- ‘FG should quarantine all incoming vessels to curtail spread of Omicron’
Prince Adewale Adeyanju is the President General of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN). In this interview with PAUL OGBUOKIRI, he called on the NPA and NIMASA to tighten the noose on incoming vessels to curtail the spread of a new variant of Covid-19, Omicron. He also said that the absence of the regulators at the ports and jetties is responsible for the rising smuggling of narcotics and other hard drugs into the country through the nation’s seaports
We thought that we were almost out of the COVID-19 era before this new Omicron variant. How has the pandemic affected the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria as a body of workers?
The challenges we have been having from last year is not farfetched. We all know what happened to the whole world. We thank the press for coming out to support us in the areas we felt it would affect our members.
You projected us and built our image both locally and internationally to ITF in London and because of that, ITF gave Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria some palliatives during the pandemic and it was distributed to all seafarers and dock workers in Nigeria. None of our members was affected by COVID-19 and I need to thank the press for reporting objectively what happened even when an incident happened at SIFAX.
We were able to manage the situation and the people affected were taken care of and nothing happened to any Dockworker because of the awareness and sensitisation of our members
Now, another dangerous one has happened and I keep on saying that the Ministry of Health and the Nigerian Ports Authority should wake up because of the vessels coming in from the Western world to our ports.
They should apply the same method they applied during COVID-19 era. Before berthing a vessel, they must have quarantined the vessel outside the anchorage and she and crew must be given Clean Bill before the vessel should be allowed to berth in our ports as it was done during the height of COVID-19 We are calling on NPA to direct their medical department in this regard because this is very key.
All the terminal operators and their safety departments must wake up for their safety.
They should support NPA and not leave everything in the hands of NPA alone because all the vessels coming in are going to the terminals and the terminals too should be on standby and make sure no worker climbs the vessel until the health department confirms that the crews onboard are not infected.
You definitely recorded achievements in the outgoing year. Didn’t you?
I can tell you so many things we have done that the press is aware of. When I came in, we talked about diversification and that we should go into haulage business and it was two days ago, I handed over the two trucks we have to our haulage district that was just constituted by the union, so that we can start from there. It is part of our achievements.
The CBA proper, since I came in, we have been up and doing and we have been having tremendous achievements on Dockworkers, Shipping, Seafarers and NPA; you know that NPA is already established.
We don’t have much problem with it but the three other branches are the ones I think we need to improve on their packages. It is not that NPA does not have its problems. It has its own problems because sometimes, you don’t need to call your father before he empowers you to be a good child. Employment in NPA, NIMASA, we don’t know how they are doing it.
The way it is now in NPA, they are promoting every day and there is a need for employment to fill the vacuum created as a result of the promotion. And we have seen that there is no presence of NPA or NIMASA staff at the Jetties unlike before. Customs are at the Jetties looking for revenue for this great country. Where is the presence of NPA at the Jetties?
NPA is not at Ikorodu, KLT Phase 2 here. They need to employ both the junior and senior staff that we believe can do the job. They should employ more hands because so many things are passing through the Jetties that you and I do not know but if we have the presence of NPA, NIMASA as it was in those days, I think it will be better for this great country.
You are promoting and not replacing. If care is not taken, there won’t be junior staff in NPA anymore. It will be all senior cadres and there is going to be a problem in the near future. It is better to employ juniors to fill the vacuum of those you are promoting to senior cadre.
That is part of what we are trying to let NPA and NIMASA know. We are Nigerians. We are not carried along. We don’t even know the people you are engaging today.
Are you saying recruiting by these agencies is not transparent?
I don’t know because as I am talking to you, I don’t know the people that are employed. Maybe, the employment is coded because it is what you want me to know that I will know.
But I think it is within the hierarchy of both NPA and NIMASA. Not only those organisations alone, what of NSITF? A lot is going on there too. Who are they employing?
It has become a thing of man knows man. It should be an open process. We are saying they should do the right thing by employing Nigerians to fill the vacant positions. I want to commend the Managing Director of NPA that is on suspension because when she came in, she met a lot of problems over Onboard Security Gangway and Tally Clerks and she was able to pay all the accumulated arrears for Onboard Security Men and Tally Clerks that she met on ground and we will continue to give her that honour and respect because she is a good mother. Now, we are having problems with Gangway Men in all the seaports.
The moment a vessel berths, the first two persons you are going to see to mount the ladder is Onboard Gangway Men but the way it is now, since they have terminated the appointment of the Stevedoring Contractor managing the Onboard Gangway Men and Tally Clerks, who are the real Onboard Security Men? Who is managing them?
The union is saying that the Federal Ministry of Transportation and the Nigerian Ports Authority should look inward and bring back Onboard Gangway Men as it is with international standards because all over the world, they recognise onboard gangway men to man the ladder.
