The President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), who doubles as the National President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Mr. Bobboi Bala Kaigama is about to end his first term in office in TIUC and he is seeking a second term.
In this interview he granted Oladipupo Awojobi in his office in Lagos recently, Kaigama pointed out that TUC would not tolerate reduction of the N18,000 minimum wage and that the Nigerian workers deserve more from the government of the 36 states and the Federal Government.
Q: The issue of minimum wage has been re-occurring in Nigeria, how do you see the fact that some state governments want to reduce it from N18,000?
A: The national minimum wage is a product of the law and it was subjected to serious debates amongst organised labour, employers of labour, the government, including the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Government. It took about two years to come up with N18,000 minimum wage. Labour came up with a proposal of N52,000 minimum wage, but we collectively agreed to N18,000 due to certain considerations. For some people to now say that N18,000 minimum wage was imposed on them is an exhibition of ignorance or they don’t have institutional memory that would remind them of trends in government. When you come on board as a Governor, if you want to comment on anything, do a thorough investigation on the subject matter otherwise you will ridicule yourself. So, what the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum said is due to his ignorance. The law supports the N18,000 minimum wage and it says that it should be reviewed upwards after five years. This is now over five years. What we expect is for the government to put the machinery in place to review the minimum wage upwards. So, it is not tenable for the state Governors that are so extravagant and who spend government money as if it is their personal money on frivolous contracts and campaigns to come and tell us that they don’t have money to pay minimum wage today. We have refused to have this culture of savings in the country. The Federal Government has promised not to retrench workers, and we are watching events as they unfold at the state level. We are assuring any state Governor that wants to retrench that he would have to face the labour unions because we would never support that.
Q: What of the committee the government promised to put in place on minimum wage?
A: What we are saying is that the government should put the machinery in place to ensure everything is properly done. We are presenting our position paper on the issue as an organised labour.
Q: How do you rate the government of President Muhammadu Buhari on the welfare of workers?
A: No matter the problem, we want to rate the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari very high. We have met with the Minister of Labour, Senator Chris Ngige and we have been reassured that the Federal Government would not retrench workers, and that they would rather see to the welfare of workers. That kind of assurance gives us hope that the Federal Government workers would not be re-trenched. But for the state Governors, who are the chief mis-managers of their state resources, they should know that you cannot eat your cake and have it. It is either you are prudent and address the needs of the workers and those of the citizens of the state or you take care of your personal needs and that of your family alone and the entire state and the workers would go against you. We know how much they spend on their campaigns. Instead of spending their personal resources, they spent the state resources and now everybody is suffering. They didn’t cultivate the saving culture, they only go to Abuja at the end of every month to collect oil money. They have forgotten that they need to develop their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), develop their agriculture, solid minerals, industry and tourism potentials. Now, we are faced with the realities of life, the global oil price has nose dived and we have not planned. Even the middle east countries that play with petro-dollar saved money and they have diversified. The hardship we are facing in Nigeria is not hitting them because they have put their shock absorbers in place. But for us, as it comes, we consume, we are a consuming country. So, Nigerian workers cannot be blamed for the recklessness of their leaders, their leaders must be held accountable for their actions and in-actions. This is the time, when we will know the Governors that are serious and those that are there to service their pockets.
Q: We read in the news that Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State sacked some workers in the state. Is there any way you deal with Governors that sack workers anyhow?
A: Of course, we are not going to take it easy with any Governor that sacks workers anyhow. I want to believe that Governor Rochas Okorocha has not sacked any worker and if he has done that, he should prepare because Nigerian workers would also sack him.
Q: What is your take on Dasukigate and the current revelations about corruption in Nigeria?
A: Our take on it is that it is sad that people have played with Nigerian money, it is sad that we only talk of marginalisation, religious bigotry, tribal sentiments and all sorts of sentiments, when we are not in government. But when we are involved and share the booty, nobody would talk about marginalisation. Look at the array of the beneficiaries of Dasukigate, which tribe is not covered? You have the Hausa-Fulani, Ijaw, Yoruba, Igboman, Nupe, Itskesiriman, Kanuriman and others. They are good representatives of people that had been crying of marginalisation. We never knew as Nigerians that people were feeding fat on us, so they have exposed themselves. They should account for their offences. President Buhari is on the right track, he should pursue those, who have enriched themselves with public funds. But this prosecution should not be limited to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It is understandable that the PDP had been in power for 16 years, but that is not to say that other political parties are not involved. I strongly believe that they are going from the larger amount to the small amount. Then all the recovered funds should be made public and all the indicted persons should be prosecuted accordingly.
Q: Apart from some of the things you have mentioned are there other things you want the Federal Government to do for Nigerian workers this year. Also, the politicians do say civil servants are also corrupt, do you agree with them?
