• Saturday, July 20, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

NLC: the Latent Elephant in Nigeria’s Jungle of Injustice

businessday-icon

The story of today’s Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) could be likened to a situation in the jungle where the lion terrorizes fellow animals while the elephant mind its own business because it can defend itself against the ferocious creature. “When an elephant refuses to employ its intimidating size to defend weak animals, the lion will turn the forest to a personal kingdom”, so says an African proverb. When the elephant decides to go solo and keep quiet about happening in its kingdom, the lion would harass, intimidate, oppress even kill the weak!

As Nigerian government and its politicians continue to take Nigerians for granted in the absence of viable ‘activitist’ institution to mobilize them to challenge irresponsible government, some prominent and ordinary Nigerians are beginning to ask questions such as: what has happen to various unionism in the county? Is the National Association of Nigerian Students (NASS) gone almost non-existence? Where Nigerians are beginning to ask where the Civil Liberty Organizations are? Why have they failed to liberate Nigerians by mobilizing rebellion against political tyranny at both local, states and at the federal level? Nigerians are beginning to wonder what has become of NLC that not too long ago brought former radical Nigerian President OLusegun Obasanjo on his knees with better argument when he attempted to hike the pump price of petrol in 2003.

Brief History of NLC

Before the advent of Adams Oshiomhonle led NLC, recorded history has it that the organisation had a brawny history, surviving two instances of dissolution of its national working committee and the consequent appointment of state administrators. The first was in 1988 under the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida.

NLC was formally constituted as the only national federation of trade unions in the country in 1978. Before then, four labour centres existed which were Nigeria Trade Union Congress (NTUC), Labour Unity Front (LUF), United Labour Congress (ULC) and Nigeria Workers Council (NWC). The emergence of the NLC ended decades of rivalry and rancour involving the four centres and unions affiliated to them. The unions, numbering over 1,000 were also restructured into 42 industrial unions.

The military government of Sanni Abacha again dissolved NLC’s National Executive Council and appointed a Sole Administrator. The dissolution exemplified the travails of Congress, its leadership, affiliates and state councils under military rule. Arbitration, prolonged and unlawful detention of labour leaders, invasion and disruption of union meetings, seminars and other activities of Congress and its components by security forces and a vicious anti-labour campaign by the state generally marked the period under General Abacha. A decree that banned a section of the movement from holding leadership position in Congress came into effect.

However, with the death of General Sanni Abacha, the unions reclaimed Congress, culminating in a National Delegates Conference held on January 29, 1999. The leadership led the NLC from 1999 – February 2007 headed by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.

NLC under Adams Oshiomhole

Nigerians would not forget in hurry how Adam Oshiomhonle as NLC President was dragged by Obasanjo’s men (SSS) at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport on his way to Delta state and his suit torn. He was rugged and rocky even in the face of harassment and intimidation. He was ready to lay down his life for Nigerians to emerge winners. As NLC grow in popularity then, so was Adam Oshiomhonle. He was seen by many as true president of Nigeria. He became popular more than the country’s president himself. Many Nigerians believes Oshiomhonle is still living in his glory as NLC president.

Chief Gani Fawehinmi, once declare Adams Oshiomhonle “the only resident you know”. The Guardian newspaper called him “Hurricane Oshiomhole”. That was after he led thousands of workers through tear-gas fumes and the ‘honour guard’ of cocked guns, in a march on Aso Rock, Abuja. Oshiomhole and his ‘troops’ were armed only with determination and a superior argument over the hike of petroleum product prices.

In the encounter at the Presidential Villa, President Olusegun Obasanjo’s spokesman, Dr. Doyin Okupe, now Special Assistance to President Jonathan on Public Matters, attempted to stem the rush of Oshiomhole and his men. He was flattened with one sentence: “Get out of the way, you Abacha man.” He did stay out of the way. “Our leaders”, Oshiomhonle said, “should go into the Guinness Book of Records for fighting poverty by increasing the price of fuel and stopping Christmas gifts”.

As radical as president Obasanjo was, the thought of Adam Oshiomhonle led NLC was the beginning of wisdom for the Ota farmer. When all failed NLC was the last hope for Nigerians to challenge government highhandedness. There was no ambiguity on the loyalty of NLC at the time. NLC was the pride of workers and non-workers alike. Nigerians were so confident NLC would take up their battles. NLC was resilient and resistant at the time. The officials were patriotic and progressive. They were arrested, detained, tortured and warned not to return to the streets in the name of demonstration; but refused to be intimidated and pressed on until the will of Nigerians prevail!

NLC under Abdulwahed Ibrahim Omar

Aghedo Ihiminre, a political scientist is one of several Nigerians who are dissatisfied with the current leadership of NLC led by Abdulwahed omar who started his carrier as a primary school teacher. He said NLC under Comrade Omar has gradually been reduced by government to a toothless dog who could only bark but without the ability to bite its assailant.

He said the only opportunity Nigerians ever had to turn the fortune of the country around was brown by Omar led NLC. “Nigerians would never forget how NLC leadership was compromise and sold out Nigerians’ interest during the 2012 subsidy brouhaha! Look at how Nigerians were united across the land! Nigerians were asking for not only the reversal of petrol to the former price but  arrest and prosecution of individuals involved in the subsidy scam; but Omar’s NLC thwarted the opportunity for Nigerians to get justice by surrendering to government when great Nigerians like Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana and Tunde Bakare were still on the streets”, he said.

