By DAPO OLAWUNI
The Nigerian Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transporters Senior Staff Association (NMNOWTSSA) has lamented incessant arrest, harassment and extortion of its members by the Nigerian Police both in Lagos and Ogun States.
Speaking with journalists at the union’s headquarters in Apapa Lagos on Friday, National Secretary of the association, Comrade John Aliakwe Okpono stated that this was an aftermath of the raid conducted in 2021 by the Lagos State Police on some illegal Merchant Navy outfits in an operation that led to 100 arrests.
He however cautioned that his union, MNOWTSSA was set up by the Nigerian Trade Union Act, and it is an affiliate of Trade Union Congress (TUC) as well as International Transport Federation (ITF, London) as the recognised seafarers body in Nigeria.
According to Comrade Okpono, Merchant Navy is a discipline that cannot be proscribed by any law because it is a global discipline.
“Our problem now is in Lagos and Ogun State. As an aftermath of the clampdown on some illegal Merchant Navy formations in Lagos. This led to the commissioner of police in Lagos State giving a general statement that the Merchant navy has been band.
“Since then, some police stations have taken advantage of the situation, they are now molesting, harassing and extorting our members”
“We appeal to the press to help us inform the public and the police officers because they do not understand what Merchant navy is all about”
“It is a discipline that has an international and global outlook. In order discipline, you cannot work abroad without acquiring additional knowledge. But, a seafarer from Nigeria can go to any part of the world and the rank is the same”
“The Merchant Navy is a discipline that cannot be proscribed by any law. More than 90% of World cargo is being transported by the seafarers.
If the world acknowledges this, then I don’t see what Nigeria can do about it” he said
Comrade Okpono acknowledged that there might be some bad eggs in the Merchant Navy profession, he however argued that this cuts across all professions, including lawyers, military and even the police itself.
He said that fake personnel is not synonymous to Merchant Navy alone.
“÷÷We are not in support of any fake personnel or anyone impersonating, we are not saying police should not do their job, but they must do it diligently, they must go an extra mile to find out or investigate where these seafarers work and inspect their identity cards”
“Most often we get phone calls from our members that they have been arrested, even yesterday, we heard a phone call from one of us that was apprehended by RRS, straight to Panti.
“We had to write an introduction letter to Panti Division of police and still, the guy has not been released” he lamented
According to him, some of the seafarers were arrested by the police while trying to go onboard vessels. Some of them had to pay heavily to the Police before they were eventually released.
As part of measures to stem the ugly tide, Comrade Okpono assured that the union and its President, Comrade Bob Yousuo would be seeking audience with the Inspector General of Police in order to educate his officers on the importance of Merchant Navy profession and its personnel.
He said “Before the end of the month, we are sending letters to the Inspector General of Police, he was one of us, we have had audience with him when he was AIG Zone 2.
“We have sent an earlier letter to the Commissioner of Police Lagos State, disclaiming these guys that were arrested and at the same time seeking audience with him, but up till now, he has neither acknowledged receipt or grant us audience. What we intend to do now is to meet with the IGP”