Impetus for NLC’s revival
THE question that arose when Adams Oshiomhole was leaving office as the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in 2007 was whether the Congress would retain the pedestal it was operating few years down the line. Eight years after Oshiomhole and with three delegates conferences after him, the answer to the poser raised in 2007 is clearly obvious.
Those who took over from the ‘Comrade Governor’ of Edo state have failed to live up to, not only the expectation of the Nigerian masses, but to the expectation of the man that took NLC to the highest level of respectability in the eyes of the common people. Characteristic of a vintage Oshiomhole, he did not wait for Nigerians to express doubt about the inability of the new team headed by Abdulwahed Omar to sustain the momentum before assuming the chief-examiner of the team. Oshiomhole, himself a dogged fighter and social crusader for the attainment of common good, came down hard on the NLC that its voice was not loud enough on national issues.
At the 2011 delegates’ conference in Abuja, Oshiomhole took time during his address to state the ‘whys’ of why NLC could not afford to keep quiet in the face of national challenges confronting the nation. Since 2011 delegates’ conference, Oshiomhole had used fora provided by labour events to vent his frustration on how labour has been mismanaged and its once vociferous voice suddenly become inertia waiting to get a kick on the backside.
Again, with all the rancour and bitterness that characterized the 2015 delegates’ conference, Oshiomhole remained un-relented in blowing the trumpet of revival. No doubt, the now familiar ‘voice of Oshiomhole in the wilderness’, sent mixed feelings to labour activists within the system.
While some of his loyalists misconstrued his criticisms for desire to take side with them no matter what, some took it for dislike for individuals and his desire to move NLC into political space; others saw his unfriendly interventions as a sign of fragmented personality. With his name associated with the happenstances in the NLC in the last few weeks and the attempt at forming a parallel body, which wrongfully thought would force government to appoint a sole administrator for the troubled NLC, Oshiomhole remained convinced that his desire was noble. Indeed, in a show of openness and what his desires are for the NLC, in an open letter to the new NLC President he personally signed, Oshiomhole chronicled his line of thought on how to revive the Congress in a ‘stream of consciousness manner’. In a hold-no-back style, Oshiomhole declared that NLC under Wabba must seek to re-assert labour independence, re-connect with the forgotten rural majority and position itself as a major player in shaping Nigeria’s polity, economy and society consistent with the true traditions of the Congress and the interests of the Nigerian working families.
While affirming the fact that the process that brought Wabba as President at the just concluded 11th delegates’ conference was transparent, the Edo governor stressed that Wabba’s victory reflects recognition of his leadership capabilities, sound trade union antecedents, loyalty and commitment to the Nigerian labour movement. In an optimistic tone, he noted that the once-vibrant Congress has lost a significant amount of prestige and influence in the eyes of the Nigerian working people and the Nigerian public at large. He added: “The Nigerian people no longer see the Congress as the ‘voice of voiceless’ and a bulwark against socio-economic and political oppression and injustices in the polity.
The Congress is essentially viewed as either being complicit or at best indifference to the cries of the poor working class people and the middle class citizens who are daily at the receiving end of an unjust social order. It is against this background that your leadership must see its historic role beyond the “bread and butter” issues, to re-assert its independence, re-connect with grassroots workers, including the forgotten rural majority and position itself as a major player in shaping Nigeria’s polity, economy and society consistent with the true traditions of the Congress and the interests of the Nigerian working families.” Oshiomhole stressed that there is no other time that is apt than now to begin to work assiduously to reposition the Congress and brace up to the challenge of revolution of expectations of the affiliates of the Congress and Nigerians as a whole, while also providing a focused and dynamic leadership that will chart a new course for the Nigerian labour movement as vanguard in the struggle for good governance, democratic consultation and social justice.
