By Victor  Ahiuma-Young
LAGOS — Presi-dent of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, and other officers of Congress, yesterday, relocated to Lagos, to begin a four-day mass action and picketing of all the offices of the Union Bank of Nigeria Plc, UBN across the country including the Marina Head office, today.

This came as indication emerged that the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, appointed Group Managing Director, GMD, of the bank, Mrs. Funke Osibodu, had Friday travelled to London.

Though inside sources claimed the GMD left the country to avoid the heat of the picketing and mass action, but GMD was said to have told senior management team that she was going for a medical check-up.

Osibodu led-management of Union Bank, since January 2011, had been at loggerahead with NLC over management withdrawal of recognition of the bank’s umbrella body for senior association, the Association of Senior Staff of Bank’s Insurance and Financial Institutions, ASSBIFI, affiliated to NLC.

Ahead of today’s planned mass action and picketing, Labour leaders and Civil Society Coalition, LASCO, met weekend to finalise strategies on how to ensure the management of the bank revert its withdrawal of recognition of the bank’ unit of the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions, ASSBIFI.

Joint Secretary of LASCO, Comrade Abiodun Aremu, told Vanguard at the end of the meeting that all was set for the picketing, saying though the leaders of Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, who were at the meeting initially opposed the planned action because the bigger faction of ASSBIFI is affiliated to it, it was however resolved that such issue would be addressed after forcing the management of the Union bank to withdraw its de_recognition of ASSBIFI.

Yesterday, Vanguard gathered that reports across state councils of NLC, have it that leaders of NLC in the 36 states and Abuja, met with civil society allies to map out strategies for the mass action.

Vanguard gathered that while Comrade Omar and some leaders of NLC would be at the Marina Head office of the banks, some others would be at Ikeja and other strategic branches of the bank.

Comrade Omar, while justifying today’s action in a statement last week, said: “While we are aware that Mrs Osibodu is acting the script of bigger masquerades, we wish to state that not even the troops she has mobilised to guard the banks offices would be able to stop the power of working people come Monday, February 14, 2011.

“We have gathered that Mrs Osibodu, following her vow to ‘demystify’ NLC had stepped up further oppression of Union Bank workers especially the leadership of our affiliate, Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions, ASSBIFI.

Apart from the sack of many union leaders and the unjustified transfer of many union members to remote branches, Mrs Osibodu has brazenly become more repressive by using security agencies especially soldiers to manhandle and hound union leaders many of whom have gone into hiding.

The Nigeria Labour Congress will never allow the rights of workers, let alone any of its affiliates, to be trampled upon with the level of demonstrable impunity and despotism as is being visited on the bank’s workers by the Osibodu_led management of Union Bank. While Mrs Osibodu has boasted that she had deployed soldiers to guard all its branches across the country and ordered them to shoot_at_sight any worker who comes for picketing, Congress wishes to state that we are ready to confront and if possible die rather than watch the management of Union Bank condemn its workers to second slavery through vagrant abuse of their rights to freedom of association as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution, the Trade Union Act 2005 and ILO conventions 87 and 88 of which Nigeria is a signatory.

We wish to therefore draw the attention of the President and Commander_in_Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, under whose directive soldiers or troops can only be deployed to note that no amount of intimidation and threat of unleashing soldiers will deter workers from engaging Mrs Osibodu and the management of Union Bank in order to re_instate all workers who have been sacked as a result of their participation in unionism.

While we are not unaware of Mrs Osibodu’s anti_union antecedents, we wish to state that we are equal to the task of defending our rights even at the cost of our lives. After all, Mrs Osibodu was recruited by the Central Bank of Nigeria to rescue Union Bank and not to cause it more crises especially a trade union dispute that might inflict incalculable harm on a bank facing serious challenges.

We wish to state that the current industrial dispute between ASSBIFI and Union Bank management began shortly after Mrs Osibodu was appointed as Group Managing Director following the crisis in the banking sector a couple of years ago. Coming into the bank with her anti_unionism prejudices, Mrs Osibodu did all she could to emasculate unionism in the bank when she transferred union leaders to remote branches all over the country.

Congress believes that it is not the duty of Mrs Osibodu to de_recognise ASSBIFI, our affiliate or any industrial union for that matter since there are statutory bodies in place to regulate trade union activities.

On the legality or otherwise of ASSBIFI, we wish to unequivocally state that the dispute is still pending at the Industrial Arbitration Panel (AIP) and no judgement has been delivered up to this moment to warrant the unfortunate and totally contemptuous decision of the Union Bank management.

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