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Labour on the march again

By Collins Olayinka, Abuja
08 February 2015   |   11:00 pm
WHILE the participants at the 2011 Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) national delegates’ conference are largely the same as the 2015 edition, interests vary with change in roles and ambitions.  The 2011 election was acrimonious and largely tainted with gang-up against some so-called ‘renegades’ led by the immediate General Secretary of the congress, John Odah and…

Omar-NLC

WHILE the participants at the 2011 Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) national delegates’ conference are largely the same as the 2015 edition, interests vary with change in roles and ambitions. 

The 2011 election was acrimonious and largely tainted with gang-up against some so-called ‘renegades’ led by the immediate General Secretary of the congress, John Odah and General Secretary of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) Peters Adeyemi. While Odah was forced out of the NLC, Adeyemi did not make it back as one of the three deputy presidents of Congress. 

So much has indeed happened in the last four years as Adeyemi makes a dramatic comeback as one of the deputy presidents of Congress.

The Guardian learnt that negotiation, promises and horse-trading took place before Adeyemi and his ‘integrity group’ populated by those who felt aggrieved in 2011 were persuaded to join forces with the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) to form a formidable group that will be contesting as a block. 

The President of MHWUN, Wabba Ayuba, will be slugging it out with President of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Igwe Achese and General Secretary of The National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Joe Ajaero.

As the politicking thickens with the commencement of the delegates congress today, allegations of betrayals and failure to abide by agreements by the major gladiators began to surface. The public and private sector dichotomy was raised. But the arguments that emerged are that at no time in history has such dichotomy ever formed part of the criteria for consideration on who becomes NLC President. 

Indeed, President of Congress, Abdulwahed Omar, dismissed such claims last week in Abuja. 

He said: “I think that is part of the politicking. At no time is such an issue in our elections. What will normally form part of issues is what an individual can bring to the struggle. We look at previous performances and how he or she can contribute to the struggle.”

Achese is a young trade unionist that has brought some vibrancy to unionism in the oil and gas sector but there are fears that his firebrand unionism may not augur well for a central labour movement like the NLC. As the Trustee of Congress, he is one-term member of the National Administrative Council (NAC) of Congress. 

On the other hand, Joe Ajaero, who is the General Secretary of NUEE, is a one-term deputy president of Congress. He is seen as largely inexperienced at national level. Though, NUEE has dramatically increased its dues to Congress, which shot its number of delegates to the conference, his reluctance to dialogue when nomination process for the election was on.

As the NLC begins its delegates’ conference today in Abuja, the leadership that will emerge at the end of the three-day confab may already have its plates full. One of the thorny issues that will confront the leadership is how to resolve the NLC/Kriston-Lally housing scheme that is threatening the very foundation of Congress.

The Managing Director of the construction firm, Mustapha Madawaki, insists that the out-going NLC under the leadership of Omar has to address all the pending issues relating to the failed housing project before it leaves office. He submitted that the NLC is making frantic efforts at scuttling attempt at ensuing that courts nominate a third party to superintend over disbursement of the funds to subscribers.

His words: “Kriston-Lally has approached the courts with a request that they should nominate an independent third party to take responsibility for the safe return of monies, directly to those who made deposits. They have been duly served and notified by a Court of competent jurisdiction on same.”

The firm stated that it had to approach the courts it is concerned that the NLC is seeking to place the funds into another construction project, which officials of the NLC are promoting, saying this action is totally illegal and in violation of the agreements signed with Kriston-Lally.

Kriston-Lally also alleged that is equally aware that NLC is making frantic efforts to remove the firm as signatories to the account by force in order to have free access to the funds despite the service from the Courts. 

Kriston-Lally is also concerned about libel originating from the NLC, which accuses the Kriston-Lally management of forging signatures so that funds could be released from the bank. 

Indeed, there are myriads of nagging issues that are awaiting the new executive to thrash concerning the Kriston-Lally/ NLC imbroglio.

As a result of the non-refund of depositors’ subscription, all the public activities of the NLC in the last one week have been disrupted by agitators. 

