Even though the battle against BUA Terminal and its vessel; MVBUA Cement 1 has been on for quite a while, it was only a few weeks to the expiration of the tenure of the last leadership of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria that it became public knowledge, courtesy of an ultimatum which the union issued on February 17th. But last week, the union was jolted by a publication in which its leadership was accused by the management of BUA Port and Terminals of being used by an unnamed competitor to disrupt the company’s operations at a berth in Port Harcourt port.
Shipping Position Weekly was part of those with whom the new President General of the union, Comrade Tony Emmanuel Nted spoke with. But, in our usual manner, we took a step further than the ordinary by seeking the reaction of the management of the embattled company. We present the response of executive director, BUA, Mr Chima Madukwe to the allegations.
“We have broken no law, but the Union is being used against us”
Before this has there been any intervention on the part of Nigerian Ports Authourity?
The Management of Nigerian Ports Authority convened an emergency meeting in which BUA management, NIMASA management and the Union were in attendance. At that meeting, a 10- man committee was set up to investigate the operation of the cement factory and the union’s allegations.
Has the report been submitted?
The Committee has since submitted its reports. The reports confirmed among others that foreigners were performing the jobs of dockworkers and seafarers and also that the factory vessel was berthed in common user berths as alleged by the Union.
What has been the response of the management
Rather than paying attention to the real issue of giving out the jobs of Nigerian dockworkers and seafarers to foreigners BUA Terminal management has intensified its blackmail on the leadership of the Union by recklessly alleging that the union was being sponsored by some organizations against them. We are an organized labour whose only interest and role is to fight for and defend the rights of our members. We therefore cannot be deterred by such blackmail. We insist that the management of Nigerian Ports authority implements the Recommendations of the Committee in full without further delay. The Union shall not be held responsible for the consequences of further delay on this as earlier convened in our letter Ref. MWIJNiMD!NPA/A!09 dated 20th March, 2009 addressed to the Managing Director of Nigerian Port Authority.
Some people had insinuated that the war against BUA Terminal has an indirect link to the union’s recent elections.
I want to clear one impression; that this issue has nothing to do with our election. We have given ultimatum to the Nigerian Ports Authority since on the 17th of February and the Nigerian Ports Authority called for a meeting of the union, the BUA terminal and NIMASA in order to find a lasting solution to the issue, a committee was set up and the committee travelled to Port Harcourt to investigate and find out whether the allegations levelled against the BUA terminals by the union is right or wrong. The committee came out with a report containing some recommendations. But, the report has been with NPA since it was submitted; as I am talking to you now, nothing has been done about it.
What is your next line of action?
What we intend to do is what we are doing now, we are asking NPA to implement the report immediately and without further delay or else by the expiration of our ultimatum on Wednesday, April 8, we don’t know what will happen, the union should not be held responsible.
What specific issues does the union have with the management of BUA Terminal?
Based on the Cabotage law, any vessel whether registered in Nigeria or not, once she trades on Nigerian territorial waters within three months doing domestic sailing must be registered as a Cabotage vessel. This means that every crew on-board that vessel must be Nigerians, apart from the captain and the chief engineer, every other crew on board should be Nigerians, but in this case the reverse is the case. This vessel MV BUA Cement 1 came to Nigerian ports berthing in Lagos first on September 1, 2008, and she has been doing domestic business on the Nigerian territorial waters for the past seven months and all the crew men on board are foreigners. As I am talking to you now we have about 28 Srilanka nationals on board that vessel who engage in dock work and stevedoring work at the expense of Nigerians. Therefore we demand that these foreigners be replaced with Nigerian dock workers and seafarers who are legally qualified to work on that vessel.
Your union have also alleged revenue leakage on account of the activities of the vessel, how?
Yes, if you put in a factory vessel at the quay apron and the vessel discharges about 26,000 metric tones within 30 days and you also put another vessel; maybe, a rice vessel carrying about 36,000 metric tones and you are able to offload that vessel within one week and she leaves and another ones comes up offload and left, it means that you will discharge about 100,000 metric tones within a month. If you compute the revenue that the dock workers are losing and the one the federal government is losing, it is very enormous, that is why we have said that because of revenue leakage this factory vessel should not be allowed to berth at the common user area, what we call common user area in the port is where other vessels can berth, offload and leave. So we did not say that BUA cement should not operate in Nigeria, but that they should take this cement factory to any jetty, get a jetty for your self, like what is being done in Ibru cement, Rock cement and other cement factories in Port Harcourt and other places. Operating from a common user area is not allowed, even the port concession law does not allow a cement factory to be located at common user facility and that is our bone of contention and these are some of the things embedded in the reports.
