Nigerian maritime sector is in terrible state due to government negligence –Asonye, SSASCFA President

By Steve Agbota, 
“It is disheartening that Nigerian maritime sector cannot compete with some of the third world economy’s maritime sector despite its contribution to the nation’s economy. The sector has been neglected by the government for years.
“In Nigeria today, maritime sector is the gateway to the nation’s economy. Maritime is the face of international business as at today in Nigeria. The sector has surpassed the downstream, midstream and upstream sectors  of the economy. Maritime sector has continued to play a pivot al role in increasing the nation’s  Gross Domestic Product.
“The industry; is a hallowed sector that carries the burdens of so many other sectors like oil and gas, agriculture, construction, banking etc. It has to do with services of the shipping companies and agencies, ports and  terminal operations, warehousing, logistics business (haulage and local transport), freight forwarding, marine inspection services, ship and boat repairs, etc,” says the President General of Senior Staff Association of Shipping, Clearing and  Forwarding Agencies (SSASCFA), Comrade Harrison Ugochukwu Asonye.
Asonye also shed light on members’ welfare, relationship with shipping companies and other maritime related issues.
Maritime transport in Nigeria constitutes of higher percentage of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The larger portion of the country’s revenue is generated from the maritime industry. But unfortunately, maritime sector’s case is likened to the “goose that laid the golden egg”. There is not much government support to the sector. The sector despite generating huge financial support to the economy, is in a poor and terrible state. Government presence is not felt in this sector. The sector here in Nigeria cannot compete with so many third world economy’s maritime sector.
Ways out
There are so many ways government of Nigeria will improve the dilapidated state of the sector. I will only mention four ways in this edition and later give the remaining ones in the subsequent editions. Below are the ways by which government of Nigeria can improve the sector. One is the area of good road networks.  Today in this sector, we do not have good access road networks despite the contribution of this sector to the growth of our GDP. Though, the road network as at today has improved a little compared with 2020 downwards. More can be done to have a good road network. This will to an extent enhance seamless and free flow of business within the sector. We are calling on government to come to our aid in this regard.
The second one is good rail system within and outside the port. Introduction of rail system from the ocean port to dry ports, other terminals, warehouses will go a long way in decongesting the port. It will also enhance quick turnarounds. I could remember those days when I was doing my industrial training in the port, Peugeot Association Nigeria (PAN) moves its container from Apapa quay to Kaduna or Kano via rail right from the port. This means of transportation should be encouraged to meet up with the call of ease of doing business in Nigeria.
The third one where government can improve the sector is encouragement of barge operations. Since the activation of barge operations in Nigeria, congestion to an extent has reduced even though volumes dropped since the first quarter of this year. More barge operators should be injected into the business to further create room for competition which will eventually drop the exorbitant rates of some obnoxious operators and help in decongesting the port. And there is need for encouragement of the Inland Container Depots (ICDs). We call on government to encourage the Inland Container Depots, dry ports and holding bays as these group are contributing to the port decongestion.
FCCPC invasion
We are very much aware that this agency called Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) truly invaded five shipping companies in a commando style which we frowned at because we didn’t take it likely with them and we are also aware that workers’ personal belongings were intercepted. Things like telephone and laptops; then companies’ servers were cloned and we fought it on the pages of national dailies, we wrote to the Minister of Labour, Trade and Commerce reporting this particular incident. We also wrote to the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) about it and we did series of follow-up but we are 99 per cent  sure that those things collected from our members were returned to them. But for the cloned servers by the Commission, I must say here that I am not sure if they were deleted or not. The servers belong to our employers, and we are not to tell them what to do or how to go about redeeming whatever that have seen seized by the Commission. They also have a body that can fight for them, but our intervention and push suspended everything that they intended doing as at then. Today we are happy that workers have overcome that because they got all their belonging back.
As a matter of facts this is one area we always apply wisdom because I believe sometimes that if we are five in number for example and my employers want to increase my salary for instance and lay off some other persons in the organization thus it will be better we all go back to the drawing board and look at the issue critically, by calling our employers to say instead of laying off these number of personnel why not give what I am earning before so as to sustain or retain the ones you want to lay off because there is no salary that will be enough for those working. It is better for everyone to be employed and be as busy as they can than laying off workers because when people are employed in our society then we can boast of a robust economy. Therefore, downsizing is not an option in anyway.
Two years down the line, can you tell us about the challenges you are facing   as PG of the union?
Most of the challenges we are facing is the issue of our employers trying to frustrate workers from joining the union and that is the major problem. There is a particular issue we are battling right now in Onne . They are fighting to ensure that we do not unionise their workers . Same also with some few others as well. Though we have reported the matter to the Ministry of Labour and Trade Union Congress on this issue. Also, another issue we are facing has to do with the economy challenges because every capitalist wants to maximize profit and by so doing they want to cut cost due to the exchange rate. The naira and dollar are also causing problem for these multinationals. As we speak our naira is valueless and is seriously impacting on our economy negatively. There is a particular organization that is about to embark on restructuring. On our own part we endeavor to strike a balance so that it will not appear as if we are antagonist to our employers but to have a good rapport with them. If management insist that they want to drop some workers then there must be need for a roundtable engagement.
So how do you cope as the PG of the union and as the same time an employee to one of the multinationals?
First, God Almighty has always and He is still my strength. It has not been easy; God has been faithful. Also, considering my age as a young man in my mid-40s, I still have the strength and the vigor to move around. My blood is still pumping to get things done the right way. By so doing or having said that, I just must strike a balance because the world is a global village and that is why we must embrace digitization and digitalization. With the use of ICT, we can be able to meet up with the office demands and of course that of the union. We are at the Union’ s secretariat as we speak, and I can also discharge some of my office assignment right here with my laptop. And basically, that is one thing that makes a difference. If there is need for me to step out and do the physical aspect of the job, am always ready and available to deliver.
Kindly share some the achievements recorded since you emerge as PG of SSASCFA?
They are apparently numerous, but I wouldn’t want to mention those achievements since we came on board because it wasn’t really a good experience when I emerged as the President general. I wouldn’t like to blow my trumpet at all but have it at the back of your mind that today we brought our secretariat to Apapa where the hub of maritime activities are. We have also strengthened our rapport with TUC which is our major labour center.  To clear backlog of debts is another success story we have recorded. It’s a great achievement though. A Secretariat staff who was down with illness was also paid off despite meeting an empty treasury when we came on board. Equipping the secretariat is another success story and the list is endless considering where we are coming from. Today we have a good working relationship with our employers, members etc. They are numerous though we are still struggling to get things right.
What are your projections for the year 2022?
I believe in forward ever and backward never. Like Martin Luther King stated “I have a dream”; honestly, I have loads of dreams for this union and one thing I know that matters most as far as this union is concern has to do with capacity building of my members. You see training is key. We need constant training and retraining of our members and that is our vision.
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