Indeed, the subscribers of the failed mass housing project gave a dress rehearsal of what may happen during the delegates’ conference when they seized proceedings at the NLC/civil society political engagement with political parties at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua centre in Abuja. 

Omar had to hurriedly leave the premises as the noises and restiveness continued to grow. 

Speaking on the behalf of the protesters, David. Oluwole, accused Congress of deceit and owing subscribers over N4 billion from 3800 subscribers.

His words: “It is disgusting and shocking that the NLC that is supposed to be on the side of Nigerian workers has dragged its own name into the mud, they promised affordable housing, it was over-subscribed because the NLC was involved.”

A Vice President of Congress, Issa Aremu, who pleaded with the annoyed depositors assured that they would get their money back.

“An injury to one is an injury to all. If this has happened to you, the NLC should be the one to lead the protest. I am aware of this problem, I feel so disgusted and disgraced. I am pained that this is happening in the name of the NLC. Your fight is legitimate, if we are guilty or privy to denying you your money, we would not be here, so the burden is on us to get the money back. Before our delegate conference, there must be firm commitment on this money. I am on tape and on honour, so I assure you that if they do not get the money, I will join you to lead the protest,” he assured.

Even the pre-delegates’ press conference initially planned for the Labour House headquarters of the on Friday had to be moved to Bolton White hotel did not dissuade the protesters from invading the hotel.

Aremu may also be required to cool down the tempers of the subscribers during the delegates’ conference proper, which kicks off this morning in Abuja. 

Among issues that will be needing urgent attention as soon as the new NAC members are sworn-in this week is how to address the interest accrue to the about N2.5 billion deposited in interest-yielding account; settlement of all the operational costs that went into planning of the project; recovery of monies that are allegedly given to some of the NLC officials that included travels to Greece by officials to finalize agreement with the foreign financiers of the project.

It is also the lot of the new leadership to resolve the disagreement between Congress and the Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) over the emergence of Owei Lakemfa As the General Secretary of the pan-African trade union organization.

In a terse letter written to the President of AOTUU with reference number NLC/NS/OATUU/A.1 and dated 27th March, 2014, signed by President of Congress, Abdulwahed Omar, NLC explained why it has been absent in OATUU event since 2012. 

The protest letter read in part: “As you are aware, the NLC has been conspicuously missing from the activities of the OATUU in recent times. This has been contingent on the embarrassing situation we found ourselves during the election of OATUU Executive Committee members at the Ordinary Congress, which took place in Algiers, Algeria, on 6th – 7th December, 2012.

“At the said Congress, we were surprised that the then Head of Information of the NLC, Comrade Owei Lakemfa, was not only being nominated by the OATUU, but was elected Secretary General of the organization without any prior consultation or consent by the NLC. While in normal circumstances we would have been proud that after our one-time former President, Comrade Hassan Sunmonu had been General Secretary of the organization and another official of the NLC was deemed fit for the position, we cannot but feel highly disconcerted at the arbitrariness and high-handedness employed by OATUU in selecting our member of staff and imposing him on us to accept without the decorum of following established due process of the NLC in such nomination. 

“It is important to point out to you that no official of the NLC has ever aspired to a position in an international organization or represented the organization in any statutory body in Nigeria without recourse to the mandate of the relevant organs of the NLC, which in this case is the National Executive Council (NEC). We feel highly concerned at this attempt to derogate the democratic process in OATUU, and believe that if this arbitrariness is allowed to be the hallmark of OATUU, then the organization will be tottering on dangerous grounds and apt to remain moribund in realizing the ideals and aspirations of poor and exploited African workers through collective action.”

NLC then urged OATUU President not to allow the pan-African organization, which historically has remained the strength and hope of African working people to slide into the culture of intolerance, anarchy and dictatorship-traits that are detrimental to the interest of workers it claims to defend and protect. 

As one of the strongest voices in OATUU, NLC can no longer afford to sit, watch and see things go astray. It must move swiftly to restore sanity in OATUU, which as present does not have a substantive General Secretary owing largely to the silence of the NLC in the affairs of OATUU since the Algiers meeting in 2012.