Selling assets to run concurrent budget not ideal —ASSBIFI President

May 18, 2021
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President of the Association of Senior Staff of Banks Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI), Oyinkan Olasanoye, speaks on how the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the labour sector, especially the finance sector and the nation’s economy. Soji-Eze Fagbemi reports.

The first quarter of 2021 is gone. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the state of the economy, what would you say about the labour sector?

We see 2021 as a year in which everybody has to put on their thinking cap, not only for workers but for all Nigerians. There is already inflation and we are still battling with COVID-19 and we are having issues in almost all the sectors. I encourage workers that they need to be more active and belong to a labour union because we need to come together to defend one another. For Nigerian workers, it is a year that we need to go the extra mile because we have a lot of dependants it’s an inflationary period. We are complaining about the salary that is not enough and the majority of the workers not gaining anything from the N30,000 minimum wage and the government that promised has not paid and there are so many things we are spending money on this year. It is not about being in the union, it is about our survival as Nigerians. The union believes an injury to one is an injury to all and there are ways we normally cover each other up.

For those who don’t know the value of the union, this is the best year to join the union.

 

Why workers are clamouring for better pay and upward review of salaries and pension, the government is facing a crisis on how to fund the budget. What is your take on this and how do we balance the two ends?

Nigerian government planning to sell any assets now is as a result of an uncoordinated policy which you also called policy somersault. I feel we have seen the effects of all assets sold today. These assets should be for the advantage of Nigerian citizens not to the disadvantage. We sold PHCN, and as of today, we are having issues on the electricity tariff and metering and we could not fulfil the purchasing agreement, and Federal Government couldn’t do anything about it. We also have issues with almost all the assets we have sold to date. I feel the government should not think about selling assets. There should be a better way of managing our assets. If they can trust who they put in charge of managing the assets in a way it can generate profit, that would be better. Government should consider people who can manage the assets properly. From the report I gathered from our people that worked in PHCN, I was told they generated enough profits. So why should Nigeria still be paying subsidy on these assets?

We need to think about some things and think properly. If you want to sell a property to run a single year budget, what will happen to next year budget in terms of income? For me, it is a policy that is not well thought about. This should not be our priority for now. Selling assets to run a concurrent budget is not ideal. We have spent about four or five years fixing the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and we could not also see infrastructure that is up to Nigerians expectation. So, there shouldn’t be any reason for selling the existing assets.

What are the expectations from organised labour?

I want to appeal to Nigerians not to lose focus on the labour unions. There are laws that guide labour centres on strike actions and when we are going outside such laws. So it is not all the time Nigerians need people to fight their battles because there are laws that guide labour centres. They expect a lot from us, yes, and we are ready to provide the leadership, but unfortunately, we see some things that they don’t see. Like the last strike that Nigerians felt labour centres betrayed them, we did not. But at that particular moment that was the painful decision we could take to show patriotism.

 

Your sector, the Financial sector, has been badly hit by the effect of COVID-19. How has the union coped with the situation?

As of now, there has not been any of our members laid off as a result of COVID-19, because there is an agreement with the employers that nobody will be laid off. At the moment, there is no report like that. We expect that there may be because we will not put our eggs in one basket, but we will ensure due process and that the necessary things are put in place. There should be an opportunity for a second chance; life after working in any institution.

How do we come out of this economic problem?

Recession is global and unfortunately for Nigeria, we have not done anything that will increase our GDP and we don’t have the necessary equipment to run institutional factories. Our purchasing power is so low. It is about finding a way to balance our purchasing power. When we come to agriculture, the government has not put in place something to serve as an encouragement to farmers. How many Nigerian farmers have access to loans? To us in the financial sector, we are hoping that this second quarter of 2021 will be better, because the first quarter and with COVID-19 still in place, didn’t give much hope for any turnaround in our economy.

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