“E-Call up is dead-on-arrival as it is at this point”
“Micura is the only stevedoring company in Nigeria that is ISO-certified”
Chief Micheal Orobosa Ubogu is the Managing Director of Micura Services Limited. In this interview with Shipping Position Daily team, he speaks on sundry issues in the Nigerian maritime industry.
What’s your perception about the Nigerian maritime industry so far?
To be honest, the industry has been quite progressive, even during the COVID 19 period the maritime industry was not really part of the industry affected, because vessels were still calling and operations were still moving. So I think they’ve got it right, and with the government coming up with the rail system linking the ports; that’s going to help also.
A lot of people have given up on Apapa traffic, what’s your perspective about the situation?
For a very long time now, a lot of people have given up on the traffic, but we have found short term measures to deal with it, and that is why water transportation is gaining a lot of momentum. I also saw the call up system that just collapsed and a lot of people actually thought it was the best thing that ever happened to solve the perennial traffic situation, but unfortunately, the Nigeria factor came to play, sabotage came in and you and I know that it is dead on arrival as it is at this point.
What do you mean by sabotage and Nigeria Factor?
Sabotage because a lot of people who were not benefitting from that system will have to find a way to kill it, that’s the Nigeria factor that I meant, perhaps they were not getting inducement so they feel the only way is to sabotage it and kill it. And that’s exactly what has happened. You and I know that, for now, the corrupt system is now working; so the gridlock is also back to where it was before.
So, what will be your advice to the NPA?
First is to have holding bays for trucks and to ensure that they dissipate all their energy to see that the e- call up system works, because if the e-call-up system works, you will see that the traffic will be a thing of the past, and also if there is proper security then most of these articulated vehicles will only work at night, they can work during the day inside the port, but after office hours in the night they can leave one location for another. There was a particular time they were doing that, but they complained that they were being robbed, so I think the government can also look at that; if you look at it, most of these things are caused by indiscipline, if you go to Liverpool port in London, for instance, there is a special lane created for small vehicles, you dare not even an each of the articulated vehicle to the lane, but we are not replicating those measures here, so indiscipline is thriving, and that’s why we are where we are today.
Are you saying there is no solution?
There could be a solution, but the solution has to be firm, because in the country there is no absence of law, but implementation has always been the problem, if you fall victim of any law, you have somebody that will call somebody and before you know it the system will compromise. But if mobile courts are in place, the moment you commit an offence and they try you and impound your vehicle and auction it, then sanity will return. So for you to bring sanity in Apapa then there must be firmness, decisions have to be made and followed irrespective of whose ox is gored, if there is a law and you fall prey of that law, then you should be dealt with.
Micura Stevedoring Company is relatively a young company, but it’s making waves, what’s the secret?
It’s also born out of the fact that we have also worked in other places before, and we brought the experience here. I had worked with Dangote, my partner also worked in Dangote; I worked in the sugar and he worked in salt, combined experience we have over 20 years’ experience. So some of the things we have learnt in Dangote is what we have brought to bear, and from day one, I have believed that the best way for any entrepreneur to progress is preventive, preventive is better because it’s cheaper to prevent and that’s why we said we have to be ISO-certified, and if you look at it in the whole of the maritime industry in Nigeria today, Micura is the only stevedoring company that is ISO-certified. We got that certification about four years back and ISO still came back for audit and assessment and we still met the criteria. Although we are not where we want to be at this point, but we are striving to get to where we want to be, and documentation is our watchword, we follow all documents the way it ought to be, to ensure that our customers get value for their money, and the services we render to them.
The MWUN has spoken so glowing about today’s dockworkers, what will you say about the dock workers of today?
If you listen to my comment during the delegate’s conference and election, I said fresh from paid employment in 2007, I had beautiful offers from some companies that run into six digits, but I had to make a decision about whether I want to work again or I want to work for myself, now I decided to work for myself, but another challenge was which environment do you want to work for yourself, and I decided to pick the maritime industry. Now the fact is the succession plan; from Tony Nted era to Adeyanju’s era, we’ve seen a lot of changes that is attitudinal changes, now the mob system they were used to even during transition from one government to the other has been eradicated, trainings have also opened their mindset, traveling abroad to meet their counterparts outside the shores of Nigeria has also opened their mindset. The system where you have the old order, where some people don’t work and others work for them have been eradicated, so today we have a more focused and more disciplined dock workers and that is because they have a leadership that charted a new course for them. So I am proud of this leadership, but the challenge also is that, will they be able to sustain the legacy when the current leadership exits in four years, that’s the current challenge some of us have, because if you look at the relative peace the industry has experienced in the last six years, it is unprecedented; I am happy as a person that I choose my career in the maritime industry and if you ask me 10 times over and over I will tell you I have no regret whatsoever.