Does that have anything to do with the issue of hard drugs intercepted at Apapa Port recently by NDLEA?
The result of lack of Onboard Gangway Men is the drugs you are seeing on all vessels because anybody can just go in as a visitor. Who stops them? Who checks them?
Who identifies them?
It is now the baby of terminal operators to be managing them but the union has come up that we are going to fight this thing to the last to make sure they restore the Onboard Gangway Men and the Tally Clerks but the most important one is the Gangway Men because if you see what is happening in other terminals now, they are trying to use the ports as hub for illicit drugs.
But if we have the Onboard Gangway Men, they will be able to identify those coming in and identify what they have onboard the vessels. It is not the work of Navy or Police but the job of Onboard Gangway Men who would say we don’t know these people; they can even raise the ladder but who is raising the ladder now?
You cannot even identify them; the development has made it possible for illegal people who don’t have any job onboard the vessel to be entering the vessel. It is a serious matter because if NDLEA concentrates on the port, what about the jetties?
We have some vessels going to jetties. Who will work hand-in-hand with NDLEA? I sit not the onboard gangway men? That is one of the stands of the union in 2022.
We will fight it; we have already written to the president, the Minister of Transportation and the Minister of Labour.
We used to have the port labour manager but we don’t know who is managing the port labour now. We are asking that they bring the port labour department back, who will work hand-in-hand with the union and all stakeholders.
As it is now, the NDLEA believes they can pick anyone they believe is a suspect and how do you determine that? You will pick somebody at random and believe he is an addict?
How do you determine that when you are not his doctor? As I speak with you, the 15 Dockworkers that were arrested about two months ago are still in their detention facility.
They have not released them and they have not charged them to court and you say you are investigating them. How long will it take you to investigate them? They are workers.
Are they the consignees, owners of the vessels or receivers of the goods? I agree that they have every right to investigate anyone that they suspect that is involved in narcotics. The union will not support such illegality but what we are saying is that due process must be followed.
They went to court to obtain a permit to keep them but if it is taking too long to put them on trial. We are going to react. We didn’t say they should not do their jobs but they should investigate properly and do the needful. We need to strengthen more by next year.
We are ready to work with them; our door is open because this is our country, and we don’t have any other one. If care is not taken, this drug peddling will spread like wildfire in the port. It is the ones we know presently that we talk about; we don’t know what is happening at the Jetties at Ikorodu and other areas.
That is why we say the presence of NPA and NIMASA should be visible in all the ports
Going forward, in 2022 what are your expectations for the maritime workforce?
For the year 2022, I pray that it will be a prosperous year for all maritime workers because a lot has to be put in place if we want to get dividends of what we are doing.
We keep on talking about the access road to the port, the gateway to our economy. If you look at what is still happening now for the past two to three years, we have given ultimatum.
The Vice President of this country, His Excellency, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, came to Lagos as a result of the ultimatum issued by the Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria but as I am talking to you now, Tincan Island Port area is like no go area because the road has not been reconstructed the way we expect it.
The company awarded the contract is slow. I can tell you that they are part of the problems maritime stakeholders are having today. It is likely that they have formed a cartel with the contractors managing the road to keep it in such bad shape in perpetuity, so that the extortion going on there will continue.
Otherwise, what stops them from giving palliatives to the road leading to Coconut because if there is palliative work on that axis, by now, they would have opened the two roads for us to have easy access into the seaport.
We thought that by December, the road would have been fixed but as it is now, I don’t think we can talk of June or July next year.
These are the things that can cause us setbacks on the projection of the year 2022. But as an organised union that represents
pressure groups in the maritime industry, ours has to do with workers’ welfare and protection of our members against some employers who don’t have the love of workers at heart.
We will continue to ask for more so that we can get a better package for our members next year. In the New Year, I will set my sights on the shipping sub-sector because the take home of workers in that sector is nothing to write about. In a situation where somebody will remain in a particular position for 10 to 15 years and their remuneration after retirement is wrong. I want to re-emphasise the remuneration for shipping.
The Central Working Committee and the National Executive Council have declared a State of Emergency on shipping for a long time and next year is going to be very tough for all the shipping trading groups in Nigeria because we must make sure that we fight for the gratuity, remuneration and retirement benefits of all shipping workers.
Our expectation is that even when a staff member retires, he will be able to retire honourably and also say this is what we have been able to do for shipping workers when we were there.
These are things we need to face in the first quarter of next year because as I am talking to you now, all is not well with shipping workers. I sign their CBA every year and what they bring to me here is nothing to write home about. I however need to commend the president of the Shipping Branch and his executives because the man is a dogged fighter.
He followed my footsteps and there has been improvement in wages and salaries of workers. If they had been having such in the past, by now, they would not be having issues of poor remuneration. I want to implore him to do more because the union has given him marching orders and I am going to be part of the CBA proper this time around because I need to give him the support from the nation to get the best for our members.
