‘FG should sanction governors who misuse bail out funds’
Comrade Bobboi Bala Kaigama is the President of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC). He also doubles as the President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN). In this interview with Asst News Editor, UFOMBA UZUEGBU, he posits that no time could be more auspicious than now, for the Federal Government to create new realistic salary regime, designed to improve the quality of lives of Nigerian workers. He also spoke on other key national issues. Excerpt:
What is your take on the continued ownership and management of unity schools by the federal government?
Let me quickly place on record that the Federal Government led then, by late Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, in 1966, conceived the idea of establishing Unity Schools as centres for nurturing and inculcating a sense of oneness and national virtues into Nigerian children, including teachers and other workers in the Unity School system from all parts of the country while at the same time serving as models for secondary education in Nigeria. The Federal Unity Schools are one of the few institutions such as the armed forces, the police, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), among others that help to instill national consciousness and unity in the mind of Nigerians. In recent times, calls are being made in some quarters for the sale of the Unity Schools to private individuals including transferring them to the State Governments. It is necessary to state clearly that those clamouring to take over the Unity Schools under the guise of Public Private Partnership (PPP) are not only selfish, but agents of destruction who are only interested in killing secondary school education and enriching their private pockets with the common wealth of the people. They want to convert the large expanse of land in the Schools as well as the state of the art structures there into their private property.
The unity schools, including the academic staff referred to Education Officers fall within the purview of our great union. Against this backdrop, therefore, we urge the Buhari Government to disregard any wrong counsel that has the potential of pitching the government against the people. We want to also appeal to the Trade Union movement, Civil Society Groups and all concerned Nigerians to be prepared once again to resist any attempt by the privileged few to convert the collective wealth of Nigerians into their personal estate and thereby mortgage the future of the country.
We advise those who are interested in running schools to go and establish their own and stop advocating for policies that place them and their families in positions of reaping where they did not sow.
How realistic is Labour’s strident agitation for upward wage review in the civil Service , given the parlous state of the nation’s economy?
I think that no time could be more auspicious than now, for an upward adjustment of workers’ salaries going by the current economic realities vis-à-vis the poor salary being paid to Civil Servants in Nigeria. What we collect as salaries can no longer take us to the bus stop let alone take us home. We have endured for so long and it is time for Government to look into our direction. We call on the Federal Government, therefore, to enter into negotiation with labour with a view to creating a new Salary regime that will be realistic enough to improve the quality of lives of workers and at the same time bridge the Salary gap between the core Civil Service and other sub-sectors of the Federal Public Service.
What is your take on recruitment in the public service. ?
The upsurge in arbitrariness in the way and manner the Federal Civil Service Commission is carrying out its functions in the name of recruitment is becoming worrisome. Cases of illegal recruitment into the service have continued to rise. Suffice it to say that the Federal Civil Service Commission has destroyed the recruitment process into the service on the flimsy excuse of acting on the directive from higher quarters to grant waivers to some states.
Our position is that the Commission cannot continue to hide under the guise of spurious waiver for some disadvantaged states to import and impose unqualified and incompetent persons into the Federal Public Service over and above qualified serving officers. Cases abound in the service of some officers who were appointed to positions without the requisite qualifications as provided for in the Scheme of Service, Federal Civil Service Commission Guidelines on Appointment, Promotion and Discipline, Public Service Rules, and Establishment Circulars. Graduates with eight to twelve years post graduation experience are being appointed as Directors. It is as bad as that.
We have made our case to the Commission on this vexed issue and we are still waiting for the body to reverse all illegal recruitments made in the past five years in order to return sanity into the system. We warn that if the reversal is not effected as being demanded, the Association will have no alternative than to adopt other trade union measures to seek redress.
What are your views on the unemployment situation in the country ?
The unemployment rate in the country has now increased to 7.5 percent in the first quarter of 2015 from 6.40 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 according to data received from the National Bureau of Statistics. No fewer than 64 million able bodied youth are reportedly roaming the streets without any means of livelihood. Meanwhile, each year, our universities and other tertiary institutions keep turning out thousands of fresh graduates into the already saturated labour market.
The high rate of crimes, robbery, prostitution, kidnapping and ritual killings which are now prevalent in the country are traceable majorly to joblessness and poverty. It is therefore necessary for Mr. President to accord the issue of employment creation the utmost attention it deserves. It is heart-warming that job creation is one of the campaign promises of the President. Work on this line must therefore commence in earnest. We believe that once the Federal Government is able to do the needful in this area, things will turn out for the better. Towards achieving the set out goals in the employment creation agenda, we advise the revitalization of the agricultural sector of the economy. We equally advise Government to embark on massive road and housing construction, encourage production of goods that can easily be produced locally and fashioning out of realistic monetary and fiscal policies that will stimulate growth in the real sector of the economy.
What is your take on Federal government’s bailout to state governments ?
I want to seize this opportunity to commend President Muhammadu Buhari for approving the sum of 713.7 billion intervention funds for States to pay arrears of salaries to Public Servants some of whom have not received their wages for the past eight months. We are very happy that Federal workers will also benefit from the bailout. This gesture of Mr. President has demonstrated very clearly that the high hope and expectations placed on him by Nigerians who gave him a historic mandate on the 28th of March, 2015 was not misplaced.
