Ex-NNSL workers lament unpaid benefits 27 years after liquidation
• Say NIMASA, FG neglect caused over 600 deaths
• They were paid gratuity, documentation stalling pension – NIMASA DG
• Some of us now live under bridges, dependents live in squalor’
The demise of Adeyinka Awesu, a worker of the defunct Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL), in June 2022, has added to the number of deaths recorded among over 2,000 unpaid former workers of the company.
The Guardian learnt that over 600 deaths have been recorded among the disengaged workers, who are yet to collect their entitlements 27 years after the liquidation of the shipping line.
Recall that NNSL, established in 1959, was liquidated despite fresh investments by the government, owing to mismanagement. That led to selling off the 21 vessels in the fleet after incurring so much debt.
Dosu Jacob, Tunde Oluwo, Daniel Oji and Martins Lawson are on the list of dead persons. They reportedly passed away because they did not have money to take care of medical fees.
According to the next of kin of the late Jacob, he was incapacitated and came down with a heart problem, partly owing to his unpaid entitlement, leaving him with no means to cater to his family.
Solomon Jacob told The Guardian that the family watched their father’s health deteriorate daily as he was always lost in his thoughts on how to cater to his family.
“My father became sick. Even on the day of the verification exercise for workers of the company at Apapa in 2012, I was called to come and pick up my dad because he fainted three times. That was when his health condition got worse and he died that same year,” he narrated.
Rukayat, the daughter of late Awesu told The Guardian: “My father’s gratuity has not been paid. He felt so bad about it and fell sick several times because he could not get his gratuity. This is part of what led to his death.”
Also speaking, another ex-staff of NNSL, Victor Riman disclosed that he lost his wife on October 31, 2010, due to a lack of funds to buy medications. Another one, David Otti also said he lost his daughter in 2005 due to hardship.
Aggrieved former workers of the defunct NNSL, who are still alive, are now old, incapacitated and living on begging to feed themselves, even as others have died from malnourishment, diseases and depression among others.
They narrated their pitiable conditions to The Guardian and the lack of commitment of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Federal Government to pay their entitlement 27 years after the NNSL was liquidated.
One of the affected seafarers, Oluwashina Otutu, who worked with the defunct shipping line for 15 years, lamented that he was yet to be paid his entitlements by the Federal Government.
He narrated the harrowing experience of the seafarers who have been abandoned, adding that feeding has become an uphill task for them, let alone being able to take good care of themselves and their families.
He maintained that the abandoned seafarers have explored many avenues to address the issue without success.
Some of the measures, according to him, include protests to the Federal Ministry of Transportation and the head office of NIMASA on several occasions.
He stated that they were given empty promises several times. According to Otutu, the seafarers were 2012, invited for screening and verification for processing of their entitlements but yielded no positive result.
Otutu said: “I have worked all my life in the NNSL for not less than 15 years. We have been on this matter for so long, about 27 years. Most of our colleagues have died and some are bedridden at home. It is my friends that are helping me. My wife tried a bit but we are now divorced. She took good care of my four children, if not, they would have been a nuisance in society.
According to another ex-workers, Hassan Muhammed, the workers had protested in Abuja on about two t three occasions, noting that the last protest was to the Ministry of Transportation in which a meeting was held with the Permanent Secretary.
Muhammed said the permanent secretary told the ex-workers to hold on as their files go to the Attorney General of the Federation and whatever was decided, the Ministry would do it.
“After four months, the file came back to the Ministry, ordering them to pay us our entitlements. The then Director of Marine wrote a congratulatory letter to us stating that they had accepted and they were about to pay. Unfortunately, up till now, we have not seen the payment.
“NIMASA did not want to attend to us. We protested to NIMASA late last year and NIMASA said the matter is with the Ministry of Transport. They resorted to saying that whatever the Ministry of Transport decides is what they will do to us. Unfortunately, to date, they haven’t come up with anything.
“In 2012, we were verified and till now we still haven’t seen anything. They know this is our right but they have decided to step on it because we don’t have anyone to fight for us. The President General of the Maritime Workers Union, Adeyanju Adewale is on the matter now to ensure we get all our entitlements.
“We are appealing to the Federal Government to come and give us our entitlements so that we can have something to do.
