Maritime Workers Shutdown Ports for Hours over ‘Obnoxious’ Bill

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Eromosele Abiodun and Solomon Elusoji

A coalition of industrial unions comprising Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) and the maritime branch of the Senior Staff Association of Communication, Transportation and Corporation (SSACTAC) yesterday made good their threat to shut down every major seaport across the country.

The punitive action was the unions’ strategy to voice out against a bill recently passed by the Senate and has reached second reading stage in the House of Representatives, which seeks to privatise Nigeria ports.

Titled: ‘Bill for an Act to Repeal the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Act, CAP126 LFN 2004, and to Establish the Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority to Provide for the Ownership, Management and Development of Ports and Harbours and for Related Matters’, it is being sponsored in the House of Representatives by Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai, representing Ndokwa/Ukwani constituency from Delta State.

Speaking at a rally held at the Apapa seaport yesterday, MWUN’s President-General, Adewale Adeyanju, said: “The purpose of this bill is to strip Nigeria of her commonwealth through further consolidation of harbour operations in the guise of amending the NPA Act of 1955.

“If this bill is being passed into law, it will lead to massive job loss among our members, as item six of the second schedule of the bill says not all the staff of the NPA will be absorbed into the Nigeria Ports Harbour Authority. In other words, the bill will send a large number of NPA staff to the labour market, including the dock workers, seamen and other relevant stakeholders in the port industry. Besides, the bill does not make provision for how, when and who will pay those who are not going to be absorbed by the new proposed arrangement.”

Adeyanju also pointed out that a privatisation move poses a huge security risk, as it might be difficult for the government to regulate what comes into the country.
“It is a security risk and the repercussions can be very grave if the bill is being passed into law.
“Remember the recent incident of a container at Tin-Can Island containing 440 cartons of deadly ammunition. This is why we are opposing this bill. We are sending a very serious signal to the authorities that this bill must not see the light of the day,”he said.

The shutdown, which commenced in the early hours of yesterday, lasted only till noon as the union leaders called it off and directed workers to return to their duty posts.
What we are doing is an awareness to let the world know that the workers oppose this bill,”the MWUN president-general said.
He added: “We are going to sit down and consult with all the executives of the great union and see how we can move forward.”
On his part, SSACTAC President, Benson Adebgeyeni, stated that “the situation of the nation is dicey, and the senators and House of Representative members who we voted to represent us are trying to short-change Nigeria’s future.

“Remember the concession of 2005/2006. They said then that we should collaborate with those who are going to buy the ports, but our members were thrown into the labour market. Then, NPA had about 14,000 workers, but we were reduced to about 3,000.
“And if we look at it critically, we have seen similar occurrences in Nigeria. NITEL was privatised, and today, where is NITEL; NEPA the same thing, they said there would be light for 24 hours, I think we are enjoying the light now.
“The message of this protest is clear-the wrong thing should not be done to the nation. We are not against privatisation, but the stakeholders should be carried along.”