The president of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Bobboi Bala Kaigama has disclosed that there is a plan to take over Unity Bank for workers, adding that this would ameliorate the suffering of Nigerian workers. In this interview with Taiwo Ogunmola-Omilani, he reveals some of his plans for the union in the next three years.
Having won the election for another three years, what are some of the things you have in mind to do for the union?
It has not been easy, but we thank God that we have been able to do our first term successfully and because of the implicit confidence our members have in my leadership, I was given the opportunity to go for the second term unopposed, unlike what happened during the election for my first term in office. Like you did observe, I have a plan, even from my first tenure, of ensuring that Nigerian workers are given a fair deal. We are aware that Nigerian workers suffer a lot, when it comes to accommodation, even though it is not just the problem of workers, it’s a national problem and because we have decided in TUC to take our destiny in our hands, we have gone very far in trying to address our members’ accommodation problem. One, in collaboration with the Federal Mortgage Bank, we have delivered houses in some states, particularly in Kano, Katsina, Abuja, Enugu, Taraba, and Lagos is almost at the point of delivery and we also have an independent one TUC is developing with our partner, the Rock of Ages Housing project in Abuja with about 10,000 housing units.
The construction work has commenced and we hope that sooner or later, before the end of the year, we should be able to have complete some buildings. Apart from that, our transport company is on-going and we have been able to rescue our workers from the clutches of their employers, particularly those that are being victimized, intimidated and even to the extent of being laid off and dismissed. We have been able to come to their rescue.
Some that are supposed to have been dismissed re-absorbed. We went all out and did that. There are also our members at the ministry of education at the state level, who had problems that we’ve gone even to the extent of representing them in courts and to God be the glory, we’ve been able to successfully do this. We have been able to train and retrain our members over the last three years and we hope to continue with that and we are going into TUC Community Development Plan and part of it is the acquisition of Unity Bank of Nigeria and we have gone to the stage of acquiring a major shareholding in the bank. We want to make sure that we have a workers’ bank in this country. To this end, we are having an emergency meeting here in Lagos and even in the Unity Bank headquarters to show the whole world that we mean business and by the time we take over this bank, Nigerian workers would definitely have taken their destinies in their hands successfully. This would ameliorate much of the financial problems of the workers, while in service and when they retire.
We hope to look into the area of investing in other infrastructural facilities like power, and we want to go into agriculture, solid minerals, and tourism. But we cannot do that without having a strong platform and that strong platform is the bank and we were able to acquire that bank. We thank our members, we thank our development partners and we hope that with time, the bank will be the largest bank in the country. It’s a process that is about 99% concluded. If at the end of my tenure I’m able to deliver on this, I will just say God, I have come, and conquered by your grace.
How will you achieve these lofty ideas now that we are facing series of economic challenges in the country?
far on that. Secondly, they say there is unity in strength. If all of us can acquire a minimum of N50,000 shares, it will go a long way. It might look small, but cumulatively, it would become a big, and huge money, considering our membership that is what we want to drive at. Our members will continue to keep investing in it so we are looking into the next one year. So, our members should be able to buy a minimum of N50,000 worth of shares each. By the time their families follow suit, I am telling you, within a year, Unity Bank will be the largest bank in this country with more money and the salaries of our members, this is not a small investment.
We are experiencing mass sack now, what is labour doing to intervene and how do you think the Federal Government can salvage the situation?
When workers are exposed to so many economic hardship, you have to think outside the box about how you can ameliorate the problems of your members. One is what we have said earlier. The second one is to protect them in their own places of work like what banks have started doing. What do we do in conjunction with the government is to address this problem? We are in serious liaison with the Federal Ministry of Labour to ensure that this does not happen again. Also, if they have problems, they have processes that are supposed to be taken. We have certain collective bargaining agreements in place.
Nobody would force them to do what they are not supposed to do. What we are saying is that we have processes, we follow the processes, but the last thing we would not tolerate is where workers are retrenched. If they have problems, if it demands bailout, let them buckle up.
How many times do they want to be bailed out by the government? Have they repayed some of the bailed out funds that were released to them?
Those are the problems. They cannot sit down, feed fat on depositors’ funds and then when it comes to the economic hardship, they make their workers to pay the price, no. So we will continue to say it, even to the extent of picketing these financial houses. If they insist on laying off their workers, probably they will have to close the banks.
Yes, we know they have laid off some workers, but we are still talking to them on this. That’s what we are saying. It is part of the resolution we had with the Minister of Labour and my colleagues in the NLC.