Adewale Adeyanju is the President, Dockworkers Branch of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN). Before now the port has been quite volatile with the Union preferring to engage in violence at the least excuse. Adeyanju told FOSTER OBI in this interview that under the present leadership both at the National and branch levels, members have been trained to eschew violence in preference to dialogue. He discussed this and other issues.
There have been relative calm on the side of your members. Have your people have seen the light?
Yes. We have decided to emphasise dialogue instead of violence. We learnt this from the leadership qualities we got from our former leader Onikoliase Irabor who was then the President General of Maritime Union Workers of Nigeria (MWUN) who entrenched peace, stability in our behavioural pattern and who never believed in violence. He taught us many things like when you are dealing with your management; you must believe that all of you are partners in progress and that all of you are the same. It is that philosophy also that brought in the man of the moment, Comrade Anthony Nted who also continued with the principles of Irabor and has also sustained that peace and stability at the ports.
Was there anything special you did to rein in your members from resort to violence at little provocation?
Let’s talk about Training. Training of your members in this kind of environment cannot be over-emphasized. It started from Onikoliase irabor and Nted now elaborated it, made it more open even to the grass roots. So far he has trained close to 5000 dockworkers across the nation’s seaports and that is what gave birth to the stability that you are witnessing at the ports. Unlike what we experienced in the past, violence, where people always say they, dockworkers have started again, they are fighting, they are doing this and that; these sensitisations, enlightenment programmes that we receive home and abroad, has given us understanding of how to approach each issue with our employers and stakeholders and resolve things amicably and these have paid off over the years. But kudos goes to Nted for the wealth of experience with which he has used to manage the Union, with support from branch officers. We have four branches, Shipping, NPA, Dockworkers and Seafarers. These trainings go round these branches and that is why it has been effective. I want to state that with the quality of leadership that we have peace have returned finally to the ports.
What’s the situation with the alleged sack of 3700 tally-clerks and on board security men?
It is not an allegation per se, it is statement of fact and the Union is still fighting to make sure they retain their job. The job of Tally clerks and on board security men is statutory and just like the employers that are managing them, that is the Service Providers have a reason for terminating their appointment, the Union insists that tally clerks are engaged by law and the Union is still dialoguing with the authorities concerned to make sure that these people do not lose their jobs and we are approaching it with caution even as we discuss with the concerned authorities about these issues.
So what is the crux of the matter?
It has to do with the ports. You know the ports was concessioned for about 10 years ago and the service providers managing them have time frame for this contract which is for 10 years and when the number of years elapsed they asked them to go and it affected a lot of the workers working with them. But in the case of Tally clerks, we believe their job is statutory and they cannot just be sacked like that. This is why we are having problem with the authorities but like I earlier said we are approaching them with caution.
What about the allegation that the NPA wants to do away with them to see room to siphon money accruing to the government?
I don’t really want to look in that direction. The present managing director of Nigeria Ports Authority led by our amiable mother and Sister Hadiza Bala Usman will not do that type of thing during her tenure by allowing people to perpetrate fraudulent acts; I don’t think the woman can do such a thing. It is a problem I still met on ground when I took over from my predecessor and the Union has not closed eye over this. The Union has not met the NPA managing director yet on that but I am sure that her management staff must have briefed her about the pending issues that has to do with the Tally clerks and onboard security men.
How soon do you want to confront with the MD over the issue?
Very soon. The beauty of what the woman did however was to pay the backlog of arrears that the former MD of NPA failed to pay; stretching to almost twenty three months and when this mother came in, she was able to pay all these arrears. This step in the right direction in this volatile industry; we never expected that she will do that but she surprised everybody, which we highly appreciate that she was able to understand within a short time the yearnings of stakeholders and the Union in particular, by paying all the 10percent debts owed workers by the last administration. When she came in, she set up an adhoc committee to look into the matter and she finally paid the money when she saw that they were legal claims. As am talking to you, everybody-the tallyclerks and onbord security men have been paid what belongs to all of them.
What again do you intend to bring to the table?
That one is between me and my executives. We are preparing to see her and tell her the problem facing the tally clerks and the onbord security men and even the Union as a whole.
What exactly are the problems that you people face?
We have so many issues facing the dockworkers and the Union especially in the area of training. If these trainings continue, I don’t see violence, fighting and rabble rousing continuing in the life of dockworkers. Previously we paraded ghost workers along dockworkers. Somebody will be at home and somebody else will be working and collecting collecting salary. It is no longer possible. We have stopped all that. Go and work your money physically. You do your job physically and you collect your money physically. It is no longer the issue of Akubo that they normally have in the past. During my tenure and that of Tony, that one has been erased in the life of dockworkers. Work for your money and you will be paid all that belongs to you. In spite what we want to discuss with the NPA MD, enlightenment, sensitisation with the stakeholders by the Nigerian Ports Authority and NIMASA is very important because when you educate your child you are giving him his life back but if you don’t they become wayward and the fabric of life is put at risk.
