Joint Council of Seaport Truckers and the leadership question

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Joint Council of Seaport Truckers (JCOST) was formed about six years ago as a confederation of all the trucking unions operating in the nation’s maritime sector of the economy. Made up of five trucking union namely; the Road Transport Employers’ Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), Association of Maritime Truck owners (AMATO), the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), the Truck Terminal Users’ Association (TTUA) and the Maritime Workers’ Union (MWUN) Truck Drivers’ Unit, the association has gradually become a voice for truckers in the maritime sector. For example, when the Lagos State government under the leadership of the former Governor Babatunde Fashola (SAN) restricted the movement of trucks only at night, it was the JCOST which championed the reversal of that order, Ditto for the long drawn battle of standardization of trucks between the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the truckers. These and many other achievements had been recorded in a short while in the life of the Council.

But only recently, it seems that all may not be well with the Council as there seemed to be some dissenting voices that are no longer comfortable with the leadership of JCOST and has since made that feeling public in series of petitions so far written against the Council’ leadership. First among them is the Association of Maritime Truck Owners led by its President, Chief Remi Ogungbemi who wrote a petition to the Executive Secretary of NARTO calling for the activities of JCOST to be probed as well as for the current leadership to be dissolved and another executive constituted as according to him, the current administration of the council had outlived its usefulness.

While the AMATO’s petition was yet to be addressed, the Lagos State Vice Chairman Seaport of NARTO, Alhaji Abdullahi Inuwa wrote his own petition arguing that the current leadership which was initially given a six months mandate had now exceeded the six months given to them and were now on their sixth year. He further cited lopsidedness in the composition of the current leadership of the council adding that all the federating associations were not equally represented in the council.

According to him,” But as I speak with you, since they started JCOST, it is almost six years without any election. That was why some of our members felt that it is good to practice that democratic system if they want that committee to work. They are committee that are supposed to tackle some temporary issues affecting the truckers and report back to the federating units that formed JCOST but so many decisions had been taken without carrying the federating units along”.

When asked why the NARTO members whose member is the Chairman of the Council instead of supporting their own as was the norm some other places, he replied,” I personally wrote a petition to my organization, NARTO demanding for equal representation and to dissolve the current executives and for them to render account of their stewardship which is long overdue. Then immediately after my petition, another sister association wrote in the name of their own association. Then my parent body now wrote to JCOST to respond to all the concerns raised which is being discussed. The patron is from RTEAN, the Secretary is also from RTEAN, so, we converged and agreed that the committee should set up a caretaker committee that will now come up with the modalities for the election”.

Asked if he will contest any position if the council is to organize elections soon, he said,” As it is now, I cannot say. It is not me that will say that I want to contest. You know at times, people from the parent body will decide who to project for what position. So, I cannot say, the current Chairman of JCOST who come from NARTO, it was the association that delegated him to go and represent the association. So, I don’t know, I may come or somebody else may come”.

Reacting to the allegations, the Chairman of JCOST, Alhaji Kayode Odunowo said that issues surrounding the Lagos State restriction order, problems with the Maritime Workers’ Union which lingered for close to nine months, standardization of trucks which lingered for a long time among other issues were responsible for their inability to draft the council’s constitution on time adding that those things took a long time before they were able to put their constitution together.

Odunowo however said that if the members of the council insist that they need a change, there was nothing wrong about it saying that JCOST was not against it even as he added that due process must be followed in effecting the change.

“So, we are not against election, we are on it and very soon, we will get back to you. We are not holding anything against the wish of our people”, he said.

He however refuted the fact that his executive was initially elected for a period of six months adding,” I personally was not there when they were forming JCOST but during the election time, I was there and because of the popularity of NARTO, I was elected as the Chairman of JCOST. Even in our when NARTO wrote, we told them that there was no record to show that they elected us for a period of six months but it is in our constitution, I mean this new constitution. There was no tenure stipulated for us on our election, there was no document to that effect”.

Speaking on the possible reasons why the members were calling for election, the JCOST boss stated,” For me, it is mainly money issue because this is an association that started without kobo and now,  we can go here and there and face the government anywhere, we are performing. So, that is what is bringing some jealousy and some people wanted to disrupt the activities of JCOST because of their own selfish interests. Nobody is saying election or restructuring is bad, no, we are ready. So as soon as the delegates okay the composition of the caretaker committee, we will conduct the election”.

He disclosed that he was not aware why his people were part of the plot to remove him from office but quickly added that NARTO was acting based on the level of petitions written.

