Comrade Ifeanyi Mazeli, President of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Branch of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), in this interview with Shulammite Foyeku, appraises the tenure of the current President-General of the union, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, and explains why he thinks Adeyanju should be re-elected for a second term.
How would you describe Comrade Adewale Adeyanju?
Comrade Adeyanju is a man with a high sense of humility. He is a man that believes that every other person must be accorded his or her due respect. Adeyanju can be said to be a down to earth man. He is simplicity exemplified. He has never raised shoulders irrespective of his years of experience in the union. He has this humble personality that all of us are trying to emulate. He is the kind of leader that shows concern to other people’s problems. He is somebody that words can’t describe. Adeyanju’s is a rare gem.
As one of the Branch Presidents of the union, what can you say about his leadership style?
You don’t call Adeyanju on any matter that concerns any of the branches and he lacks behind. He doesn’t betray you. He stands by you no matter the pressure. He is not just a material, he is sellable and wherever he goes, he impacts. From this place, we have started calling him Mr. Project because ever since he came onboard, it is one project or the other. He is part and parcel of every programme geared towards workers welfare. Adeyanju believes in continuity in governance and that is why he never abandoned any project started by his predecessors; he completes them and initiates new ones. He is part and parcel of every programme geared towards workers welfare.
How would you assess his past four years as President-General of the union?
If you talk about welfare of workers honestly, we have a lot to talk about. The port industry has witnessed peace and welfare remains his number one priority. I must give kudos to past President-Generals, Onikolaese Irabor and Anthony Nted who handed over to Adeyanju. Each of them during their time impacted in their own ways. Those people were foundation-laying leaders. Now that the foundation has been laid, it is now left for the man at the head to bring out the structure based on the foundation and that is why we are giving it to Adeyamju because he did not come up and abandon the foundation but he maintained the structure.
For example, in the past, the workers that work here do not have healthcare scheme but when he came, he said we must do something that will impact the lives of our workers because those working for the Maritime Workers Union are our strength. So what he did was to bring out a policy on medical health for our workers in the union. The healthcare system is such that we have a retainership, if you go there, the expenses will be catered for, not from the salary of the worker but the union itself.
Apart from healthcare, when he came in, he said before he will go out to fight for workers welfare, he needs to look at the condition of workers working under him if they are faring well. He said he couldn’t go to negotiate conditions of service for members elsewhere whereas people working under us are not fairing well. Adeyanju is a man that believes charity begins at home. So he decided to set up a committee and they came up with a recommendation. From that recommendation, he did not remove a single per cent. He approved as recommended in the increase of the percentage of the worker’s salary. That is unprecedented. He also addressed the issue of promotion among staff of the union because the committee that was set up to look at the issue discovered that there were some anomalies that were going on. He will always say he is not a Yoruba President-General but that of Nigeria and the union. From the day he corrected this, honestly, I see a lot of life in the workforce.
During his first term in office, he also set up a cooperative scheme so that when any member has financial challenges, the cooperative should be able to give at least four times what you have, that way members can solve their problems at their convenient and the rate of recovery will not be such that their salary will have no problem. So setting up that cooperative was a very big relief for the entire members of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria. At the time he assumed office, there was only one source of income into the union’s account, which is the one that the labour law permits, that is two kobo per naira on the salary of the workers that come from NPA, dockworkers, seafarers and shipping but he said two kobo per naira cannot sustain us for a long while so we diversified and venture into other businesses that can help us invest and have other means of income. So should in case there is a drop in our finance based on the strength of our workforce, we will still have a good background. So we now decide to go into the haulage business.
During the COVID-19 period, we were the only sector that was functional because the port was operational 24 hours and he will tell me, “Mr. President, we cannot allow our members to be out there in the port while both of us are sleeping, hence we must go to the port,” These are some of the things that endeared him to the people. It is the workers that started the agitation for him to return because he has achieved a lot. Look at the ovation his support is coming with at the port. So it is not just about us at our level, it is the request and interest of those we represent for him to return.
You can’t give what you don’t have. There are things that are endemic in somebody that you cannot hide. Adeyanju is a man of peace and exemplified humility. Adeyanju is a Yoruba man and I am an Igbo man, so I don’t have any reason to paint him for who he is not. He doesn’t like to see people quarrel. He is just a rare breed.
In what specific areas has his administration impacted on the NPA Bbranch?
If not for Adeyanju, many of us would have been in our houses today, maybe there wouldn’t have been NPA. When we came into office, two months into our term, we were confronted by a monster called the Ports and Harbours Bill. That bill among all its desires was inimical to the welfare and workers of Nigerian Ports Authority. This was set up by some persons who wanted to pocket the assets of the Federal Government.
We do not have a problem with the nomenclature because we have been Nigerian Ports Plc and we have seen a lot. The name does not concern us. The government can give their assets the name they choose but when we went into part of what these bills said, we found out that a grade A federal establishment like NPA will now have a situation where workers that work there might not be pensionable and the bill seeks to bring out a new condition of service which we do not know whether it will be less favourable than what we have now.
So the bill itself would have dealt with the strength of the workers of NPA but Adeyanju stood his ground to fight the bill. He made sure that the union sponsored me and the national treasurer to Switzerland to meet the (Nigeria Labour) Congress President to seek the support of the NLC to fight this course. So for a fact that NPA workers are working today and at the end of the month they receive alert, it is Adeyanju. So what more could we wish for more than that. Even if this is his only achievement, he has done the highest.
What are your expectations in his second term?
As much as he has done a lot, there are still new grounds to break because challenges evolve over time. We also have our own problems; in fact workers’ problems can best be described as recurring decimals. It is always there. So we are looking at where there will be synergy, that greater cooperation because giving somebody a mandate is one thing and helping him to achieve it is something else.
So we are looking forward to where he will also build more on that which he has been able to achieve during his first tenure. He should replicate that which has given us love and support for him. We hope to see him create more things that will bring maritime workers to the limelight.
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