By Oluyinka Onigbinde
The leader of the over 2000 employees of the defunct Nigeria National Shipping Line (NNSL), Mr. Esua Okon, has threatened to picket the headquarters of the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in Apapa on Monday (today) with the families of the deceased NNSL staffers, including their widows and next of kin.
This he said is as a result of the non-payment of their benefits 28 years after the liquidation of the national carrier.
The leader of the aged seafarers, who spoke to our correspondent via telephone over the weekend, lamented that NIMASA has remained insincere despite promises to begin payment to the aged seafarers.
Recall that NIMASA had announced recently that the agency and the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) had begun discussions on resolving the lingering issue of terminal benefits for seafarers whose appointments were terminated due to the liquidation of the defunct NNSL in 1995.
The Director-General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, was said to have met with the President-General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, last week, announcing an agreement for physical verification of the affected seafarers or their next of kin, the nature of appointment of all affected seafarers, and the exact amount due to each beneficiary.
However, reacting to the development, the leader of the aged seafarers group described NIMASA’s move as lies to deter them from pursuing their entitlement. This is even as he said over 2000 members of the defunct NNSL are set to shut down NIMASA headquarters from 7 am on Monday morning.
Okon stated that after several failed verifications, they are tired, lamenting that in the last seven months, over 10 of its members have lost their lives while waiting to get their entitlement benefits.
He lamented that hundreds of its members have died since the process of verification and payment plan began.
Lamenting further, he said: “They are deceiving themselves that they want to do it every now and then; they told us that they are coming to do verification and that they will do it in Port Harcourt, Calabar for our members instead of them paying their way to Lagos or Abuja.
“So that was what they told us, but up till now, nothing has been done. Then the next thing we heard was the ministry giving NIMASA an order to release money for those coming for verification; that is outside the state.
“We heard that they said they were going to meet with the union; the chairman of the seamen’s branch of MWUN had earlier told us they asked him to come to Abuja for a meeting, but later said he couldn’t go because of the strike that held then. All these are all lies, and we have suffered enough.
“So they are looking for every means to paralyze our movement. Then they continue to tell us that before the end of the year, our package will come. And there’s no sign. We don’t see anything,” he lamented.
Speaking further, he explained that for disbursement to take place, “There must be verification to know those who died and those who are still alive and their beneficiaries. I mean, next of kin.
“And before we do all those things, the must come out to say yes, your money is ready. The whole year is gone. So we discover that they are all telling lies.
“So now, on our own, last Tuesday, we decided to go protest at NIMASA on Monday, 11th December.
“We are going to protest there, block the NIMASA before 7 o’clock in the morning before they resume work. So that’s where we are now. And I call everybody, wherever they are. We are a community of over 2000 people now, both the beneficiaries and the next of kin, the widows of the seamen. They should assemble in the designated roundabout, very close to the NIMASA by 7 o’clock.
“So at 7 am, we move and block the gate. We have called the police; the police will be there with us that Monday.
“What I had now is that they wanted me to come for a meeting on that Monday at the MWUN headquarters. They said the NPA and the NIMASA released some money for those who came for verification. I know all that is to stop our verification effort. I have said I am not going. It’s a lie. Because they know, I think they must have heard the rumor that we are going to protest. So that’s why they are looking for every means to block us.
“So I, for one, as a leader, a chairman of the unit, I rejected, I refused. I’m not going to meet them. That Monday, I will resume at NIMASA, as simple as that.
“And since May, we have lost 10 people. From May to now, we have lost 10 people. We are over 2000, but since the issue of this defunct NNSL began, over 100 people have died,” he said.
Meanwhile, NIMASA DG Bashir Jamoh had accused some of the disengaged seafarers of not having employment letters in a recent press statement released by the agency.