We will see how we can get an improved welfare package for our members from next year. That is why I said I would concentrate more on shipping and also seafarers next year.
Seafarers and Dockworkers are like siblings but with different CBAs. ITF in their wisdom thought that seafarers are not being recognised all over the world especially with the MLC 2006 that some of our indigenous ship-owners that are supposed to support our seafarers in Nigeria are using them as if they are prisoners.
They are not taking good care of them. I think NIMASA, the regulating agency for seafarers and dock workers, should wake up and do the needful by using delegated power to deal with indigenous ship owners who feel that they can bring in Phillipinos to come and do the job that Nigerian seafarers are trained to do.
We are working seriously on that. Our primary objective is to protect the welfare of our members. While protecting them, we should be careful not to protect the ones that believe in illegalities.
There are issues of insecurity in the country and the port has its own share, and the union had a taste of it in the area of kidnapping. At the time your members were kidnapped, how did you manage it?
We have our way of doing things as a union and as workers. We networked; we carried out some CIA operations like what you call investigative journalism in your profession.
We met with the community because if there is no armed robber in your house, an armed robber from outside will not come and rob you and we felt workers can fight one another and use an outsider to do kidnapping. We went underground and found it was two communities fighting themselves that did that.
I commend NIMASA because the DG called me in the night and I told him that our members were kidnapped and he promised that he would deploy the deep blue project infrastructure and which they did but before they did that, the union had already got through to the community, secured their release without paying any ransom.
To me, the idea of the deep blue project is to the benefit of all maritime stakeholders; they need to carry all the Seafarers, Dockworkers, the Clearing and Forwarding practitioners along in terms of having a technical committee. The way barge operation is going on in the whole world, they are not safe too and how is the deep blue project going to work to support this gigantic project in the industry.
Piracy has reduced tremendously but how long are we going to sustain it? It is one thing for you to go out to tell the whole world that the project is working and that everything is in order.
It is not when I have a problem and you send your helicopter to come and rescue me. What feasibility studies have you carried out on the sea both day and night?
Pirates don’t rob in the morning. Armed robbers cannot attack you in the morning. They do their bad business in the night. Have they checked our waterways to see how safe it is?
It is not about sending helicopters to rescue people when an incident takes place but continuous patrol of the waterways for 24 hours. We are looking at it.
What’s your reaction to the report that a Danish frigate killed some pirates recently on our waters?
We are watching like I said earlier on, those foreigners cannot be compared with our navies. Pirates cannot wake up in the morning and make any attempt to attack such vessels that belong to the UK, US or the western world. Those pirates are gone if they should attempt such.
The truth is that those foreigners are prepared for such actions whenever they perceive such on waters.
They are trained for option B, plan B as the case maybe. They have strategies on ground to address any eventuality. Back to our navy personnel, has the government empowered them to work with all sincerity to protect the integrity of the country in terms of remuneration, welfare and other logistics support. Back in the day when we used to work onboard vessels, it was during the night that such ships were attacked.
Soome of the sea bandits will be onboard with us without any knowledge from us that these people are criminals. They will be there as workers and around 2-3am they will strike.
They look out for the tough guys onboard who may likely give them resistance. Those kinds of people are handcuffed or chained to the ship for them to carry out their operations effectively. In less than 30minutes they are done. So there should be awareness for the stakeholders on how such things work.
It’s a laudable project if well managed, if they carry all the stakeholders along. We saw the Ghana experience and I want to tell you that Ghana is more organized than us in terms of maritime operations.
It is the stakeholders that will come out to tell the whole world that the Deep Blue Project is working and not NIMASA going to the pages of newspapers to say it has been successful.
We should look at the practicality of the project and not the other way around. It is not a matter of dispatching helicopters to Tin Can Island Port during attack on vessels, what is happening at KLT or Apapa or Ikorodu Lighter Terminal. There should be constant monitoring and welfare must be paramount.
There won’t be proper efficiency if the personnel are not properly taken care of. NIMASA needs to wake up in that regard because it is not proper for foreigners to do our job for us. We are buoyant enough to secure ourselves but we allow such loose ends ourselves.
We should look beyond response to attack or rescue of lives and properties at sea but to be proactive in putting stringent measures on ground to prevent such eventualities.
Before any kidnapping can occur both on land and waters what efforts have you made to prevent that situation. Insecurity is a major problem we are facing in this country. Imagine sitting on top workers incentives.
Do you think we have adequate patrol boats to police our waterways?
That question should be directed to the NPA. All of them are busy making money for the government under the name revenue drive but they don’t know that we have the Marine Police who are not visible because you hardly see them patrolling the waters.
Marine Police are to complement the effort of the Navy. Now let’s go back to the Deep Blue Project, did NIMASA involve the Marine Police in any way?
