By Funmi Komolafe & VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG
COMRADE Bobboi Bala Kaigama, is the recently elected President of Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC. In this interview with Labour Vanguard, Kaigama, who is also the President General of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, ASCSN, speaks on his vision for TUC among others. Excerpts
WHAT is your vision for TUC and what difference do you intend to make?
First and foremost, we appreciate the fact that God has brought us this far though the process was not easy but we give glory to God. Like I did say, when I was revealing my programme of action for TUC, I hinged on the needs first and foremost to consolidate on the gains of my predecessor. I intend to build the TUC secretariat and operate it to a standard of a labour centre. I intend to improve on the transport project of Comrade Peter Esele. Right now it is concentrated in Lagos and Abuja, we are looking at the possibility of extending that scheme to other states of the federation, so that workers at the state level will have a feel of this.
Do you think the union has the capacity to manage the transport company, taking a cue from the experience of NLC?
We are not managing the buses ourselves, we leased them out. There is a company that is managing it on our behalf and servicing the loan on our behalf and the company has been doing well. We are pleased with the performance of the company so far.
We will develop on that and then I have this housing project as part of the vision. If you know , right now, in this country, housing is next to food and water you drink. Nigeria workers have been put under strenuous conditions. The landlords have not been so fair to Nigerian workers. So, we want to get ourselves engaged in housing development and we have gone far.
Immediately after my election, we prepared memorandum of understanding (MoU) with certain developers, national and international of housing developers. Very soon we will meet with the minister of Federal Capital Territory and select state governments in the first phase so that we will get land and commence the development of housing project. We believe it will go a long way in reducing the housing deficit being experienced by Nigerian workers.
How do you place this alongside Federal Housing Scheme run by the Federal Mortgage Bank?
We have been having a kind of war with the federal mortgage bank particularly we in the public sector. We strongly believe that the federal mortgage bank has not been fair to us. They collect our money and we are not beneficiaries. Before the election, the federal mortgage bank had a meeting with me because knowing the programme of action I have, they decided to meet with me and our colleagues in Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC.
We have an MoU. Part of this is that, the federal housing programme and the law establishing it, is anti workers. You can imagine, workers are the contributors to that fund, a 100 percent . Federal government has no contribution and workers don’t have a representation on the board of the Federal Mortgaged Bank. So, they choose what they want to do with the funds without representative of contributors.
So, you want to push for an amendment?
We are pushing for amendment. In fact, we have gone far. They have made a proposal that NLC and TUC are going to be on the board. So, at least the interest of the workers will be represented.
Senior civil servants tend to be very difficult to mobilize, do you have an awareness programme because it is believed that they are very comfortable and are hardly found them in organized labour rallies?
I stand to be corrected because when you say they are very comfortable I do not understand what you mean by comfort because they are the least paid in the economy of this country. You cannot compare their pay with their counterparts in the private sector. So, it is not a problem of mobilizing our members. All the time strikes we have called in this country, Abuja and all the states have been participating. So, the mobilization has been on and our members are fully mobilized.
You said they are poorly paid, there is this serious allegation that senior civil servants are very corrupt and that most of the houses in Abuja are owned by them, how true is this?
That is a hypothesis which is yet to be proven because if you say senior civil servants are corrupt , I do not know where such ideal is coming from? Anyway, we will love a situation where such allegations will be proved. For now, we strongly believe that senior civil servants are technocrats who respect the rules; the civil service rules.
That is not to say you cannot have select few that can be deviant, people who are out to make money and can connive with politicians. How many of the politicians do we have relative to the population of this country? They are the select few that are enjoying the economy of this country. So, we will not be surprised if the select few of civil servant are involved in those things. We are saying and will keep singing it to their ears that if you do that, you are on your own, the union will not be part of it.
What is your take in the parity controversy between the University graduate and Technology graduate in the civil service?
It is something we have been trying to see how we can go about it. It has gone to the national Joint Public Service Negotiating Council, it has gone to the National Council on Establishment and in fact, the National Council of Education has considered all this. But you know the difference in the curriculum between the graduate of university and the polytechnic is the concern now. So, the federal ministry of education is trying to work out a scenario that would balance the situation. So, we are waiting for the outcome of that technical committee that it is working on the issue. So, it is not as if we are sitting and we are not doing anything.
So, it is a matter of interest to your union?
Of course, yes. It is of interest to us.
Since the election, how far have you gone to reconcile some aggrieved opponents who might have felt bad over the outcome of the election?
Well, it is not an issue of reconciliation, but what we are trying to do, is to see how we make the “losers” to be an integral part of the administration. Everybody has his own idea. I sold my own idea and it was embraced by the delegates. So, that is not to say my opponents did not have laudable ideas that can be acceptable, that can enhance the trade union centre, so we are putting our heads together.
We are friends and members of the same family. So, we would meet with them, including my friend Comrade Ogun. If there are certain ideas he has that are not incorporated in my vision, I assure you we are going to incorporate that He ( Ogun) is a member of National Executive Council, NEC. So, we are still the same and there are fora where we meet and we synergize. So, there is no victor no vanquish as far as I am concerned.