There has been relative peace in the nation’s port labour industry for a long time now. This may be ascribed to the dock labour reforms but more to the leadership of the ever restive Maritime Workers Union (MWUN) under the leadership of Nted Tony Emmanuel. As his tenure draws to an end (March 2017), Mr. Nted in this interview with IZUCHUKWU OZOEMENA gives an insight into how he has been able to achieve peace in the docks all these years. He also spoke on revenue losses at the ports and advises the new NPA Managing Director on how to tackle this among other vices. EXCERPTS.
When I took over the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria as the President-General, the best language to use was that the industry was so porous and the workers had no conditions of service. There had been a lot of crisis in the industry. The maritime union members, specifically the dock workers, didn’t believe in dialogue; they believed in fighting, banging tables and the rest. When I came onboard, I said this madness must stop. I started by bringing them to the table to talk to them, to let them understand that you can only achieve your demands in the industry through dialogue. Whatever the issue may be, we‘ll put the scenario on the table; we sit down and dialogue and resolve it. We also started by prayers. We brought the entire dockworkers to the branch: those from NPA, Seamen and Shipping, called the maritime members. We did what we call Dockers’ Restoration. We preached to them on daily basis telling them to understand who God is and to be closer to him. All these we’ve done to bring peace and sanity into the industry. We did these in conjunction with NIMASA and NPA who midwived the collective bargaining agreement which we discussed and achieved thereafter.
Within the tenure of my office, I have been able to get conditions of service for the workers which had not been in existence before now. Also, we’ve taken dock workers abroad and locally for training. We did a lot of things that made the industry what it is today. These are some of the achievements we’ve made and a host of others. That is why when you get to the port today, you see that the lifestyle and the attitude to operation of workers has changed; that of NPA staff and those in shipping has also changed. You see them like every other normal Nigerian worker, not like the dock workers who they refer to as touts who make trouble or fight at the slightest provocation. These are real workers you can trust and work with.
Since your tenure, we have noticed the very prolonged dock labour peace. Apart from what you said earlier, how did you achieve it?
You see, people give dog a bad name because they want to hang it. Some of the people who led the industry before didn’t understand the plight of the workers. But we understand this and we bring them to the table, talk to them.
You need to talk to these people because some of them are illiterate. Some of them did not go to school; you need to bring them closer and also let them know what life is all about.
For you to work in an organization, you need to be a very responsible citizen. Insubordination to superior officers is not tolerated. Pilfering and stealing at the quay apron is not tolerated. We made it mandatory that if you engage in pilfering and you are caught you are expelled from the industry. Those are some of the things we did today that is bringing peace. We put God first by the Restoration we do at the branches on daily basis and teaching them about God. 90% of the dock workers are members of the MWUN. If their leaders fear God, the workers will also fear God. That is why you find out there is total peace in the industry. We talk about the Bible. Dock workers can now open the Bible and make reference to so many portions of the scriptures because their leaders taught them. I did that and God intervened in the affairs of the industry. Today, there is total peace in the industry.
If not for the low traffic, if you go to any terminal operators they will tell you that the union has done very well. If you look from afar you will notice that there is total peace in the maritime industry compared to the former leadership when they banged tables, killed people and did a lot of negative things in the industry. But today, the reverse is the case because we preach and teach them; we dialogue with the terminal operators. We work in unison with the terminal operators and the NPA. We don’t work in isolation. When we see that there is crisis in the industry, we nip it in the bud immediately. These are some of the things that bring peace and sanity to the industry we witness today.
What effect is the present low traffic in the ports having on your operations?
It’s just too bad. If you go the port, Apapa port for example, we normally have about 20 to 30 vessels berthing on a daily basis. But today hardly you get one or two vessels berthing. This is as a result of government policies. Either there is no dollar for importers to import or it is government policy through the CBN to manage the currency. The federal government makes policies. Some of these policies have become inimical to the Nigerian workers most especially those in the ports. Let me give you a typical example. Somebody brings rice into the port and you say the person can no longer do this because the rice they are planting somewhere in the country is sufficient to feed Nigerians. I think somebody needs to understand that for you to clear the land, it takes one year; farming takes another one year. Today, a bag of rice goes for N21,000 to N22, 000. How can the average, poor Nigerian afford the rice? What the FG needs to do is to allow and regulate the importation of rice. As the system continues to grow, you begin to find farmers planting and there will be food sufficiency in the country. With this in place, you can ban the importation of rice into the country. What they are doing now is killing the economy.