He said further that, the current leadership was easy for government manipulations because been individual from classrooms made them vulnerable to government manipulations. “Union leaders from private sector will do better at NLC than those from the public sector. The individuals that made the leadership of NLC are classroom teachers and that alone made them government properties. We are looking forward to NLC the leadership comprising guys from the private sector. They can withstand government pressure. Adams Oshiomhonle was a product of the private sector. Imagine if we have had the support of NLC during the 2012 protest, the revelation of the subsidy fraud would have sent many people to jail”, he said.

 

Abdulwahed Omar became the President of NLC from February, 2007 after the expiration of Adams Oshiomhonle As President of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), an affiliate of the NLC, Omar has been a member of the Central Working Committee and National Executive Council of the Congress since 2001.  He was elected Deputy President of Congress in 2003.  He was elected to the exalted position of NLC President at the 2007 Delegates Conference of the Congress in Abuja.

Speaking to BD SUNDAY, Chairman, Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Balarabe Musa said current NLC  leadership must do all it takes to avoid surrendering to the will of government before the objective of a strike action is achieved . He insist that, NLC has been compromised since the era of former military Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida explaining that before military interruptions of the organization, NLC was given economic  power to feel that they are equal with the ruling class at the time.

He said “That has made them to sacrifice the interest of workers. For example, during the time of Babangida after he had given economic base, whenever the NLC call for a strike and the workers responded, the NLC would withdraw the strike even before the objective of the strike is achieved.

“Even today, the situation of calling off strike when its objective is yet to be achieved is a major problem. NLC has surrendered to government maneuvers! They have continued to sacrifice the larger struggle of the people for personal interest and the result is corruption and criminal waste of resources.

He said the Nigerian electorates must rise to fight labour act of surrendering to the will of government. “The situation started during IBB’s regime. Labour should be involved in the political process. The NLC should fully support Labour Party “, he said.

It would be recall that Nigerians were dissatisfied with labour leaders following its surrendering to government’s will in the 2012 subsidy removal tussles even when majority of Nigerians were still on the streets demanding not only a reversal to former pump price of petrol but prosecution of individuals involved in the subsidy scam; thereby making it easy for government to use soldiers to crackdown protesters who were still on the streets after labour had pulled out of the struggle.

But the President of Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), Bobboi Bala Kaigama said Nigerians must appreciate the fact that labour would not always eat its cake and have it back when it comes to negotiating a deal with the federal government adding that When people are going in for a negotiation “you don’t expect” to get it at 100 percent.

“It should be both sides winning. You must compromise. Our compromise brought about the issue of SURE-P. AS it is now, organize labour is the only opposition in the country. If you see the 2012 struggle when we had to stop the fuel prices, it was something unprecedented in the history of Nigeria. If not for the labour movement Nigerians would have been buying fuel at N150 per litre”, he said.

He said synchronizing labour movement in the country in the interest of Nigerians was a major challenge for both TUC and NLC. “What we want is a kind of synergy between TUC and NLC. Now, we are trying to come together and present a common front at the fast approaching National Conference and God’s willing, we would continue to synergies so that Nigerians can enjoy the best of government of the day. Let’s give opportunity for change and a rethink and see how we can shape our country”, he said.

 

The Publicity Secretary of the Pan Yoruba Social Group, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, said in 2012 when the people of Nigeria took to the streets and occupied the country to protest the removal of fuel subsidy, the protest of the people overshadow the action of the labour.

“And the fact that labour was perceived to have compromise the struggle kind of creates fear in government corridor and circle. Since 2012 till now government has not increase the price of petroleum product again and that have shifted the scare on the perception of direct action of the people as against that of labour. What you are saying now is a challenge to organize labour to fight sect back on the conscience of the people as defendants of the oppress people of Nigeria,” he said.

Responding to question on the role of labour in making political office holders accountable to the electorates, he said the country urgently need a new policy that will arise from the people owning the political processes, becoming more assertive and been in charge of their own affairs adding that the capacity of the Nigerian people needed to strengthened to press for accountability so that the feet of those in authority are held to the fire of accountability.

He suggests that, the delegates of NLC at the soon to commence National Conference, could push for the removal of the section of the 1999 constitution that disallowed independent candidacy in the interest of the Nigerian electorates. “Once the political parties know that the people have a choice they will sit up! The reason political parties are doing as they like now (no internal democracy, not obeying their own rules it is because they know Nigerians don’t have option! Once they know people have the option of standing as independent candidate they will sit up”, he said.

The President of NLC Abdulwahed Omar could not be reach when he was contacted. As at the time of filing in this report his telephone had remained switched off.

The mission of the NLC when it started was to organise, unionise and educate all categories of Nigerian workers; defend and advance the political, economic, social and cultural rights of Nigerian workers; emancipate and unite Nigerian workers and people from all forms of exploitation and discrimination; achieve gender justice in the work place; strengthen and deepen the ties and connections between Nigerian workers and the mutual/natural allies in and outside the country and; lead the struggle for the transformation of Nigeria into a just, humane and democratic society. Many Nigerians said current NLC leadership was yet to meet these objectives.

NATHANIEL AKHIGBE