The former NLC Chief highlighted that the challenge of re-uniting and re-building confidence amongst all the affiliates of the Congress in the spirit of unity and solidarity that the Nigeria labour movement shares is now. He cautioned Wabba against seeing his victory as a personal achievement saying, “Comrade President, I must emphasize that you must see your victory as a collective and not personal one.
Your tenure to lead the NLC is coinciding with one of the most critical periods in Nigeria’s history, politically, and economically. Definitely, these are, indeed, challenging times that call for a more proactive and constructive approach in the defense of the interests of not only the working people but also the entire Nigerian citizens. In this context, it is necessary that the leadership sharpens its capacity to engage public and private institutions at all levels in Nigeria and provide the needed checks and balances in the on-going democratic contestations in the polity.” Oshiomhole was quick to admit that decisive action must be taken to halt the divisive and primordial differences creeping into the labour movement.
He added: “It is also crucial that we all recognize the urgent need to lift the Congress above the divisive and primordial differences now surreptitiously creeping into the Congress, and restore the pre-eminent position of the Congress as the foremost pan-Nigerian institution it has always been, capable of uniting all Nigerians around critical issues of development and good governance, irrespective of their religious, ethnic or regional background.” And in what appears to be reading from the Oshiomhole script, the NLC President swiftly constituted a reconciliation committee to bring all the aggrieved parties to the negotiation table with a view to having a formidable and united team to chart a new course for labour in Nigeria.
Indeed, the failure of the outgone leadership under Omar to raise a reconciliation committee to bring aggrieved parties to the table in 2011 aggravated the rancour that followed that election which culminated into the removal of John Odah as the General Secretary and the suspension of NLC related activities by NASU and unions that were sympathetic to them.
In his message at the inauguration of the committee in Abuja, Wabba stressed the need for the Congress to forge a formidable front irrespective of the acrimonies that are still threatening subsisting. He said: “The Congress is putting this all-important committee together to help bring all our aggrieved Comrades back into the fold. If we must get things right, we need everybody to come on board. We are very sure that this team comprising veterans will help attain this task.” The eight-member team which is led by the first General Secretary of the NLC, Aliyu Dangiwa has other members that include Asugwuni Amechi, Dr. Comfort Oko, Daniel Adekola, Amina Danesi, Ero Philips, S.O.Z Ejiofor and Peters Adeyemi.
The President said the committee has two weeks to complete its assignment but was quick to add that it could extend the period if the need arises. And in showing new National Administrative Council (NAC) is put in a mood to revive the ailing NLC, the NAC met last week where it took concise steps towards realizing the repositioning task. One of the main tasks it resolved was to activate picketing of offices that are deemed to be anti-labour, which has been on limbo in the last eight years. The first office that will be beneficiary of the revitalized NLC is likely going to be the office of the Post Master General for unlawful and illegal diversion of the check-off dues of members of NUPTE to another union without the consent of NUPTE. NAC declared the Post Master General erred in doing this saying that singular act violates the Trade Union Laws and the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which guarantees freedom of association.
The meeting also constituted a Committee of Experts to formulate a cogent and coherent response to the emerging issues in the economy as well as advance an alternative development agenda that will address the concerns of workers. It also congratulated the new leadership as well as urged members not to succumb to distractions or irritations but nonetheless to extend a hand of fellowship to the aggrieved parties at the 11th Delegates Conference. NAC also set up a Task Force on unpaid workers’ salaries across the six-geopolitical zones of the country, which has the mandate to ensure that all state governors pay workers up to date before vacating office.
The meeting also constituted a Committee on the NLC-Kriston-Lally Housing Project with a view to fast-tracking the process of refunds to subscribers and set up an 11-member May-Day Committee with the responsibility of preparing, facilitating and executing the May Day celebration. It also urged workers to perform their civic duty by turning out in their numbers to vote and defend their votes in the general elections. While it may be too early to see a rebirth of the NLC, initial signs give hope of sustained efforts towards a possible homecoming of the Congress of the Oshiomhole era.
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