Please permit the summarisation of the crisis between the Nigerian Ports Authority and the Maritime Workers Union as the 3R namely Responsibility, Recogition and Remuneration.
Many observers of industry trends like spectators at a local wrestling arena sat down waiting for a fight between two heavyweights to begin. While the drumbeats of war resonated and created the required frenzy ,and rivalry saturated atmosphere to incubate the impending battle, the announcer(media) reviewed the records of the contestants and their statistics. This left the audience with no options than to permutate and draw predictions on the likely winner of the bout judging from their resume.
In this context, the nations ports management otherwise known as the Nigerian Ports Authority were at loggerheads with the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) over some issues which if not properly managed would have or can cause the country huge loss in revenue.
The drumbeats of war made its loudest noise recently when the Workers Union threatened a shutdown of the ports and its formations if their demands were not met within 14 days.
This threat was waved off by the NPA insisting that there were lots of irregularities in the operations of the dockworkers .
This is where the 3R of Responsibility, Recognition and Remuneration comes in.
Firstly, Responsibility: The MWUN Union alleged a cloning of the duties of dockworkers by a ‘controversial’ group called cargo surveyors who have taken away the statutory duties of the dockworkers and made them irrelevant and unrecognised in the operations of the ports. This was also followed by a hijack of the budgetary slots of the dockworkers. This development caused cold war and rebellion by the Union. This also led to a withholding of eight months salary of the dockworkers.
The Union argued that the duties of these workers cannot be overemphasized owing to the growing challenges of insecurity in Nigeria with the ports as a porous institution. They insisted that no rival body is qualified enough to replace the dockworkers, tally clerks and onboard security.
The second R is Recognition: The activities of the dockworkers were termed illegal and that they do not have documents. This was contained in a response issued to the MWUN. This position and identification by the NPA triggered of a struggle for recognition despite administrative boycott .At the end of the day, it became a muscle flexing scenario to maintain relevance of the dockworkers in the scheme of operations at the ports.
The third R is Remuneration: The President of MWUN, Emmanuel Nted had defended that if for the past nine years and some months that the dockworkers have been receiving salaries could be termed illegal overnight, it means the administration of the NPA within the said period is incompetent and should be prosecuted for paying illegally for those years. He argued that the dockworkers are operating on a formal contract and that their which is due to expire in December this year. Stressing further, he said when the Union approached the NPA for peaceful resolution of the matter, they pleaded for some time to put their financial provisions and records in order.
” We had a meeting with the NPA on the way forward .They told us that the budgets they had had been exhausted and that we should give them time to ask for supplementary budget last year. We waited for the supplementary budget and we continued to talk to the hungry men who are working in the ports to be patient”.
The issue of the road contract awarded to Julius Berger also formed part of the demands of the Union. They had requested that it be reviewed. The contract is for the repair and expansion of the access roads into the ports which according to them is deplorable and has caused huge traffic into the ports over the years.
While the battle lasted with verbal punches and kicks from the warring parties, the Managing Director, Alhaji Lamido Sanusi Ade Bayero came from backstage and like an umpire held the hands of the NPA and MWUN and declared a stop of the verbal fight saying if the fight happens it would affect even the spectators……(the generality of Nigerians if you catch my drift).He held separate meetings with the concessionaires and leaders of the warring parties to broker peace and the spectators walked away from the arena in what would have been the fight of the year( would-have-been hugest loss in federal revenue).
The Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity also waded into the crisis by inviting the NPA and MWUN for a meeting in Abuja which ushered in the peace currently prevailing in the ports.
A statement issued in Abuja through the Deputy Director of Press in the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, Mr Samuel Olowokere noted that the intervention was in line with Section 4 and 5 of Trade Dispute Act T.8 and T.9 laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004.He urged all parties to be calm, maintain status quo and await a positive resolution of the crisis.
With this aborted fight or better still- clash of the Maritime titans still fresh in the minds of observers, Nigerians are watching to see the end of this crisis. Would it be in favour of MWUN or the NPA? Only time would tell.
By Francis Ogwo