With the recent arrest of some of the alleged culprits involved in the brutalisation of the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Joe Ajaero, which took place in Owerri, Imo State on November 1, 2023, as confirmed by the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu who has promised to investigate and prosecute them, there is a crying need to glean significant lessons to prevent a repeat of the ugly incident.
Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. I believe the root of all evil is abuse of power. James Madison
It would be recalled that Ajaero was reportedly picked up from the NLC State Council Secretariat by heavily armed policemen on the stated date and taken to an unknown destination. Subsequently allegations were rife, that Ajaero was beaten black-and-blue by the police authorities in the state.
On a controversial note however, Governor Hope Uzodimma, while speaking at a meeting with the Imo State Council of Elders at the Government House in Owerri said the Imo State government regretted the sad situation the labour leader experienced in the state. On the other hand, he stated that his government would not be cowed or intimidated by any non-state actor under any guise. That statement came as fingers began to point in his direction, accusing him as being responsible for the near-tragedy in the state.
Though the NLC has called off the indefinite strike it began on Monday, November 13, 2023 after reaching an agreement with the Federal Government, the ping-pong blame-game that transpired between the two has necessitated the need to right the misconceptions that have persisted for decades, on the narrative of who is wrong and who is on the right track.That is, when it comes to querulous labour-related matters.
While some analysts are of the firm opinion that Ajaero, who incidentally hails from Imo state was wrong to have embarked on the workers’ protest in Owerri, few days to the gubernatorial election, accusing his body language of surreptitiously dancing to the tune of the opposition Labour party, some others are of a diverse view.
They insist that with the workers owed 42 months and the state governor, Hope Uzodimma allegedly breaking the rank and file of the state’s arm of the NLC to foist his whims and caprices on the hapless workers and long-neglected pensioners groaning in hunger and poverty, Ajaero did the needful.
Indeed, it should be noted that the conditions which workers must fulfill before embarking on a lawful strike in Nigeria are contained in section 31(6) of the Trade Unions Act LFN 2004 as amended by the Trade Unions (Amendment) Act 2005. The others include Sections 4, 18 and 42 of the Trade Disputes Act LFN 2004 as amended.
Similarly, Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution provides that every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and he may in particular form or join any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interest. This aspect of the extant laws falls in sync with the provisions of other national and international legal instruments, including South Africa and Ghana. But here some despots masquerading as democrats deploy the instruments of the predatory power of might is right!
In fact, the public affairs analysts in support of Ajaero are of the firm opinion that the governor had a hand in the arrest and brutal force meted out to the NLC President, who is to them the nation’s numero uno worker. An assault on him was an affront on them all. And the fact that Uzodimma reneged on fulfilling his own side of the bargain which they had amicably reached weeks before was a clarion call for the strike.
Not helping matters was the antic of the government playing games with the workers’ sensibilities, by going to court to seek for an injunction to stop the strike, even when no such order was served on either the NLC or the Trade Union Congress, TUC.
That the strike went ahead in spite of such a threat has further rubbished the image of the judiciary. It was such an appaling situation that the NLC reminded the otherwise legal institution that it was not an aggrieved political party, or candidate that could be told to “go to court”, knowing full well that its pendulum of judgment would not swing in its favour.
One bitter lesson from the altercation between the federal government and the labour union therefore, is that of the needed rebuilding of the various arms of government. It should be such that institutions are strengthened and placed above the idiosyncrasies of individuals, no matter how powerful they might claim to be.
Ordinarily, both the judiciary and the police force should always act as arbiter organisations. But unfortunately, they have been obviously compromised in recent months such that those unjustly treated have resorted to self-help. This should be the exception rather than the rule.
The onus therefore, lies on the political leadership of the country, beginning of course, with the executive arm of government – from the president to state governors- that they submit their selfish inclinations to the rule of law. Doing so will bolster the people’s confidence in the governance process; do away with the obnoxious culture of impunity and reduce the re-ocurrence of preventable and avoidable fracas which often lead to the wanton wasting of precious human lives. We have had enough of the blood-letting spree of several defenceless, innocent citizens in the corridors of political power here in Nigeria, if we must admit the bitter truth.
According to Beijing Law Review- Vol.11 No.2, June 2020, it is on record that the first known strike or workers uprising was embarked by the Artisans of the Royal Necropolis at Deir el-Medina on November 14, 1152 BC. It took place under the rule of Pharaoh Ramses III in ancient Egypt (Romer, 1984). The core demand of that first strike was due to a call for an increase in wages and improvement on other working conditions. The impact of the strike was so great that the authorities had never seen, nor heard of any such rebellion. At the end, the authorities had to give in to some of the demands of the workers especially rise in their wages.
With regards to the Nigeria’s labour law, the primary legislation on employee representation in Nigeria is the Trade Union Act (“TUA”), enacted in 1973. Unions represent their members. Once a union is registered under the TUA, it has the right to represent its members.
That the recent assault on the NLC President desecrated that exalted office is stating it as it is. That the labour unions returned to the negotiation table with the federal government for a peaceful resolution is worthy of commendation. Now is therefore, the right time for labour to conceptualise its struggles, away from the ambit of political sentiments.
Going forward, the lesson Nigerian political leaders must learn is to toe the path of true servant-leadership. Their policies, programmes and projects should be pro-people, instead of trivialising demands by the labour unions. Government should therefore, restructure industrial relations management to prevent gravitating towards a state of anarchy.
It should be reminded that we are neither under a military rule, nor should we descend to dictatorship under a democratic dispensation. Political power should be driven by the bottom-up approach, from the collective wishes of Nigerians instead of the political leaders acting as the Lords of Manor.