Joe Ajaero is not supposed to be NLC President–Comrade Ukaummuna

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Comrade Uzoije Ukaummuna

…Seeks N1.5million Salary for Dockworkers

By DAPO OLAWUNI

Foremost trade unionist and former President General of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) Comrade Uzoije Ukaummuna has opened up on why the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) today has not performed optimally. The 81-years old unionist in this explosive interview categorically stated that the current President of NLC, Comrade Joe Ajaero is not supposed to be leading the union because he is just an employee of the union.
He also canvassed for a turn around in the wages of dockworkers, saying that they deserve to be paid at least N1.5million salaries.

See excerpts

Today, you have been preaching peace in the union, but we heard that you were a troublesome person in the past, what has changed ?

Nothing has changed. If you have three children, there is one that God wants to use to save the family, that one is usually tagged as troublemaker, this is because he wants things to go normal, but other children would be going to report him to their mother always.
What I saw in November 1961 when I entered Apapa Port was that the Port is the gateway to the nation’s economy, from that time, I started studying what that word gateway means, later on, I discovered that the weight of the nation rests on the maritime sector.
Apart from the aviation workers, we were the only ones paid in hard currencies for all the services we render in the wharf. Government however failed to develop the workers, since that 1961, I only attended training once, today, our dockworkers need training, back then we knew how much shipping companies pay per ton for dockworkers services, but what our employers were paying us was not commensurate with what they were charging the shipping companies.
When you know your right in this country or in your family, they will call you names, when you refused to be cheated, people would naturally call you names, we were only demanding for the crumbs falling from their table, and we cannot be faulted for this.

A lot has changed since you left the union, are you impressed by what is on ground now?

Yes. To start with, God helped me also to make a mark as a Union leader, of which all the other union leaders dead and alive never did, for nine years, God helped me to change the dockworkers wages seven times with six months arrears each, no leader has done that, dead or alive.
The present President General of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju has continued from where we stopped, I believe in him and I have heard all he has accomplished for the workers today, I still want him to do more, because we are the engine room of the Nigerian economy, we are working hard for the country but they are paying us peanuts.

With your experience as a labor leader, how would you rate trade Unionism in Nigeria today?

Trade unionism in Nigeria was killed by former head of state, Ibrahim Babangida. The labour movement in Nigeria has been plagued with badlock, Alhaji Sunmonu was our President that we elected, when he left, he handed over to Ali Chiroma, but Babangida never allowed him to finish his tenure before installing his own friend, Pascal, who was the general secretary at Railway, that was how an employee became the President of Nigerian Labour Congress.

Comrade Uzoije Ukaummuna

For example, Joe Ajaero that is the President of NLC today was one of the journalists that usually come to interview me as President, but today, he is a union leader, whereas, the first constitution of the NLC is that people like Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, who is a worker and is paying union dues to his union and the NLC, is supposed to be the President of NLC, but rather, people that we employed as General Secretary have hijacked the system and this is why things are not going well in labour movement.

How can things get better?

The issue is that anytime we have a good National Assembly, we should make a presentation that the union should return back to status quo where Alhaji Sunmonu started, from there we would continue, it is wrong for your housemaid to suddenly hijack the house and become the madam. The general secretaries of the unions are not our members, they don’t pay union dues, they are only our employees, just like the permanent secretaries in government, they are employees of the trade union, we are not happy, they should allow the owners of the union run their affairs.
I was pleased the other day when I saw Comrade Adewale Adeyanju speaking at the negotiation for workers wages at the meeting called recently by the Federal Government, that is what we want.

The issue of tally clerks and onboard security men has been lingering, what is your take?

When you abolish tally clerks and onboard security men, it means you are calling for confusion. Shipping companies are cheating Nigeria almost by hundred percent, but it is the work of the tally clerks that would help us to discover how many tonnage that is coming out of the ships, the importers and the exporter would also know how their cargoes are carried.

You have advocated that an average dockworker should earn N1.5million, how feasible is this?

This is the work we do, if we have good leaders in this country and we are exposing how the foreigners are cheating us, we shall be well fed as dockworkers. The resources is there to make this happen.

The shipping branch of MWUN, not much has changed in their welfare, what is responsible?

It is the mistake of their leaders before the union was merged together, one mistake made by a leader would take a lot of time to be corrected, because of their own sense of leadership, they made an arrangement that a negotiation council be set up and one small boy that was a personnel manager should came to negotiate on behalf of the workers in my office, I don’t want that, I want the Managing Director of that shipping company to come forward while we seat together to talk and negotiate what the people want. The current President General cannot do much in this regard because the workers in the shipping branch are the ones who have not made enough effort to be rescued, a man inside the pit needs to raise his hands to be rescued.

The IOC’s today have shown a lot of stubbornness by not allowing workers in their facilities, in your own time, how much cooperation did you get?

During my time, there were not so many of their IOC’s then, we had them at Yinka Folawiyo and Ibru, we tried our best before leaving, but now, they have increased. I would put heads with my PG and he would tell me how far it has gone, afterwards I would add my advice, the IOC’s must cooperate with the union, we own the sea through Nigerian Ports Authority.

Are you impressed with the leadership style of your predecessors, Comrade Irabor and Comrade Tony Nted?

As for Comrade Irabor, Oshiomole brought him and he came with anger, so we see them as angry people, we met at Police office “Panti” one time, there is no abuse that he didn’t pour on me that day, he was a carpenter at NPA, I don’t have any problem with him because he is my brother. Today, the union has realised that I am not quarrelling with them, it is the enemy that came and infiltrated our camp and they edged me put, and after this, I went to court.
Tony Nted is one of my boys as a dockworker, he is one of the people that I ate in their houses.
Today, I can only speak of the leadership of Comrade Adewale Adeyanju and I think it is better than all others, I however do not condemn the others.

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