‘Workers will fight, support good governance’
Comrade Bobboi Bala Kaigama is the President of Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC). Born in 1962, he hails from Kakara village in Sardauna Local Government Area of Taraba State. A graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; and Federal University of Technology, Owerri, where he obtained a B.Sc (Hons) in Urban and Regional Planning, and MBA in Project Management Technology. He also attended several management and professional courses as well as trade union trainings within and outside Nigeria. Professionally, Kaigama is a corporate member of Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, a chartered town planner with Town Planners Registration Council, and Chairman of Taraba State Chapter of Nigerian Institute of Town Planners. A two-term Taraba State Chairman of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), two-term Taraba State Council Chairman of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), a member of TUC’s National Executive Council (NEC) since 2005, he was the National Vice President of ASCSN until 2013. Today, Kaigama doubles as National President of ASCSN and President of TUC, the labour centre to which all senior staff unions and associations in both public and private sectors in Nigeria are affiliated. In this interview with The Guardian’s CHARLES DARE, discusses germane issues in the labour industry in particular and the economy in general. Excerpts.
What are your expectations from the government of President Muhammadu Buhari as regards workers welfare?
First and foremost, we want to commend the President for his zero tolerance for corruption. He and the Vice President have, through body language and action, shown the whole world that they are incorruptible leaders by the declaration of their assets publicly. We expect the new minsters, legislators and governors would follow suit to declare their assets publicly.
We have been encouraging government in the area of fighting insurgency, insecurity. And we are ready to support government in its quest to create more jobs, to provide the basic infrastructure particularly power. We are on the same page with Mr. President when it comes to restructuring the NNPC. The rot in the NNPC is not all about withdrawal of subsidy, it’s all about accountability, good governance and transparency. So, if there is transparency, the issue of subsidy will take care of itself. And we are happy that the President has said he is not going to withdraw any form of subsidy but address the fraud that is inherent in the system.
We support the government in that regard and want it to go further by identifying those behind the scam and prosecuting the culprits. Nigerians now know that our refineries can work and work in such a way that this country cannot import refined products anymore. When we get to that level, we will know that there is need to review issues on subsidy or no subsidy, we can then come to the round table and discuss the merits and demerits.
I also want to commend the President on his magnanimity in bailing out the state and federal workers. State governments, rather than pay workers’ salaries, engaged in using the funds for their political campaigns. The campaigns have come and gone but workers are in arrears of salaries up to 7 to 8 months. The bailout is a welcome development by the President and has helped to cushion the hardship state and federal workers are going through.
We strongly believe that by the time Mr. President settles these issues, Nigerian workers will rededicate themselves in delivery of their service. And we remain grateful to Mr. President for bringing us to a level that we can now sit and challenge any tier of government that refuses to pay our monthly salaries. We shall never allow it to go for months again without being addressed. Nigerian workers will support his programmes to ensure that corruption is fought and good governance is entrenched in this country.
What is your take as the President of the Trade Union Congress in the fight against corruption?
I do not believe in the idea of witch-hunting. When you want to fight corruption, you have to start from somewhere and when you started, you do not stop. You have to go holistically. We are happy he start from top to bottom. He has shown the whole world that nobody in government is a sacred cow. As long as nobody is a sacred cow, everybody will sit up and render quality service to Nigeria. The fight against corruption must start somewhere.
The TUC is of the opinion that the fight should be very smooth and permeate down the fabrics of the three tiers of government so that all corrupt officials in government and outside government are brought to book and face the wrath of the law. We also urge that due processes are taken in the fight against corruption so that the international communities and Nigerians in particular would have confidence that this fight has come to stay. So, if you are accused wrongly, the court is there to explain and defend yourself.
Recently, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission announced that there will be a 40 per cent increment in the tariff of electricity. As a pressure group, what is your stand on this?
