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NLC: A divided house and failed bargain


NLC 7The inability of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to convince workers to join its call for industrial action may have affirmed the truism that “if a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand”. FEMI ADEKOYA and ADEYEMI ADEPETUN examine how the internal crisis in the NLC may have affected their ability to collectively bargain for the cause of Nigerian workers and masses.

While the masses have always sought direction from the NLC and the Organised Private Sector (OPS) on probable actions to challenge policies that seem unfavourable to Nigerians, the recent failed industrial action by the NLC may have raised concerns on the ability of the body to deliver its mandate.

Indeed, for the first time in Nigeria, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) seems to have failed in seeking public cooperation as regards an industrial action to protest over the removal of subsidy on petrol and the hike in the price of the commodity.

While several reasons may be responsible for the inertia in action, the division in the labour union is a key factor in the failed industrial action to protest the hike in petroleum products, especially fuel.

Specifically, the division became glaring when a faction of the NLC led by a former Deputy President of the NLC and General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Joe Ajaero, first met with the federal government team led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal when the Ayuba Wabba-led faction walked out of the negotiation.

The Ajaero-faction subsequently said it would not embark on the planned strike and announced instead that a committee would be set up with the government to review the current price of petrol, address demands for a review of the national minimum wage, and the palliatives to cushion the effects of the economic hardship in the country.

However, at another meeting held between government and the NLC led by Ayuba Wabba, both sides failed to reach a last-minute compromise.

Following the disagreement, the leaders of the NLC walked out of the meeting with the government, saying they would mobilise their members nationwide for an indefinite strike starting from last week Monday to protest the fuel price hike.

Wabba had said: “As of today, this is our position as NLC: we have to discontinue with the meeting, so this is a walkout and dead end, because the demand cannot be made within the mandate”.

The NLC became factionalised following its March 2015 11th delegates’ conference where Comrade Ayuba Wabba emerged as the national president. His opponent, Comrade Joe Ajaero, had rejected the results and declared himself president.

Admittedly, the congress through its veterans, including Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole (a former NLC president), had been making efforts to reconcile the two factions. It had made some headway but a complete truce has been stalled by the inability to cede any position on the National Executive Committee of the NLC to the Ajaero’s faction. In fact, Ajaero had even stopped using the appendage ‘Factional President, NLC” since he was not so recognised by government and was on the verge of fading into irrelevance.

The desperation of the government, populated by people who had sent congratulatory messages to Wabba only after the NLC elections, gave Ajaero a chance to re-emerge and he has taken full advantage of it.

Ajaero’s union, National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and some allies including the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) seized the current moment by backing out of the strike with their large numbers and effectively crippling it.

Ajaero’s faction has since reached an agreement with the government. It, however, remains unclear how the Buhari-led government would proceed from this point considering that it would be impossible to negotiate the minimum wage or other labour issues with two factions.

According to industry stakeholders, the division in the labour union may have further made the industrial action a failure as both factions seem to be on another cause without putting the masses into consideration.

Speaking with The Guardian, the immediate Past President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Lanre Ajayi, agreed that with a divided labour union, there can never be a strong advocacy as a watch dog against government’s decisions.

Ajayi, an engineer, however, said the current crises can be addressed if the elders of the union can come together and intervene and formally chart a new course for the body.

“It is not unusual to have frictions, even within families, there are, but it is the management that matters. This is where the elders come in. If there is Board of Trustees (BOT), which I think they should have, they need to intervene now to bring sanity to the sector”, he stressed.

In an email response, a telecommunications expert, Kehinde Aluko, from his base in UK, opined that nothing much can be achieved if the union is divide .

Aluko, who is embittered about the way things have turned since Adams Oshiomole left the union, stressed that the factions must work together and bridge the gap, “if not nothing would happen, they will just be ranting without getting result. It is critical that they understand that the Labour union has got a huge task at hand. They must lead workers aright not divided.”

The Guardian recalls that the NLC trouble began last year when one of the aspirants, Ajaero, claimed that the ballot was rigged, but provided no proof of this.

According to him, some of the ballot papers had already been thumb-printed three times for one of the candidates, even though there was no record that he produced any of such ballot papers to buttress his claim.

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