Despite rampant unemployment across the country, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is set to lay off 5000 tally clerks and onboard security men this week. This worrisome trend has generated strange and varying interpretations and speculations by the major players involved as the origin and relevance of these workers have been questioned.
The NPA denies having a relationship with these tally-clerks prior to now; the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) are not interested in stepping in to salvage the situation. The National Association of Stevedoring Companies (NASC) may embark on a strike and they have written to the Ministry of Transport to voice their dissatisfaction and the Guild of Marine Surveyors has also frowned at NPA’s decision, while the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) has been strangely quiet.
Statistics say the unemployment rate in Nigeria spirals upwards at 16% every year and the youth usually bear a large amount of the brunt, with a youth unemployment rate over 50%. However, the unemployment level is set to take a frightening twist as the Nigerian Port Authority jettisons thousands of dockworkers and majority are aged and breadwinners in their families. This is coming at such an auspicious time of the year when people should be celebrating the Christmas and expecting bonuses but they would suddenly find out that they have lost their jobs.
The figure of “5000” dockworkers is controversial as the last record of the number of tally-clerks was taken about 28 years ago, which was also the same time workers were officially recruited as tally-clerks and onboard security men. At that time, the figure was 1300; hence one wonders how this figure had multiplied to 5000 without further recruitment.
If this beautiful multiplier effect is worrying, there is a more worrisome development occasioned by recent comments of the General Manager Public Affairs of NPA Captain Ihenacho Ebubeogu. He asserted that NPA had no relationship with dockworkers and that tally-clerks were never under the NPA. This assertion leaves us with more questions such as; why is NPA terminating its contract to pay tally-clerks if there wasn’t a connection? Has the Capt. Ebubeogu being oblivious of recent dockworkers strikes and NPA’s move in resolving them? Who published the letter from the NPA notifying 10 stevedoring firms of its decision to disengage the tally-clerks and onboard security men? What is NPA attempting to conceal?
An executive of MWUN speaking on behalf of the President General, Tony Nted, also raised more dust on the tally-clerks lay off saga when he asserted that tally-clerks and onboard security weren’t dockworkers. He claimed that they do not classify as dockworkers because they do not load and offload cargo. He also revealed how the Chief Tony Anineh’s led NPA board used the system to pacify PDP members who lost bids to enter the Senate or House of Representatives.
Since tally-clerks and onboard security men are under the jurisdiction of the Shippers Council in other parts of the world, the Nigerian Shippers Council was believed to be lobbying to inherit these tally clerks and onboard security men on the grounds that cargo deeds collected by the NPA which includes monies for the tally clerks would be handed over to the NSC.
MMS Plus also reached a Deputy Director at the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) who swiftly debunked these speculations as he stressed that the Nigerian Shippers Council cannot take over because they were the regulators. “We cannot take over because we are the regulators. If we do, who will regulate? Unless the issue of payment will be handled by the government because they are still important in the port operations, I am sure payment modalities will have to be fashioned by the government”, he added.
A source from the Maritime Labour Service department of NIMASA stressed that with the concessioning of the ports tally-clerks were supposed to have been inherited by the concessionaires but the burden was left for government.
“Now that NPA has refused to continue to carry the burden they asked NIMASA to take over but NIMASA has said no, NIMASA that they are only concerned about dock workers. If these dockworkers do exist and they are not working for cargo owners there is a big problem. Even the cargo owners have the surveyors they pay and most of these tally clerks and on board security men are over 40 years old. So, it becomes difficult to even keep them for the future as they are not dockworkers” the source opined.
The President of the Guild of Marine Surveyors, Monday Ogadina added his voice to the tally-clerks quagmire. He said that tally clerks ought to be part of the cargo surveyors group. According to him, the problem is that these tally-clerks to be laid off mostly comprise old men who are in their late 50s, 60s and some over 70 years. These people contribute very little to the country but the issue is that most of them are not trained and another issue is that most of them are aged.
The best thing is for NPA to scrutinize them and train the agile ones. The idea of abandoning these thousands of people is unfair and the government still needs these people. The job has gone beyond counting figures; it is now a professional job. In other parts of the world, to be a tally-clerk or work in the dock you must have certain knowledge. You have to be able to determine the weight of the cargo, the dimension, keep accurate records and be able to give remarks on the damaged cargo.
Mr. Bolaji Sunmola, the President of National Stevedoring Association companies (NASC) in his reaction on the tally-clerks saga lamented that the NPA is throwing 5000 able workers into sudden unemployment.
“I think the Federal Ministry of Transportation is looking into it because we have submitted our position on this and made it as clear as possible to the Ministry of Transport, especially the new minister of transport Mr. Rotimi Amaechi. The Nigerian Ports Authority is throwing thousands of workers into the labour market alongside their employers.
“We pity the people that will be made jobless and we wonder why at such a promising time of the year when people should be felicitating Christmas and expecting bonuses- they just find out that they have lost their jobs. This would be very sad as thousands of people would be thrown into unemployment, he said.
There is no gain saying that unemployment currently constitutes one of the most critical problems confronting Nigeria. The restiveness in the North which led to the much dreaded Boko Haram, militancy in the Niger Delta and the resurgence of Biafra isn’t far from unemployment. Although the story behind these thousands of workers can be deliberated, the truth is that several Nigerians have been thrown into a quagmire by the NPA. Nigeria has suffered from decades of mismanagement and corruption by successive governments and agencies in the country which have retarded economic growth, consequently reducing the standard of living of most Nigerians.
By Kenneth Jukpor