‘When politics becomes injurious to unionism’
While it is given that every human being is a political animal and exercising preference during political contests is allowed, the politicisation of official duties and responsibilities seems to be giving some concerns.
The recent ordeals of the President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Joe Ajaero, have drawn condemnation, mixing his role as a labour leader, indigene of Imo state, and someone who was deemed to have sympathy for the Labour Party candidate in the last Imo state gubernatorial election, Ajaero was seen more than a labour leader.
He was seen as throwing his hat in the ring by the Imo state government, hence treated him as a political enemy by supporters and sympathisers of the Imo state governor, who was seeking a re-election.
A public affairs analyst, Jide Ojo, said that there is a very broad line between activism, unionism and politics, stressing that most activists and unionists have partisan interests.
While noting that the law has not barred any unionist from being partisan, he said there is a need for labour leaders to know where to draw the line. He argued that the nexus between unionism and politics must be properly defined in Nigeria since not all workers belong to the Labour Party.
He alleged that there is the assumption that all Ajaero is doing now is to prepare grounds for his transmutation from a labour leader to a political leader which is a replica of what Adams Oshiomhole did in Edo state.
On why Ajaero was interested in who became the Imo State Council of the NLC, Ojo said: “He (Ajaero) has an interest in who becomes NLC chairman in Imo State while the governor has the same interest. These are the truths that many are not talking about. Hope Uzodimma wants to have his way and Ajaero too wants to have his way. The issue that precipitated the assault on Ajaero did not start today but in 2021.”
He cited where Kogi State had the same issue with having ghost workers but NLC never protested. He argued that the fight should have been left for the state council of the NLC rather than Ajaero usurping such a role. He also questioned the timing of the protest, which was in the middle of an intense campaign that was turbo-charged politically.
While condemning the assault on Ajaero, he queried why he was singled out for molestation for being the target.
“We all saw the footage. What should be the remedial action that should have been taken? Since the identity of those who molested him is known, the court is there to do justice. Why not brief his lawyers, press charges and claim damages?
“He has all the shreds of evidence. We have seen individuals and organisations that have charged the states and Federal Government to court and they won. If he was not going to be partisan, that is the best way to go. This happened on a broad day. Names were mentioned and identities were known.
“What I take exception to is when labour now shut down the state, plunged the state into darkness and ground flight operations.
“You cannot be a unionist and say you will not suffer discomfort or molestation, because the powers that be that you are fighting against will not sit back and fold their hands. He should have weighed his options and taken the most sympathetic option. Nigerians were sympathetic and condemned the act. But for you to now declare a nationwide strike, I take exception to that. At this, I feel it was parochial and politically motivated,” he explained.
Director-General of the Nigerian Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde, noted that the context and framework of industrial relations, social partnership, trade unionism and tripartism is quite distinct from other forms of engagement, especially politics.
While he acknowledged the existence of Labour Parties in many countries globally, he said it was instructive to note that the Parties are predominantly distinct entities from the Labour unions. According to him, while there are ideological relationships, there are also boundaries between political and union activism.
“For our level of development and limited operational understanding of the core fundamentals of industrial/labour relations, mixing politics with unionism or employers activities in any guise could be counterproductive and fatally harm those that labour or employers federations are meant to protect,” he said.
Although he conceded that all Nigerians have the constitutional right to vote and be voted for, he said that such endeavour should be carried out within the context of the political space, a distinct space from the industrial relations environment.
“The whole context and framework of all global labour and industrial relations statutes and laws, among others, were carefully crafted in such a way that while social partners (employers and labour) can influence (and in fact champion) socio-economic policy issues arising from any government pronouncements, there is nowhere active participation in politics was encouraged. This is partly because being actively influenced by politics, rather than influencing policy issues arising from politics could blur the context of that relationship and become a threat to the age-long principle of “social partnership”, which is one of the pillars on which the ILO rests,” he added.
Immediate past President of the Human Capital Practitioners Association of Nigeria (HuCaPAN), Aderemi Adegboyega, said issues that lead to strikes must be strictly labour disputes.
Noting that a strike is not about violence, he said it should solely be about withdrawal of service, while security agencies preserve the rights of the citizens.
While he condemned the brutalisation of Ajaero, he said the strike was not about criminal action but protection of the rights of citizens. According to him, if there is a strike, the government has the right to protect the citizens and those not participating in the strike.
A lawyer and expert on labour matters, Paul Omoijiade, in his perspective, said the labour centres abandoned the workers in the country when they needed them more, especially when the pump prices of PMS were jerked up. He said labour needed to act and go back to the drawing board because Nigerian workers and the masses are suffering due to economic hardship.
Quoting the Trade Unions Act, Omoijiade said issues of politics and economics are interrelated, however, trade unions are prohibited from using trade union funds to fund political objectives under the law.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.