President-General Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria, Comrade Anthony Nted, has predicted hardship for the maritime industry this year following the recent trade related policies introduced by the federal government. Speaking with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY’s Uju Ozoeze in his office last week, Nted said that increasing the tariff on imported rice and vehicles in 2013 was a serious mistake on the part of the government as it has taken a huge toll on port operations and the Nigerian masses. The MWUN boss has called for an immediate review of what he termed as these unfriendly government policies or the year 2014 would be the worse for it.
Would you say the industry performed well in 2013?
For me, I believe the industry has performed well but with challenges. For example the challenges of increase in tariff on rice, increase in tariff on vehicles; and just last month I read on the newspapers that there’ll also be an increase in tariff on frozen fish, and I think that this will be the greatest challenge in 2014. The operations in the port industry will drop to the barest. I don’t know where we are heading to or whether the government sits down to think. Let me start on the issue of vehicle. There was a time business was booming for Peugeot Motors in Nigeria but where is Peugeot today? Peugeot is history! It has gone into extinction. Now they are talking about bringing Nissan and other companies into the country… We heard the other day the Minister of Commerce and Industry talking about automation. The automation has not started, when is it going to start? That’s the first question. It has not started and you are bringing about the increase. What will happen to the ordinary Nigerian? Transportation cost will go up because people will not be able to afford secondhand cars. It is when the automation starts that you can talk about increasing the tariff. Sometimes I wonder if the government considers the masses before making some of these policies. Talking about rice, last year if it were not for smuggling of rice through Cotonou boundary, you will find out that we won’t have a single bag of rice in Nigeria. What we have in stock is the rice brought in 2012 and part of 2013. Some of the rice being sold in the market is those ones brought in between 2012 and 2013 and they have turned bad but Nigerians still consume them! All sorts of substandard rice come through Cotonou into the country and are rebagged. People buy such rice that is detrimental to their health because they don’t have an alternative and the government turns a blind eye to this. This is a big problem we find ourselves in. We talk about Abakiliki rice and Ekpoma rice, how many people will Abakiliki and Ekpoma rice feed? They don’t think of the population of Nigeria. The revenue generation by customs has dropped to the barest because of the about one hundred and ten increase import duty on rice. The most annoying thing is that rice is still smuggled into the country even with the customs there at Cotonou so tell me, who is losing? Nigeria is losing while Cotonou is the greatest beneficiary! So we need to think twice before we make some of these policies. Talking about frozen fish, some people because of their health situation are not able to eat meat. Seventy percent of Nigerians eat fish because an average person of about forty years of age, being health conscious, doesn’t want to eat red meat. So, if you stop frozen fish into the country you can imagine the health situation these people will find themselves in. It is not as if we have fishing trawlers bringing fish into the country in large quantity. Most of the fish we consume comes from abroad so if you ban or increase the tariff on fish what will happen to the common man who depends on frozen fish to survive but if this one is not there what will happen to Nigerians. So this year will be a very difficult year especially for those working in the maritime industry. To be specific the dockworkers, what will happen to them? When the traffic is low we have no job. The terminal operators also pay the price for it because they pay terminal charges and government doesn’t care whether they work or not at the end of the day they still pay terminal charges. So government should have a rethink otherwise…the other day maritime workers made a protest telling the government the implications of these policies. We are not involved in the making of the policies and we don’t say government should not make policies but those policies that are inimical to the existence of the Nigerian people, we resist!
So in your opinion, until these policies are reviewed this year will not be a favorable one for the industry?
It would be one of the worst years in the history of the maritime industry. There is need for the federal government to review these policies otherwise they will be detrimental to operations in the port.
Aside the protest letters sent to the Presidency, what other strategies is the Union considering to get the listening ear of the government?
We are waiting to get reply from the President. You know we are also involved in the governance and when it gets hard the best thing we do is to withdraw the service of our members to draw the attention of the government that the policies are inimical. And that is what the Union stands for.
What are the landmark achievements MWUN was able to actualize in 2013?
We achieved a lot of things. If you get to Abuja you will see our secretariat annex. It is a fantastic building commissioned by the Minister of Labour and other eminent personalities. We are also planning to put up another estate at Okokomaiko in Lagos and in 2014 we will start that project. In 2013 we sent so many of our members up to about 150 persons abroad for training. The training is a continuous process. Like I said the other time NIMASA is involved, Nigerian Ports Authority is also involved, but the bulk comes from the Union. As far as they put it in the budget the training will go on, even if they cannot the Union will carry on the training the little we can. We’ve done a lot of things but just to mention a few. You see I want to do something that the workers would remember me for. Even though my name is not engraved in marble, I hope it is in tiles (laughs). It is just so that when I leave the Union I would be remembered for my contributions towards supporting workers in the maritime industry.
Do you have any industry players in mind to give words of advice for a better port system?
My message first of all goes to the customs. The customs should do their jobs bearing in mind that they are Nigerians. If they turn their eyes away and allow everything to come into the country it means that one day those ones that will destroy their families will also come into the country so they should manage their jobs very well. The other one goes to the Nigerian Ports Authority. They are doing their over side functions but they should do them very well because we are seeing lapses. They should make sure that vessels coming into the country give accurate tonnage that the vessels carry. They should be no under declaration because with under-declaration government loses a lot of money and the government needs money to put in place adequate infrastructural facilities so everybody’s hands should be on deck to do what is right. To the dockworkers I advise them to keep up the prayers so that the industry will be a better place and we as leaders will do everything we can to alleviate their suffering.
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