By VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG
PRESIDENT-GENERAL of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN, Comrade Anthony Nted, who also is a Vice President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, in this interview with Labour Vanguard, spoke about ports concessioning, terminal operators, and insecurity among others. Excerpts
The issue of security When you get to the ports you will find out that it is not as it was before when Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, was managing it. The number of people, the inflow into the ports especially miscreants and those who have no business in the ports have reduced to the barest minimum.
Today, you will find out that most of the terminal operators have fenced their areas of operations making it difficult for miscreants to come into the ports. But our major concern is the vessels that come into the ports. When a vessel comes into the port, the Customs come in to do their job and leave with the documentation but the people that actually do the loading and off loading from the beginning to the end are the Dockworkers.
Theirs is the most important aspect of the job. That is why we have impressed it on them to be security conscious by having the eagle’s eyes to look out for anything inimical to the security of the country and raise alarm. We have intimated them of the need to take the issue of security very serious in the ports because unscrupulous elements and enemies of Nigeria can bring in weapons and other destructive things to distabilise the country.
We made them to understand that not only the customs or other security agencies have security duties in the ports, they also have a right to raise alarm if they find anything incriminating in containers. We told them that they could report to the customs, the police or to the NPA and even to the union who will in turn intimate the authority on the findings especially when such discoveries are dangerous to the country.
Though because of the so-called Nigeria factor, you and I know that some people could collect N1.00 and allow their mothers to be killed, but we have warned the Dockworkers that when they find anything incriminating inside a container and fail to raise alarm it would be to their detriment.
Influence of corruption
I agree that corruption is everywhere and it has eaten deep into every fabric of Nigerian system. We have made it clear that anyone caught collecting anything in form of gratification or bribe will be expelled from the industry and it will be very grave for such a person.
We made it very clear that if they collect money or any gratification from anybody to conceal any dangerous thing they find in a container, they should remember that they have brothers in the market place, have sisters in school, have relatives in the churches and other places who could be victims of violent attacks.
Since our administration came into office over three years ago, the ports has remained peaceful and the Dockworkers have been reformed. When I visited Apapa ports, over 2,000 workers came to welcome me. If it were before, it will be violence, vandalisation, fighting and so on. But you do not see such things again, that shows that the Dockworkers have been reformed.
Performance of terminal operators
Like we have always said, the port belongs to the government and they deserve the right to do whatever they want to do with the ports. That is the reason when the government said it wanted to privatise or concession the ports to allow for private participation, we had no other option than to support it.
If you look at the ports today, it is better compared to when NPA was managing it. Now NPA just seats back and collects royalties and does oversight functions. The terminal operators do most of the maintenance and repairs. However, that does not mean they are doing hundred per cent of what it is expected of them.
While some are doing very well, others are terrible and are unti-labour. I can give you a typical example of some, like APM Terminals, APMT, to us as organized labour, is the greatest drawback to the port concessioning of the government. Similarly, we rate Intels as the best terminal operators in Nigeria.
APM terminals is a company you reach an agreement with today, tomorrow they will not honour the agreement. You cannot go to APMT and talk to them on “gentle man” basis. What I mean by gentleman basis is, if they say something will be given to the workers and this is not written down or documented, before you turn your back, they will do a different thing entirely.
I will tell you what happened during the January fuel hike strike. Eight of our members, working on containers that carried frozen fish, APMT asked them to be on standby to mount the generator and take care of every other thing and that they should not go home, promising that they would give them N25, 000 for accommodation. APMT told them that
they would be given N5, 000 first and the remaining N20,000 would be paid into their accounts after the strike.
The workers stayed behind because if any of the containers defroze , the fish would spoil, it means that the company would pay heavily for the damaged goods. So the workers took pain to do as APMT asked and at the end of the day, APM terminal refused to honour the promise to the workers.
Just last year, we had a meeting with the company and said, look there is need for you to provide buses for our members in your company to bring them in and take them to various part of Lagos close their destinations. It was agreed between the company and us.
The company said it would be done first quarters of 2012. Till now they have refused to buy a single bus and they want the workers to provide 50 percent of the money before they could buy the buses. There are too many unfair labour practices we can talk about concerning APM Terminals which I do not want to talk about here.
The welfare of the staff of any organization should be paramount. But for APMT, it is not so. However, we are out for companies that are slave drivers. Nobody can come into this country and turn Nigerians into slaves. We have sent out signals and we have written to them intimating them that most of the issues that have not been addressed must be addressed as quickly as possible otherwise; the union will have no other alternative than to withdraw the services of our members. But other terminals are doing well, like ENL Terminals, Intels and so on . Go to their terminals and you will see that they are doing well.
Concessioning of Pilotage district
We are all involved in the governance of this nation in one way or the other. It is not all about concessioning or privatisation. We are all living witnesses to what have happened to most of the parastatals that have been concessioned and privatised.
The National Assembly has said most of them would be revisited because they were not properly done. Like the Airport, Ajaokuta Steel Company, Delta Steel Company, Daily Times, Aluminum Smelter Company, Ikot Ekpene, Oshogbo Rolling Mill and others. Now they are talking about concessioning the pilotage district. We learnt a lesson from what happened during the concessioning of the NPA.
They said concessioning would create more jobs. In fact, the then Managing Director, Adebayo Sarumi, swore to the union that concessioning would create more jobs and with our short sightedness the union agreed. But after concessioning, I began to ask myself questions; how would concessioning create more jobs in Apapa ports and Tin Can ports where we had eight thousand workers and they reduced them to about three thousand today?
How can they create jobs when there is no virgin land to develop? We can only create jobs where you have virgin land to develop and when you develop the virgin land, people will come in, more equipment will come in, workers will come in, you can create jobs. In Lagos there is no virgin land to develop, so you can’t jobs.
But if you go to Onne where you have virgin land, you will see that Intels is developing the place and they are creating more jobs. During concessioning, we had about three thousand workers there, but today, we have close to seven thousands workers.
So, the concessioning of the Pilotage district, we have asked, why do they want to concession it? Well, we have told the authorities that we are looking at the matter to see if it will be beneficial to the nation and the workers particularly. If it will not, we we will not accept it.