Engr Bob Joseph Yousuo is the National President, Nigeria Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association (NMNO/WTSSA). He is a seasoned marine engineer with over three decades of proven experience . In this interview, the number one senior seafarer in Nigeria talked about the journey so far since he was elected in office 2020.The marine engineer told some selected journalists about his next line of actions on how to better the lots of members and get more seafarers into the union.He also spoke about the maritime industry ‘s prospects, challenges and expectations mostly as it affects the forthcoming elections.
You will clock three years this January as National President of the Nigeria Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association (NMNOWTSSA). Just like yesterday, the Asaba 2020 experience is still fresh in our memories, can you tell us the journey so far?
First of all, I appreciate God for keeping us this far and also I must thank you because some of you were part of that Asaba journey that brought me into the office as the National President. Your support and good media coverage is highly commendable. From the beginning of this journey till date, you are still part of the success story. The journey is not all that easy or rosy as the case may be, but I thank God that at least eighty percent of my campaign promises have been fulfilled. Recall that most promises contained in my manifestoes have been achieved . Though not all but at least 80% as earlier said. Again we still have a year left for our administration to wind down. It’s my believe by the special grace of God that before the end of my first tenure I will be able to prove a point by accomplishing all my promises. Remember the ordeal of Palace Road before I came on board as president. it was very difficult for people to access our secretariat for enquires about the union. It wasn’t a befitting place for us, the environment wasn’t it. And as promised in my manifesto, I was able to take them out of that area within six months of my administration with the support and cooperation of my executive and secretariat staff . Now we are closer to the corridors of marine activities in the heart of the shipping operations, in fact, we are now at the hub of maritime activities with very spacious and conducive office edifice applauded by our members, stakeholders and even the international communities.
Note that we are yet to get to the promised land as our expectations are quite high. As of today, we are by ITF affiliation obliged to care for the welfare and wellbeing of both Nigerian and international seafarers alike. We also intervene as well as proffer solutions to seafarers challenges it behooves on us to see that seafarers from other nationalities are protected and taken good care of wherever they find themselves in the line of duty within our territorial waters.. Besides, we do visit prisons and correctional facilities where these local and foreign seafarers are detained for alleged offense for the sole aim of securing their freedom or release.The NMNOWTSSA you know today is not the same union of four years ago as the issue of proliferation has been reduced. We have gained more recognition as well as reputation. We are professional seafarers and not uniform wearing outfits despite we are para-military outfit in any way. A Seafarer is a Merchant Navy and these are some of the things we have been educating and enlightening people about in the last three years and it is yielding positive results hence Issues of clashing with the Nigerian security agencies have been reduced to the nearest minimum. Issues of members being arrested are no longer in the news as a result of the aggressive campaign strategy to the public. We are also working round the clock to get more members to be part of the union and you can see that many professional seafarers are embracing the association and they are proud of joining us because of our relevance. By the special grace of God also, we have been able to unionised more companies under my administration. Not only unionising them, we also assist in Collective Bargaining Agreement that is being reviewed every two year. And I want to believe we have tried our best .
“We are also working round the clock to get more seafarers to be part of the union”
It was barely two months that you emerged as president of the union when the dreaded covid-19 struck back in 2020. How were you able to manage the situation with members?
We were able to manage the situation very well. Even the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown inclusive also brought us to the limelight because it made both the international communities and our maritime stakeholders to realised that our administration was worthy to deal with. At that time also, we were able to relate effectively with NIMASA and ITF on how to assist members and the seafarers across board. Recall that palliatives were distributed to the union by these organisations and those items were used judiciously and we spread those items across to even non- members ; we ensured that those that are in need get the palliatives. Aside from the palliatives, we also carried out a sensitization programme for seafarers whereby we made them understand the preventive and protective methods against covid-19 while onboard ships. In summary, we were able to do the little we could and thank God that we did not record death cases of members during the covid-19 pandemic. Our campaign also made Nigerian seafarers to understand that covid-19 was real and can kill . Because of the coronavirus we can state here that Nigerian seafarers were duly recognised by the global and government thus, they became essential and frontline workers as at that time of the pandemic through our struggle and pressure. We thank the NIMASA and the federal government. Though you cannot shy away from the fact that crew change was a major issue during the pandemic but above all, we give God the glory that we were able to come out stronger after the pandemic.