According to him,” Some were saying that we have stayed too long; some are saying they were being marginalized and some other people are saying that JCOST don’t give respect to the founder and you know when you say that, you know that something is fishing. I don’t know who they are referring to as the founder because I am not the writer of the petition”.

On the way forward for JCOST, he observed that, “we are going to call a delegate meeting, the delegates are the people to choose their interim committee on their own, then they prepare for election. That is what we want to do”.

He however disclosed that the constitution provided for a tenure of four years for the incoming executives.

Also speaking, the Chairman, Road Transport Employers’ Association (RTEAN), Tincan Island Ports Chapter, Alhaji Isiaka Olalere stated that he was not aware of any plan to compose a caretaker committee that will in turn organize election for JCOST even as he said that he was aware that a committee was set up to work out modalities on how to fill vacant positions made possible by the demise of their former public Relations Officers and some vacuum created for some reasons so as to balance the executive.

Olalere contended that in a council made up of five federating units, it will be wrong for one of the associations to be dictating for the council what will happen adding that the five federating units sent their delegates from which the current executive was constituted.

“One of the federating units cannot sit down in the office and dissolve JCOST, it cannot happen. JCOST is a joint body formed by all the federating units that is existing in the ports, we formed it for peace to reign because in the past, there were fracas everywnere, fight everywhere, if one association is doing something, the other association will be against it, that was why we came together to form JCOST. So, presently, there is no problem in JCOST, we believe that no administration can stay there permanently but there should be peace and tranquility before you say you want to dissolve us and elect some people”, he said.

He however refuted the allegation that the current executive was appointed saying that they held an election at one of the restaurants at Apapa where officers were elected and that there was no place they made it known that that executive will last only for six months in office adding,” if it is a six months tenure, why holding election?”

“So, those who are saying that are saying that for their selfish end and as far as JCOST is concerned, JCOST remained intact”, he added.

On the allegation that it was the executive that drew a constitution that JCOST was parading now, Olalere who is also the Treasurer of JCOST maintained that if any federating unit was saying that now, it meant that such a federating unit was not in touch with what was happening saying that they all agreed that JCOST should have a constitution but people misconstrued it thinking that JCOST was becoming another association which would eventually pounce on them or overtake them, the reason they were saying this.

“Myself as RTEAN elected Chairman, there is no shaking, the activities of JCOST cannot debar our (RTEAN) progress rather it will bring about peace within the ports environment. So, if anybody is saying that now, he is one of those who wants to destroy JCOST. We constituted a constitution drafting committee that will give us a constitution and this constitution had representatives from each and every federating unit and they came up with their report, presented the document and we sent the document to every union that make up JCOST and nobody said anything and now, the present executive are to test run that tenure as contained in the constitution outside the one they had initially, that was what the delegates agreed upon. What we have in the constitution is four years but the delegates can say otherwise but presently, the delegates mandated the current executives to test run it for a year or two”, Olalere said.

On the lopsidedness in the composition of the current executive of JCOST, the RTEAN Chairman said,” Let me tell you, on the election day, we appointed two people to be patrons of that organization, one of the patrons refused to participate because he lost in the election and the other one who belonged to another body entirely continued to participate and to put all his effort in it, by so doing, the number of people from his side is now more than others. There are some people who felt that JCOST will not grow up, immediately they got that post, they withdrew thinking it will not work. Now the thing is working to the admiration of everybody but to come back to the post now is difficult. This is just the problem. For instance, we have four RTEAN members in JCOST executive, that is what people are complaining about. The PRO is late now, that is a vacuum we set up the committee to come and fill, not to conduct election for us, they don’t have that power”.

From the foregoing, one can easily deduce that all may not be well with the council that has served as a uniting factor for all the trucking union in the nation’s maritime sector. It is not enough to call for a change of leadership, efforts should be made to understand the motive of those calling for the change with the sole aim of ensuring that the council which had given the government a run for its money is not derailed. The federating units are the owners of the council, they should sit down and decide what they want with the current leadership of the council as the ultimate power revolves around the delegates. And the current executive of the JCOST should on their own take a stock of its activities so as to ascertain where they have failed and make amend where necessary. They should not impose themselves on the people for the single reason that they have the power. All interests should be harmonized and accommodated and even if there is going to be a transition of power, it should be done in a rancor free atmosphere so as to ensure the continued peaceful existence of the council because as the saying goes, a house divided against itself can hardly stand.

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