Comrade Paul Gguan is the District Chairman of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) the Liverpool Waterfront District, Lagos. Here in this interview, he called on Nigerians to see the need of investing in inland waterways transportation, thereby making it alternative to road transportation. He also called for training and retraining of boat operators.
He spoke to Ambrose Obioma Okehi during the latest event organised by the Servicom department of NIMASA at Rockview Hotel, Lagos. Here are the excerpts.
Tell us about yourself?
I am Comrade Paul Gguan, the district chairman of the MWUN, waterfront unit, Liverpool District. But before this time was one of the district chairmen,.seafarers district, also a former vice chairman and later the treasurer of the same district but now after the carving out of the waterfront district, he is the chairman at the Liverpool district.
You have been in this sector for a long time. What is your experience like and how would you describe the industry?
I have been a member of maritime Workers Union for many years. Let’s say for about 20 years. I have been in leadership positions right from the unit chairmanship level under seafarers’ district. We are no longer in such position, vice chairman, treasurer of the district. But now Water Front District was carved out from seafarers district. Like the event we are here today at Rockview is for Inland Waters but where I was before is for ocean going section.
So there are units for bigger oceans and for inland waterways?
Yes, we have those who go outside the country and those who work within the country (inland waterways). That is is the conventional and non-conventional vessels. And for this non-conventional vessels, NIMASA is our regulator.
I hope that should include boat operators as well?
Yes, they include flying boats, tug boats. They (NIMASA) do regulate us. So when this district was created a year ago, this is the first time we are having something like this (this conference) together, to see the
areas which they don’t see. We have already made some write-ups to them that is why you are seeing them hosting this event today.
So this event is packaged by your group or the SERVICOM Department of the NIMASA?
It is packaged and organised by NIMASA.
But do you, the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) have your own input in this?
Yes, we have our own input, most of the things you saw them do at the event were as a result of our own input. It was as a result of the write-ups we gave to them.
How would you describe the event of today?
Well, it was a good one. A fine outing and a starting point for all of us. From now we are not going to relax. They are civil servants, they will work for sometime, will retire, some will go on retirements but we are the main stakeholders because the labour force belong to us. To make sure that our workers in the waterfront are taken care off, to make sure that Lagos is taken care of too because Lagos is our main stake, it is the first point. So what we are doing now we are spreading it out there. So that we can have a smooth water transportation system in Lagos State.
Let me ask you this question as an expert in this sector. How would you describe the maritime industry as an industry with so much potential?
Well, there is this adage that says sea (ocean) never dry. There are a lot of potential as you have rightly noted earlier, only if we can harness them well. And make sure that we activate from level to level because we have not even started here in Lagos. Because if you go outside Lagos you will see ferry boats running there. They don’t depend on road transport or rail. But for us here, we have not started making use of our inland water transportation. I worked in Abuja for some years ago, sometimes when we coming down or we work late, we still have some ferry that will take us down there. We are just starting, we have not even gone anywhere in this area. We are just beginning. We need to go far and get it better.
How is your relationship with NIMASA as your regulator?
NIMASA? Our working relationship with them right from the beginning has been cordial. Because we have been working with them when we work as seafarers, when we used to go to deep sea. But now we have seen that this side has been neglected by the union and the regulator, now all hands must be on desk to make sure that they are regulated as they regulate the seafarers, having pools for seafarers,.training and retraining them. That should also take place here (the inland water transportation), I mean the boat operators. You train them and retrain them, give them certification. Then, you license them both the operators and the investors.
I overheard you mentioned training of boat operators as well as seafarers pools. In those days of JOMALIC, we used to see the seafarers pools but these days such things don’t exist anymore. What happened?
Though, the pools then were for the seafarers but we don’t have them anymore. What we have for seafarers this days are Information Technology Centres (ITC).
Making our waterways alternative to road. Considering what we are passing through on our roads currently. What is your take on that?
What you have just said is the right thing. Waterways should be alternative to upland transport.
Should Nigerians be encouraged to invest on such areas?
Really, people should come for investment in our inland waterway transportation. It pays. You must have a sense of belong because it is not something you just jump into without adequate planing. Because it is capital intensive. The price of an engine boat is very huge. Some of them, like the 200 horse power, their cost are more than the cost of buying a jeep.
So it’s that costly?
You mean it?
What about the wooden and fibre types?
The boats themselves are not cheap.
The boats are not cheap. The engines also are not cheap.
But I used to think that with at least N500,000, one can acquire one a boat.?
No no, no. A brown new one (Yamaha 200 Horse Power) is about N6 Million. The flying boat alone is very costly. Though, you can go for Tokumbo, even that Tokumbo will cost you at least a million plus.
But looking at our waterways are they safe for navigation and if they safe navigation? And if they truly are, how safe are they?
I will tell you that there is no where accident does occur. But I will tell you that the waterways, if well regulated and well checkmated, the issue of accident will be lessened. This morning for instance, (23, October, 2018), in the news, it was said that the Young Shall Grow Motors had an accident and about nine or 10 died immediately. But with water transportation, accident is minimal. We don’t normally record such accidents as recorded by other modes. Except sometimes through the carelessness of the operators. But if they can monitor, regulate and checkmate them, then such incidences will not happen.
The seas, most a times used to be turbulent rough, and the current very high and riskier to the users. This sometimes could be as a result of the recklessness, excessiveness and drunkenness of the boat drivers. I had experienced that once. How can such be addressed, mostly the reckless driving?
The waves are always outside, not inside. And such turbulent waters don’t always come, it rarely occur, normally comes once in while. But with a good driver, except that the boat is outdated or it has a problem. If not, you will still try to maneuver your way through.
Then, there used to be wharf rats and restiveness here and there. But these days there seems to be harmony, cordiality, and calm all over. What is the secret sir?
This is as result of the way we are organised. These days, unlike then when it was all comers affairs. And above all, we are working harmoniously with the authorities. Though this should be coming from my Oga (the National president of MWUN) because in the first place, I don’t supposed to grant an interview.