“All over the world, seafarers have one discharge book and we earn in the foreign currency according to International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and International Maritime Organisation (IMO) standards. Many of us do not have jobs, and some have died. We were over 2,000 and over 600 people have died while some are currently sick. We don’t even know when we would be paid,” he said.
Francis Addio, another affected staff who only worked for one year before the liquidation of the national carrier, fumed that even the dependents of the late members cannot afford a square meal, pay rent or afford to send their wards to school.
Addio’s reprieve is that he is being assisted by the Catholic Missionary who gave him employment as a cook on which he lives.
“Nigerian seafarers have suffered for about 30 years just to get their pension and gratuity. Some stay under bridges, crying and dying. Some of our colleagues here are just next of kin. They are not the original beneficiaries.
“The government and leaders are not doing anything. They have no regard for Nigerian seafarers. We went to the Industrial court but all to no avail. Just recently, we heard that one of our colleagues died,” he said.
Another former worker, Tajudeen Adeshina lamented that it was unfair that NIMASA and the Federal Ministry of transport have been dragging the workers who are now old and no longer have the energy to be tossed around due to ill health.
“We will be glad if President Muhammadu Buhari can help us through the new transport Minister and make sure we get our money because none of us knows when death will be knocking on our doors,” he cried.
MEANWHILE, the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr Bashir Jamoh, while responding during a meeting of stakeholders with the former Minister of State for Transportation, Gbemisola Saraki, claimed that all gratuity of the NNSL ex-workers have been paid after a Committee was set up by the Federal Ministry of Transportation.
“The Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) raised an issue concerning non-payment of gratuity to aged retired workers of the now defunct NNSL, but this is not true. On the issue of gratuity, the Federal Ministry of Transportation set up a Committee and all gratuities were paid.
“All the workers got paid their gratuities and that was done on a compassionate ground based on the directive of former President, Olusegun Obasanjo. We were directed to pay everybody on compassionate grounds and we paid all of them. I think where we had issues was with the pensions of the workers.
The NIMASA boss said the only pending issue is with the pension of the workers, adding that their inability to produce employment letters is a major reason why many of them are yet to get their pensions.
“On the issue of pension, there was a demand for employment letters of the workers. Most of the workers of the NNSL were unable to produce employment letters. As I speak, we are yet to conclude on that.
“By the time the workers provide all necessary documents required by the Federal Ministry of Transportation, we will be able to forge ahead on payment of pensions,” he said.
Jamoh urged the retired workers to update their bio-data on the agency’s website to be eligible for their pensions.
Recall that in 2019, the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), through its former Executive Secretary, Sharon Ikeazor, said the delay in computing the pension of the NNSL former workers was due to the non-verification of the salary structure of the defunct national carrier months after it got presidential approval to enrol them.
According to her, the approval for enrolment was received in April 2018, several months after the first set of agencies was approved, adding that the Directorate’s pre-verification exercise for pensioners is a long and painstaking inter-ministerial process that requires the collection of data and digitisation of documents.
She said most significant, is that it requires getting the authentic salary structure of the agency concerned, which in the case of NNSL was not an easy feat.
But the Chairman of the Shipping Federation Unit, Maritime Workers Union (MWUN), who is also one of the workers of the defunct shipping line, Esua Okon, refuted the NIMASA’s boss’ claim, describing it as false.
He said the workers had not received their gratuity after the payment of five years of arrears in 2008, which he said the amount given was very poor.
“The defunct national shipping line workers have not been paid their gratuity and pension to date. These claims of payment are lies. They only paid us a token, nothing to take home. Some collected N40, 000, N35, 000 and N17, 000 as payment for their gratuity in 2008. It is a shame.
“The International standard states that each person should get millions as gratuity when it is converted from dollar to naira. One person should collect about N20 million. But we were given peanuts. There is nowhere in the world that seafarers are paid this little,” he lamented.
Okon noted that the ex-workers had resorted to protests years back to ensure they get their gratuity paid, adding that in 2012 the government mandated the workers to carry out verification to ensure they are captured in the system, which they did at Apapa, Lagos.
He said to date, nothing has been said or done after the verification exercise, adding, “The people are dying due to the pains of not receiving their gratuity. They refuse to give us our rights till today and we are not relenting efforts at dragging and fighting with them until they pay us what rightfully belongs to us.”
Speaking on whether the NNSL workers have been added to the PTAD pension list, Okon said they are yet to be included to date.