There are many other policies too. On the automotive policy, they told us that cars will be produced in Nigeria and we will buy at affordable rates. Where is the automation? They are banning tokunbo cars. The rate of clearing cars in the port today is outrageous. Somebody brings cars and cannot clear them. Things are getting worse. Before, people would go to China and do groupage: I’ll get $10,000 you will get $20,000 and we acquire a 40-footer container. We put our load and bring it in so that we will be able to sell the market and keep moving. But those people can no longer go to China because they are unable to get dollars which is about N400 per dollar as at today. The economy is down. People are dying, suffering on daily basis and can’t feed. Presently, the ports are empty even as the FG made a budget requiring Customs to generate certain amounts of money from the ports. How will they achieve that target when the policy is not friendly to the environment? The government needs to think; they need to get one of the best economic team that will advise them on what to do. You don’t just wake up and say CBN says this: CBN has been changing policies for more than four to five times. The people at the helm of affairs need to examine themselves and prove that they are actually qualified to do what they are doing. That is where we are today; it is affecting operations.
For the MWUN, we are facing shake-off and Nigerians are paying the price. Dockworkers in the industry are paying the price because they are not working. Since vessels are not coming in, they become idle men and an idle man is the devil’s workshop. If not for putting God first, there would have been crisis in the ports because where they don’t have work, they can resort to anything. That’s why you find in the society a lot of crime; you can’t move freely at night. Even the law enforcement agencies are doing more than they can, biting more than they can chew. It is as bad as that. It is affecting us greatly.
As an organized body, has the MWUN made presentations to the federal government on the way forward?
Yes, we have. We did so many letters and write-ups even before the advent of the Buhari administration. We made our petition clear on the state of the roads - Apapa access roads; we talked about the tank farms, rice issue, tokunbo cars, etc. We made it clear to the government that they can do these in phases so that they won’t put the workers and Nigerians in jeopardy. We also made it clear to government that there is no place in the world where you will allow tank farms to be in the ports. In Antwerp Port in Belgium, for instance, you will see where they locate all the factories - very far from the port.
We have enough land like in Badagry and so many areas where you can relocate tank farms. But the present administration is not serious. We talk about tankers that are causing hazards to the environment. Even the road, government will use tax payers’ money to tar the roads and people will pour diesel on the roads and damage them, saying thereafter that government is not doing anything. Government cannot make policies that stand. They make laws that do not work. When you make laws, you must be strict with implementation; people should be seen as obeying the laws. An establishment must have a parking space for trucks and trailers; not on the road.
Ijora Bridge is gone. The bridge is gone just because people park their trucks on it. Government is seeing them but cannot compel them to obey the simple law which says you must not park there. People who are supposed to act, when you give them bribe, allow these things to remain. When there is gridlock in Apapa, you see the army, navy, NPA officials, etc everywhere. When you come back the next day, you see the same thing happening which means they have been compromised. These are the things you see on daily basis. How will it make this country to work?
What is the union’s relationship with the private terminal operators?
Our relationship is 100% cordial. For me, whichever way people will look at it, giving the port to private people to manage is the best thing that happened to government. People will always say that government doesn’t know how to do business. Now, what government does is to sit down and collect royalties. Port concession is the best thing that ever happened to the nation.
If you go to the port - to ENL, APMT, etc - you find out that it is no longer porous as it was before because during the time of NPA everybody went into the ports in the name that it is government property. Everybody wanted to have a share in it. But today, the ports are being managed by private individuals who are restricted to some certain parts of the port to manage. They will not allow you to get into their area of operation without permission or having anything to do in the port.
These are some of the good things we have seen now. Our relationship is very cordial. Even though some of them are not living up to expectation, the union is trying to push them to live up to their responsibilities. For example, we talk of incessant accident; they need to get some safety officers to manage their operations on daily basis to do what is right. But we are pushing them and most of them are living up to expectation.
