By Bimbola Oyesola 08033246177, [email protected]
The year 2021 is almost half gone but for Nigerian workers and many Nigerians, nobody bargained for how the economy has turned out, with inflation that has made prices of goods and services sky-high.
But as far as the president of the Association of Senior Staff of Banks Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI), Oyinkan Olasanoye, is concerned, 2021 is a year in which everybody has to put on their thinking caps, not only workers, but for all Nigerians, to survive.
The union president, in this interview, notes that Nigerian workers, more than ever, would need to have the backing of their unions to fight the battle that lies ahead, adding that the present minimum wage no longer holds any value for workers.
She also spoke on why selling the nation’s assets to run a budget is not ideal and other sundry national issues.
Labour sector in 2021
We see 2021 as a year that everybody has to put on their thinking caps, not only workers, but for all Nigerians. There is already inflation and we are still battling with health issues, which is COVID-19, and we have issues in almost all the sectors. I encourage workers that they need to be more active and belong to labour unions because we need to come together to defend one another. For Nigerian workers, it is a year that we need to go the extra mile because we have a lot of dependants in an inflationary period. We are complaining about salary that is not enough and majority of the workers not gaining anything from the N30,000 minimum wage and government that promised has not paid and there are so many things we are spending money on this year. It is not about being in the union, it is about our survival as Nigerians. The union believes an injury to one is an injury to all and there are ways we normally cover each other up.
Those who don’t know the value of the union, this is the best year to join the union.
Government’s plan to sell any assets now is uncoordinated policy, which we could also call policy somersault. I feel we have seen the effects of all assets sold today. These assets should be for the advantage of Nigerian citizens, not to the disadvantage. We sold PHCN, and today we are having issues of electricity tariff and metering and we could not fulfill the purchasing agreement, and Federal Government couldn’t do anything about it. We also have issues with NPA and almost all the assets we have sold till date. I feel government should not think about selling assets. There should be better ways of managing our assets. If they can trust who they put in charge of managing the assets in a that they can generate profit, that would be better. Government should consider people who can manage the assets properly. From the report I gathered from our people that worked in PHCN, I was told they generated enough profit. So, why should Nigeria still be paying subsidy on these assets?
We need to think about some things and think properly. If you want to sell property to run a single year’s budget, what will happen to next year’s budget in terms of income? For me, it is a policy that is not well-thought-about. This should not be our priority for now.
Selling assets to run a concurrent budget is not ideal. We have spent about four or five years to fix Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and we could not also see infrastructure that is up to Nigerians’ expectation; so, there shouldn’t be any reason for selling assets.
Expectations from organised labour
I want to appeal to Nigerians not to lose faith in the labour unions. Before now, when we called for strike, there are laws that guide labour centres on strikes and when we are going outside such laws. So it is not all the time Nigerians need people to fight their battles because there are laws that guide labour centres. They expect a lot from us, yes, and we are ready to provide leadership, but, unfortunately, we see some things that they do not see. Like the last strike that Nigerians felt labour centres betrayed them, we did not. But at that particular moment that was the painful decision we had to take to show patriotism.
Financial sector and COVID-19
Right now, there has never been any of our members that has officially been laid off as a result of COVID-19, because there is an agreement with the employers that nobody will be laid off. At the moment, there is no report like that. We expect that there may be because we will not put our eggs in one basket, but we will ensure due process and that necessary things are put in place. There should be opportunity for a second chance, life after working in any institution.
Coming out of economic recession
Recession is global and for Nigeria we have not done anything that will increase our GDP and we don’t have necessary equipment to run institutions, factories. Our purchasing power is very low. It is about finding a way to balance our purchasing power. When we come to agriculture, government has not put in place something to serve as an encouragement to farmers. How many Nigerian farmers have access to loans? To us in the financial sector, we are hoping that this second quarter of 2021 will be better, because the first quarter, with COVID-19 still in place, didn’t give much hope for any turnaround in our economy.