What is your take on the February presidential election and what is your advice to seafarers?
We all pray that come next month February, the election will hold. I want to believe that everybody has obtained his or her PVC. My advice to Nigerian seafarers is to use the PVC very well to vote for the right person. I urge the seafarers who are ashore on that day to vote wisely because those that are offshore cannot vote on that day. Vote for your choice, make sure that you vote for someone who will lead us to a better Nigeria. Don’t vote because of tribe, religion or sentiment. We are not expecting any magic when the right person is voted into office but we know a good leader will always push for greatness and the overall interest of the citizens as a watch word. In the nutshell, I urge all Nigerians to vote consciencely. Your vote is your key to a greater Nigeria of our dreams. Don’t sell your vote for the sake of the unborn generations. Let us all endeavour to get it right now or never .just thinking aloud .
But what kind of leader are you looking at which in turn might proffer solutions for the maritime Industry?
We are looking at a leader with listening ears and seeing things for himself. We need a leader who will be current and innovative. Someone who will be on ground and not someone who will believe more in advice. A conscious, intellectual and brave leader. Someone who will appoint technocrats into offices and not all round politicians. Our new leader should be able to appoint a Transport Minister who is grounded about the industry and not the other way around. In fact, with the present situation in our country, Nigeria, we must vote for a unifier with a proven track records of sincerity and competency.
What is your projection for 2023 as the National President , NMNO/WTSSA?
Our projection for 2023 is to ensure that the year put smiles on the face of seafarers mostly our members. Though the election might influence so many things but we feel this year will be great. I am an optimistic person and I want to believe that things that are yet to achieve will be completed this time around by the special grace of God.
Can you tell us some of those things yet to be accomplished?
By His grace, this year I want to unionise more companies , more CBAs for members . Therefore, our priority for the year is to ensure that we achieve this target. That’s number one; then number two, will be to increase our ITF membership. We will also work round the clock to get a befitting Guest House for the association and also see how we can reconcile with Trade Union Congress (TUC) in terms of affirmation fees.The TUC membership is very paramount for this year and we will achieve that this year. Again, we also need more vehicles for the national officers and secretariat staff.
In less than a year in office a brand new operational vehicle was gotten. What was the magic in less than one year in the office?
It’s not magic or rocket science but the ability to understand the capacity of the stakeholders you are dealing with, their strengths and limitations. It’s not about ‘party A’ has gotten this so we must get ours. We requested and NIMASA gave us. So God’s favour was at work for us.Every government has its own style of administration and NIMASA as an organisation, we must first understand what their functions are because we need to understand the functions of agencies before saying or deciding anything. We are directly under Maritime Labour and not NIMASA as a whole. With the political situation in the country, we don’t expect much because we must first know their capacity and limitations and once you know that, like a child who knows the capacity of his parents and decides to live with them like that, anytime he demands for something, he will understand that before he makes demands, he knows his limitations and knows that he can provide it. We are not supposed to bother them because if they have it, they will give and if they don’t so be it. we only request and we are favoured and it is done.
World Seafarers Day Colloquium and World Fishery Day are here to stay and we are going to make them better every year”….. Yousou
What is your assessment of NIMASA’s performance last year in terms of operations? Did they meet up with your expectations?
I cannot say they met our expectations because if I say so, I am lying but I can say they are doing there best . NIMASA is trying in the performance of their duties but to me, it is not satisfactory thus they have not met my expectations. I know they are trying their best but their best may not be good enough for me or the association. If I say they are good enough, have all the shipping companies complied?. Most of them are not complying. Their enforcement is not up to 60 percent. Many of the ship owners and manning agencies are not following the regulations so, NIMASA should look into that area and make sure that enforcement is carried out and make sure ship owners comply with the regulations. They are doing their best but their best is not good enough.
