National President of the Trade Union Congress, Comrade Bobboi Bala Kaigama, has come down hard on some governors, warning that any state governor who cannot pay workers salaries should resign.
In this interview with AYO ALONGE, the TUC boss also comments on the stance of joint labour on the recent hike in electricity tariff and his assessment of the Buhari administration. Excerpts:
Can you comment on the recent actions of the Trade Union Congress under your watch?
We have had actions recently that were from joint labour; that is the NLC, TUC and our civil society allies where we mobilised workers across the federation to protest the increase in electricity tariff from 45 percent to 65 percent. The second was in Imo State where the government suspended over 6,000 workers. We had to go there to mobilise the workers and our civil society allies and in all, we had a successful outing. On the part of the increase in electricity tariff, apart from picketing the NERC office, we also went to picket all the GENCOS and DISCOS throughout the federation and we finally submitted a protest letter to the National Assembly in Abuja, both to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. We are pleased to announce that the National Assembly quickly waded into the matter and the Senate President and Speaker addressed us and instructed that there should be a joint committee of both Houses committees on Power and Labour. The Committee was saddled with the responsibility of mobilising the stakeholders. Sooner than later, a public hearing would be conducted on the issue of this electricity tariff and even a review of the privatisation process.
On the issue of hike in electricity tariff, are you convinced with the reasons put forward by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola? Since he has explained the rationale behind the hike, would joint labour rather see any reason with his opinion?
That is giving the reason after the damage has been done.
What damage are you talking about?
I mean after the increase. The law says you engage stakeholders in series of meetings and give the reason. The engagement has been one-sided. The DISCOS and the GENCOS simply engaged their own allies and the National Assembly, organised labour, the electricity consumers community, were all not involved. So, who did they consult before the increase? Again, there is a court order in place against NERC and DISCOS.
Whether or not you were duly consulted before the hike, does organised labour consider the reasons given by the Minister valid?
We are not against increase in electricity tariff and please note that. We are saying that before the increase, certain things must be done. In consonance with the memorandum of understanding that was signed in 2013 between these companies and the government, they were given a gestation period to ensure that all consumers in this country have metres. That condition has not been made, so, shall we continue in this activity of estimated billing because we want to give some people time to meet the conditions? We say no! If you truly want to engage Nigerians, provide the prepaid meters to consumers. They just levy people whatever they want and that is what we are against. When the GSM operators came on board, they didn’t charge before providing the services. They provided the service first and that is what we want. Despite that the costs were high, Nigerians paid for the service.
In essence, what are the demands of joint labour to NERC and the government of the day, by extension?
This is it: Let us get to the status quo where stakeholders can sit down and then we can call back our allies who have gone to court and we can then agree to negotiate.
How would you assess and rate the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari?
Well, I keep saying that on the part of fighting corruption, kudos to him and we encourage him to do more. On the part of delivery on their campaign promises, we say yes to that too. During the campaigns, they made mouth-watering promises and coming on board now, they have seen the difference between campaign promises and the reality on ground. We implore politicians to always see the reality on ground before committing themselves. There can be u-turns in the ideals of government like the idea of going back on the promise of payment of N5,000 to unemployed Nigerians. We also hope that they would improve on solid minerals, power, all to create more jobs.
You once disclosed that the TUC, under your leadership, has embarked on housing schemes as a welfare package for its members. To what extent has that gone?
In Abuja, we have two sites under development. As I said, we have a collaboration with the NLC for another one. We have also commissioned similar projects in collaboration with Federal Mortgage Bank in Kaduna, Katsina, Abuja, Kano, Enugu, Taraba, Niger, and the rest. In Lagos also, we signed an MoU with our developer to commence projects in Lekki and Lagos/Ibadan Expressway.
Housing projects are known to be affordable to just the rich. How would low income earners of the lower cadre benefit from such?
No high cadre worker would get a room and a parlour or 2-bedroom flat. All the categories are being catered for and you key into the one you can pay conveniently. The mortgage bank has an affordability test to ensure that people can pay so that you don’t spend half of your salaries paying.
When labour unions go to picket erring employers, we hardly hear what is done next about the whole saga. Why is that so?
When you picket, it is for you to now give room for negotiations and that is what we do.
Are you still of the opinion that state governors who can’t pay the minimum wage should resign?
Yes! The State Creation Committees, as at then, convinced the government that states can pay at least the salaries of the work force of the states and the fact is there and it is incontrovertible. For some governors to now say they cannot pay is not acceptable by us.
But should they be blamed, going by the reality that some of these states are not financially buoyant enough?
They should be blamed because it is not about their IGR. They are lazy. The state governors should resign because you are not going in accordance with the commitment made while calling for the creation of that state. When it was rosy, you never saved for the rainy day and none of them has made any investment that can sustain the states. They have decided to use public finds for their private needs and on campaigns. Where is the excess crude money that was distributed? These are questions we should ask them. Government is a continuum and we must be responsible and accountable. If you are not prepared for governance, you give way.
But monthly subventions are not equal and some states are richer than others?
We are saying that we can survive without oil money because we have abundant agricultural resources, mineral resources, solid minerals and tourism potentials. People should wake up and think rather than waiting for the oil money to come at the end of the month.
What is the TUC doing to encourage and assist government for sustainable development, particularly in the area of job creation?
The war against corruption has started and that would block all the leakages in fund management so we can invest in areas that would create jobs. Monies are being recovered from looters and we need government to tell the people how much is being recovered so the government could gain the trust of the people. The idea of the TSA is also welcome to block the leakages.
What is the level of confidence reposed in the present administration?
We have confidence in the present administration because he has proven to Nigerians that he has integrity by declaring his assets and that of the vice president. We doff our hat for him and encourage them to continue to be upright and sanitise the system for the benefit of all.
Among your demands from the government of the day, which would you consider as the priority of joint labour?
We have so many. First is the case of ensuring that workers salaries are paid promptly. Also, you don’t promote workers without arrears and benefits. We also need the government to strengthen the anti-graft agencies in fighting corruption, particularly the judiciary. We should also look at the idea of providing adequate power to Nigerians and this has a value chain on jobs creation.