Since his election as the president general of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, Comrade Tony Nted Emmanuel has kept a low profile; not talking too much to the media, but concerning himself with the demands of his office. This is arguably, his first one-on-one media chat since the elections mid-March. In this first media encounter since his aged mother was abducted by militants about six weeks ago, Tony says that he suspects foul play; why, come along with me into the mind and opinions of the PG, MWUN in this no- holds- barred chat.
How has it been since you took over as the president general of the union?
Well, it has been hectic, but I believe that it is by the special grace of God that we are here and the same God that made us get through the election process is the one guiding us. It has been hectic because we are facing a lot of challenges and number one of them is that when the elections were concluded, some people came in to say that they have conducted their own parallel election in Lagos and so on and so forth, we have been battling all that. Recently, the minister of labour invited both parties to a meeting where he did justice to the whole thing and came out very clearly that the so called Lagos election was illegal and so, not recognized, because due process was not followed and that the Nigerian Labour Congress was not informed and that in fact these people are not even working in the ports. So, based on all these, he affirmed that the election is illegal. And we signed a communiqué in which we agreed with the minister; both parties signed it and that was where we ended the matter.
We had a lot of issues; before the election our office was attacked and so many people were injured, one of them is deputy president general Dahiru Talle who has been receiving medical attention since that time. He is now in London for further medical care and the information I gathered is that the Nigerian Ports Authourity has spent up to US$40,00 on his leg, it’s a very bad situation and a bad experience but we are trying and coping despite a lot of challenges. One of them is the issue tally clerks, for which agreement has been reached about their payment, but they are yet to be paid, we are battling all that. These are some of the challenges, there are a lot more, but we believe in God, we have taken the mantle of leadership and we are able to face these challenges.
Considering what you have just said, will you then say that you have effectively taken charge of affairs of the union?
Right now, as I am talking to you I am totally in control and we are moving forward, we have finished with the election of the branches and we are going to the district elections, yesterday NPA branch conducted four district elections and the dockworkers branch will commence their own on Friday, the shipping and sea men branch will also do the same and after this we will go to the units. Once we finish these, I think we would have got all the components in place and we will start to move from there.
Will you say that the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria is better now than it was some years back?
I will say that it is better than it was10 years ago, it was hectic, a lot of things happened in the ports which I will not want to go into. But in the past eight years, the system has changed, the dockworkers have come to embrace discipline and every dock worker in the port today knows what to do at every given time, the time of fighting, breaking of heads and killing people is gone and gone forever, we are starting from were my predecessor, Comrade (Onikolease) Irabor stopped as far as creating sanity in the ports is concerned and I think its okay for now.
What is the relationship between the union and the terminal operators like?
Our relationship is very cordial; each time we talk to them, they respond and when we call for a meeting, they are always there; they have joined hands with us at every given period to make sure that there is sanity in the ports. We are working together and the relationship is 100 percent cordial.
In your capacity as the president general of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, will you say that the port concession is succeeding?
Sometimes, we refer to port concession agreement as illegal because there was no law backing it, but today we understand that the National Assembly is trying to amend the Port Act and I think very soon, we will get a law that will back the concession. I have been in this port system for a very long time and I can tell you categorically that the port concession is succeeding because, if you compare now with what it was before when we had a lot of sharp practices in the ports, for me I can rate the terminal operators 60 percent for now because I believe they are doing very well; most especially those multinational companies like APMT, INTELS and if you talk about indigenous companies like ENL, Sifax and a host of others, I think they are trying but they need to improve.
There have been relative peace in the ports since you came on board as PG, why is this so?
There is peace in the docks because we always preach peace, we always organize what we call the ‘Dockers restoration’ were we pray that God should touch their heart, we pray to avoid accidents, we pray for sanity and we talk about discipline, we have been giving them a lot of education and I think that is the reason why there is peace as we see it today. Maybe government agencies are be doing a little to also give their support but we believe that we have always preached discipline to our members and that is the more reason why we are now witnessing peace in the industry.
What are you doing to reintegrate ‘outstead’ dockworkers back into the ports?
When we talk of outstead dock workers, the people I understand as outstead dockworkers have been paid – off. I remember we paid the aged men initially when JODLIC was in place; that was when government set up the agency to regulate activities of dockworkers called JODLIC; they brought the idea that the aged dockworkers should be paid-off. I was in that committee and at the end of the day we came out with a resolution that each aged dockworker will be paid N160, 000 and the money was paid to all of them that are aged at that time. And before the port concession was concluded, we also got the severance package of N200, 000 which some refer to as pea nuts, so I think most of the aged men have been paid – off, they are old, and they will not be able to come back to the ports to work. Some of them are 55 years old, while some of are about 60, 70 years and so on, so they can’t come back to the ports to work.
I think everyone should always love to seek peace. They have asked us to go and reconcile, and I think the ministry made it very clear that the election which held in Lagos was not recognized by law because they did not follow due process. But what I observe is that the people who purportedly conducted the elections in Lagos are not working in the ports, our constitution is very clear: it says that if you are not a financial member for a period of three months, you have no right to vote and be voted for, so they are not our members, some of them have left the port for the past five years and you can’t claim to be a dockworker after you have left the ports for the past five years, for you to be a docker, you must register with NIMASA and you must have a contract area, registration with NIMASA alone never makes you a dockworker but once the terminal operators submits your name, it means you are working. So majority of them are not working in the ports, when they talk about reconciliation, it is very simple, we agree and tell them we have forgiven you, go to the port and look for job because the union is not the employer of labour, it has to be with the terminal operator and stevedores. We are ready to do that reconciliation and I think it is the ex-president general who is going to organize the meeting and all of us will be there. The most important thing is that we have forgiven them, let us work together as brothers and friends, they should go to the terminal operators and look for who will employ them, it is not the union that will ask somebody to employ them or sack them. No.