The life-line given by President Buhari, will also assist the various States to restructure over N660 billion commercial loans standing against them. This by implication, means that monthly deductions from State allocation which have made most States financially handicap in the performance of their obligations would be made flexible. By this singular act, the President has put smiles on the faces of millions of Nigerian workers whose morale were at the lowest ebb because they could no longer cope with the ordeal of reporting to work on empty stomachs.
I urge the Federal Government to closely monitor the fund released to states so as to ensure that they are strictly used in offsetting the arrears of salary owed workers. Also, States that default should be heavily sanctioned and their Chief Executives dragged before the anti-graft Agencies. We are happy that at the Federal level, Mr. President has directed the compilation of all form of arrears of salaries and allowances owed Federal workers. We are aware that the compilation has been completed. We plead that the indebtedness should be settled before the end of the year so that workers whose entitlements have remained unpaid over the years can for once go home smiling.
How would assess the state of the nation’s economy ?
Nigeria is Africa’s biggest economy. In spite of this development, however, up to 70per cent of the population still live below one dollar (N210.00) per day. The situation on ground has been made worse by the recent dramatic drop in oil prices. It is also pertinent to state that the country’s weak economy has affected the value of the currency negatively and this had led to untold hardship to Nigerians because we are a country that is import dependent.
As a way out of the precarious situation we have found ourselves, I will like to advise that Government should come up with clear cut policy initiatives and programmes that will promote real sector growth that will in turn generate employment opportunities. It is equally important to stress the need for the diversification of the economy which is critical for Nigeria’s survival as a nation. Currently, Nigeria derives about 80 percent of its revenue from oil. It is essential for Buhari’s Administration to implement policies to develop other sectors such as agriculture, energy, transportation, tourism, mining and steel as they will assist to add value to the revenue generating capacity of the economy. This in turn, will create employment opportunities and open up a wider market for investments to thrive.
President Muhammadu Buhari has indicated his intention to oversee the petroleum sector. What is your reaction ?
Oil still remains the mainstay of our country’s economy. The major portion of the country’s foreign exchange receipt comes from oil. Besides, the nation’s petroleum sector accounts for over 80per cent of the country’s revenue ; meaning that it is the largest source of our economic dependence. Furthermore, the largest portion of the humongous sums of money ferried out of the country under fraudulent circumstances in the past twenty years comes from the oil Sector. Consequently, Nigerian Petroleum Sector has been bereft of prudence and accountability.
We believe that President Buhari’s decision to oversee the Ministry of Petroleum himself with the assistance of a junior minister is in order. If being in charge of the ministry will clear the oil and gas sector of all its mess and help bring sanity to the sector, Mr. President should be given the necessary support.
It is also important to point out that Mr. President’s experience in the oil sector as a former minister of Petroleum who also helped in the establishment of NNPC, the Kaduna, Port-Harcourt and Warri Refineries will to a very large extent help in stabilizing the oil industry. To us over seeing the Ministry of Petroleum does not in any way mean taking up extra office or paid employment. The Petroleum Sector is a branch of the Executive. The President can therefore decide to oversee this Ministry himself. What we need at this point in time is result and an end to recklessness and open robbery that had been the hallmark of the oil sector.
On the anti corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari’s adminsrtation ?
It is worrisome that after 55 years of independence, Nigeria is still wallowing at the lowest end of development among the comity of nations due to corruption. The degree of systemic and pervasive corruption in the country has continually move the nation into a sorry state of poor institutional and infrastructural decadence. It is perhaps the major explanatory factor for the deepening poverty and worsening insecurity that now stare us in the face. The political elite, the ruling class and a privileged few now live in abundance and affluence while majority of the citizens wallow in abject poverty and squalor because of high level of corruption at the top. It is very ironical for the political class to think that the best way to guarantee a better, happier and a more secured future for themselves and their children is for them to attack the treasury and illegally pillage the common wealth of the people. They fail to realize that the entire enterprise called Nigeria is being endangered by their shameful action.
All patriotic Nigerians must realize that we must kill corruption for us to survive as a nation otherwise, corruption itself will kill us. That is the more reason why we as a Union wholeheartedly support the anti-corruption initiative of the current administration and its resolve to repatriate back to the country all looted funds. This is the only way sanity can return to the system.
What is your take on the state of insecurity in the country ?
Despite the huge budgetary allocation to security, particularly in the past six years, the wave of insecurity in Nigeria still give cause for concern as the bombing of innocent people in the North East by Boko Haram insurgents grace the headlines of newspapers on a daily basis. Kidnapping and ritual killings are also threatening the very existence of the country in other parts of the nation. It is necessary to note that poverty, unemployment, uneven development, environmental degradation, corruption, dearth of infrastructure are factors responsible for the fragile security situation in Nigeria and unless they are tackled headlong we will continue to live in fear occasioned by the very insecure environment we live in.
In what ways do you build capacity of your members ?
You may wish to know that over 1400 members of our Union had been sponsored for local and international training since I came on board. This is in fulfillment of the core mandate of the current leadership of our great Union to train and retrain our members I believe very strongly that the training programmes have had very positive impact on productivity and the way and manner beneficiaries have been carrying out their assignments in their respective workplaces. I want to assure you that the current administration is committed to further training and retraining of our members to actualize our collective goals and aspirations. The programme has become part of us and we will not abandon it.