These are the mistakes and loopholes I am talking about. Marine Police should have been a core component of the Deep Blue Project because Marine Police are trained on the Brown Waters they are trained as sailors.
They are supposed to be part of the project if they want to succeed. It goes beyond buying helicopters with billions of naira without patrol boats. With patrol boats on ground, you will see that the Marine Police will do the job effectively.
I will take a bet that if the police are carried along from day one piracy would have been defeated for long. But as a result, the navy cannot do it when there is conflict of interest. An attack can occur in our waters and the police have useful information on how to arrest the situation but they may decide not to take any action because their job has been taken over by the Navy.
That’s a big mistake on the part of NIMASA. Back then while working on board vessels at midstream, you find out that whenever there is any suspected case of attack by pirates the captain will blow the horn and immediately the Marine Police will be around the ship because they know that once the sound is heard from ashore that there is a problem aboard the ship.
They are very swift to respond back in the day but their power show of inter – agencies rivalries is playing out. We have a Commissioner of Port Police, AIG Maritime; what are they doing? Are they engaged in any way?
Same boats that were bought for the Navy should also be given to the Marine Police as well. The police can work at sea when empowered adequately. It’s never too late, Marine Police can still be useful in this regard if well equipped and if they are empowered and carried along then piracy will be a thing of the past.
Since the romance between MWUN and BOAN what have been the benefits so far?
We are putting all hands on deck for the sustainability of the relationship as you rightly said because I don’t want us to encounter a similar problem we had with COMTUA this time around because with COMTUA, the union was being used despite the love we have for some leaders of the trucking business.
We are weighing the technicalities that may rock this marriage of confidence. However, we are working closely with BOAN in the area of insurance and workers’ welfare and in the area of security, revenue drive and in the area of strong partnership with the association.
With all these strategies in place I think we will sustain the relationship effectively. Water transportation is big business and I can assure you that all arrangements have been put in place and we will flag off these strategies in January 2022, between us and barge operators. We have also sealed the agreement and very soon they will commence operationalisation of the agreement.
There were a lot of problems underground but we have resolved all that and I think we are making tremendous progress with the collaboration, so that we can be on the same page with the government. The SOP is in order and is in line with the government’s demands.
Barge operations have come to stay but it still bothers on insecurity and that is why I am talking about the Marine Police.
If you convey a container from Lekki to KLT at night for instance, they can be attacked, they can be robbed and it’s no longer the issue of piracy again but robbery at sea and that is why I am saying the Marine Police should be empowered and mobilised to the sea.
If the government wants these barge operations to thrive and be efficient for stakeholders or investors patronage then Marine Police needs to be revived. They are very key in barge operations.
Within two hours movement from Lekki to KLT if security is porous, there can be a series of attacks on the barges and investors might be discouraged to patronise waterways transportation because of lack of safety of their goods. If the government can listen to our calls on this subject matter the better for investors and our economy.
Otherwise, some investors will no longer patronise the business due to insecurity. We have made our submission known to the association.
This interaction should also serve as a strong message for the government to look inward. This is a statement for the Ministry of Transportation, Terminal Operators, Stakeholders and Investors. Investors should not invest in water transportation businesses without security.
What is the outcome of the recent invasion by the Federal Consumer Competition Protection Commission (FCCPC) on some shipping companies where workers reportedly molested in Lagos?
Leaders come and leaders go , what you do will also be on record and I am telling you today that we are missing somebody in the industry, somebody that has been an intermediary between maritime stakeholders whenever the need arises. When he was there we did not value his performances, we thought what the man was doing was not supposed to be his job but where are we now?
I am talking about Alhaji Hassan Bello the former Executive Secretary, Nigeria Shippers’ Council. We are missing him greatly within this short period that he has been retired. This current ES at the council has not deemed it fit to call or engage stakeholders since his appointment.
We have written to congratulate on his appointment, and for a courtesy visit etc but he has never deemed it fit to meet with the union so that we can advise him. Back to the question, nobody can enter your compound without due process. When that invasion occurred, we were taken aback with my team. We left this office around 8pm.
When they came in, they attacked Hull Blyte, Cosco and others to the extent that they invaded the shipping line’s servers. We condemned that act no doubt but a senior officer of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council called me and asked me were those government officials that invaded the shipping companies heavily armed?
My response was simple, you are the regulator, you need to investigate them proper.
This development explains the issue I raised about the new man at the Shippers’ Council who is not meeting with stakeholders. If this incident had taken place in the time of Hassan Bello you will see him in the forefront of the struggle to engage those invaders. He will be there.
We wrote to the new man no response but we felt we can handle it in our own style. We are watching the new ES. I gathered he was a former house of reps member. I don’t know how he was working at the parliament with his team with this kind of attitude. As a regulator of the port industry your door must be open to those you are regulating.