Recently, your aged mother was kidnapped by militants; it must have been a very traumatic moment for you.
It was a very sad experience and that was not the first time, last year during the PDP election, my brothers went to the market to get some goods for my mother, they kidnapped them with the boat and took them to the creeks, they released my two brothers immediately with the goods. And after sometime and following so many pleas from friends, they released the boat and brought it to the village. We spent about N150, 000 just for the transportation of those who went to appeal to them. On the 20th of May again, they went to my village and kidnapped my mother with the driver and took them to the creeks, they spent about 32 days and if my mother relates their experience, you will almost shed tears; a woman of 73 years and they did some barbaric things to them. But one thing that I am sure of is that God will never let them go, they will have to pay the price for the atrocities and the evil they have committed against humanity. It was too painful and I know that the hands of the politicians may also be there because, we are involved in some community project there; maybe some of them are not happy and that is why (I say maybe), they may have been involved, may be not, but it’s very suspicious. When it happened, the local government chairman whom is the chief security officer of the local government area should be able to put in some efforts to make sure that our mother was released, even though he said he was also kidnapped but I don’t know if the story is correct but anyway, I leave everything in the hands of the Almighty God, it’s a very bad and terrible experience.
What do you think that the government should do to stem the tide?
I think the government knows what to do. but they don’t want to do it because I believe and I can say it anywhere that these boys are being groomed by the politicians, I remember in the port of Lagos when we raised an alarm before the first PDP election when the dockworkers came to my secretariat to alert me that some containers came in with arms and ammunitions and we raised an alarm but nobody listened. This container was escorted from the port by mobile police men from here to Port Harcourt, Bayelsa and so on for the purpose of defeating the opponent, and these are the boys they groomed, everybody knows this, so its not a hidden fact, they groomed them and bought them the guns, after the election the boys resulted to bunkering and kidnapping white men, when the white men ran away, they resulted to kidnapping their own fellow brothers in the name of fighting for marginalization. Isaac Boro did not fight this way and neither did Ken Saro Wiwa fight this way, so it’s a very bad thing when somebody begins to kidnap his own brother in the name of marginalization,. The President has granted amnesty for all of them and I think the best thing is for them to drop their guns and embrace amnesty and that is the only way forward; investors are running away, their fathers and brothers are suffering, people are running away from the village and they are deriving pleasure from that and government is watching them, grooming and keeping them for 2011 elections. For God’s sake, government has to do something; we can’t afford this level of insecurity. We say that we want democracy and that we don’t want military, you will wake up one day and the military will be back, we are the ones inviting them. The government needs to do something as quickly as possible. Look at how they attacked the Atlas Cove, there is no security in this country. According to television reports, the militants attacked the place for three hours; throwing dynamites and doing all sorts of things. I think that the Navy and the Army need to live up to their responsibilities, if there is no inside information, this kind of thing will not happen, for some people to bring five to 10 flying boats and begin to bomb a property that belongs to the Federal Government and nothing happened, they killed a military man and they went away; it’s a sign of insecurity.
How much did you pay to secure her release?
I think I will not go into that, because you know the militants will always demand, but at least we appealed to them and with the help of well- meaning Nigerians, they released my mother, which is all that I know. But, my mother spent 32 days there, even the state Governor said we should not pay any ransom; that they will release her, but she spent 32 days there; a 73 year old woman, even if they are demanding money and I have it, I will give them so that they will release my mother so that she will not die, but with well- meaning Nigerians appealed to them and we were able to bring my mother out.
What is your take on the recent removal of Dr Ade Dosunmu as the director general of NIMASA?
I think that is politics of the highest order, if anybody asks me that Tony do you love political appointment, I will say no, because some of them are given appointments and they are from then on, they are caged. Even in the National Assembly, most of them are hungry; all they do is take note and wait for any slight provocation or mistake, they will pull you out. If you know that you can be in the cage, then you can take the appointment, but if you do not want to be caged, then you forget about it. But for me, I am not interested in political appointments or politics, all am doing today is simply service to humanity which the union is and by the end of the day I will look for any other thing to do to make a living but for politics, forget me. Many of them have blood on their hands, they are not clean and if you don’t want to join them, they will pull you out, if you don’t want to listen to the voice of the master, then you are off from the system. It is either you choose to live in the cage with blood on your hands or you prefer to live a poor man and manage your life with your family. They are waiting for you to make mistakes, so that any slight provocation, you are gone and I think that is exactly what happens, but in this case, I may not know what happened, but the man has been removed and he is gone.
You worked with him as the PG of the union, what is your assessment of him?
(Laughs). You know I came in about three months ago, I have not had personal contacts with him, it is my predecessor in office who had always done that, but one thing I noticed is that NIMASA for the past three years have not trained any one dockworker, I said it at a recent meeting between us and them and their complaints was that the terminal operators refused to pay the 0.5 percent which is meant for the training of dockworkers, but I know that there are other sources form where they are generating revenue, they should be able to source money from there and do some other things, so why complaining? The former DG did not train even one dockworker.
So how do you intend to relate with the new DG?
If the new man wants to now work with us, fine and if he does not, he will go the same way and we are ready to protest violently this time around, any person whom they appoint into office and is who not ready to support the workers or give them their due will leave the industry, we will do everything, if he wants us to be violent, we will be violent to make sure that the man leaves and we will make the government understand why we don’t want the man to work with us.