What challenges do stevedoring companies face?
You know we don’t produce anything; we are only rendering services, competition is there, it is also like a master- slave relationship, because a man who gives you the job, dictates to you how he wants the job to be done, it’s not something that you can say okay ‘what you are paying me as administrative fee is not enough, so you have to go on strike’, because if you go on strike they will ask you to go, unlike the MWUN for instance, if they feel you are short-changing them, they have the right to address it and you can come down to the table to discuss it. But, as a stevedore, you may probably have no right to demand for any fairness, so that’s one of the major challenges we face. Then there is the problem of “Dogs eat Dogs”. For instance, you probably have a conversation with some of your colleagues explaining how a company is treating you, the moment you utter that, and they leave you, they will go and apply behind you to try and take the job, by reducing the quotation and begin to apply for that job. Secondly, you have insider-trading, if I apply for something at N80 for instance and there is an insider who probably has a sibling who also runs the same business, he can also tell them, ‘see this people are quoting N80, you put your own at N50’ and by that professionalism is undervalued and overlooked. So, these are some of the major challenges that we have.
What’s your perception to the face-off of between the MWUN and the IOCs over non-compliance with stevedoring regulations?
I think the government has probably failed in its responsibility, what the MWUN is fighting for today is not something that is out of place. If you go to NIMASA Act, it is clearly stated there, so what is NIMASA doing, its NIMASA’s responsibility because the maritime workers are losing revenue and at the same time they are losing job, for their members, because the IOCs are not engaging their dockworkers; it is the right of the MWUN to fight for the stevedoring companies, so that they can also employ their members because without stevedores, their dockworkers can’t be engaged. This is what the Act says; that even IOCs must engage the services of stevedoring companies vis a vis dockworkers to be able to do their operation, but reverse is the case, they are not doing that, but they are denying the dockworkers their right, first to union dues that they are supposed to take from their members and also denies their members the right to work on various oil platforms.
Closely connected to that, is the face-off between the union and APM Terminal which led to the closure of the port recently, what is your understanding of the conflict?
What they actually said they were fighting for was a situation where of course we have the local content and the expatriate quota. I think what the maritime workers’ union is saying is perhaps that APM Terminal as exceeded the expatriate quota or there are works that Nigerian can do, but they are flouting it by bringing foreigners from Cotonou, Ghana and all of that to come and do the job. I think that is what they are fighting for, and I think they have also reasoned that, yes they have done the wrong thing perhaps they will have to come to the negotiation table, I guess they have been able to resolve it.
Doesn’t that cast a big question on the competence and quality of indigenous manpower that we have?
I don’t want to believe that, because indigenously we also have our own challenge, I also feel before you do a placement you should also advertise internally and when you don’t see people that will fill in the gap, I can understand that. But did they follow the process by advertising internally?
If they have followed that, I am sure they would have presented evidence to the union to say ‘you know what’? – there was a vacancy here, we advertised but there was no Nigerian to fill the gap, then it is understandable. If they had done that also, they would have shown that to the union and perhaps the union too would have avoided the face-off and say ‘this people followed the procedure’.
You are a member of Nigeria Association of Stevedoring Companies, what is the relationship with Seaport Terminal Association of Nigeria?
Well, I used to be a member of the National Association of Stevedoring Companies, but unfortunately I don’t want to speak much about that because, I don’t want it to look as if I am casting aspersion on anybody. But I just feel the association does not feel some of the interest that we fight for and most of the decision that are being taken in that association, some of us who by law (I am also a zonal Vice President of the association) have not been carried along and at my level I don’t think I want to belong to an association where decisions are taken and maybe I just see it on paper or read it in the news and with my position as a national Vice President, I am not aware of such decisions, that was why I decided to pull out; as a company I have pulled out.
Doesn’t that promote disunity?
Of course, there is no law that says that before you practice stevedoring in Nigeria you must belong to an association, but there is a law that says before you become a dockworker or as a dockworker you must belong to Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria.
So, there is a distinct between the two; there is no law that states that, before you become a stevedore you must belong to the association; it is an individual thing either you want to belong or you don’t want to belong.