Nigerian seafarers are used as slaves — Kemewerigha

Nigerian seafarers are used as slaves — Kemewerigha


A former President of the Nigerian Merchant Navy Officer and Water Transport Senior Staff Association, Captain Thomas Kemewerigha, holds nothing back when discussing the working conditions of Nigerian seafarers. Kemewerigha believes the system has continued to shortchange hapless seafarers despite efforts to correct a system of exploitation rigged against them. He speaks on issues concerning his primary constituency in this interview with Abolanle Oluwatola.


How have Nigerian seafarers fared?

Seafarers in Nigeria are underpaid. We are used as slaves. You cannot equate the wages of Nigerian seafarers to a seafarer from Cotonou or any other part of Africa. In other maritime clime, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is the global head of all organizations in charge of transport and seafaring. They are politically strong and they collaborate with authorities in other flag states like NIMASA. The ITF has a standard that is reviewed every two years for global seafarers from the cook to the master. All other maritime states key into ITF’s benchmark but Nigeria has not keyed into it and they are not ready to, because of politics and self-interest. So, when I say we are the least paid, I am telling you that other maritime states are guided by the ITF benchmark renewable every two years in conjunction with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), International Labour Organisation) ILO and other multinationals. The maritime industry is a global industry. In Nigeria, all these companies you see have only paper directors. They are signing for their principals in Europe and Asia. So, all the laws we are obeying here are slave laws that are not obtainable in the principal’s home state.

An average officer on board a vessel will spend about one to two million naira to get his papers in terms of mandatory certifications and some of them will not get job until these certificates expires. All the policies affecting them are made externally but they are domesticated in Member States. For example, during Fishes convention 2000-2006, I did not see any Nigerian Shipowners in the ILO telling the world their problems. No Nigerian Shipowner was present during the formation of the Fisheries Convention, Convention 188, 185 and the MSC 2006; shipowners have international bodies where shipowners key into but when issues like these are about to happen, they select shipowners by regions to join ITF which stands for our members. So, International ship owners stand for their members. Ideally, when policy formulation is to be made at the ILO level, Nigerian shipowners are to be present but during these six years, no Nigerian shipowner was involved or was sighted at the International Labour Organisation in Geneva. I was there and the laws made will affect Nigerians. You take the law, push your Flag State to ratify and domesticate it. It is at the point of domestication that all stakeholders make their input because national laws remain the minimum acceptance into the international laws.

Kemewerigha quote

If a foreigner comes to work on a vessel in Nigeria, he is not paid in Nigerian condition because he is coming as an expatriate. His home says no he is coming through the agent that is assigned to the job, his agreement has been signed there complying with all international laws and regulations set by ITF. An expatriate Second Engineer earns three times the salary of a Nigerian on the same job and the global law says equal job equal pay. They also know that Nigeria is so corrupt that they can do whatever they want.

What do you think about the creation of the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy?

What is blue economy? It is putting old wine in new bottle. The DG (of NIMASA) that was brought; what does he know about maritime? He should better go to road transport where they drive Keke Marwa and other things. Maritime is a versatile place. There are certain posts you don’t politicise; you go for the right people. Road transport management is different from maritime management. Look at the amount NIMASA used in acquiring new office at Victoria Island; it is enough to create better welfare package for Nigerian seafarers. At times, some of us don’t talk because when we do, it is as if we are wasting our time and strength. All stakeholders know the problems of this industry. How many businesses has NIMASA convicted? Have the unions not reported them enough over the maltreatment of seafarers, and NIMASA could not prosecute them? The unions have tried to strive under these hard conditions, they have gone out of their way to see how they will better the lives of the seafarers. If you are not there, you will not know the input they are making.

What are the possible solutions to the challenges you highlighted?

There is only one solution which is a change of heart. The laws should be respected regardless of the position you hold in the society. NIMASA would register the vessels, let NNPC give seafarers jobs and ensure the laws in terms of welfare packages are good to them. Don’t pay seafarers like civil servants.

Do you think that the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund to shipowners will help ameliorate the challenges facing Nigerian seafarers?

Cabotage is 419 to the highest order. A country that can borrow money from the pensions fund to meet up with their daily expenses while pensioners are dying every day? Pensioners are suffering and a sitting government spends such money. They have eaten the cabotage money since. There is no money anywhere. That is the truth. I stand to be corrected. Ship owners should better look elsewhere. I know many Nigerian banks will not give them loan because when the government tried to assist our shipowners by making money available, no ship owner benefitted from it. Rather, politicians that were close to power took them. As at that time, I was calling them out. The core mariners, after acquiring vessels, were not given jobs. Some went to marry more wives and acquire lands while others squandered it in their foreign accounts and nothing was done to them.

Kemewerigha quote

If you go to a bank that you need a load for business that will cost five million, the bank manager will tell you to increase it to fifty million and take thirty per cent of the loan as his own. You know, you can’t even start the project in the first place. Do you know how many bank debts are lying in the banks from loans Nigerians have taken? Do you think a vessel is Jeep or G-Wagon? No. A vessel is capital intensive and with the corruption and insincerity in Nigeria, no bank will risk it.

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