual pocket, the major reason they are eyeing the harbours is because it is a foreign exchange earner, this is where many people today are paid, not just NPA workers.
Workers at eastern ports are lamenting low activities, how can this be ameliorated?We are a union, we are not an opposition party, any union that is worth its onion should be able to say when somebody is doing well and when they are not doing well, I think the present management is doing well in the area of port reformation to ensure that the areas that are quiet becomes booming again. We have had series of talks with the MD and she has also explained. For example, at the Warri port they have this agitation for resource control which has brought up a lot of groups, these are setbacks to port operations which are not the fault of NPA, importers bringing in their cargoes are also mindful of the unrest in these region and they choose carefully where they want their cargoes shipped to, this is what is affecting these eastern ports that are prone to security issues.
One of the major challenges of eastern ports is lack of tug boats and we know that some were acquired recently If we have acquired tug boats, the expectation is that they should be used to the optimum and the deployment of the tug boats to areas they are needed is important, but I would want to interface with the management to know their constraint. I cannot just say now that the boats have not been deployed and management is not doing anything about it, I would only engage management to know their constraints and to know the areas they have in mind to deploy them. A lot of in-house lobbying might probably be going on as to which areas the tug boats should be deployed to, but the boats would only be sent to where they are needed most.
Your predecessor hammered on the fact that NPA was going into extinction due to dearth of junior workers and stagnation in promotion exercise If you talk of promotion, the extent that management has gone is very far, I am aware that sooner, there is going to be a promotion examination.However I will emphasise on the area of staff strength, the truth is that there is a lot of things going on that is not supposed to happen, if you talk of the concessioned areas, we do not have our people there because we don't have enough manpower which is the junior staff, we have more officers now than staff, and these officers cannot work like the junior staff, we have a lot of jetties but nobody goes there to check what is going on, this is where the insecurity comes in, and this is the area I want the management to focus on. I am also using this opportunity to call on the Minister of Transportation to look at this situation and give a matching order to the management of Nigerian Ports Authority through the Managing Director to employ enough junior staff, a situation whereby you have more officers than staff, how do you think such organisation can work? These officers are used to air conditioning, but we are the people staying inside the sun to do the job, I am not killing the aspect of growth, but where the officers are more than staff, then it has become an irony. Let me also inform you that since we are not properly manning these concessioned areas, we are not very sure that what is being remitted to NPA is what should be remitted, if you allow a concessionaire to bring an inflow to you and you are one of them, you would monitor the situation better. I am calling on the MD herself, the Executive Director Finance and Administration and General Manager Human Resources to look at this issue of junior staff employment, management should bring them in and let them grow on the job, so that the jetties would be properly manned. As it is now, we cannot say for real what is passing through the jetties, the concessionaires can bring in anything, we are not even sure that they are paying the right money to the Federal government through NPA. Officers cannot do the work of tally and clerks.
What steps are being taken to return towage services back to NPA? When I came onboard, it was the present MD that I met on seat, and I know that whatever happened in the past, I don't know to what extent the federal government is handling the matter. But we are in support that the towage service be handed back to NPA totally and even the harbours should be totally managed by NPA.
Do you see our ports working 24 hours and what are the challenges of them not operating round the clock?I think it is possible for the port to work 24 hours, already we have some areas that already work 24 hours, the fire service, security, traffic all work for 24hours, I do know that the NPA can revert back to its good old days. Looking at the constraints however, the insecurity is a major problem. Operators might be willing to work 24 hours, but a situation where their safety is not assured, they would not come forward. If the port is well illuminated and they post security agencies to man the area and they are proactive, Nigerians would be reassured, the NPA is not the issue, the issue lies with the customers, and the question is; would they be convenient enough to understand that the port is now operating on 24 hours? We are also going to interface with the MD to look at the modalities and the things that are already on ground. While we are on ground as employees of NPA, we would also look at the security of our members. I can guarantee you that should everything be put in place, our workers are eager to give their best, more so when we have a management that is ready to listen and improve workers’ welfare. I think in the number of years that this administration have come so far, they have done well.
One major body that can push government to repair the dilapidated Apapa roads is the union, but you are not talkingRecently, we gave an ultimatum to the APM Terminal through our active President General of MWUN; Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, the ultimatum was not only to APM Terminal, I am also aware that the leadership of the union has equally given ultimatum to the Ministry of Labour concerning the Tin Can Island Port roads, all these are geared towards ensuring that the access roads to the port area is given the priority attention it deserves. These are things I know that the federal government can take action on. With such gridlock on our roads all the time, we cannot achieve 24 hours cargo operations. What is your relationship with the present NPA management like? My relationship with NPA management is very cordial, I am first an NPA worker before becoming an NPA president, as a pressure group, I stand for the workers, I should be able to look at the eye of the management and tell them when they are doing well and when they are not doing well, for now I have not had any reason to say that they are not doing well, if you ask the relationship between me and the MD and other senior management team, it is very cordial, we see each other every other day to interface, but that does not mean that when it comes to workers’ welfare, I would betray the confidence the workers imposed in me.
Looking at the recent investigation of the management by the Senate, what is your stand?The Senate is a constituted body of its own, the Senators have every right and privilege to do as their duties and work schedule stipulates, so if they have any reason to investigate, we don't have any issue with that, as far as they are not biased about it, they are not investigating Hadiza Bala Usman as MD of NPA or any MD in particular, they are only looking at it to know if some people should be questioned and you cannot stop them from performing their civic responsibilities. The question now is; are there such things? Is it geared towards politicking or running somebody down? Maybe Hadiza Bala Usman is doing well and somebody somewhere is not comfortable because we have not had it this good before? Remember that these offices like the MD and the executive directors are based on appointments, so politicking is part of it, so what we are saying is that anyone that have come for workers welfare, we are also praying that God should protect them, let me tell today that we the junior workers have prayers, when we pray for somebody that 'God bless you', he will surely be blessed, but when we pray for any management that "God punish you", God would surely punish them, but for now, we are praying for this present administration, we are still on "God bless you", I hope they would not give us reason to say "God punish you".