We Rejected N30,000 Proposed By Government As Benefit For Aged Seafarers

Dr. Adewale Adeyanju, President General of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria(MWUN) in this interview talks about the union’s continuous struggle for workers welfare and entitlement of aged seafarers who worked in the defunct Nigeria National Shipping Line (NNSL)

He described the N100m proposed as terminal benefits as too small because it would amount to paying N30,000 to each of the 3000 seafarers and next of kin

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We just saw the end of 2023. Around this time last year, we had a similar interview. Will you give us bullet points of what you can count as achievements of the union in 2023?

Firstly, let me start by saying that the union exist in the interest of the workers. As a body we are connecting our present with the past to build a better future.

Within the union there is harmony. I am pleased to inform you that I led my executives, cutting across all branches, to visit our former leader Comrade Uzoije Ukaummunna.

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We have been promoting industrial hamorny between employers and our members to guarantee job security and productivity, so there was need for us to cultivate the hamorny from within. Soon, we are going to have all past President General in a board in this union.

Last year we started making progress in the increment of NPA workers salaries which was stagnated for 18 years. Though we are not where we want to be but we are moving forward. the salary of Nigeria Ports Authority workers for almost 18 to 20 years was not reviewed but under our command and achievement, we were able to review it through the intervention of the Managing Director of Nigeria Ports Authority.

We can give him that pass mark for being supportive for the salary of Nigeria Ports Authority staff that has been reviewed and I think it can be given another consideration for proper review.We need to commend the workers and the staff of Nigeria Ports Authority,the senior staff of NPA and the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria because three of us worked to make sure that we were able to get something for the staff of NPA.That is a year we are not going to forget as well.

It was a year that we won’t forget so soon where for the past six years we have been clamouring for review of dock workers wages, shipping wages.So many things happened.We experienced happiness, sorrow, sadness, history,loss of lives but we still thank God that we are living .

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As a union, we kept up with the struggle for the benefits of seafarers who worked with Nigeria National Shipping Line (NNSL). The Maritime Workers of Nigeria have been saying that the seafarers that worked under the of the defunt NSML were not paid their pensions.

It is a year we are not going to forget so soon, when we gave ultimatum and for the Ministry of Transportation under the leadership of the former Minister of Transportation before it was splited into two.

I salute Engineer Muazu Sambo, a forthright leader and a maritime stakeholder who grew up in the industry.We miss him so soon because we are thinking that he will consolidate with his achievements but the time was too short.

Sambo as Transportation Minister was the one that set up the commitee to look into the affairs of the payment of the aged seafarers which I think someone has taken over from there.

It is equally a year that I can say that the new Minister of Marine and Blue Economy who I believe is coming from the private sector and from what I was told was an accountant will build on what he met on the ground

We have laid the foundation for continuous struggle for workers welfare. There is no end to the demands for better working conditions and improved welfare packages for our members. We are continuing the struggle in 2024. No retreat, no surrender.

Last year and even in 2022 as a Union, you had two Ministers of Transport.One for transport and one for Marine and Blue Economy within the same. How has these changes affected the union?

It is very easy for a Minister to pronounce his intentions and plan of action.It is another thing for effective implementation. Sambo came in as someone who believed he could turn around the sector for improvement but time did not permit him to complete that assignment.He had a short time. That was a time that the new government came in and they had to change the Ministers.He was unable to complete the assignments that he had in mind for the maritime stakeholders.

We have gotten another Minister, and they have divided the Ministry that used to be one to two. There is a Minister of Marine and Blue Economy and Minister of Transportation.We are yet to see the dividend of that new Ministry.Nobody can tell me now that it has yielded any fruit.Everyone is talking theoritically.What we want is practical impact coming from that Ministry.

Talking to all the stakeholders, there is no how you will pick some selected stakeholders.The Union has not been carried along under the new minister of Marine and Blue Economy.We have not met him.

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We have written letters, congratulated him, and asked him for us to meet with him and share ideas because we are the ones dealing with all the stakeholders, employers and investors .We are ones working directly with all employers, terminal operators, the shipping companies, seafarers and shipping branches.We have four branches of Maritime Workers Union in Nigeria.Can he do away with those four branches?

This is the seventh month of Tinubu’s administration and the Minister has not sat with us. Somebody must be an adviser to the Honourable Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, rightly or wrongly telling him that they can take care of the Union .We are watching for those advisers that are advising our leaders.He is our leader and I respect him so much but the people that are advising him against sitting down with the Union are not helping the administration.

They are not helping the President of this country because when President Tinubu was campaigning, I followed his campaign messages about the restructuring of the ports where he said Calabar and Warri ports are will be model ports that can compete and be compared with other ports all over the world.It shows that the President has a vision for the maritime sector.

I believe that after the oil sector, it is maritime and for the past seven months, we have not been able to sit down with our Minister, It is bad. We have written to congratulate him , we have sent everything and paid homage.

I have only met him twice which is during the time of commissioning the Mission to Seafarers building and that was the day I saw him and greeted him as a father, a leader and as our Minister.We have sent several letters to him .

