Prince Adewale Adeyanju is the President General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria(MWUN). In this interview with Shipping Position Daily ahead of the union’s election coming up later this month, he speaks about his first term, his aspiration for another tenure and what to expect when he gets re-elected.
What kind of Union did you meet four years ago?
The union that I met was a progressive union, what I meant by progressive union is that we came in 2001, under the tutelage of our great leader Comrade Onikolease Irabor, after him, we had my big brother and friend, Tony Emmanuel, and here I am today. The union was so tough in the sense that we know the name they used to call the MWUN, they say maritime workers union are violent and all that, but as a grass root man who worked with those leaders of integrity, I was able to tap from them and I consolidated on what they laid down as a progressive, to have government of unity and that is how we are able to manage ourselves up to this time.
How will you describe your last four years in office?
Whatever position you are in life, you need to put everything in the hand of God. Our four years were years of progressive ideas, progressive mind, where we were able to make sure that all the four branches of the union were touched, we improved on what we met on ground and the support of all the four arms of the union is something to write home about and we believe we are into business and proper unionism; not just clamouring for money, but we believe money will come after we have served the workers, because what is supposed to come to your mind as a leader as the President General of the MWUN is the welfare of the workers, which is paramount. You are elected to serve and you must serve them diligently and not to serve them to your own pocket, you shouldn’t be a selfish leader and people will know you have done well, not the one who will be creating crisis upon crisis. So our four years were years of peace, and we are able to make sure that the Collective Bargaining Agreement between our employers and the union were met as at when due, you know that of the shipping is one year while the dock workers’ condition of service is now two years; we were able to consolidate on that too and that of the seafarers is like that too, and you know NPA they are government workers, so we don’t have any much problem we were able to improve on the welfare of the workers across the four branches of the union.
What kind of relationship did you build with the terminal operators and shipping companies during your last four years?
It was a robust relationship we had with them, I can tell you that we disagree and agree in principle and if I disagree with one terminal operator, that does not mean that’s the end of everything. I may disagree with any if they did not meet up with the condition of service of the workers, but at the end of the day we sit and settle it out as a family; not bringing the idea of fire brigade approach as it was in the past; that when you want to meet an employer you would have already send two to three or four gangs to go and wait for you there, that’s no longer in the history of this union, we have already buried that and we won’t allow that kind of system to continue. So the MWUN of today has a robust relationship with them, but this is not to undermine the working condition of the workers, if I have a robust relationship with you, if you go against that relationship then the union will apply the option “b” that they required for.
What is the option “B”?
If somebody is going against the principles and ideology that is contained in the CBA and flouting the agreement reached, then we will dance for the person, we call the drummers to come and drum, then we will get our result.
What are the specific challenges in the branches and how were you able to surmount them?
Well, I think when I came in onboard, the first challenge I think I met was from NPA, the issue of the Ports and Harbour Bill which was like a test case for my leadership and thank God we were able to manage that with the support of all the branches, because the kind of unionism we run here is that of collective ideas; before I take any decision I must consult widely , so that was what I met on my table resuming as the PG of MWUN, the bill was seeking to put thousands of workers in the labour market, but we were able to succumb it and the issue of Port and Harbour Bill will not resurface again and even if it is going to come out, it will come out in a way that will give more employment to workers and not to downsize the workers and kudos to the Managing Director of NPA who came in at the right time and was able to manage the situation along with us together with the management of Nigeria Labour Congress and that was how we were able to put the issue of Harbour bill to rest. Then for the dock workers, that’s the branch I came from and as the defence minister myself, we were able to manage them because they know the kind of leader they have; that I will never tolerate indiscipline, because a good leader must know how to discipline his followers and they understand my do’s and don’ts and we were able to let them know that opportunity has been given to dock workers to manage the affairs of this our great union, and that I needed their support so that we can change the name they used to tag the dockworkers and I was able to move along with them and today, the dock workers are reformed, they are of standard and educated and we are connecting with them. And for the seafarers, they are like husband and wife with dockworkers; their challenges have to do with their gratuity, we know what happened to the defunct Nigeria National Shipping Line, because there was no proper structure for them, that was why they were not able to be paid their gratuity when NNSL was liquidated. But, as I am talking to you, the union is on it and the issue is before the Minister of Transportation with the support of the NLC president and other members of the union, we are still fighting that they should be given what belongs to them, because they served this nation and whatever that is due to them should be given to them; that is where we are for the seafarers. And for the shipping branch, when we came on board what we met on ground was the poor remuneration coming from the management of some of the shipping companies and that was why the union declared state of emergency in shipping and for the past two years the salary and remuneration of some of the shipping workers have been increased and despite the fact that COVID 19 stalled our engagement with them, but with the way and manner the president and executives from that branch that are working with me here have handled the situation, they have been working hand in hand within our principles and ideologies to make sure that the workers’ salaries are improved upon. But we can say the way and manner the shipping companies are treating the workers is nothing to write home about and that was why we declared state of emergency, we are not going to stop on that, we are still on it, after our election they will see us with our green and white as typical union leader to remind them that we have not forgotten what we all have agreed , their take home is very important , just like the dock workers and any other branches , you can’t just put somebody on one grade level for 15 to 20 years without improvement. If you know any shipping worker, they will tell you their take home and even the dock workers of today their salary is even more than what the shipping staff are taking, so after our conference, we will look into that.
What will you consider as your most important achievement in the last four years?
A leader without good follower is not a leader, when we came in on board we believe we should run what will call proper unionism, we are now in a global world were things have changed, you cannot remain stagnated in one particular place, as a union leader you should focus on diversification, there are some unions that are not up to MWUN and if you see their investments, you will be amazed. So we felt coming in here as a grass root man who is an insider, I felt we needed to diversify into so many business areas and we went into haulage business and other businesses that will better the lives of our members. We were able to have a cooperative society because I felt a union of this magnitude should be able to have cooperative society and cooperative means revolving loans from one person to the other and we now have almost 1000 that have keyed-in and I tell you it has come to stay because the people that are managing it are capable. Just like I said we are into haulage business we believe we can’t be inside where things are taking place and you are being sidelined, we felt there was need for us to go into haulage business and our second truck has arrived and we are going to commission it to let the whole world know that MWUN is into haulage. But I will say peace is the uttermost principle of a good leader because when you taste a war, you will know how to manage peace and that is what is going on in MWUN, we have tasted war in so many years and we know what it looks like, so we now feel that there is need for us to embrace peace and that is working and helping the system, so peace is the ultimate goal or achievement of the MWUN in the last four years, where today all the stakeholders can sleep with their two eyes closed, where today nobody will come to shut down a terminal in the name of ‘PRO’. So those are part of the legacies we are setting, so that when another person comes, he will improve on that, it is not that we are weak, but, if anyone thinks we are weak, let the person put his hands in our mouth and we will let the person know how peaceful it is to put your fingers in somebody’s mouth. So I will say peace is key and we must sustain it.
What are your plans for second term?
It will be year of restoration and consolidation, many will be afraid and many will think maybe I will hide my identity, I am still myself; I am a humble person and the way you have seen me over the years will be the same way I will remain, we will make sure that we correct the wrongs and the area we have not touched, we will touch and what is paramount is the peace we are talking about where the dock workers will be able to sit down with you and embrace you as a port worker, where seafarers will be able to sit down with shipping staff and say yes we are brothers, so I think this is what we are all praying for, so I want to tell the stakeholders that they can sleep with their two eyes closed, because the union of today is not a violent one.