Comrade Anthony Emanuel Nted, is the Chairman, Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN’s Advisory Council. The immediate past President-General of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, and former Vice President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, was born on October 1, 1960, the same day Nigeria gained her independence from colonial rule. In this piece, he shares his thoughts on sharing the same birthday with Nigeria, leadership challenge, education among others.
By Victor Ahiuma-Young
I was born and brought up in Facados Warri in Delta State. My father was a fisherman. To the grace of God, he died as one of the richest fishermen around. But for me, my father was one of the poorest men because he did not send me to school. I was seeing other children in secondary school and the university, but here I am being a fisherman.
I said to myself, I cannot continue like this. One day, I saw some boats leaving from Facados to Warri, I just jumped into one of them in search of education and better opportunities. I had no money, no brother and no friend. But when I landed at Warri waterside, I started menial jobs and later I met somebody at the waterside doing also the menial jobs. We became friends and I started living with him in one small room.
From there, I started saving money for my accommodation. After sometimes, I met a lady who told me that she had a place for rent, a very small room. I rented the place. There was no money to buy a curtain, I used waterproof to do curtain. I lived there and was doing a menial job. But my mind was set on going to school.
I later registered with Bristol Commercial Centre. It became very difficult for me to cope. I could not do full time because I had no money. I later got a job at K Challarams. After saving some money I enrolled in another school in Warri, the Institute of Continuing Education.
After sometimes, the K Challarams that I was working with closed down. Thereafter, things became tougher for me. As God would have it, I later got a job with Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, as a dockworker; loading and off-loading at the quay in Epron. It was from there I made some friends. One day, I came to work in the morning and saw workers fighting in the ports. I asked what happened.
They told me that they had overthrown the leadership of the dockworkers branch of the union, the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria. They accused the Union leaders of fraud, not interested in workers’ welfare and so on. Later that night, some of my friends came to call me that some people came from Lagos. I joined them, we met in a hotel.
I later followed them with one of my friends called Pouyibo. They told the people from Lagos that their former leaders were cheating them and that they wanted new leadership. After that night, they said they had chosen me to go to Lagos alongside Mr Pouyibo.
When we came to Lagos that was the first time I saw Tin Can Ports and Apapa Ports. We addressed the Dockworkers and went round. When we got back in Warri, we set up a caretaker committee. I was chosen as the Chairman of the committee. That was how I started my union’s career.
When the time for elections came, they said they wanted me to contest as the zonal vice chairman zone. I contested the election, and by the grace of God, I won the election. From zonal vice chairman, I became the District chairman of the zone. From the zone, I became the branch President of the Dockworkers branch of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria. From the branch president, I became the President-General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, at the same time, a Vice President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, during the first tenure of Abdulwaheed Omar.
From my experience in pursuit of education, I think the government should provide free education to every child. If the government cannot give free education to the citizens, they must subsidise the fees so that children of the poor can also get an education. What we are seeing today do not give anything to cheer.
Those we thought could offer quality education to the children of the poor, like the churches, their schools are even more expensive than the private schools who are just interested in profit maximization. It is so painful. In whatever situation, I expect the government to give free and quality education to the citizens and if they cannot, they must subsidise the fees.
Many people run away from public schools, saying they are not functioning due to lack of infrastructure, lack of quality teachers, no chairs, etc. Hence, they opt for private schools. In education, which to me is the easiest way to fight poverty and underdevelopment, the government has failed.
I so much believe in education that was why when I was the president-General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, I did everything within my power to ensure that the Dockworkers were educated both locally and internationally. We took workers to Dubai, London, America, South Africa, and other places for training. Locally, we trained over 5000 workers, while internationally, we trained over 1000 workers.
Sharing birthday with Nigeria
If I say I am not happy, it will sound as if I am not grateful. The truth is that I am growing, but Nigeria is not growing. One had expected Nigeria to be growing as I am growing, but Nigeria has remained static. I am happy that we are an independent nation, and I am happy that I was born on the day Nigeria got her independence.
But besides that, the only reason why I am happy is that I am alive. For the country, what has been going on year after year does not inspire hope. Leadership has remained the bane of the country development and growth. Is it not sad that for 60 years Nigeria cannot find a solution to its leadership challenge?
What it is to celebrate, a country that cannot give 12 hours of electricity to its citizens, a country that is one of the leading oil procuring countries in the world, yet imports petroleum products, a country that cannot provide motorable roads for its citizens, a country that cannot provide free and quality education to its citizens, a country that cannot feed its citizens, or a country that cannot protect its citizens?
Can people who have no job, no accommodation, no cheap and reliable transport system, no affordable and quality health services, or afford the necessities of life celebrate? The answer is no. It is only when these things are available and affordable for the citizens and the citizens are safe, their properties are secured, that people can think of celebration.
We need leaders that have foresight, vision, energy, youthfulness among others. We need leaders that can on themselves, find out the true situations of things, what the masses are passing through and not what sycophants tell them. We need strong and able leaders. President Muhammadu Buhari is a very good president. He is not corrupt. But we cannot say so about those working with him.
In a situation where you have people referred to as cabals who shield the president from the truth, from what the citizens are passing through and so on, there is a problem. We need a president that is youthful and mobile that can decide on his own to wake up in the morning and decide to visit the ports, the factories, the road projects, slums or shanties where people are living, the schools and others to see the situations of things on his own.
He can decide on his own to go and see the access roads to the ports or go to Abakiliki, Aba, Ogoni, Southern Kaduna, Niger, Oshogbo, Isolo, industrial areas and other places to see what is happening not what sycophants tell him.
When the president is strong and agile, he will be able to do these things. In all, we also need a president like Buhari who will not steal, has the interest of the nation above family interest, and believes in Nigeria, not a sectional, tribal or religious bigot.
Welfare of workers
When I became the President-General of the Union, Dockworkers had no conditions of service. We were able to set up what is called the minimum standards. That is why we have the conditions of service for the Dockworkers today.
After my tenure, the man I handed over to continues from where I stopped and improved on it. Because of the foundation we had laid, Prince Adewale Adeyanju, that took over from me has continued to build on the foundation of a peaceful industrial environment.
We do not believe in an unnecessary shutdown of the ports. Most of the work stoppages in the ports during my tenure were ordered by NLC over national issues. That is what Comrade Adeyanju is upholding today.
If there is no industrial action, it means the leadership is doing well. If the Dockworkers are not happy, there will be restiveness in the ports. So, those foundations we laid are yielding fruits and sustaining industrial peace.
When I came on board, we brought in what we called Dockers’ Restoration where we preached peace, moral values and productivity and so on. We also organised several seminars locally and internationally. I can still remember one of the last seminars we did; the topic was Life after Retirement.
It became so impactful that since then, the Dockworkers that had no culture of saving started saving for life after retirement. They started collaborating to buy buses, build houses and so on. We took some of the workers to the Maritime School of Technology in Maryland, USA. In essence, we tried our best to make the workers happy.
Whoever that wants to lead must put the interest of the followers first. In our case, the interest of the workers must be paramount. Unfortunately, in our country today, most of those coming into leadership positions are after personal interest, after money and not the interest of the masses.
So, any Labour leader that is coming onboard should bear in mind that he is coming to lead people. In the dock, before we assumed the position of leadership, most of the workers were seen as illiterates.
But before I finished my tenure, we had over 150 graduates including masters’ degrees holders. So, the Dockworkers of today are enlightened and not people you can push around or cheat at will without reaction or challenge.
They know when you are doing well or not, or when you are cheating them or not. As a leader, do your best and every other thing will come. Like the words of God would say, seek the kingdom of God first, and every other thing will be added to you.