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Botched NLC conference: Matters arising

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Omar

THE 11th quadriennial delegates’ conference of Nigeria Labour Cogress (NLC) held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja between February 9 and 11, 2015 is the first inconclusive outing of the Congress since 1978. It has from unfolding facts marked a sustained and deep crack in the prided impregnable walls of labour unity in Nigeria.

  In every human organization, there abound to be challenges both in the short, medium and long-term existence of the group.

However, challenges come and go, and the institution gets stronger and better when they are anchored on progressive principles and ideas, justice, equity, respect for rule of law and accommodation.

  Conversely, when an organization is bugged-down with the challenge of inept leadership and its official conducts shrouded in illegalities, promotion of injustice and corruption, inequality and abuse of the rule of law; it is bound to crack and crumble either by violent precipitation or by slow, sure and steady decline. 

  The NLC has had the fortune of going through challenges at various times before now and coming out stronger, better united, more focused and determined to serve the workers and perform some oversight functions on society and governance on behalf of the people. This was the situation before 2011, and a luck the Congress had taken too far in its quest to continue to remain relevant in the eyes and opinions of workers and society at large.

Things have since changed in the former sole labour centre in the country, and now existing as an illegal federation of unions by the provisions of the Trade Union (Amendment) Act 2005. By this hypocritical disposition to the rule of law and the audacity to hold the Act in breach and the Government in contempt, the Congress had unwittingly sown within its leadership and affiliates’ structures the seed of illegalities, injustice, corruption and complete disregard to rule of law and equity. Some affiliates have since imbibed  and perfected this negative virtues; perfected and improved upon their many negative values, and have even gone ahead to expand their taughts on them to promote new negative ideas and made unethical discoveries.

  If illegality begets illegality, corrupt leadership promotes corruption and a lie once told requires more lies to survive; then discernible minds and experienced trade union pundits are not surprised that the fortunes and collective national reputation and integrity of the NLC has been dragged to the mud by the greed and avarice of its present leadership.

  It is no more news that the just concluded delegates conference of NLC failed, and against all expectations did not produce new leaders to man the workers body for the next four years.

  At the botched conference, the number of contestants reduced by one with Comrade Issa Aremu withdrawing from the contest for alleged official breach of normal conference procedures.

  Similarly, Comrade Igwe Achese of NUPENG stepped down his presidential interest to support the ambition of Comrade Joe Ajaero of National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) in solidarity with the Labour Unity Forum’s resolution and a demonstration of commitment to the private sector group. Achese instead opted to contest for a deputy president position in the Congress. 

  This realignment of forces left the battle for Congress presidency between Comrade Joe Ajaero, a deputy president of NLC, former Journalist, trade unionist, Industrial Relations expert and General Secretary of National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and Comrade Wabba Ayuba, an Environmental Health Officer, National Treasurer of NLC and President of Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) to slug it out.

  The withdrawal of Aremu and stepping down of Achese to support Joe Ajaero is believed to have jolted Wabba Ayuba and his group, and made the battle line for the coveted seat of NLC Presidency crystally clear and the direction of delegates pendulum predictable.

  As a survival strategy and against norms, candidates and groups employed all means available to ensure they as much as possible have electoral comforts. Religion, ethnically, tribe and economic sectoral groupings and platforms were freely employed, all in a bid to succeed at the election.

  While last minutes campaigns were still on in the hall as votings progressed, the bang came from vigilant delegates who screamed at the cite of several ballot booklets bearing three extra ballot papers in each booklet printed in favour of Comrade Wabba Ayuba of MHWUN. The alarm unsettled the conference as angry delegates threw chairs, smash ballot boxes, destroyed ballot papers and it was confusion all the way until the police on duty had to disperse the delegates from the International Conference Center, venue of the event. 

  Part of the problems that derailed the conference irredeemably was the acceptance of NASU and the grant of clearance to contest for the position of deputy president by its General Secretary, Peters Adeyemi after four years of NASU’s failed attempt to break up the NLC over the 2011 delegates’ conference crisis. Those opposed to NASU query the rational of collecting over N100million check-off arrears from it and awarding the union with a position in the new line up of contestants as if nothing had happened.

  Pointing on some procedural infractions, corruptions, false and underhand plots to mortgage Nigerian workers’ patrimony, a short historical and retrospective analysis may be pertinent. These infractions are at the centre of the crises in the Congress, and the leadership approach has been to solve one illegality with another, and in the process committing and promoting more illegalities.

  For instance, it is a well-known structural fact that NLC affiliates are drawn from public and private sectors of the economy. It is also not in doubt that the NLC had over the years maintained a convention of guided internal democracy for the choice and election of its leaders. Under this convention, the public sector arm of the Congress had produced five (5) of the six (6) presidents of the NLC including the incumbent, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar. The private sector had produced only Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. In summary, the public sector had produced more presidents than the private sector.

  Agitations for equitable representation in the headship of the Congress had been an issue of concern to successive leaderships. To address the imbalance and maintain internal cohesion, and peace; after the military Government unbanned the leaderships of NLC, NUPENG and PENGASSAN in 1998, stakeholders in the Congress agreed that the body’s presidency will rotate between public and private sector groups. This understanding produced Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as the first and only president of NLC from the private sector to date. Abdulwaheed Omar of NUT who is of the public sector succeeded Oshiomhole. Though this understanding was in place the Congress leadership will on each Conference edition allow affiliates who wish otherwise to contest for any position of their choice. This is to ensure that the democratic and fundamental rights of affiliates and their members were respected. However, on each occasion the sectorally chosen consensus candidate will be supported by majority of the affiliates and delegates to win.

  This arrangement worked in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 with the election and re-election of Adams Oshiomhole and Abdulwaheed Omar for two terms each. As is usual, in the current dispensation the stakeholders met in Lagos on December 30, 2014 under the auspices of Labour Unity Forum to review their commitment and agreed that the private sector should produce the next president of NLC. By this resolution, the new president will succeed the present occupant of the seat who is from the public sector. 



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