Comrade Adewale Adeyanju is the President General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) and also Deputy President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). In this interview with Shipping Position Daily, he dwells on sundry issues affecting the maritime industry and the workers.
We know the MWUN is against the Port and Harbour Bill. So what’s the latest about it?
Well, the issue of Harbour Bill is a national issue that I think you all know where we are coming from. The action of this matter is to protect the welfare of our members because of what happened to us over the years where the government will tell us, no workers will lose their job. At the end of the day, they will always put these gimmicks of deceit coming to the union and that of its workers. So the Harbour Bill is still on course, but up till now, the National Assembly has not called us for stakeholders’ meeting. This is because anybody that is trying to introduce what has been buried, I think that person is on his own. For the union, whatever it is, we are set to mobilize our members for a action. So the bill is on course and the union’s actions will be on course too.
We remember that was how the Union took it in 2005/ 2006 and the government had its way and concessioned the ports. What assurance do we have that this time around, the union will stand its ground?
We actually stood our ground the last time. If we had not stood our ground the last time, that bill would have been passed. They would have sent the bill. But because we were pragmatic, we know what we are doing. We were proactive on our defence. This is because the union will always kick against something that is not good for the economy of this country. So the way we treated it the last time is the same way we are going to treat it is time. We are going to apply all machinery on this issue because there are areas that we feel that the union needs to be carried along. There are some bills that are good for economic purposes and there are some bills, too, that because everybody wants to make money, they will just sponsor all these anti-people bills that can kill the morale of the workers. So we are ever ready.
Are there specific areas that the union is against?
Well, insecurity is the order of the day now. We have not even studied the new bill properly. But we know what happened the other time when they are trying to decentralize port operations. How do you do that? We are trying to see the areas that are not good for our members, and we will look into the areas that are good for the economy too. We are not condemning it totally. But the areas that are affecting our members is what we are kicking against. There is no way you are going to divide the port into two or three. Where you are going to have a transport ministry. Why then are you talking about port efficiency? So if you are talking about having another transport ministry that is going to manage port operations, why do you create a ministry of Blue Economy? Because you removed the blue economy from the ministry of transportation. Who is the deceiving who? There are some aspects within the port operations that even the Nigerian Port Authority are not even performing well in that area, such as the Jetties’ operations. Over the years we always have TO, DLs of Jetties. But now, hardly will you see the presence of NPA in all those Jetties. Do you see the presence of even NIMASA that are even part of the economic regulators? They are not physical in all the jetties. So for somebody now coming out somewhere trying to sponsor an obnoxious Bill against the wishes of the workers, we are going to resist it.
Now that you mentioned the jetties, that takes me to the issue of the IOCs. Have you not lost that battle?
We have not lost it. I am going to give you the agreement we signed. There was a serious communique that we signed with all the IOCs. Some of them have started complying. Even all the offshore and midstream officials have equally signed the communique. I am going to show you a copy. So we have not lost the battle but rather we have won the battle against the IOCs. It is our responsibility as a union leader to focus on what we believe in. What we believe in is the welfare of the workers and genarating employment for the Nigeria workers. So if they comply now, it is going to add more employment to Nigerians who have no job. Some of our students are graduating every day. But with this we have gotten from the government and from the IOCs, it is going to create more employment for Nigeria workers.
It means that the union is not going on strike on account of the IOCs again?
We have issued threats upon threats. If some of them are trying to be funny, we might go back. We only suspended the threats. When you give the ultimatum, ultimatum is like an awareness between the union and the employers. So when the employers are trying to be funny, then we renew our ultimatum. So the way it is now, we have signed the communique. And I believe some of them have started responding properly. And I can assure you that we have won the battle against the IOCs.
We are in the beginning of 2024, naturally the union should have a plan for its members. What are the plans of the union for the year?