What is the latest on the issue of tally clerks, the NPA and dockworkers?
I always say that government should bring only those who are qualified to manage an organization. You cannot bring a carpenter to manage a mechanic workshop or vice versa; it will not make sense. I remember during the past administration, they appointed a ‘mechanic’ to be minister of education; I don’t understand that. These are the things we are talking about. I don’t think the past MD of NPA, Mr Habib Abdullahi knew what he was doing; it appeared they had something to benefit from the cargo surveyors. I will explain the difference between cargo surveyors and tally clerks.
Tally clerks are like retailers while cargo surveyors are into wholesale. When a vessel calls at the port, the tally clerk goes in to tally the cargo from the first day the vessel comes in to the last day of discharge. Through this, he’s able to know whether the vessel brought something that is inimical to the existence of the nation or not. They also find out whether the tonnage proclaimed in the vessel’s manifest is under- declared or not. That is the job of the tally clerks. Their job is paramount to the generation of revenue in the port. When you take tally clerks off, the port is gone!
The job of the cargo surveyor is very simple. Adebayo Sarumi was the person that introduced part of cargo surveyors in the ports before now. He did this to break the solid bulk. We call them Solid bulk to describe solid cargoes in the ship. We have liquid bulk which are mainly petroleum products and AGO. When cargo surveyors get to the vessel, they have instruments which they use for calibration so as to be able to know the tonnage. That is why I said they are the wholesalers. Calibration reveals the gauge weight which points to the content and tonnage of the vessel. But in the case of break bulk and other cargoes, the tally clerk does the tally one after the other. But because they cannot tally the solid and liquid bulk, that is why we call them the whole sale; they bring in the cargo surveyor.
Nted Tony Emmanuel
Because they have something to benefit from the cargo surveyors, the past MDs of NPA used them to do the retail job of tally clerks, even now. Cargo surveyors cannot go to a vessel carrying bags of fertilizer and tell you the tonnage. If they tell you the tonnage, do they know the content of what the vessel is carrying? They will not know. We wrote to the minister, we wrote to the federal government, nobody wants to understand what we have said. At the end of the day the MD of NPA wrote to the minister and said he is spending too much money on tally clerks and the minister agreed with him. The minister is a new person; he does not know what is happening in the port. The minister should understand that the cargo surveyors brought into the port are used to siphon money from the authority.
For example, today in Ibeto Cement Company in Port Harcourt, the cargo surveyors and some NPA harbour masters are with the EFCC. They under- declared all cargoes coming into Ibeto for some years which amounted to some millions of dollars. The case is there; I am saying it authoritatively!
The minister can now understand why the union is insisting that the job of a tally clerk is paramount in the operations of the port than that of the cargo surveyor. Now, cargo surveyors compromise and at the end of the day, they are now with the EFCC to account for amounts running into millions of dollars the federal government has lost. That is just one jetty; what about the main ports? Now there are no tally clerks in the ports, it’s free day for business because the tally clerks will always expose whatever under- declaration done. That is why they sent them out of the ports. Now they brought in cargo surveyor and whatever they are told is correct. They (cargo surveyors) will tell you that terminal operators will give them correct figure. How will terminal operators give you correct figure? Terminal operators can also connive with shipping companies and say that ‘this vessel carries 20,000MT; let us declare 10,000MT.’ Everybody does sharp practices to make money in the port and the federal government will not do anything because you pay money. If you say the vessel carries 10,000MT, they will give you $10,000 instead of $20,000. But if the tally clerks are doing the job, they will not do that.
A tally clerk is just like a police man; when he appears, everybody is afraid to know his reason for coming around. That is the job. So, when they see tally clerks in the port, everybody is afraid. But nobody is afraid of the cargo surveyors because you cannot even see them because they don’t have any job in the port. They (NPA) sent the tally clerks away and brought the cargo surveyors so that they will have all the free day in making sharp practices and make money for themselves.
With what you have said, what advice do you have for the new MD of NPA regarding the issue of cargo surveyors and tally clerks?
The new MD should look inwards. She has not had a meeting with us. When we have, I will be able to make some explanations for her to know what we are talking about.