Our stand is very clear that we are against any increase in electricity tariff. And we are going to resist the increase. What we expect the electricity companies to do is to provide meters. How on earth can you wake up one night and decide to increase electricity tariff by 40 per cent where your performance has not increased by 40 per cent? If you have increased the service you are rendering by 40 per cent, we would understand that. But you have not even improved by 10 per cent and you are coming to tell us that you are going to increase tariff by 40 per cent. They are kidding! If they listen to good counsel, good for them. If they do not, when we get to the river we will find a way of crossing. So, we are waiting for them.
How is TUC tackling casualisation issue in most companies in the country?
It’s not only casualisation, there is the issue of contract engagement and maltreatment of Nigerians by foreign companies. We have seen reports in dailies where a Chinese company in Lagos exposed their employees to hazards. I and my colleagues in the NLC are working out a synergy with the Federal Ministry of Labour and some civil society organisations in this fight to make sure that some of these unfriendly labour practices taking place in this country are addressed. We will be discussing this with the Federal Ministry of Labour and with some foreign embassies particularly the Chinese embassy and some of our local firms that have not been unionized.
One area of interest is the telecommunication industry especially the GSM operators that are not unionized. Others companies in the construction, textiles, cement, sugar and some big stores like Shoprite have refused to allow trade union activities to take place in their work place. We are assuring Nigerians that with time, we will address them and if it gets to a crunch, we will picket them.
Can you tell us some of your achievements since emerging as the President of the Trade Union Congress?
One of the achievements of this new administration is the establishment of a liason office in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Before now, we had little presence in Abuja, most things were done from Lagos headquarters. We have put all the necessary things in place to make the Abuja office very functional.
By tradition, we are out to protect the interest of our members. As the President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, we have ensured that over 1000 of our members are not let out of their jobs. And those facing one challenge or the other in line with their jobs are protected. Whenever any member is unlawfully suspended or dismissed, we make sure they retain their jobs. If employers are into any kind of anti-labour practice, we make sure such unfair labour practices are checkmated.
We have been able to strengthen our transport company to ensure our members benefit fully from the scheme. We have strong presence in Abuja, Lagos, PortHarcout, and some state capitals across the country.
We have made provisions of decent and affordable housing accommodation to our members. We are developing that in conjunction with NLC housing estate along Apo road in Abuja. Also, TUC is partnering with its development partner, The Rock of Ages, on its housing scheme programme in Lugbe, Abuja. And in conjunction with the Federal Mortgage Bank, we have been able to commission some housing estates in Kano, Kaduna, Abuja, Enugu, Niger and very soon, we will be commissioning another one in Jalingo, Taraba State. In Lagos, arrangements are in top gear for development of some housing estates within the Lagos metropolis and we are pushing to have some in Ogun State. We intend to go through the 36 states of the federation to ensure that our members who have been suffering from shortage of housing can benefit from the scheme.
Also, we have worked out a kind of cash loan to our members with the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria, particularly in areas that have been ravaged by insurgency in the North East. We intend to further liase with the Federal Mortgage Bank to ensure that the programme can go round across the 36 states of the federation, so that members that are not able benefit from the housing units can have access to soft loans with single digit interest rate that can ameliorate their accommodation problems.
We have been able to train and retrain our members. We have actively collaborated with our sister union, the NLC, to ensure that our mandate of protecting and fostering the interest of our members are galvanised in a harmonious way so that there won’t be any form of frictions among the centres.
We have participated in our yearly traditional high ranked convention since the inception of this new administration.
And to God be the glory, we have made sure that the TUC secretariat and all its departments are actively functional.
What advice do you have for Nigerian workers?
My advice to Nigerians, specifically our members is that when a new government is in place, that is preaching “Change”, we should act as watchdogs for this change to be actualised. And for those who are apostles of change, we want them to know that Nigerians are watching them. INEC has provided an opportunity for the permanent voter’s cards and card readers, the same process that has brought them in will keep them out in the next four years.
So, we advise them to quickly settle down and deliver service to Nigerians. By and large, Nigeria is experiencing new ways of doing things. It is not business as usual. Whatever you do, you will be held accountable for your deeds. We encourage our members to be law abiding, to take their jobs seriously and be watchdogs of the society.
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