One of the challenges of pre-concession period at the Nigerian ports was the issue of container pilfering or broaching.
The problem was so endemic that there was hardly any type of cargo, be it bulk cargo, general cargo or vehicular cargo that were spared of this menace.
The perpetrators or poachers were given a derogatory sobriquet of ‘port or wharf rats’ which depicts their deftness and dexterity in carrying out these dubious acts.
These heinous acts were common among the dock workers. The dock labour industry then was identified with thuggery and populated by people of questionable character.
Due to lack of effective regulation and monitoring by the then regulatory authority, the Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council (JOMALIC), the industry was a bedlam of chaos and violence where unrestrained activities of Port rats reigned supreme. But in 2006, two major incidents happened which led to the reform of the dock labour industry.
In that year, the port concession era commenced which saw dock workers becoming permanent workers whose welfare was taken over by terminal operators.
The old system of contract staffing by stevedoring companies which engaged them as casual labourers was jettisoned for more dignified pensionable working status.
This led to the disengagement of a large army of dockworkers who were paid severance package by the government through the NPA while those retained were employed on permanent basis by terminal operators who now take care of their welfare.
The second incident which brought total transformation to the labour industry was the merger of JOMALIC with the then National Maritime Authority (NMA) which later in August 2006 metamorphosed into Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
The agency took over the regulation of the labour industry for effective service delivery.
Since then, there has been peace, order and sanity within the rank of dock labourers as the incident of containers pilfering and broaching became a thing of the past.
Since the present crop of dockworkers are registered with NIMASA and also on the payroll of the terminal operators, they were easy to monitor and controlled through their union, Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria.
However, in November, 2019, the Nigerian ports witnessed a resurgence of the ugly incident of containers broaching.
About four terminals were invaded in quick succession to the disappointment of those who thought those dark days of containers pilfering were gone for good.
At Cargo terminal C at the Tin Can ports, multiple incidents of container broaching and pilfering were reported where containerised vehicles were pilfered.
Similarly, at the Five Star Terminal also at the Tin Can port, vehicles were being routinely pilfered by human rats. The same incident happened at Hanover off-dock facility.
The most audacious of the activities of these notorious Wharf rats happened at the APM Terminals where container laden with the banned Tramadol was pilfered and the contents almost taken away before they were intercepted by the Customs officers.
This platform had previously blamed the compromised security network at these terminals for these lapses.
We had them based our assertion on the fact that given the fortress-like state of most of these terminals with the multi-layer security network provided by the internal securitymen and the NPA at the access gate, it could only take compromised security measures perpetrated by insiders before such long-forgotten incident could happen.
But we also discovered, to our chargrin, that NIMASA, which is the regulatory agency for the dock labour industry may have shirked its statutory duties of effective monitoring.
Surprisingly, the agency has not yet mapped out comprehensive and fool-proof indentification process that could identify genuine dock workers.
The biometric identification exercise which the agency kick-started in 2010 under Temisan Omotseye was haphazardly done. It didn’t capture the essential details of the holders which left loopholes for manipulation. This incomplete biometric exercise has continued till now with the last exercise which has since expired over four years ago.
We are therefore not surprised that the condemnable act of wharf rats resurfaced at the nation’s ports.
The rank and file of genuine and registered dockworkers must have been infiltrated by people of shady character who exploited the gaping gaps in the identification process to unleash the long-forgotten menace of containers broaching.
We hold NIMASA partly responsible for the resurgence of containers broaching due to its failure to carry out due diligence in ensuring that there is proper biometric identification cards for the dock workers.
Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, the President-General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria has shouted himself hoarse on the need for NIMASA to issue valid biometric cards to the dockworkers to identify the perpetrators of this heinous act.
It beats our imagination why NIMASA, since the last identification card has expired, has continued to foot drag on this important statutory duty.
Comrade Adeyanju has absolved his members in the dock labour industry of the latest resurgence of containers broaching, blaming infiltrators for the crime.
We are worried by the inexplicable delay by NIMASA to do the needful in order to further entrench peace and sanity which the port industry has enjoyed in the dock labour industry since the advent of port concession.
The apex industry regulator should also be aware that delay is dangerous as we have witnessed in the last few months when the menace of containers broaching resurfaced with a venom.
Such breach of security is capable of de-marketing the nation’ s maritime industry and send a wrong signal to the global shipping community, especially foreign investors.
The industry can ill-afford this avoidable slip to the dark days of containers pilfering and other criminal activities in a period government is striving hard to position its ports as the preferred cargo destination in the sub-region.
We hope NIMASA under the leadership of Dr Bashir Jamoh will acquit itself by keeping to its promise of December deadline of delivery of an authentic biometric identification cards for the registered dockworkers.
This move, we hope, will enable the agency, with the assistance of the workers union, to identify impostors among the rank and file of dockworkers, who unleashed their act of criminality at the ports.
The biometric identification of Nigerian dockworkers, who are in the excess of 10,000, will shut out criminal elements who cash in on the absence of this scientific approach to perpetrate their evil acts.
It will also help to identify and flush out bad eggs among the army of registered dockers at the Nigerian Ports.
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