Mr. Bolaji Sunmola is the President of National Association of Stevedoring Companies. In this interview with National Daily correspondent, Richards Adeniyi, he speaks on the importance of more deep seaports for Nigeria, and many other issues.
What is your assessment of the Minister of Transportation in the last administration?
I think he has done his best, some said he put too much attention on the railway and that is the general assessment of people.
I don’t want to score him but the gridlock that we still have pounding Apapa is not a good thing for Nigeria and the industry that should be looked into very well.
Also, we should give to the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari as well, that issues of Stevedoring operations (offshore) are taken off, because before the previous administration, nothing of such happened.
The previous administration did not have the fibre of taking the decision of putting our members into work offshore, and we give it to this administration and the Minister.
Do you support the move for the creation of a Maritime Ministry?
I think the question would be, will that improve operations or will that improve efficiency? Don’t forget in Nigeria, everybody always want their own empire maybe because some feel that will increase their chances of becoming a Minister, but will that increase it? Because it used to be Ministry of Transportation and Aviation before and at a time, Aviation was seceded out of it and then it’s back into it. So we are now saying bring in Maritime basically what is that going to do?
Will it improve efficiency, have there been any SWOT analysis to check the strength of having a maritime ministry on its own.
I know throughout the organization of transportation ministry, there is a way they are already organized, there is a clear definition of work on who and who does this or that.
So I think it is a bit short-sighted to just sit down and here and say it is good or not good, but you have to look at the strength of empowering such ministry.
Some stakeholders are calling for the relocation of tank farms as a way of putting an end to traffic gridlock in Apapa, do you buy the idea?
Yes, I support 100% the tank farms littered around Apapa is a complete eyesore. It is a complete cheat on the environment to have tank farms situated within the population. It is terrible and I am sure that’s not the way it was planned for, but because we don’t have regulations serious or we circumvent all rules and laws that is why we have these tank farms there.
Nigeria is about 800km of water front, why converge everything on a spot. What about the other areas and opening them up, in fact within Lagos there is Ijegun axis, what have anybody done to develop it rather than all coming to Apapa? We are all sitting on a gun powder in Apapa.
Do you think there is any need for the creation of more deep seaports in the country?
Yes, we overripe for deep seaport as deep seaport take high tonnage.
If you really look at it, our ports are not so deep and if we really need Nigeria to be a hub in Africa, the way to go is the deep seaport. We are just lucky to have these natural ports but usually it is the deep seaport and for us to have a deep seaport, we must ensure that all the multi-modal system of transportation must be in place for us not to find ourselves in another gridlock.
How will you describe the relationship between your association and Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria?
We work together, we have a very good relationship and I think they are one of the best unions ever since we found ourselves in this industry, they have the experience, they have listening ears and I believe we have a very good relationship, no doubt about that.
Earlier this year, during the signing of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) you kicked over some position in the agreement, which you were not comfortable with, is there any update on this?
You call it CBA; we call it NJIC, the NJIC is not one of the powerful committees backed by law, where the minimum standard of all dockworkers issues are addressed and as you rightly observed, some aspects of our operations were not taken and we are not happy about that, because the issues that are being negotiated is all about the benefit of the dockworkers and if you have some areas which is not taken, is going to create a friction just like you have earlier question that what is the relationship, the relationship is based on both sides working together to get harmonization in the industry.
In other words, the goose that lays the golden egg must be taken care of, we belief so much in that, but when you have short-changed and dichotomize to a point, then we are not going to be happy, because it is going to affect our efficiency and how we managed our workers, so everybody must be taken along, there should not be any clandestine negotiation that can create trouble for the industry.