Adewale Adeyanju is the President General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria and also Deputy President of the Nigerian Labour Congress. In this interview with ANOZIEE EGOLE, he speaks on some of the challenges facing the sector and possible ways out
The MWUN recently issued an ultimatum to the Federal Government to review workers’ welfare. What is the update on the ultimatum?
The ultimatum still stands because we have already sent it out. It has to do with the attitude of some of the employers of labour within the maritime sector. They are from the shipping community and the international oil companies that fall under dockworkers. When a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria gave an ultimatum for all the IOCs to comply with the extant law but they refused. For almost four years ago, we have been battling for them to allow the stevedoring contractors employed by the Nigerian Ports Authority to work in their formation but up till now they are still adamant.
The dockworkers and IOCs have been going in and out of this issue for a long time and it seems there seems to be no solution. What is the latest update?
Yes when you issue an ultimatum to the stakeholders that you are going to shut down the ports and agencies called union leaders and said that they were going to intervene and that we should not shut down the port, we listened to them because of the respect we have for them. It is not like we cannot bite. We were only trying to listen to the other communities that are working within the port operations. If the Nigerian Shippers Council, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency and some other notable responsible agencies call us for a dialogue, we listen to them. But with the way it is now, there is no how we can listen to them again. Yes, they are investors, they came to invest in this country and in doing that, the law of the land must be obeyed. We can’t do it in their own countries. They can’t even do it in Ghana but here in Nigeria, they do whatever they want. They must obey the extant law that says “allow these people to work in the terminal.” It is the law of the land and it is very clear. So we felt there is a need for us to let the whole world know.
But despite constant industrial actions, these IOCs have constantly refused to comply. Do you have any other strategy to ensure they comply?
When the ultimatum expires, you will know if we have other strategies. I cannot tell you where the power is coming from and what we are about to do. So you leave that one for us, it is our matter and we know how to manage them.
The Federal Government recently asked the managing director of Seplat Oil and Gas to step down on accusations of racism against his workers. What do you have to say about that?
I think they are waking up. The government is waking up. We have been telling them about this issue where the jobs that Nigerians can do are given to foreigners. They need to go and perfect their documentation and operations. So we are in support of what the Federal Government is doing because it is not only Seplat, some other multinational companies are involved too. They don’t have respect for the laws of this great country. So our ultimatum is to let the whole world know that the Federal Government has been sleeping when it comes to the issues that concern the welfare of workers.
As the vice president of NLC, how do you intend to address the issue of casualisation in Nigeria?
The president of NLC when he was addressing workers in our office here recently mentioned the issue of casualisation as it is affecting Nigerians. Casualisation is a virus that has already eaten deep into the mind of these employers of labour. The job we can do, these employers outsource to some people. So it is a virus in the system and we are going to remove the virus. That is why the NLC said it was going to set up a picketing committee on outsourcing and casualisation that is booming in Nigeria. The banking sector is the worst we are coming there, they use some of our young graduates as casual workers and they give them a matching order that if you don’t meet your target, you will be sacked, that that is what is going on in the banking sector. We are out to correct most of these anomalies.
What is the position of MWUN as reg ards minimum wage?
Is the minimum wage working? Some states have yet to comply with the N30,000 minimum wage that the Federal Government introduced earlier. Even the N30,000 minimum wage what problem can it solve looking at the economic situation of the country? So there is a need for the union and the government to review the minimum wage to cushion the suffering of the masses. An average family now can’t boost N5000 cash at hand and they have money but can’t access the money. So talking about minimum wage, it is dead on arrival. What we need to do now is to sit with the government to review and renew the minimum wage to cushion the effect of the hardship.
How would you say the issue of the naira redesign has affected the nation’s maritime industry?
It’s no longer a new thing if you go to the market; you can’t buy anything with cash in your hand. Our market women do not know how to operate Point of Sale machines. So whatever you want to buy must be done through transfer. What if the person selling the product does not know anything about mobile banking?
Truckers union recently accused your members of extortion. What happened?
We have gone beyond that level. We work within the law that established the union. We had a constitution before we went into partnership with Council for the Maritime Truck Union and Associations, and we have a certified haulage arm. So we said we are not going to work with COMTUA again. I don’t work on the road and I can’t subject my members to be ticket takers on the road. Our job is on the sea. We have other unions who are supposed to be on the road. We partnered them but we found out that the partnership is not going to benefit the MWUN. Because there is no way I will sit down with people who write petitions against the management that I am part of. It is not going to work well. The Nigerian Ports Authority introduced eto and it is working but somebody somewhere in COMTUA is writing a petition against eto. They have been writing petitions against notable agencies and you expect someone like me to be part of that, so we have to pull out.
The Federal Government has recently approved an increment of maritime workers’ salaries and you are also complaining of unfair treatment of workers. What is the true picture of the whole thing?
In shipping, we have areas where we have declared a state of emergency because of the poor remuneration that we are witnessing in the shipping industry. Where someone will be going home after retirement and what they will be giving the person is nothing to fall back on. We have declared a state of emergency in shipping. Yes, we appreciated the management of NPA for their quick response when we found out that they have not reviewed salaries for years. So I think what we need to be saying now is how to consolidate the review of salaries with the NPA. So we commend the management of the NPA for doing what is right. Because this is the only union that has dragged the management of NPA to the office of NLC. If they don’t have respect for us they wouldn’t have joined us in visiting the management of the NLC who contributed to the review of the salary of workers.
Apapa Port access road seems to have defied all solutions in terms of the traffic situation, what do you think is the way out?
I was recently granted an interview on the port access roads. If you get to the Apapa port access roads, you find out that at night they erect structures on the road where they sleep, and do their normal business. You will see women and children on the road. So the NPA should not only fence the TinCan ports. They should work with the state government to remove those people from the roads. Now you spend more time on the road, they do their businesses on the road. I can tell you that TinCan Island is as porous as anything because of the activities going on there.
We are aware that the port concession agreement is yet to be renewed. How has that been affecting you?
We need clarification on who is regulating the ports. Because we have seen different agencies coming in, like the Nigerian Shippers Council, NIMASA and I don’t know if another one will come as a regulator. Because I believe the NPA is autonomous on its own, they are the landlord and when you are turning the landlord into a tenant you will see that there is no way it will happen. What is the job of the Shippers Council, I heard the ministry saying that they should be involved in vetting the agreement.