Jimoh Umar has recently been elected Deputy President General of the Senior Staff Association of Communications, Transport and Corporations, (SSACTAC). In this interview with Babalola Yusuf, Umar sheds light on his tenure as the immediate past SSACTAC Maritime branch President and other issues bordering on the union’s activities.
You concluded your tenure as President of SSACTAC Maritime barely two weeks ago, now you have been elected Deputy President General (DPG), why have your members reposed so much confidence in you that they voted you into a higher office?
First, we (exco members) believe in faith. When we were given this position, we saw it as a challenge that we must be accountable to both God and humanity. We saw it as a position of trust given to us by the entire workforce of Nigerian Ports Authority and other outfits that form part of the association.
We felt it was a job we must do in accordance with the constitution of our association and in tandem with the labour laws and other relevant laws of this nation. We also have to study and relate our job with the condition of service with various organisations under the kits. We believe in the rule of law, and also believe there is nothing to hide, so, we place our cards on the table for everybody to see and decisions are taken by all of us.
We all join hands together to execute any decision taken; we also join hands together in all ramifications of union activities. We involve the zonal executives in decision making; it is not only the branch executives that take decisions, that is why we have Joint Consultative Conference (JCC). This forum also takes decision; we meet twice in a year, hosted alternatively by people in Lagos and the Eastern port and we take positions on issues that affect the organizations; the work place, the welfare of workers.
From time to time we review and work in tandem with every management, complementing their efforts. It is not just to bring, we also contribute and arising from our contribution, we can now say bring, and I must tell you that our relationship is a very wonderful experience.
We carried everybody along; we respected those who deserved to be respected. We recognised everybody’s contributions and suggestions, and every management was fond of us because we gave proactive suggestions. I proudly say that we contributed our own quota and made sure that the productivity of the work place was growing. As we speak today, it is still growing. We have contributed our own quota from various departments to ensure that the production is growing and the industry is better for it today.
Every customer we delivered services to was happy to patronise us and they are getting the best value for their money, which is why we are here. We don’t see ourselves as being different from the organisations because it is the work place first before the employees. We made sure that the work place was in good health and it permeated to the workers. Let me tell you also that we don’t come up with frivolous demands, but with what the system has given us.
When Mr. President pronounced minimum wage increase, we asked for our own. We are a very responsible association; we ensure all righteousness is fulfilled before we go on strike. Anytime we decide to go on strike, it is always the management that is adamant; that doesn’t want to dialogue or they refuse to abide by the joint communiqué that we both signed; that is where the problem comes from. We are literate and I can assure you that in our profession, we rank among the best in the world; this has proven itself in various international conferences and fora that we have attended.
What were the challenges you faced as the president of SSACTAC?
One of the challenges is that you will go and have an agreement with the management of an organisation and that management will renege on fulfilling the agreement they signed. This has always been a serious problem we contend with. When you agree on an issue, then let your yes be yes and your no be no. We know the predicament of management of our government organisations. However, issues that are within their purview to settle, they should not renege on it when they agree with workers.
Another problem is government somersaulting policies. Stakeholders are not carried along in the maritime sector before policies are made. One of the policies we are talking about is the increase in duty of vehicles; before you do that, you must have gotten something to give in place or consult with the stakeholders but this was not done.
Meanwhile, the vehicles you stopped from coming into the country through high duty still enter the Nigerian market. At the end of the day, Nigeria would have cheated on itself and impoverished the citizenry through the policy, thereby increasing the neighboring countries’ revenue profile and also making the lives of their citizens better there. You see that at the end of the day, Nigeria losses.
If you must stop them, you must give them the necessary ground like tax rebate to encourage or assist them, let them also produce vehicles that withstand the competitiveness of other vehicles. Not just to produce vehicles, they should produce vehicles that are sound and Standard Organisation of Nigeria should be empowered to ensure that we have sound vehicles produced by these companies, then let them produce in thousands and have retail centres across the country, then we can do this.
Where this is not done, then we are not ripe for that. We must also consider the purchasing-power of the citizens; how many citizens can afford to buy N18 million Coaster from these companies? Then what are you telling me that you have hampered or allowed rickety vehicles to convey the citizens within the country that are very prone to accident? How many Nigerians can buy cars worth N5 million, but with N1.5 million, you can buy what we call grade one vehicles. Put these entire things together; look at them vis-a-vis what we want to do to strengthen the local manufacture of cars.