I want to clear one impression that the Nigerian sea farers can not do that job, during military regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo Nigeria had about 19 vessels under the Nigerian National Shipping Line. All the captains aboard that vessel, including engineers, ship mates, oilers and others were all Nigerians. I want to assure you that we have enough Nigerian qualified sea farers who can man deep sea-going vessels talk less of a vessel that is birthed at the port here, we have more than qualified Nigerians who can handle her. There is no excuse for them not to replace these Srilanka nationals and put Nigerian seafarers on board. The other day I was watching television and they talked about re-branding Nigeria, somebody said it will be better for us to re-brand our self and search our conscience before talking of re-branding Nigeria. Nigeria is a country were everything goes, about some weeks ago, we got the information that those 28 foreigners on board the vessel were arrested by Immigration, they were brought to Lagos and were later taken to Abuja, but what we saw after two days was that those people were brought back to the vessel. That is why this is a country were anything goes, and we can not know if this country has become a lawless country where anything can happen. In a situation where someone commits illegality and that person was arrested and within two or three days, the person was brought back to the vessel. It is a challenge to all of us including the press, we need to find out from the Nigeria Immigration Service and the Cabotage department of NIMASA what is happening, because it is the duty of NIMASA to implement the Cabotage law, it is the duty of Immigration to know when illegal aliens are in this country, it is also their duty to know when these people should or should not work. It is the duty of the Nigerian Ports Authority to know when a vessel berths illegally; it is the duty of these unions to bring these things to public knowledge. It is also the duty of the leadership of this union to make sure that our members work where they are supposed to work. If nothing happens from now till Wednesday, if that committee’s report is not implemented, whatever happens, the union should not be held responsible.
Why did you engage Srilankans?
Let me start by saying that this is not the first time that the vessel is being put in to use; the vessel was working in another part of the world before it came to Nigeria. It’s not a Nigerian flag vessel, this is a vessel that operates in other parts of the world; where there is a need or demand it comes in there and then goes to another part of the world. Once the mission is accomplished, which is to meet up with the urgent need for cement in the country, the ship goes elsewhere.
That same vessel has been crewed by the same people that are on board that vessel today and they have always been on board the vessel, because it’s a very big vessel with advanced technology. Even when you want to deploy people it takes time for you to put them through and train them because they are professionals and technical people so that is just that. There has never been a time that we told them not to engage Nigerians, the process has already begun and that’s the truth.
Why do the foreigners on board the ship have fake documents?
That’s an issue for the Nigeria Immigration Service and I am sure labour has not added that to part of their mandate as they don’t deal with immigration matters. Let’s just confine ourselves to the issue at hand, if somebody’s visa or passport expires, let him go to the Immigration Service or to the embassy. We have our own department that handles that and we have our office in Abuja and we have managers who handle such issues with immigration, so that’s not the work of the union. The issue of berthing of the vessels between BUA and NPA, which of course, I am sure NPA, is up to its responsibility and before that vessel came, we had informed NPA, and have an understanding between BUA and NPA and the vessel and about how it should berth.
Any improvement in the welfare of your dockworkers?
Definitely there has been a change in the benefits accruable to the dockworkers who are working in our terminal. NIMASA is aware of that, dockworkers that used to earn so little are earning so much now and that is why they are not happy about what is going on at the moment Before now, they are not getting what they have now, there is positive result on vessels coming to the Port Harcourt area, more vessels coming in and that is more revenue for the Federal Government. You can investigate, go to NPA and get the profile of the last two years for vessels coming into Port Harcourt. You can use that to asses whether it is creating more benefit to Nigerian and Nigerian government or not.
How many tones of cement are you bringing in?
The number of tonnage varies; maybe one or two vessels in a month; I can assure you that there are other people in Port Harcourt that bring cement in every week.
High cost of cement
We have measures put in place to ensure that government’s agenda is met and the issue of middlemen, I think my marketing team will work on that so as to make sure that artificial means are not created to cause scarcity. I can tell you that right now BUA Cement is one of the cheapest in the market, but, it is good for you to find out for yourself. BUA as a group is focused, in terms of products, employers, you can go out there and buy our product say BUA flour and see for your self what we are talking about; that we stand out in all we do. It’s natural that in the business world people get jealous or see you as a threat. What we are against is using agencies and not saying the truth or going on to say that people are dying, even when there is no iota of truth in it. There are other people who are into the same business for years and people are not raising issues, you media men are the eyes of Nigerian public and it’s up to you to now judge what is going on.
There are allegations that MV BUA Cement is not registered in Nigeria and it’s still doing business in Nigeria.
Yes, the vessel is carrying a Panama flag; it’s accepted even all over the world. Liberia is a small country and you find out that a lot of countries flag their vessel in Liberia, even in Nigeria, most vessels flag from Liberia with confidence and nobody disturbs anybody. Even in Nigeria let’s look at the Cabotage law; it gives you the room if you are flagging a foreign vessel, look at the registration, look at the benefits, nobody tells you to do this or not do this. But if you are a foreign flag, the law tells you that you have to apply for some exemption and waivers, our people have gone to NIMASA to pick up all requirements but when someone who is in the union starts talking about the flag here, you should ask questions, we are business men and at every point in time, you know what the law says and you abide with the law. If you are in Customs, you restrict your self to Customs administration.
What effect does the vessels operation have on the marine environment?
There is a report on the issue and I hope you have seen it. It’s good that fair is fair; this Nigeria belongs to all of us no matter where we come from and then we should be able to allow a free environment for people to operate.