…As workers shut ports over bill to repeal NPA Act
By Victor Ahiuma-Young
LAGOS—At least N5 billion was lost by stakeholders to yesterday’s shut down of port operations across the country by aggrieved ports’ workers, led by officials of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN, and Senior Staff Association of Communication, Transportation and Corporation, SSACTAC, Maritime branch.
The shut-down was a protest against moves by National Assembly to repeal the NPA Act, which the workers described as anti-Nigeria.
Investigations revealed that Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, alone lost over N2 billion to the disruption, while NPA, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, importers, and other operators in the ports were estimated to have lost between N2.5 billion and N3 billion.
It was gathered that all the ports formations in Lagos, Warri, Port Harcourt, Onne, and Calabar were shut as early as 5.30 am, yesterday, in protest against a bill pending at National Assembly, which seeks to repeal the “Nigerian Ports Authority Act, cap 126 LFN 2004 (as amended) and establish the Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority to provide for the ownership, management and development of ports and harbours and for related matters.”
According to the two unions, the bill had been passed by the Senate and gone through the second reading in the House of Representatives without the knowledge of most stakeholders in the maritime sector, especially organised labour.
While rejecting the bill and advising that it be thrown out in the interest of the nation, the leaders of MWUN and SSACTAC Maritime branch, warned that should members of the National Assembly go ahead with the bill, all the ports nationwide would be shut indefinitely until the lawmakers were ready to listen to the voice of workers and other concerned stakeholders.
Giving reasons for labour’s opposition to the bill, President-General of MWUN and President of SSACTAC, Adewale Adeyanju and Benson Adegbeyeni, respectively, claimed the bill, if passed into law, would undermine the nation’s security, lead to sack of more than half of workers in the ports, and massive loss of revenue to government.
According to Mr. Adeyanju, the bill said to have been sponsored in the House of Representatives by Ossai Nicholas Ossai, since the presentation, none of the stakeholders, including the two unions in the maritime sector was notified or invited to speak on behalf of their members.
He said: “For us, this smacks of a deliberate attempt to dishonestly legislate and impose a wicked law on ports users, workers and other Nigerians without their inputs knowing full well the bill’s direct and indirect effect on them, the security of this nation and her overall economy.”
The bill in question summarily seeks to repeal the NPA Act 1955 as amended which set up NPA and replaces it with the aforementioned bill which by all intent and purpose, has grave consequences to the security of the nation among others, and most disturbing, will throw more than half of our members and other workers into the already saturated labour market. This is contrary to the promise of the current government to protect and create jobs.
“Having examined the Act setting up NPA and our experiences since then, we have not been able to understand the reason or reasons for this bill except to through the back door, appropriate national assets to few unpatriotic individuals for their personal aggrandizement thereby denying government of the huge revenue in foreign exchange accruable to it through the maritime sector. This bill portends grave consequences for the security of this country as it cedes harbour, jetty and terminal operations into private hands. This is especially serious in view of the dangerous influx of illegal arms and ammunition into the country, which we all are seeing the consequences as evidenced in insurgency, kidnapping, militancy, and other violent crimes across the country.
“You all can recall in 1990 when a private jetty and warehouse were used to import and stockpiled weapons which were deployed in an attempt to unseat the then Federal Government. Again, most recently, you will recall the discovery of over 440 cartons of dangerous weapons in containers in two operations in our ports. But for the vigilance of our members and some government agencies, those weapons would have found their way into general circulation. A cursory examination of item 6 in the second schedule of the said bill seeks to wickedly legitimise ‘sacking’ of workers as it unambiguously states that ‘not every staff of NPA will be absolved by the new Nigerian Ports and Harbour authority’. Where then is government’s avowed claim to create jobs for jobless Nigerians?”
Corroborating Adeyanju, Adegbeyeni, said: “To worsen the matter, no provision is made concerning the fate of the employees whose services will not be transferred, including how and who pays their terminal benefits.
‘’More worrisome is the fact that the bill in section 15 (4) will give the new authority powers to employ on non-pensionable terms and conditions. This effectively institutionalizes the evil of casualization of workers and negates the provisions of the federal government’s Pension Reform Act 2004 as amended.’’