Well, we have started very well, I just came back from the UK to sign a very robust agreement for seafarers. We just signed the agreement for Nigerian seafarers, and very soon Nigerian seafarers will be smiling to the bank. Those are the good things that we have started this year. So we have our agenda. Our agenda still remains where we are and we are trying to improve upon those agenda about those employers of labour who have no regard for the workers, likely from the shipping branch. You know we declared a state of emergency in shipping where their remuneration is nothing to write home about, and where they are not ready to even pay attention to the welfare of workers. I think the Shippers Council, who the government has directed to midwife the minimum standard of shipping is on course, but if they try to be funny, we might be forced to ‘dance’ for them; which is normally part of our profession.
The union’s name has come up in this crisis rocking the truckers’ body. How comfortable is the union with the relationship with those who are managing truckers?
Our name must be prominent because we are working in the port and we are into transport business. There is no way we are not going to be part of those names. And the union also has a haulage district and haulage company that we floated. So we always align ourselves with responsible associations that are ready to do business with us. So our name must be prominent. Prominent in the sense that, yes, we are into business, we are in maritime, so our name will appear. But the one that is not good, you will not see us there. You remember the issue of COMTUA. We were part of COMTUA. We contributed immensely to COMTUA. When we found out that there was leadership tussle in managing COMTUA, we pulled out. And the way it is now, I don’t think we made a mistake of pulling out. We have justified why we pulled out. Because COMTUA has been divided into two, three or four where some splinter groups have already come up again in the name of NAMTOP and others. They were all formed within COMTUA. We have various associations and we can only pick responsible associations among those splinter groups. So that’s why we are still prominent in the haulage department.
The approaches to the ports in Lagos is still very chaotic. What is the stand of the union on this?
Our stand still remains, because I remember last year, we made some noise about the Tincan Island and Apapa ports that the government should look inward and make sure that they fix the roads properly. You don’t put trucks on the road when there is no parking space? You provided Ijora for them. Who is managing Ijora? How is it working? Where do you ask people to be parking their trucks? It’s not working and you have “Eto” that is regulating those trucks on the road. Eto is working underground, but there are some people that are sabotaging the effort of Eto. So truck owners also need to blame themselves too, because if you are into the business of trucking, you should have where to park your truck; not on government roads. We have written series of letters to this new administration about fixing the two roads that is Apapa and Tincan.
As a union, what agenda would you set for the Ministry of Maritime and Blue Economy for 2024?
Have I seen the minister myself? Is it not somebody who you have seen you will say you are going to set an agenda for? We have not met our minister. He is our leader. We have not met him and it’s almost six months in office. Some people are blocking us not to see him. Those who are entertaining fears because one day, the union will meet him. We are going to see our leader. He is our leader. We respect him so much. He is one of the performing governors before he came in as a minister and will believe he is going to perform. But some people don’t want us to see a minister and the minister cannot do without the union.
Why would some people not want the union to see the minister?
They are entertaining fears. They are afraid. You know when you have skeleton in your cupboard, you will be telling the minister, don’t worry, we know how to manage the union. But when the time comes, when the union is going to behave the way the union needs to behave, they will open that door for us to see the minister. We have sent letters of congratulations to him. We have sent letters of courtesy visits, up till now, he has not opened his door. So I believe he is taking time to study the environment. He is going to look at us very soon.
But still, that does not remove the fact that as the PG of the union and the deputy president of NLC, there must be some things in the industry that you would wish the minister would attend to in 2024. What are those things?
Well, there are issues that are still on ground. This include the issue of aged seafarers. I think by now it should have been settled. A committee was set up by the former minister to review the payment of the aged seafarers who worked with the defunct NNSL. So we are hoping that the file is before the new minister of Marine and Blue Economy, where the task force committee will review and do what we call physical verification of all the aged seafarers. Already they have written to us and we are waiting. The dates have not been announced. So NIMASA and NPA have been commissioned to take care of the matter. We will use this medium to thank the DG of NIMASA who have been most concerned on this matter of aged seafarer. So we still have the issue of onboard gangway men too. There are a lot of under-declaration of cargoes that is taking place in port operations, as a result of not having people to tally those cargoes. It’s happening and I can tell you categorically that we know what is going on underground.