President General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, in this interview with EGUONO ODJEGBA, hinted that his union has a pending action on the shipping industry with a declaration of state of emergency, which, according to him, will be implemented as soon as COVID-19 relapses. He also shared some other information on the Nigerian Maritime sector. Excerpt:
THERE are widespread complaints of neglect of the welfare of seafarers by relevant agencies of government, what has the union been doing about this?
It is a matter of leadership style and the response system, whether by the management or the union. The union under my leadership does not joke with welfare of maritime workers, and that includes our seafarers. I agree with you that all is not well, talking about the former management of NIMASA that was supposed to take care of the seafarers. The union is optimistic that issues having to do with seafarers will be corrected under the new leadership in NIMASA led by Dr. Bashir Jamoh, who I think has rolled out programmes of activities, for both seafarers and dockworkers. One is the issue of training, which has been suspended for a couple of years. The new management in NIMASA has promised to look into it, including workers certification. So I think we should give the new Director General of NIMASA and his management team the benefit of doubt.
A recent onboard vessel accident where a seafarer lost a foot has generated issues of low standards. How does the union react to complaints of lack of standards in local seafaring?
I do not think that complaints about standards of local seafarers are issues. We shouldn’t be talking about local ship; ship is ship with the captain and crew. A vessel cannot ply our waters without meeting the required standard, which is universal. So the accident at Escravos channel involving two of our seafarers is very unfortunate. We have notified NIMASA, and have also notified ITF our affiliate body in London; so we are on top of the situation.
What about the seafarer that died?
Yes, one died instantly and one is still in the hospital and I learnt he has one of his legs amputated. We have notified NIMASA, as regulators I am sure there will be investigation into the accident. So we are seriously on this matter and we have written to NIMASA to call a meeting between us and owners of the ship and the P&I Club, the insurance company, who will be paying the compensations, for both the dead and the injured seafarer.
Recently you threatened to declare a state of emergency on the shipping sector. What were your grounds and why did you change your mind?
The union was worried that our shipping workers are not being accorded proper treatment by the foreign ship owners. Yes, I am still standing on my word, we didn’t change our mind, we have already declared state of emergency in shipping. It is the sudden emergence of COVID-19 that slowed us down from implementing the state of emergency in full force. The shipping associations are trying to be funny, but when they saw the reactions of the union, they wrote to us to say that there is need for us to meet, but to allow the pandemic to subside first. So, as soon as COVID-19 subsides, we will commence negotiation on the condition of service proper for Nigerian workers in the shipping sector; because a lot of things are going on there. The jobs Nigerian can do these ship owners outsource to third parties, and we are having a situation where foreigners are the ones doing jobs Nigerians in the sector should be doing. We intend to sustain the struggle the moment we start full implementation and the world will know what is happening here. Salaries and allowances of Nigerians working in the shipping sector is nothing to write home about. They are the worst paid shipping workers on earth. Do your investigation; find out how much ship clerks are paid. Some ships owners are not even paying up to the N18, 000 old minimum wage, talk less of the current minimum wage of N30, 000.
Are you worried that the recent management change in Nigerian Ports Authority and NIMASA, could affect the activities of the National Joint Industrial Council, NJIC, which has helped to create a peaceful industrial harmony atmosphere so far?
The union is not worried because a structure has been put in place, binding on NJIC and the port agencies. Governance is continuum, so all that the new management in NPA and NIMASA need to do is to study what is on ground and build on that. Before NJIC there was nothing like pension, there was nothing like terminal benefits or gratuity for dockworkers. NJIC put these structures and in place since 2006 and it is now a system that will outlive individuals that were privileged to set them up.
As the union’s first president general with dock industry background, can you take us on a tour of the industry twenty years back with a view to comparing the state of affairs then and now?
It is not easy. I think that the PG that is talking to you today is here by the grace of God. I can say that the journey was rough and the journey was good. You cannot compare what the dock industry was many years ago with what it is now because the 2006 port reforms have changed the environment. Now we talk about training the trainers, we didn’t have it in those days. There was nothing like training of dockworkers, you pick people you consider physically fit from the street and they become dockworkers. The reforms that started in the time of my leader, Chief Ogunleye has brought innovations and changes through the leadership period of my other bosses, Irabor and then Nted, and we are building up from where they stopped. Today a dockworker is no longer just anybody; we now have rules of engagement. 20 years ago no dockworker could talk of pension or gratuity. But now we enjoy condition of service similar with our counterparts in NPA, shipping, and seafaring. And it is a reform that is ongoing.
In other words, it is a reform driven by improvement
Yes, there has been much improvement sustained by responsible leadership. This leadership is focused and committed in the struggle to continue to improve on the condition of service and welfare of all maritime workers. I alone cannot finish the job; somebody else will take over from me. Reform is a continuous process just like leadership is a continuum; no one person or government can finish the job. A responsible leader looks at what the last administration didn’t drive fully and begin from there while ensuring that areas of major successes are maintained. That is how to work and build a system, continuation and consolidation. If my oga Nted is to visit us today, he will probably look out for areas he expects me to have concentrated; maybe areas time didn’t allow him to bring up the way he would have loved to.