The first thing to do immediately is to restrict cargo surveyors to the liquid and solid bulk and allow tally clerks to do their paramount job. Tally clerks have been in the port from day one before they were scrapped. If government does not want to lose revenue that is accruing to the state through the port, they should bring in tally clerks back to the ports as quickly as possible.
As a silent achiever, a focused leader, what is your advice in this regard for whoever takes over from you next year?
My advice to anybody taking over from me is he should be focused. You don’t need to go to the terminal operators and begin to ask for money. When you put your integrity first, God will reward you. What I saw the union doing last, some of the things that happened in NLC. I was a former vice president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). But during the last election when they did things that brought factionalization, I opted out because I found out that all the people there are touts. I found out that criminals have joined the congress. I wrote a letter to them that touts and criminals have taken over the congress; that I would not contest and I opted out!
So, when you are a leader you must be focused. I advise whoever will be taking over from me to shun gratification. Terminal operators and shipping companies will come that they want to entice you to do what is wrong and get out of it. I want the person to remember people elected them there; the people’s interest must be paramount. ‘You are not representing yourself. If you know you cannot do the job, don’t go there. But if you know you can, then go there and do the job and wait for blessings from God’.
Is it true that you are grooming a particular person to succeed you as PG?
I think in leadership, you will look round and find out one person out of the lot because what we need is one President-General and not two. At the end, you will find out that out of the lot, one person will be most qualified.
Our system is not based on geographical spread. But sometime, you will just look at the scenario to see people have gone there more than twice or thrice. We do it sometimes just to make peace.
Also, the issue of qualification is important: somebody that can make the system work. You know how stubborn the dockworkers are? You can call them semi-militants but we are training them on daily basis. Definitely, I must have someone who I support, someone who is more qualified. But for now, I am not grooming anyone.
What is the latest on the recent invasion of the MWUN national secretariat by some people said to have been sponsored by a former PG?
I was away when the incident happened. I was told they came to the secretariat for no reason. They came with cutlasses, guns and acid. With the help of military men and the police, they were taken care of. The case is already in court. One of the men who sponsored them was caught and in court too. The other one is running away which I don’t know why. He has to come and face the full wrath of the law (that is the former President-General). The police have gone to serve him notice; they’ve not seen him. But I know that the police will put their drag net and bring him to the court so that he will tell the whole world why he brought thugs to invade the union’s secretariat because he is the one that sponsored them.
The men are Uzoije Ukaumunna and Morris Fagan who they say is from Cotonou. We do not even know if he has a legal document to stay in Nigeria. Information we gathered say he has a lot of cases everywhere. The man is just a trouble shooter (sic). We are trying to do everything we can to make sure that the man provides all legal documents for him to reside in Nigeria. If not, that alone is another case. We are doing everything to unveil that by the grace of God. I do not understand for whatever reason Uzoije Ukaumunna is still fighting. I cannot explain. The man’s age is between 85 to 90 years. I don’t know what he is looking for - whether he is coming to the port to work. He committed a crime while he was the PG of the MWUN. Federal government set up a commission of enquiry headed by late justice Acholonu and the man was banned from entering the port based on the atrocities he committed. The white paper is still there. Nobody has lifted the white paper, so I don’t know why he is fighting the union. If he has any money to claim, then he has to go to God. Or he goes to the federal government that banned him, not MWUN. We are doing out legitimate job as we are elected by the people.
It has been suggested that the MWUN should have strong constitutional limitations to discourage past leaders from doing a similar thing after leaving office. Do you agree?
I think our constitution is very clear. It specifies eligibility for contest and tenure of office. Tenure of office is after four years. If you contest again and win election based on your antecedents, then you run for eight years. After 8 years, you leave.
So the man has run for one term and he had problems with the government because he committed a lot of atrocities in the port, beating terminal operators, NPA staff, hijacking vessels on the sea and a lot of others. The federal government said the man was becoming a tyrant and they removed him from the port. They set up a committee, probed him and they found out that he was guilty of all the crime. So, why is he coming to the port?