World Seafarers Day colloquium and World Fishery Day Workshop as put together by the association seem to have come to stay. Are you going to continue by keeping the programme going every year?
World Seafarers Day Colloquium and World Fishery Day are here to stay and we are going to make them better every year. As you can see, the year before the last was not good enough but last year’s was better and this year’s own will be better than last year’s edition. Like World Fishing Day, it is going to be an annual event. The World Fishing Day celebration by our association is the first of it’s kind in Africa.
Are you working with other sister unions to achieve a better working condition for your members?
Yes, we are working together. In fact, since I came in, our relationship has been getting better. The PG of MWUN is a man that listens, we put heads together with other executives and we are working together. We have a harmonious relationship that is why things are getting better in the industry.Our collaboration extended to Port Harcourt where we had Nigeria Joint Seafarers Collaborating Unions between the Offshore Zonal Council and NIWA/Seamen branch of MWUN. They even visited NIMASA and fought for seafarers that have cases in court together.
You mentioned earlier that the disputes between the Navy and Police with your members have reduced drastically, and how were you able to achieve this?
When I came in, I made sure I sensitized the seafarers and the general public on who is a seafarers and Merchant Navy. Merchant Navy is our name and the uniform is our right but who wears the uniform and how do you wear the uniform and where do you wear the uniform to? Even in developed countries, military men don’t wear uniforms and move around. But in the mentality of Nigerians, they feel that uniform is power and I made them understand that they cannot wear the uniform on the streets intimidating people. Unfortunately, most of the people wearing the uniform are not Seafarers. The people arrested by police are not seafarers. A Seafarer cannot wear uniforms and be parading on the streets. The uniform is necessary when you want to wear it to an occasion and identify yourself, nobody can embarrass you but it is bad when you wear a uniform and want to compare yourself to the Navy, then there will be a problem. But now that the Navy has seen the original, the fake group definitely had to move away. Most of them have seen and identified the original group.
If you are to advise the federal government, what is the best way for certified seafarers to get employed?
The first way to get employed is that we must have more Cabotage vessels because it is the only one that can give us guarantee and right to man the vessel from head to bottom because it is owned by Nigerian.We must also have bilateral agreement with other foreign flag vessels so that when they come in, they will give our officers a quota to man. Important thing is that our Cabotage should increase, Nigerians should buy more vessels because everyday, seafarers are passing out from various institutions and they need jobs. So, I encourage the federal government and indigenous ship owners to buy more vessels to accommodate our upcoming seafarers for cadetship and employment. Other countries too need seafarers and if we equip our seafarers to have endorsement with other foreign flags, they can also go out to work in foreign flags because there are some Nigerians working with foreign flags even with Nigerian CoC. All they need is endorsement from other flags and states.
NIMASA recently sent some cadets abroad for training despite the indigenous Maritime schools in Nigeria. Do you think this is necessary?
Yes, there is a need for foreign training and as much as there is a need for foreign training, there is a need for local training too. If you train and they have their cadetship done, they are going to be foreign going CoC holders. So, we must have both Foreign CoC and NCV. When NCV vessels come, Nigerian cadets will take over and those that went abroad will take charge of the bigger tankers. So, there is a need for foreign training of cadets. I don’t have anything against it but when they finish, let them be sent for cadetship. Again, when they come back, they should be given requisite retraining to make them complete Seafarers . They should help them so that they can go for their CoC and graduate within the normal period not that they will keep them for years. Make sure that if you are sending twenty, once they are coming back, you are sending them for cadetship, send them to the tankers and NLNG for training. Make sure they attain these trainings and give them a job and if you don’t have jobs for them, they have their CoC, they can move on. That is the most important thing.