If we have the structure we have in place now 20 years ago, the life of the dockworkers would have improved far more than it is today. Then, dock work was casual; you were paid for job done, 7:30 to 15:30, 15:30 to 22:30, etc. If a dockworker was involved in onboard accident, nobody really cared, not even the P&I or the ship owners, it was as bad then. But now dockworkers enjoy these rights and privileges contained in the condition of service. When I was president of dockworkers what I did was to concentrate more on the struggle for their pension, which is their last hope when they retire.
It sounds good when the NPA Branch of MWUN say they are absolutely happy under the present management led by Ms. Hadiza Usman, that workers welfare and motivation couldn’t have been better. Do you subscribe to this feeling?
I don’t know the adjective I will use to qualify that woman. All I can say is that God sent her to NPA. Not just the NPA, she came in at the right time when all hope seemed to have been lost. I am speaking deliberately and I know what I am saying as far as the union and maritime workers are concerned. She’s an administrator, a wonderful mother, a committed public servant, a role model. Where will I start, is it from tally clerk or the payment of severance package to dockworkers that previous administration treated with scorn? She inherited huge backlog of arrears of onboard security men and tally clerks.
She went through the books and NPA Act and paid the arrears, workers salary are paid as at when due. The reports I get indicate that NPA workers are highly motivated, since she came in, promotion of workers has received the right attention, so what else does anybody want? Let us leave Eldorado alone, there is no perfect system anywhere, let us face reality and compare, it could not have been better with NPA workers, so we are very happy as a union that this government is working. That woman is good, her yes is yes and her no is no. She is a highly disciplined and principled administrator who does not take delight in denying workers their rights.
Let’s look at your achievements within the last three years. What would you say are the critical scorecard?
When I came onboard, there were lots of insinuations by some doubting Thomases who were saying I will tribalise the union, will fill the place with my Yoruba kinsmen. They even said it will lead to crisis that will engulf the union, they said some other things. Thankfully however, I learnt much from all my past ogas, and I just pretended I didn’t hear what they were saying. I maintain absolute quiet, because if you tell your opponent you know more than him, he will seek to distract you. So talking about achievements, when I came onboard we inherited a number of challenges which we have been able to take care of one by one, acting with my executive members as a team.
The first challenge was harbour bill. It was a test case for me; with support from all the stakeholders we were able to kill it. In fact it was God that killed it for us. And that was the same time Madam Hadiza just came onboard too. Imagine the mindset of stakeholders over a new NPA leader that was an outsider, there were fears how she would manage this harbour bill. There was tension, was she going to create crisis, was she going to introduce thuggery in the port? We have also consolidated on dockworkers professionalism, some have traveled overseas for training, and are we having an educated and highly professionalised dockworker industry. You cannot tell the dockworker of today that he is an illiterate, he is not. We have graduates and masters degree holders presently in the industry.
Last week NIMASA issued a marine notice asking all stevedoring contractors to return to site or face sanction. What could have given rise to that order?
It is to tell you that the new helmsman is an insider and understands how the system works. He knows the problems of seafarers and dockworkers, which are the two major maritime organs for which NIMASA was established to regulate. Jamoh has issued three marine notices since he assumed office, take a look at the notices, they concern seafarers and dockworkers. The MD NPA and ES NSC recently visited him, to work out modalities to harmonise their operations and to work together for the growth of the nation. Look at the floating dockyard, NIMASA and NPA have planned that no Federal Government revenue generating asset should waste, these are committed and digital leaders. It is not about blowing grammar all over the place, it is about serious economic initiative, it is about getting the system to work.
Check the records; have you seen any former CEOs pay courtesy visits to one another? How then were they collaborating, was it with speech making that ends where they are made? These present crops of leaders in the maritime agencies are working for Nigeria. The NPA woman humbled herself and because she is ready to continue to work, she went to NIMASA to discuss. It is not politics, it is reality, we thank God that this COVID-19 didn’t happen earlier.
When NPA gives appointment to stevedoring contractors, who enforces the law? It is NIMASA that enforces and regulates. We are happy with this new vision and initiative by NPA, NIMASA and Nigerian Shippers’ Council to collaborate. I have asked my secretariat to send the DG NIMASA letters of commendation for issuing warning to terminal operators that doesn’t want dockworkers to enter their jetties.
Were the terminals hiding something? That’s a good question. There was a NIMAS Act before Jamoh came in, why was NIMASA not making use of the Act? Less than four months the new man came in he is closing the gaps and has done so much to re-jig the system. Look at the certificate of seafarers, suddenly NIMASA has started to create employment for Nigerians not only dockworkers. Now these jetties can no longer operate the way they liked because with the latest marine notice, dockworkers and onboard security men will be involved.
In the last two years, you made so much effort to get NIMASA provide your members with biometric identification card. Do you see it coming under Jamoh’s administration?
If that’s the only thing he is going to do for me, Jamoh will do it. I can perceive the smell of the biometric ID card as I am talking to you now. Do you know why? You guys from Niger Delta have a saying, ‘talk and do’, that is Jamoh for you. He has done three good things that the past administration under Dakuku refused to do. I said before that if this pandemic had happened during the former administration, it would have been terrible. When I had problems in Port Harcourt with Governor Wike, Jamoh and Hassan Bello waded in; they didn’t play politics with it and I handled the matter maturely.
I met Jamoh during the seafarers’ day, and we discussed so many things. So, I can smell the biometric ID card, I am sure that dockworkers will get it before the end of this year.