By Kenneth Jukpor
Comrade Adewale Adeyanju is the President-General of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN). In this interview with MMS Plus, Adeyanju speaks on the significance of inter-agency collaboration in the maritime sector, challenges facing seafarers and port workers and other pertinent industry issues. Excerpts:
Recently, we have witnessed a new development in the industry with heads of various maritime agencies coming together to work towards addressing the numerous challenges in the sector. How relevant is this to maritime sector growth?
It is a synergy that has been long expected. Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is the landlord at the ports. They are responsible for port security and other activities at the ports. Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) plays the role of securing the waters and administration as it affects commercial shipping. Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) is the port economic regulator ensuring fairness in pricing and tariffs for port services and related components. Other agencies like National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, among others also joined.
So, this new synergy is a welcome development. It can also be seen as an indication by stakeholders and the world that Nigeria’s maritime sector should be expecting good results. The coming together shows that these heads of agencies are ready to work in unity and this would help stakeholders to have a sense of belonging in the industry.
An unfortunate marine incident recently ended the life of a cook onboard a mooring boat. What is MWUN’s reaction on this and how can the industry prevent such occurrences in the future?
Two people were severely injured in that incident. The accident happened in Warri onboard a vessel called Matrix. The union has written to our affiliates and NIMASA on this. In fact, the NIMASA team responded immediately.
However, the speedy intervention of the NIMASA team couldn’t prevent the death of one of the crew members while the other is still in the hospital. The accident was a fatal one but what we are telling the public is that the international transport federation NIMASA, union and the owner of the boat we need to sit down together so the compensation belonging to the two families can be paid.
There is a ship aground at Takwabay beach in Lagos and the maritime industry is at the verge of losing the vessel despite the shortage of ships in the country. There is an issue with AMCON on the ship ‘MT Breakthrough’. What does this mean for the industry as MWUN encompasses seafarers?
NIMASA should do all within its powers to prevent further loss of vessels because the shipping sector is already suffering a dearth of ships to absorb the nation’s seafarers for seatime and employment. However, we can take solace in the fact that the new Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh is a veteran and has already shown willingness to tackle issues headlong including this ship.
In other cases, there could be accidents and accidents not tell when they are coming but we need to improve on how we manage the accidents. We need to improve on our response via search and rescue and other interventions. Most of the charterers in the nation’s shipping sector won’t provide insurance. So, these are issues that have to be addressed holistically. NIMASA and other stakeholders should come with a method that is going to reduce the accident both to seafarers and others working in the sector.
It is also time for NIMASA to live up to its responsibilities which I think they are doing in recent months. The department in charge of Cabotage needs to be empowered so that in event of these accidents, they help identify who is in charge and those who ought to pay victims compensation.
When such incidents happen because some of the ship owners are no longer making use of the Protection and Indemnity (P&I) club, there is nothing to fall back to. Before you bring in your vessel there must be an insurance that covers it and the seafarer must also have insurance cover. I believe these are issues for the new NIMASA Director General to address, so that adequate compensation would be given to such parties.
A former Rector of MAN Oron recently said the management of dock workers in the country is a challenge. Dockworkers were under NPA in the past but today they are under NIMASA. According to him those who are trained to manage dock workers are at NPA but dock workers are currently managed by NIMASA. Is this really a challenge, what is your take on this?
The ports have been concessioned. NPA were the port masters and the managed stevedores in the past but things have changed with the port concession. Today, these people are managed by NIMASA and to an extent the terminal operators.
However, the core issue is to ensure that the activities of these workers or operators meet the international standards. Dock workers are to be regulated by NIMASA, nevertheless, before you can be a dock worker, you must be gainfully employed by a stevedore or contractor appointed by NPA or terminal operators. NIMASA regulates, registers and trains them.
Most of these responsibilities are tied to NIMASA at the moment but NPA also plays the role of landlord and master stevedore because part of the ports have not been concessioned. So, NPA still plays a role and the new synergy between the maritime agencies should see the elimination of any challenges in this process, if there are such challenges.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic there have been speculations that there will be job losses in the nation and there have been signs in the industry. Recently Josepdam terminal sacked some workers and MWUN intervened. What’s your advice to employers of labour at this critical time?
I think what is happening in Josepdam (JPS) has to do with restructuring which has been ongoing for sometime. It even started before the pandemic. They have a new management team who took over and they are trying to get things done properly and restructure the company. Some workers were transferred to JPS and they were rated above the older workers of the company. The new management is trying to restructure the company and in doing so there will be a need to update or change staff and their database which was done. During this arrangement some workers were sacked because they were unable to meet the new standards. That was what really happened. However, the union is in the interest of the workers, so the union made sure that all affected workers got what they actually deserved in line with the service agreement with the company.
Beyond that, we also made sure that the company gave additional compensation to the affected workers.
However, we are using this medium to tell all employers of labour that the workers didn’t bring the pandemic upon the country, so they should be considerate. Some employers of labour are taking advantage of the pandemic to lay off members of staff but they forget that if they keep doing this the union will not fold its hands to allow such acts to go on.
There are several of such cases with employers and we are pleading with them to understand the situation of the country. Also, the government should intervene on this because we can see the drop in crude oil, investors are not willing to invest because of the pandemic. We don’t want to worsen things by increasing unemployment margins.
The provision of biometric cards for workers in the port sector has been one of the major goals for MWUN under your leadership. What is the latest development on this?
I think the new management of NIMASA is giving a positive response towards that unlike we used to have in the past. I have been rightly informed that very soon a committee would be set up to look into the issue on biometric card data. The cards will help identify the real workers in the ports because at the moment everybody you see at the ports claims to be a port worker.
With the biometric cards, we will be able to identify the real port workers. Every agency at the port has workers data also the port workers need to do the same so as to enable us to identify the good from bad. That is why we have been asking for this and the Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Jamoh has informed us that before the end of the year all workers at the seaports all across the country will be given their biometric cards with the necessary information on the cards.
The information on the current cards are basic things just like an ID card, but the new Director General has good intentions for the industry, so data of each of the dock workers at sea ports will be embodied in the biometric cards.
What are the new things in the industry that you would advise the new NIMASA management to address, beside the biometric cards?
The new management is really doing a great job. For instance when the problem with the governor of Rivers state came up, the DG came out and through the leadership of Executive Secretary of NSC, Mr. Hassan Bello, the problem was solved.
Also, marine notices have been coming out regularly. This is a good development unlike before when there would be no marine notice on crucial issues until the union starts raising concern over it. Jamoh actually knows the job because he is a grassroot person in the system. He is not a novice to operations at the ports and this has helped him to perform excellently well so far. I appreciate his contributions to the industry.
Recently the Director General sent another marine notice warning jetty operators to allow all the appointed stevedore contractors to commence operations. This means they are creating employment for Nigerians looking at the Act that governs stevedoring contracts in the country.