A: The present government promised to see to the welfare of Nigerian workers during electioneering campaigns. We want to let them know that Nigerian workers are the worst hit, when it comes to shelter, infrastructure such as power, water supply and education of their children. We know that the Federal Government is now addressing education, and would start feeding school children. The Minister of Housing, Works and Power has started mass housing for the people, but what we want are practical works. We have made our position known as labour unions. We want them to assist us on infrastructure like we have an arrangement to provide house for workers in Abuja. Our plan is to provide 5,000 unit of houses and our developer has built about 2,000 houses so far. So, we expect the government to provide infrastructure for the estates. We expect the issue of mass transportation to be addressed. We are talking about fuel subsidy issue, we want the government to come out clear on this. You hear some people saying that there is no provision for subsidy in the budget. The President is very straightforward, but the Minister of State for Petroleum, Kachikwu is very trickish, he would say one thing today and another thing tomorrow. We want him to come out and show us the direction so that we will know how to tackle the issue of subsidy. People are suffering, we have not made any provision for mass transit in this country and we are telling our people that we are going to withdraw subsidy, there is no shelter for our workers, the purchasing power of the Nigerian worker is diminishing, so we want a clear-cut direction on this. A situation, where the president would be with the masses and his ministers would be with the bourgeoisie is not acceptable. If someone is prepared to work with the President, he should follow his body language and work with what he says rather than manipulating issues. It would not augur well for some of these ministers, when their true colour are revealed.
On corruption amongst the civil servants, in every society, there must me bad eggs, but hardly will you find any corrupt civil service here in our country. However, you could find one out of 1,000 or 2,000 civil servants, but look at the scenario of the Dasukigate, the percentage of the politicians involved to that of the civil servants is about 99% to 0.1%. The only ones that are involved among us are weak and feeble minded civil servants. We always tell our members that if they are involved in corruption, they should be prepared to face the wrath of the law because the union would not protect them.
Q: People have said a lot about removal fuel subsidy, but the Federal Government is saying that the subsidy money would assist in providing infrastructure and other things. Do you have a contrary view on this?
A: In 2012, when we exposed the cabal in the oil industry and people were indicted, did you hear that anybody has been jailed or dealt with over the mind-boggling sums of money involved. Government is a continuum, if the government wants to be taken serious by the people, they should show us that they have the political will to punish indicted Nigerians in the scam no matter, who they are. Now, you have not punished these people, but you want to withdraw oil subsidy so that the common Nigerians would suffer. If you do that, the cost of transportation would increase, food items would be expensive, the value of the naira has fallen already, what palliative measures have you put in place if you remove oil subsidy today? When forner head of state, the late Gen. Sanni Abacha added N2 to the price of a litre of fuel, Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) was established and we know what was achieved with that. In 2012, after the increase in fuel price, SURE-P was put in place by former president Goodluck Jonathan though we know the management was poor, at least something was done. Now, they have not put the refineries in place, they have not assured stakeholders that jobs would not be lost, they have not talked about the value of naira, cost of food items, house rents and all that. They forgot that the Nigerian workers are also critical stakeholders in the Nigerian project, we need to be convinced that the government means well. Let us put it on the table, we are also Nigerians, who have been to the universities, and we also have economists, lawyers and engineers as they claim to have. We will not allow a handful of Nigerians to impose their will on the people.
Q: How do you want to convince members of the TUC that you deserve a second term of office as their President?
A: First and foremost, our cardinal objective is to protect jobs. As TUC President, I have protected about 5,000 jobs in the last three years of being in office. We have ensured that people that lost their jobs were recalled like it happened in Cocacola, another organisation in Abuja, where over 1,000 workers were recalled. We had cases of where they wanted to bring people from outside, when we have qualified people in the same organisation and we ensured that they did not bring those people in. We are constructing about 5,000 housing units for workers in Abuja. It is being financed by the developer, but the Federal Mortgage Bank would provide mortgage for our members to buy the houses. We have done some things with the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). We have had a programme with the FMB and we have delivered houses in Katsina, Kano, Kaduna, Abuja, Enugu, Taraba, Niger and we have also organised cash loans for our members. Before now, we didn’t have a liason office in Abuja, it was my regime that put the office in place because our headquarters is in Lagos. We have trained our members and we have a good working relationship with the NLC, and our transport company is doing well. We have a target, we want to make sure we provide houses for our members across the 36 states of the federation. If we get another term, we would provide houses in at least 20 states of the federation.
In Lagos, we want to provide at least 5,000 housing units for our members. We want to enhance our assisted mass transit buses, we have only been able to do it in Lagos and Abuja, but we want to extend it to Kano, Port-Harcourt, Jos and all the state capitals in Nigeria with large population. So, the Federal Government should think well before removing fuel subsidy, they need to partner with us. I want to build a befitting secretariat in Abuja. We want to ensure that Nigerian workers have a fair deal in all the states of the federation. These are what we want to do apart from training and re-training our members, we have trained over 2,000 of them in the last three years. We want the state governors to know that they cannot work in isolation, they are not countries on their own. They are part of the Nigerian federation.
Q: You were part of the Constitutional Conference organised by the government of former president Goodluck Jonathan, what is your advice to President Muhammadu Buhari on its outcome or would you want him to organise another one?
A: Organising a constitutional conference is not a tea party. Though Buhari is not coming out to tell Nigerians that he is implementing some aspects of the report of that conference, I would suggest that he should pick some aspects of the conference report that are good for Nigeria and adopt them. Yes, the All Progressives Congress (APC) refused to be part of the conference due to some loopholes they saw in it, but you don’t throw away the baby with the bath water. So, Buhari should look at the report of the conference.