Workers in the nation’s maritime sector are warming up for a showdown with the Federal Government over the discreet plans to go ahead with the passage of the controversial Ports and Harbour Bill amendment Act by the National Assembly.
The Bill has already passed the third and final reading at the Senate and is expected to proceed to the House of Representatives for concurrence, after which it will be transmitted to President Bola Tinubu for assent.
The Ports and Harbour Bill seeks to repeal the Nigerian Ports Authority Act, 1955, as amended. The Workers’ fear stemmed from the idea that the Bill would lead to massive job losses in the ports.
Our correspondents confirmed last week that the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) is already galvanizing support across its four branches, namely: Dockworkers branch, Nigerian Ports Authority branch, the Seafarers branch and the Shipping branch as a prelude to what the union called a mother of all battles with the Federal Government and the National Assembly.
Apart from the four branches, the MWUN is also collaborating with the Senior Staff Association in the Nigerian Ports Authority.
In addition to these, our correspondents also learnt that the workers have engaged the services of a team of lawyers to scrutinize the new Bill, and fish out the contending sections thoroughly.
The law firms, whose identities could not be confirmed as at press time have commenced work on the Bill. Their preliminary submissions reportedly highlighted the dangers inherent in the amendment Bill.
Our sources at the National Assembly confirmed that the 9th National Assembly actually discretely passed the controversial Bill, and that the current Senate is going ahead to repackage the Bill for assent by President Bola Tinubu.
Impeccable sources at both chambers of the National Assembly confirmed to our correspondent last week that the Bill was actually one of the last few that were passed to the then-President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent.
Confirming the fear of job losses and the plans to engage the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the President General, MWUN; Comrade Adewale Adeyanju told one of our correspondents on Saturday that the duo of NPA Senior staff and the MWUN are already on top of the matter.
“Our response is total rejection of the evil Bill. We have already concluded arrangements to communicate this to President Bola Tinubu. Our letter of protest is ready and will get to the Presidency any moment from now”, he said.
Speaking further, he told Shipping Position Daily that, the collectivity of workers in the maritime sector is against the Bill. “We are not going to accept that Bill, it is not in the interest of Nigeria as a country, it also does not reflect any consideration for the Nigerian workers”.
He recalled that the leadership of the MWUN had cause to shut the ports for three days in the past before the Bill was dropped in 2017. “It took wise counsel to former President Muhammadu Buhari to stop him from assenting to the Bill. The same lawmakers again almost pushed him to sign the Bill into law before the end of the last administration on May 29, 2023”, he recalled.
He however lamented that the controversial Bill has been fine-tuned for presentation to President Tinubu for his assent. We know that the President will not be deceived into signing a Bill that will cause chaos in the strategic maritime sector. We have kept the peace in the industry for long and we are desirous of seeing that the President succeeds in his ‘Renewed Hope’ agenda.
“As workers, we do not see how amending the Port Act will facilitate the objective of the new Marine and Blue Economy, rather, we see a determination to further strip the Nigerian Ports Authority of the remaining responsibilities, especially after the ports were concessioned in 2006”.
Another source who corroborated the position of the MWUN PG, also told our correspondent that, the Bill that is being pushed by the 10th National Assembly specifically seeks to further strip the NPA of its pilotage duties.
He explained that, “After the ports were handed over to the private terminal operators in 2006, the workers in the NPA were reduced from about 15,000 to about 2,000. This is because port concessioning stripped the NPA of its stevedoring duties. It was handed over to terminal operators. This Bill is only interested in taking over the pilotage duties of the NPA”.
He affirmed that “pilotage is the main source of revenue for the NPA and that it is this the National Assembly is plotting to handover to those whose interest is pecuniary, personal and alien to national interest”.
Independent sources at both the NPA Senior Staff Association as well as the MWUN and the NPA branch of the union confided in our correspondents over the weekend that a strategic meeting has been scheduled for this week (actual date undisclosed) to agree on the modus operandi to tackle the National Assembly, which they alleged never took the workers’ inputs in the build-up to the passage of the Bill.
When passed into law, the bill will repeal the Nigerian Ports Authority Act CAP 126 LFN 2004 and see to the establishment of the Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority.
According to its drafters, the Bill “will provide for an appropriate institutional framework for the ownership, management operation, development and control of Ports and Harbours and ensure the integrity, efficiency and safety of the ports based on accountability, competition, fairness and transparency and also encourage greater private sector participation in the maritime industry through investment in Infrastructures