Dockworkers to Shut Ports over Disagreement with IOCs, NNPC

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    • Say oil firms misleading presidency

    Eromosele Abiodun

    The atmosphere of peace that currently pervades the country’s ports may not last, if a threat by dockworkers is anything to go by.

    The dockworkers have threatened to embark on a strike to press home their disagreement with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and International Oil Companies (IOCs) over the appointment of stevedoring companies.

    The threat of strike is coming after the recent restoration of peace at the ports following an industrial action by truckers in Apapa to protest alleged extortion by security agencies, which paralyzed activities.

    Stevedoring companies and dockworkers under them allege that certain business interests are working against their ability to effectively carry out their functions and legally earn a living. They allege further that these moves, which may have received the support of powerful forces on the board of the NNPC, are bound to cause a lot of unease in the sector.

    Dockworkers, who spoke to THISDAY on condition of anonymity, explained that the peaceful labour atmosphere that reigned in the maritime sector may soon be disrupted by the undue delay in the appointment of Stevedoring companies by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).

    Stevedoring companies are firms licensed by the government of a country to engage dockworkers and supervise the loading and offloading of cargoes on vessels.

    THISDAY learnt that until recently, when the NPA drew the federal government’s attention to the existence and provisions of a Stevedoring Regulations, 2014, which domiciled the appointment of stevedoring agents with the federal government, IOCs and PMS Jetty operators in the country, had taken over the responsibility of appointing stevedoring agents. This they did by contracting companies that hired and supervised dockworkers without any revenue accruing to the federal government from this service. In addition to this, dockworkers allege that the IOCs do not protect their interest, as conditions of service under the companies given these contracts are below global industry standard.

    Recently, however, the NPA has reversed the role, arguing that the Nigerian Ports Authority Act 2004, CAP 126, LFN made stevedoring a statutory duty of the Authority and granted it right to perform the whole of its statutory functions through the engagement of third parties. It had embarked on a transparent process to seek expression of interest from qualified companies with the intention of performing its regulatory functions. This process has remained incomplete for a while and the stakeholders in the sector have become uncomfortable with the lack of clarity as to the operation of the stevedoring services henceforth.

    A source within the NPA told THISDAY that although the NPA had gone through all the necessary tender requirements of the Procurement Act, 2004 for the accreditation of contractors for this kind of service, there had been a recent presidential directive for the suspension of the process.

    The source, which pleaded for anonymity for lack of authority to speak on the issue, explained that there had been a series of petitions, allegedly, sponsored by the IOCs to the presidency on why government agencies should not regulate stevedoring business. These petitions, THISDAY learnt, were principally hinged on excuses that the completion of the process would lead to an increase in the landing cost of petroleum products and ultimately in the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) in particular.

    But he described this suggestion as a cheap way of hoodwinking the presidency into playing the game of economic saboteurs whose only motive is retaining their stranglehold on the sector.

    The source stated that companies licensed by the NPA will be paid the same rate that the illegally engaged companies are paid, arguing, “So how can there be increase in landing cost of PMS?”

    He explained that all the NPA sought to do was ensure that the laws of the country were not contravened by the wrongful appropriation of statutory duties of government agencies by private concerns.

    In a chat with THISDAY, President and Deputy President, respectively, of the National Association of Stevedoring Companies, Mr. Bolaji Sunmola, and Mallam Aliyu Abubakar Bambodo, explained that they had continued to impress it on dockworkers that the Buhari administration had the will to see the process through and that this had held maritime workers back from launching any form of agitation at the moment.

    Sunmola said the association was in the forefront of agitations for the 2014 Stevedoring Regulations, which the last administration did not have the will to execute. He stated, “Maritime workers believe that the delay in the licensing of stevedoring companies has the potentials to destroy the sector and hamper their own means of lives. But we have kept assuring them that we are in communication with the authorities. Our hope is that the situation will be dealt with promptly to avoid any form of unrests in the sector.”