OPINION: Strike threat by NPA workers over 50% deduction is insurrection

Mohammed Bello-Koko, NPA Managing Director

By Gboyega Oni

It is disheartening to hear that the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) and the Senior Staff Association of Statutory Corporations and Government Owned Companies (SSASCGOC) Maritime Branch are threatening to shutdown the seaports over the deduction of 50% of the internally generated revenue of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) by the federal government. This strike threat, if carried out, will further compound the bad economic situation in the country .

NPA is a national asset and is duty bound to account to the nation. The government has a full control over its money, which belongs to the nation not NPA. It is for national development. And the port development is not insulated from the national development. Appropriation and spending of the money in the coffers of NPA is at the discretion of the federal government, not that of NPA management.

That the two unions would go on strike because the 50% deduction would hamper sustenance of NPA and hinder it from performing its key functions is not true and uncalled for. This proposed strike is likened to an act of insurrection and insubordination; it is as if the NPA is sponsoring the unions to twist the arms of  the government so as to keep the money in continuation of its mindless spending.

When NPA had the entire money,  port infrastructure such quay aprons, harbour channels, port roads in the country collapsed. The federal government intervention saved the port access roads in Lagos, which were in bad shape for many years and NPA could not resuscitate them. The road to Onne Port in Rivers State is in a sorry state now. Where is the NPA and the Unions?

Since the 2006 port reform, NPA has stopped cargo handling and delivery. As the landlord, NPA should tell us where all the monies it has collected gone to. How many quay aprons has it renovated or new ones provided? Can NPA tell us the states of dredging in the Lagos channel or Port Harcourt channel? For information, the dredging is not done by NPA but by its contractors. It unfortunate that the ports still lack basic infrastructure in the face of billions of public funds in its coffers. Where are the unions?

For the unions claiming that infrastructure in the terminals is capital intensive for NPA to provide is a cheap blackmail. All the infrastructure in the port terminals for cargo handling and delivery are provided by the operators not NPA. Even terminal operators provide light to power their operations, which is supposed to be provided by the NPA.

That the unions also claiming that the 50% deduction will impede manpower development and discharge of Corporate Social Responsibilities is an overstatement. Training and corporate social responsibility are good but, in all honesty, training on what? All critical port operations are done by staff employed by terminal operators not NPA. NPA staff only deal with documentations in their cosy offices. They too need training somehow and anyhow.

NPA should tell the public how much it has expended on the fathom corporate social responsibility it has carried out since 2006. And tell us where the projects are sited. The labour leaders – the President of SSASCGOC, Comrade Akinola Bodunde, and President General of MWUN, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju – claimed that the Nigerian Ports Authority operates in a hostile environment, especially in the Eastern axis (Niger Delta), what has it done to assuage the hostilities in this areas?

For clarity, let us hear how the two unions presented their position at their joint press conference on Monday:
“Our attention has been drawn to the Federal Ministry of Finance’s (FMF) circular Ref FMFCME/OTHERS/IGR/CFR/ 21/2023 dated 28” December, 2023 addressed to all Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies/Parastatals on automatic deduction of 50% from internally generated revenue.

“We have carefully studied this circular especially as it relates/affects the Nigerian Ports Authority and hasten to express our displeasure over same on the following grounds. Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is a self-funded Government Agency which receives zero allocation from the Government budget and taking a chunk of 50% of its internally generated revenue will as a matter of fact stall or impede the effective discharge of its corporate responsibilities and the consequential effect of this will not be palatable.

“Few of such corporate duties include; Constant Dredging of our Port Channels: Our channes are probably the shallowest in the West Africa Sub region especially the Eastern Ports channe s. They require constant dredging without which vessels cannot be easly p oted to berth.

“Dredging of the Ports channels require huge financial outlay. This w’ be pretty d fficutt to achieve when 50% of its internally generated revenue is removed. The resu tant effect will lead to ship owners diverting their vessels to our neighboring countr’es where ease of doing business is provided.

“Regular maintenance of our Quay Aprons: Almost all the Ports Quay Aprons are in bad shape due to old age and they therefore constitute grave danger not ony to men but also to equipment. We had at one time or the other expressed fear over the dilapidated condition of our Ports Quay Aprons.

“Maintaining and sustaining healthy Quay Aprons is capital intensive and if our Quay Aprons are this bad now, one can only imagine what the situation would look like when NPA is denied 50% of its revenue.

“We need to be proactive as our neighboring countries are very ready to capitalize on our inability to provide the required infrastructure to attract ship owners. Maintenance of Ports, Jetties and Terminals: Maintenance of Ports, Jetties and Terminals is also capital intensive.

“Presently all the infrastructures in our Ports, Jetties and Terminals are in decrepit position, yawning for urgent repairs. How would they then look like when the Authority is denied 50% of its internally generated revenue?
The situation is better imagined than described.

Man Power Development:
A healthy and well-trained workforce is a pre-requisite condition for improved productivity and efficient service delivery. Needless to say that Port operations is a specialized one that requires well trained workforce to compete favorably and take the lead to become the hub of maritime business in the West African sub region. A 50% deduction of NPA internally generated revenue will impede the attainment of this lofty dream. Discharge of Corporate Social Responsibilities: Nigerian Ports Authority operates in a hostile environment, especially in the Eastern axis. (Niger Delta).

“Discharge of corporate social responsibilities overtime have immensely doused their restiveness and this has fostered clement environment for the Authority and other stakeholders to operate.

“Automatic deduction of 50% of its internally generated revenue shall definitely leave the Authority, financially incapacitated to discharge these responsibilities to the host community which may lead them to resort to unhealthy activities.

“Staff Welfare Issues: are issues that require urgent attention; failure of which usually lead to inclement industrial atmosphere. Automatic deduction of 50% revenue internally generated will incapacitate the Authority from prompt attendance to staff welfare matters which will lead to avoidable crises.

“Flowing from the above, we hereby reiterate our objection to the circular as it relates to the Nigerian Ports Authority.

“RECOMMENDATION: We recommend that 30% of the revenue internally generated by the Authority could be automatically deducted whilst 70% is left for the Authority to accomplish its overhead costs and statutory responsibilities, failure of which the Union would have no other option than to withdraw the services of its members from all Ports formations nationwide.”

In all honesty, the port industry does not need any strike now. The closure of the seaports is the closure of the entire economy of the nation. It is the poor masses that will bear the brunt not even the handsomely paid NPA staff.

Our position is that the federal government has the right to determine how it runs NPA and other agencies in the interest of the nation. But we advise the federal government to ensure that the motive behind the 50% deduction reflects in the port industry. We also enjoin the labour unions to always think of other means of reaching out to the government than strike.

Enough of strike in the land.

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