How do you discipline the erring ones among you?
We discipline them adequately. We believe so much believe in discipline. If we find any of them out of order, we don’t waste time we discipline the person immediately. We suspend them. We collaborate with the employers. The Union cannot just wake up one day and suspend members. Part of our disciplinary measures is that we collaborate with the employers. Anyone that the employer writes to us about insubordination, that the man committed an offence one way or the other, we set up a committee and look into the degree of the offence, and if we find him guilty we place him on suspension and take other necessarily measures that are applicable.
How has the coming of this government shaped your operations?
The coming of this government has affected us mostly with the ban on importation. It is like the change we are talking about has changed us to something else but we don’t have any other country than this so we pray for the government to see reason and lift ban on so many items they have prohibited and that is what is affecting our members because this maritime sector it affected the dockworkers and the maritime operators as a whole. The automobile import has been seriously affected. Even in the area of tariff, if you go to ENL that deals in bulk cargo before, you see vessels coming in and vessels going out, but these days, hardly do you see five or six vehicles in a month to tell you how bad this has become and our members are highly affected more than eighty per cent
So government policies have been harsh on your members?
The policies of government has been very harsh on us, but we pray for the government to see reason and hearken to the voice of the people that you cannot just ban everything totally. At least there is need for them to cushion the effect of this ban on the lives of the people. Some people say we should diversify, yes there is need for us to diversify but it is not something you do overnight. They are talking about local rice, how many of us can afford to buy ofada rice. It is as costly as the foreign ones. I agree with those who campaign for diversification, it has become very necessary, but I still quarrel with the style of banning so many items. They should look at it again. Rice is so costly but that is the food that poor people have relied on for many years as a relief. Even the rich. There is no home that that you go to and you cannot find rice; if rice is not there the home is not complete. But look at it, a bag of rice now is about N23, 000.00. A keg of four litre groundnut oil is almost N14, 000. So how many people can afford that. Somebody who has a wife and five children for instance how’s the person going to cope?
What’s the relation between your Union and NIMASA?
Our relationship with NIMASA is very cordial. You know that Management, like soldier come and go while barrack remains. The new man at the helm of affairs is a promising young man; we are still studying him. He has respect for our members. Few days ago, I had a meeting with some of his team that want to organiser training for some of our members, trying to centralise all the training programmes for our members. If we have been having these trainings over the years, all these violence and incessant accidents that occur will not be there. We don’t any problem with NIMASA for now.
What do you say about the port access road and effects on the people?
The access road is very bad. This is the gateway to the Nigerian economy. They were talking about palliative measures last time. The government should see to it that something is done fast. This is a major where the economy of Nigeria is. We are talking about diversifying and after Nigerian people still make use of their money to import their cargo, they still go through stress. For example if I import one or two items from overseas now and the cargo is coming out of the port and on my way out because of the bad road the container fell down with its contents spilling, it is loss on my side. The government need to fix that road. The Union has been voicing out that they need to do something about the roads. Looking at Tincan Island Port, look at the front gate of the Nigerian ports Authority; compare it to Cotonou main gate, you cannot see such a thing; Cotonou that is so close to us that Nigerians are now trooping to. Why not here Nigeria? Our port is far bigger than theirs but what about the infrastructure? The government has a job to do here.
How would you rate the welfare of your members?
If the leader is good, the workers will not suffer. We brought in in ITF from the United Kingdom to come and sensitise the dock workers here. They came for two or three and organised training programmes. This is part of the training we have been talking about. About a week ago when I returned from the United States, PENCOM came to come and enlighten us about the safety of our money in their purse. So we organised that at Rock view Hotels Apapa. With such enlightenment, you let them know where their money is. So when they are deducting it they are not afraid it is lost. So for welfare we have tried to ensure their welfare is taking care off.
What is your take on the proposed National Fleet by the government?
Why are people talking against it? Countries are building their fleet both on air and water. Look at Ethiopia; it has close to 50 airlines in its fleet. Even if somebody is bringing the idea of introducing national fleet why don’t we encourage the person? Nigeria as a whole had about 29 vessels in its fleet during the days of Nigeria National Shipping Line. Where are they? Somebody said let us bring it back. Is it not part of generating revenue? So we are in support of what the new government is bringing on board. We support. It
A lot of money is involved?
What about all those money they are seizing from corrupt politicians; it is enough for them to start something and move ahead from there.
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