Reconsider your posture on port operations in Rivers State – Charles Isichie tells Governor Wike
*Calls for withdrawal of charges against dockworkers
*Says vessels laden with frozen fish unable to discharge after many days in Port Harcourt
By Udeme Clement :
Mr Charles Isichie, a business man and stakeholder in Nigeria’s maritime industry, is urging the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, to reconsider his posture on port operations in Rivers State, in order to keep the nation’s economy afloat.
He made his position known in an open Letter to the Governor, published on ThisDay Newspaper.
Isichie in the letter called on Governor Wike to consider withdrawal of all charges against the 20 dockworkers, who were arrested by Rivers State Taskforce on COVID-19, while on essential duty in Port Harcourt.
He said, “I write as a citizen and business man, who is concerned about how some of the decisions you have taken in management of COVID-19 Pandemic affects the maritime sector within which I operate. I also intend to address how the current situation may ultimately affect the economy of the state and the nation in general.
He went on, “Let me state from the outset that I understand the responsibility that you have as the Chief Executive of Rivers State, to ensure security of lives of the people and their properties. It is a right that no one can take away from you, though in the execution of this responsibility, one will imagine that there should be some other considerations.
“Let me express my joy that you eventually agreed to release 20 Dock Workers, arrested by the state Task Force on COVID-19, on their way to work earlier this week. Though they should not have been arrested at all, given that they were on essential service, I commend you for seeing reason and saving us from the reality of an industrial action, which Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria had threatened.”
He went on, “However, I am also hoping that you will consider the withdrawal of all charges against them, given the fact that they were on their way to serve the nation.”
He pointed out, “Before the arrest of this set of people, your Excellency, the taskforce, had frequently arrested workers of Nigerian Ports Authority, terminal operators, labourers and clearing agents, who were on their way to work, in line with the Presidential directives that port operations should continue in spite of the lock-down and the dangers that the pandemic imposes on us all.
“This directive itself is an understandable one, which is global! Given the fact that the sea has remained the way by which the world transports most of its food and medical items. It would be injurious even to the fight against COVID-19 for countries to close their ports. It means transportation of essential items across countries would be impossible and many nations in need of help would not be able to access them. Any country that shuts down port operations would therefore only be cutting its nose to spite its face, as the expression goes”.
He informed, “This also goes to reason that if the ports are open, there must be workers, including marine pilots, stevedores, clearing agents, as well as agencies of government, to ensure that there is prompt off-loading and turn-around of vessels as well as clearance of cargos.”
He stressed,. “It is sad to note however that all ports in Nigeria are currently open, berthing and dispatching vessels with the exception of those in Rivers State. Operators at Port Harcourt and Onne Ports have been afraid to go to work because of arrest and intimidation they encounter from members of the task force, who disregard their essential service tags, get them arrested, locked up (with the risk of prosecution) and impound their vehicles. But this is at enormous cost to investors and the nation at large.”
He lamented, “Let me give you an example, the vessel MV. Capella (African Atlantic) carrying 4,500Mts of FROZEN FISH has been at the Port Harcourt Ports for days unable to discharge its content for almost two weeks. The reason for this non-discharge is the inability of workers to come to work! Owners of another vessel M/V FRIO carrying 3,770 MTS of FROZEN FISH in Cartons now contemplating going back to Lagos Ports to off-load, so that they can go back to base!
“The implication of this is that the consignee will have to start battling with bringing in his good from Lagos. Aside from the fact that this would be additional cost, there is also the fear that movement may be impossible given the restrictions on inter-state travel. But there is even something that is worse!
The frozen fish, if they do not perish would certainly lose quality and impose a huge loss on the importer, who would have paid anything in the face of $7,000-15,000 as demurrage in the period that the vessel remained in Port Harcourt unable to load.
“I also read about vessels laden with Wheat, Gibson and Muriate Potash used for production of fertilizer unable to berth at Onne Ports. In addition to economic losses, this situation can also affect food supply chain in the South-South and South-East.
“Thinking about all of this, I see a very sad irony that I suggest Your Excellency consider. Until very recently, we complained endlessly about inactivity at the Eastern Ports comprising Rivers, Onne, Calabar, and Warri Ports.
“Now that vessel traffic to Eastern ports has started to improve, as a result of a myriad of policies that the federal government has put in place, it breaks the heart that COVID-19 pandemic would be the reason any state government would set us back again, by allowing a situation in which vessels would turn back to Lagos to off-load”.
He advised, “Moments like these, are not times when politics should dictate state policy or actions. These are trying times when the welfare and wellbeing of citizens should be paramount in the minds of leaders. Stakeholders in the industry understand the need to take precautionary measures and remain safe while the pandemic lasts and all we need is the support and encouragement of government.
“I urge you to reconsider your posture on the operations of ports in Rivers State for the benefit of those of us who play in the industry and all citizens of Rivers State.”