Government took the same position when they said vegetable oil production in Nigeria should be enough for us; what happened? It was chaos, after six months or so it was reverted, but because we all consume the same vegetable oil, that is why they are able to listen. Now, they have wherewithal to buy even if it is 20 million or 50 million vehicles and on that note, they don’t care about the plight of the commoners.
People have been shouting and we are using this medium to call the government to revert to the status quo and develop this industry before closing shop and ensure that the prices are affordable. It could be affordable by introducing many policies, either you buy through your bank and you have 40% bank financing through your salary, through your work place to key into it. When they key into it and hold briefs for their workers, the workers can afford it. There are many ways of doing it.
Aside the renovation of SSACTAC secretariat, what other achievements can your association lay claim to?
As I have told you, we have it as common responsibilities in everything we need. One of those things was strengthening the internal democracy. We ensured that we entrenched democracy internally that has proven itself over the years. There is no agitation, no enmity before and after election. They know that all the time, it is free, fair acceptable within the stipulated rules and guidelines in Nigerian context and also in our own constitution and our by-law so, that is one of the things we were able to achieve.
We also strengthened the union’s administration, we have adequate and qualified personnel handling our activities; we have about 80 employees among those who are the drivers, office assistants, accountant, secretaries that are well trained. They have performed over the years where they were and we have what we call very good internal administration. These people are pensionable and as I am talking today, we do not owe them a dime on pension and they are also entitled to their gratuity in case they want to leave. Their pensions have been paid to their various PFAs. This is one of the achievements we were able to do. When we are not around, these workers can take decisions based on previous messages. They cannot hold brief for us, but they can serve as agents to the association and perform even if we are not around. If they need to write any letter to any quarter, they do on our behalf, sign it and work is going on, so, we were able to achieve this. We promised a befitting secretariat, we wanted to move the secretariat from inside Ajegunle, we couldn’t because of financial wherewithal, but we were able to renovate what we have and turned it into a befitting secretariat.
Can you tell us the actual amount it cost you to erect the secretariat?
Let me tell you that management is a continuum anywhere, any day. Our predecessors bought the building and you can see before it was bought, I believe they bought it for N7 million then, and when we came, and construction was going on, we had to move from the port, they renovated up there with little money we had, but it was not standard. However, we now renovated it this time to meet the level of our standard and that is what we did and of course, we spent money that we had from union dues and did not owe anyone.
You have not said the actual amount
Yes, I will not tell you how much exactly we have spent or so because it involves facilities and all accessories we needed in the office like computer and other office furnishings. I cannot bring it off hand; I need to consult the books before I can get it or I believe if you meet our accountant, he will give you the exact figure. I am not trying to hide it, but I wouldn’t want to give you a wrong figure, but I know we bought that place for N7 million.
Were you able to achieve all your campaign promises?
We promised to strengthen internal administration and democracy, we also promised a befitting secretariat and that we would pursue the welfare of workers without fear or favor. We have been able to achieve internal democracy, we have been able to have a befitting secretariat and we are able to pursue workers welfare in NPA, LCM, PTML to GRILMADI to logical conclusion, except the one in NPA that remained only outstanding two issues which is still in progress and awaiting the last quarter of their meeting for approval.
The management has approved that, staff establishment committee has approved that and we are waiting for their meeting to see it and we believe and hope that by the end of this November of December, they would ratify it, but if they do not, that means they have reneged on their promise and they should blame no one for whatever comes out of.
What do you expect of your successor?
We are running a confederated system in SSACTAC, even in TUC. The issue of the welfare package from NPA is being handled by the national body and they are also handling the issue as at now, and I am the DPG, it is not for this newly-elected executive, it is not for them, this are the issues we will pursue at our level here to ensure that justice is done. We know the predicament of the management, we know who and who to hold, where to go, when the time comes.
For the newly elected officials, it is at their discretion to sit down, look at the past and look at what is obtainable and fashion out whatever policies or demand they want to look out for, it is none of my business. As DPG, we will not interfere, but I will advise them that management all over the world are not benevolent because what is practicable and a general phenomenal in management and workers relationship is Baboon and monkey; while the workers are monkey that are working, the baboons are eating, usurping it and if you do not ask, you will not be given. But with democracy in Nigeria, I advise them to ask for their right within a democratic means and embrace dialogue, which is a beautiful thing that helps an organisation because where there is dialogue between union and management, there is respect and when both party agree on an issue, the two sides must honour. Also, before the workers ask for anything, they should be able to ask themselves what they are giving into the system; how much and what have been their commitment, so, when you are satisfied with this, you can go on with your demand. Union should be seen to be complimenting management effort towards the success of the organisation.
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