Our constitution is very clear, when you finish, you leave. You don’t have to come back. If the people love you, they may want to call you when they have their seminar; you’ll be there to witness the seminar. Our constitution is very clear; we don’t need to write a new constitution. But sometime we amend some parts of the constitution that we know is inimical to the operation; we can just make some adjustment.
Now you are about leaving office, many people would want to know who Tony Nted is?
I’m a Nigerian. I hail from a very small community called Agwut Obolo in Rivers State. I love being a philanthropist because each time I see people on the street suffering, it touches my heart. Whenever I see things which ought to be done and which are very minute and somebody can do it for the benefit of mankind, I do it. That is how God created me and that is how I see myself.
When I leave this union, I will not have any other thing to do than to give thanks to God. Maybe I’ll prefer going to the church to listen to the word of God on daily basis or on Sundays.
But people are suggesting that by your enviable records especially the peace and focus you have introduced to the MWUN, you should join politics and replicate it all in the in the political sphere. What’s your reaction?
It is their own opinion which is also good. But for me as a person, I don’t think with the way Nigerians are playing politics, it is a good game. That is why sometimes I refer to politicians as those with blood in their hands. The way they conduct themselves, behave, kill people, bring thugs. If you are a Christian, the Bible made it clear that “my disciples are in this world but they are not part of this world.”
Nted Tony Emmanuel
So when you are in this world and you are seeing people who are supposed to lead us, kill people, steal money, doing all sorts of things and you are a Christian, you are not supposed to be involved in that type of game. But if it is the will of God and God wants someone to give you appointment and as an acclaimed person you want to do the job well, keep to the rules and regulations of the job and your conscience then one can go for it. But for me to go and contest for election with what I am seeing today, it is not me. I am out of it. If you cannot kill, you will concur and people will kill. It is unlike British or American politics: nobody is carrying thugs; nobody wants to kill anyone or lose lives. In Nigeria, people die every day because they want to lead. You allow the conscience of people to decide who will lead. Those who go to equity must go with clean hands. For me, it is very difficult to get involved in that type of game.
Do you have any general advice to the present government?
The only thing I want to appeal to the government is for security of this nation to be paramount in their heart. I feel very sad anytime people are kidnapped. In Festac area, more than nine people have been kidnapped recently and up till now, the kidnappers have not been caught. The question we ask is who is in connivance for these happenings? Is it the Police, Navy, Army, SSS? Is it family members? These are the questions we need to answer.
For me, I believe to nip this thing in the bud, we should intensify the human rights campaign. In Singapore for instance, we have human right there, but zero tolerance for crime. If you steal, they will take you off. If you go to Dubai and China it’s very silent; they’ll take you off. In Africa, Angola is there, they do same. If you fence your house in Angola, government will arrest you; they will ask you if you think government cannot protect you. Every weekend, they execute people; they want you to go and watch. They’ll even pay you for going to watch so that it will serve as deterrent to others.
But when we catch armed robbers in Nigeria, we bring them back to the society. If you give them to police, they will mismanage and bring them back to the society. You take them to the court, the judiciary mismanages and brings them back to the society. Kidnappers, armed robbers are all the same. When they come back, they become more aggressive.
If I were the President of this country, if you are caught with gun, I will take you off. If it's an armed robber, a kidnapper, you carry drugs to destroy others and it’s confirmed, I'll take you off. That is the only way the security of this country can be guaranteed. You will see that this menace of crime will be reduced to the barest minimum because no one wants to die.
Do not forget that the bunkering they are talking about, a lot of people are in connivance. Those people cannot just be in that place for more than about three years without about 3,000 people conniving with them.
Today the military is bringing bombs to scatter them. The people that are in connivance are still watching. When we will take them to court, those are the people we will still call.
If you steal small money in Nigeria, they will execute you but if you steal big money, they will make you king; that is what is happening in Nigeria.
So, government needs to look inwards on how to manage security. For the perpetrators of crime, government needs to see how to manage it, to give capital punishment. That is the only way this country can move forward.
*Tony Nted Emmanuel, the fearless, outspoken and candid President-General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria is gradually winding up his tenure. He was on our Executive Platform where he gave account of his stewardship and bared his mind on the critical issues that affect port and dock labour operations and other societal matters. Enjoy the interview.