Does that imply that he is running a closed door policy, in your opinion?

I am not saying that. He might have Advisers, guiding wrongly.Those ones who believe they know more than all of us here.

Those ones that when they run the industry into problems, they will leave the minister to bear the blames alone . As a union, we rehabilitated and transformed ourselves to a standard where we strategically contribute in building the maritime industry in Nigeria. We state facts as they are and we don’t look at people’s faces before saying the truth on what will benefit workers and the country at large.

We are all stakeholders and we have all contributed to the system and growth of the port business one way or the other including you interviewing me.

I visited some ports and discovered that they are better than that of some other African countries.We have our own contributions to support the new Minister of Marine and Blue Economy.It is like the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy is a new ministry but to us that are old in the system and knows about it, it is not new to us .It is just that it is an old wine in a new bottle and change of name.

We have our own input and idea as Unionist and as someone that has close to 500,000 workers under his command in the sector, we are critical stakeholders that should be carried along .

I believe some people are blocking us from seeing the Minister.Why are they afraid? They felt we will expose their attitude before the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy.We don’t have time for them.What we have time for is the welfare of our members and growth of our industry to the benefit of Nigeria.We are for the Ministry and the Ministry is for us.

Last year they organized stakeholders meeting, someone asked me that they didn’t see the union there. I replied that those guiding the minister didn’t invite us. Can I just go there uninvited and start saying I am representing Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, when invitation was not given to us?

Without the workers,we cannot have Port Industry.Without the port industry, no workers. All of us are social partners.

There is know how someone will say the Minister is shutting his door against the Union.He cannot shut his door against us. When time comes he will open the door.Someone must be holding the key.We are waiting for the day when the Minister will invite us and we will open up what is going on to him.

In 2022 there were ultimatum given to companies who were employers of your shipping branch members.In 2023, there were ultimatums again.In all of these, what has been achieved for workers in the Shipping Sector whom you have always complained about slave wages?

Ultimatum is just like an awareness between two parties: the Union and the employers.We found out that some employers are trying to be against the workers under them. Mostly to the shipping branch where we declare state of emergency in the face of slave wages that you talked about,where retirement benefit is like a death sentence .

I still want to thank the former Minister of Transportation, Sambo who in his own wisdom ordered my friend and brother who has been relieved of his appointment as the ES of Shippers Council to coordinate the negotiations between us and employers.

We were having a very good meeting and at the verge of resolving it before this change of leadership in the Shippers Council came in.A technical commitee was set up and they had a serious argument on the welfare of the workers in shipping branch.We are now about to sit down with all the stakeholders so that we can sign the agreement.Our ultimatum has yielded a very good result.For the management to align with the union and to have come out with what they can offer, unlike before when they were unwilling to dialogue.The ultimatum we gave have yielded very fruitful results .

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Can we look at NSML workers? As the days are passing, the number of people who are entitled to the entitlement you are fighting for is reducing because some of them are getting older and some are dying. It was said that N100 million was offered but the union considered it too small to pay that number of workers, how much is good enough?

I do not know why we don’t celebrate our heroes and heroines.We celebrate those that are fraudsters.We celebrate them in the sense that we believe they have made so much money.We keep praising them.The people that made Nigeria to be recognized are not being celebrated.The defunct Nigeria National Shipping Line Workers have contributed to the growth of seafaring in Nigeria. They were our pioneer seafarers

We are not the first country that something like this has affected.It affected Ghana and some other countries where liquidation took place in some parastatals under them.The way they treated their counterparts in other countries is not the way Nigeria is treating the defunt NNSL workers.

I did not see it as an upfront.It is an outfront to us. If you give them N100 million how much will they share among to 3000 retirees .If we divide N100 million multiplied by 3000 workers, you will be talking about N30,000 for each person. Why should I agree to pay aged seafarers N30,000 each?

I want to thank the DG NIMASA who came in as a result of the way and manner we handled it, we said yes we were offered N100 million and we rejected.We rejected because there is no how we will pronounce such amount of money before the people .We have not carried out physical verification of the aged seafarers, those that have died have their next of kin, because they are all entitled to it and that is the standard of the union.

These seafarers are under NPA.They make use of them. Where are those parastatals? Do they not fall under Ministry of Transportation before it was divided into two and the four parastatals fall under Marine and Blue Economy.Even Maritime Academy and some are lecturing there.Some or these aged seafarers are still lecturing there.

If you are paying those people that have contributed to the growth of NNSL N30,000, it is an insult to the seafarers and seafaring profession in Nigeria and it is an insult to all of us that believe those guys need to be celebrated whether they are dead or alive. It is a slap on our face. They should be paid reasonably and children of those that have died will be able to collect their fathers rights.That is the stand of the Union.

To tell you now that DG NIMASA has intervened and told us that he will consult with the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy to make sure that things are done appropriately.He is not the only one, if other agencies under the ministry contribute N100 million each, no one will complain again.N100 million multiplied by 5 is N500 million.

