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Labour: Chronicle of a dangerous slide


Labour rallyTimes were in the past when the voice of labour movement resonated across the length and breadth of the country. It was regarded as a veritable check on government excesses.

Even when opposition was fragmented and weak, the labour movement, in coalition with the society filled in the gap effectively. Remember the anti-fuel increase battles fought during the military and civilian administrations; battles for salary increases that, at each occasion, almost brought the nation to its knees.

These periods may be lost to history given the current state of affairs in the labour movement. The descent to anarchy did not just happen in a vacuum. Indeed, the foundation for the current crisis was laid four years ago at the 10th National Delegates ’Conference of the Nigeria Labour Congress in Abuja.

Watchers of events in the labour movement will readily attest to the fact that the current crisis that has snow-balled into the balkanization of the labour centre was not the first in its history, but the scenarios may not be the same.

It is instructive to mention here that similar splits occurred in 1982 during David Ojeli and Ali Ciroma contest, while the same Ciroma was also involved in a battle with Takai Shamang in 1988.

While the aforementioned battles were ideologically based, the current crisis cannot be located along this trajectory. In the first outing to elect a successor to Hassan Summonu in Kano in 1982, Ojeli, from the Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU), believed to have the backing of the then Federal Government led a splinter group of unionists to challenge the victory of Ciroma of the Medical and Health Workers Union (MHWUN).

It took the announcement of the result of the election then, where Ojeli was roundly defeated to wake him from his seeming slumber.

He ordered a walkout of his group, but he was quickly checkmated by Summonu and Ciroma. Also, in 1988 the Benin Conference witnessed another fiasco between Ciroma, who was the incumbent President and Takai Shamang of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) which resulted in the imposition of a sole Administrator, Mr. Michael Ogunkoya by the Federal Government when it was becoming too difficult to resolve the impasse.

Indeed, signs of descent to anarchy within the labour centre started to crystalise in the build-up  to the 2011 conference in Abuja, where AbdulWaheed Omar was seeking a return as President.

Before the conference, labour movement watchers had noticed a decline in the activities and potency of the movement which was at its peak during the period of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who is now the Governor of Edo State.

While Oshiomhole was in the battlefield, he had a robust secretarial led by the General Secretary, John Odah. The team appeared too hot to handle for the Obasanjo Administration then.

Both of them (Oshiomhole and Odah) were cerebral, unyielding and too deep in history and workings of the movement that at any negotiation table, with government, they always come out victorious.

But a weak leadership of NLC would not have a robust secretariat that will outshine it. In actual fact, Odah who was tagging behind Oshiomhole suddenly became too hot for the Omar-led NLC to handle and he naturally became a target.

Pronto, a “palace coup” became the best option for the leadership of NLC. To actualise the removal of Odah, his staunch supporter, Peters Adeyemi, who could argue against the former’s removal, had to go too.

Then, the issue of Labour Mass Transit Buses which government guaranteed the loan became the trump card. Government secured a facility for NLC, Trade Union Congress (TUC) and transport union for the purpose of acquiring transit buses to ease workers’ plight. NLC got N3billion and its sister trade centre (TUC) got N2billion.

A proposal for the purchase was drafted and Utong Motor Company, China was contracted to manufacture and supply the vehicles. After several negotiations of which Adeyemi, Omar, Odah and other National Executive Council (NAC) members were involved, an agreement was reached.

Omar led a delegation to China and personally signed the agreement, only to return to the country and say he was misled into signing it. It then became a weapon for the warriors angling for Adeyemi and Odah’s jugular.

It is instructive that majority of those who plotted the removal of Odah and scuttled Adeyemi’s re-election in 2011 are the aggrieved party that just broke out of NLC.

While this went on, TUC only needed to update NLC’s proposal to acquire its buses, which had been on the road for about four years now. NLC is still awaiting the delivery of its vehicles.

The implication of this is that while the intrigue was on, Nigerian masses whose lot would have been served through the mass transit scheme were left in the lush. To further weaken the union, office of the General Secretary was reduced to that of a clerk through the amendment of NLC constitution, just because the warriors did not want a strong secretariat that could challenge the authority of the president and other NAC members.

The resultant effect was the rotational appointment of Acting General Secretaries among three most senior staffers of NLC, until a substantive General Secretary was appointed recently. Perhaps, this explains the shoddy manner the workers’ estate midwife by Kriston-Lally Housing firm was handled.

Over three years down the line, not a single structure was erected and over N2billion workers’ hard earned money cannot be properly accounted for. Not even the treasurer of the union could put the records straight while rendering account at the conference in Abuja. This almost caused disruption in proceedings as contributors insisted on recovering their savings.

Indeed, a trustee, Igwe Achese raised a question that over N2.6billion was not accounted for in the treasurer’s reports. It is instructive to note that NUEE, which spare headed the 1988 balkanisation of NLC, is at it again.

Joe Ajaero, General Secretary, NUEE, is leading the pack of affiliates that branched out of the labour centre recently. In fact, he was unanimously elected president of his faction.

While NLC totters as a result of low quality leadership since the exit of Oshiomhole and later Odah, workers in the country have continued to be the loser. Also, the masses which relied on the union to amplify their voices have lost such. Obviously, a balkanised and weak union is the delight of any government.

Rather than face political and union battles at the same time, it sits well for government to play its politics on the political turf without another ‘hound’ in labour. ‘For whatever argument, government’s hand cannot be seen in the current crisis because it is a needless war that only gives credence to the saying that what goes round turns round.

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