We will believe that something reasonable is about to come because the Union has not sat down with them to negotiate.It is just a proposal coming from NIMASA on its own.We will respect it so much and believe that.These people should be taken care of but how much is N100 million multiplied by the number of persons involved

I think efforts are being put in place to make sure that the commitee on verifications going start their job anytime soon to ascertain the identities ans number of persons entitled to the money.

What are your priorities for 2024 ?

It is God that has all these plans but what is important is for God to keep us to witness the year fully The Union will always wait for the day, time and minute when matters of welfarism will come.

For us to achieve the better goal, the first thing I want the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy to do is that the right of the seafarers is being given to them at the first quarter.

It is one of the important issue we still need to sit down and negotiate.It should be part of our priority in the first quarter this year because that is my fundamental issue to make sure that those seafarers’ or their next of kin are being paid . This matter has been on since almost 28 years ago.

We are also concerned deeply about the deplorable conditions of port access roads across the country. Under our former President, for 8 good years the road leading to the ports has been like hell fire and we are still passing through it now

If you look at what is happening in Tincan Island, it is not accessible again.It is an everyday issue.The tankers, mechanics, Baba Ijebu lottery, the gamblers have taken over our port access road and they are erecting four bedroom flats on the road because around 6-8 pm, you cannot pass through Tincan Island.You will see school children roaming about on the road at night.It is as bad as that and we are using this medium to tell the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy to give it attention.

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We read in the news that the Minister of Marine and Minister of Works have met on the issue. We hope it works out well. The port is critical to our economic development,so port access roads deserve priority attention.

The former Minister of Works did not pay much attention to the road leading to the ports. The new minister is coming with governorship experience and a respected person .

Onne port access road is in a horrible state and if you want to get to the airport from there, you need to wake up around 4am to beat the traffic.These are the things we are saying the government should focus on, they should make sure these roads are rebilitated for port users.

Investors may run away because the port facilities are inadequate. Cotonou is not up to Tincan Island but they are making millions through Nigeria bound cargoes
We have been saying it over the years that the government should declare emergency on the port access roads.

We have been saying it all the time that the Lagos State Government said they have given notice to tankers and drivers to vacate.It is a statement that has been coming out every day.Where is the action plan? The action plan is not there.

The truckers are suffering in the hands of extortionists on the road.If they are impounding the trucks ,do you know how much they are charging them? It is N250,000 to N300,000 for impounding trucks for somebody that has invested more on his truck which is not in the record of the Lagos State Government.

The Governor of Lagos State should look into that and make sure that he visits the place without notice in the night and not in the morning. Then he will see beyond what he is being told

Can you tell us what your biggest challenge was in 2023?

Every leader face challenges every minute.Here , we face challenges every minute.

The most important thing is that when God is with you, you will overcome all those challenges. Unionism is about finding solution to workers issues. It’s an everyday thing

The challenges of poor condition of service for dock workers, shipping branch, salary of NPA workers for the past 18 years that was not reviewed, NNSL entitlements that were not paid – the list is endless.We are hopeful that God will see us through

What are your expectations in 2024

I think the President of this great country is doing his best but his best is not enough for everyone to judge by now. It’s too early to draw conclusions

My hope is that 2024 is going to be a better year for us.2023 was a year when Naira became so weak in the hands of those that suppose to to be investors.So many companies have closed down and relocated to other countries.Some companies have wind down.

It also affected Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria.When you close down a company, what happens to the workers ? You will see redundancy and retrenchment as the order of the day. We are looking up to the president in 2024 to quickly do something about the exchange rate by promoting export and stabilizing the naira

As Deputy President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) how do you see the Owerri attack on your President, Joe Ajaero and other members, in the face of government not arresting or prosecuting the suspected attackers?

To me , it is a slap on the face of Labour Movement in this country where number one worker that was elected democratically by workers was humiliated, embarrassed and almost killed.

They tried to strip him naked publicly.If not for the intervention of the National Security Adviser who came into the matter quickly, we would have lost our great leader.

It has never happened in the history of Labour Movement in this country where an NLC President will be attacked and bruised in his own state in broad daylight and the police were there,even his escorts were disarmed by the police because the Governor of that state feel he is an emperor. He has the power today but he has forgotten that true power belongs to God.

We expect the Governor to provide security to the labour leader and everyone in his state but this didn’t happen. Rather, he is being biased against the Labour Movement not only in his state which is Imo state but Nigeria as a whole.

My members were equally attacked because two of my national officers were attacked and bruised before the President came into the secretariat.

It has never weakened us but it has given us more hopes that the right of the workers must be protected.What they did to Ajearo is not Ajearo’s matter.It was all of us that are Union leaders even to the workers that were attacked. This is a man fighting for workers rights in his home state

Joshua Okoria

Joshua Okoria is a Lagos based multi-skilled journalist covering the maritime industry. His ICT and graphic design skills makes him a resourceful person in any modern newsroom. He read mass communication at the Olabisi Onabanjo University and has sharpened his knowledge in media practice from several other short courses. 07030562600,

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