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NLC strike: Same issue, different politics

By Femi Adesope
27 May 2016   |   1:02 am
Philosophy, what doesn’t exist doesn’t have a name. Right from the days of my late grandmother who always advised us not to be selfish, I have learnt that what goes round, comes around.
Members of Nigeria Labour congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) protesting in Abuja recently. PHOTO: LADIDI LUCY ELUKPO

Members of Nigeria Labour congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) protesting in Abuja recently. PHOTO: LADIDI LUCY ELUKPO

Philosophy, what doesn’t exist doesn’t have a name. Right from the days of my late grandmother-who always advised us not to be selfish, I have learnt that what goes round, comes around. You want to see how karma works? Try Nigeria politics. One of the unforgettable and thought-provoking period of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration was that of #OccupyNigeria when the nation was shut down for days by an industrial action of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and their affiliate unions together with civil society groups over an increase of pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) Petrol. The role of the then main opposition party, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the successfully anti-Jonathan’s rallies cannot be swept under the carpet.

On the early morning of January 1, 2015, the news of deregulation of the downstream sector engulfed the media. A litre of petrol jumped from N86 to N141 per litre. Different propaganda, defamatory messages and posts were shared on Facebook pages, twitter handles ad BBM- Blackberry Messenger. Indeed, the South-West owns the media.

Historically, the grasses suffer wherever two elephants fight. In the case of the strike and protest by the Nigerian Labour Congress, at least one elephant and the grasses suffered. Drivers slept hungry as a result of curfew declared by states such as Oyo, Kaduna, Kano, Adamawa, Kogi and Niger which affected vehicular movement. Banks, institutions and public offices were padlocked. Nigerians were deprived of the right to access municipal services and the Federal Government lost over N1tr (one trillion naira) and pockets of violence were recorded in some states.

The Premium Times of January 18, 2015 reported that the government announced a reduction in the price of petrol from N97 to N87 per litre. The N10 difference was necessitated by the reduction in crude oil prices in the international market. Five days before the time, the All Progressive Congress Presidential Campaign Council asked the government to ‘stop stealing from Nigerians and allow them enjoy the relief that has come to consumers of petroleum products globally.’ Now that we buy for N145, what happens to the downstream sector? Subsidy, same issue, different politics.

What goes round comes around. It is now the turn of the then opposition. Less than a year in office, the APC-led administration has witnessed a nationwide strike by the same NLC. The Nigerian Labour Congress decided to proceed on the just concluded indefinite strike against the increase in the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) famously called petrol from N86.5 to N145 on Saturday 14 May, 2106. Though, the strike did not attract the same magnitude of protesters as that of 2012 but a strike is a strike! The reasons are plausible.

First, the house divided against itself cannot stand. The same NLC that took to street in the January 2012 #OccupyNigeria campaign has been divided. Only the Yusuf Wabba led faction proceeded on the strike while the Joel Ajaero led faction stayed back claiming that the former was only protesting in favour of their personal interest; writing off the N2billion loan used for the procurement of buses. The Trade Union Congress (TUC), NUPENG and PENGASSAN also saw it as an empty threat.

Similar to a divided house is the debacle of the main opposition party- Peoples’ Democratic Party. The party that would have sponsored or joined the protest and mobilised youths against the decision of the present administration of N145 per litre is busy struggling to put her house in order. While the strike lasted, the opposition was busy holding ‘fruitless’ parallel conventions. PDP, who you help?

Thirdly, the ‘smart’ APC through the Attorney General of the Federation approached the Industrial Court, seeking its pronouncement to stop NLC from proceeding on strike. Next, the media again! The news of no strike because of a court ruling flooded the media. This was sufficient to cause uncertainty and confusion among Nigerians. Although, it yielded the expected little result as most Nigerians turned a deaf ear to the strike on Wednesday, Ayuba proceeded with the strike nevertheless. The leadership of the Ayuba’s faction of NLC claimed that the APC government made the judgment of the court available to the media and not to them.

I got to know of the Nigerian Labour Congress in 2004 when Adams Oshiomhole, now governor, was its president. It is pertinent to salute the congress for its tremendous achievements and contributions to the nation’s development especially in areas affecting its members. NLC as it is popularly known was founded in 1978 as the umbrella organisation for trade unions in Nigeria. Going by history, NLC has led several successful protests particularly against government’s fuel price policy. #OccupyNigeria is still fresh in our memory.

In September 2004, the NLC gave the Federal Government an ultimatum to reverse the decision to reintroduce the controversial fuel tax or face a nationwide strike. The strike threat was made despite the fact that a Federal High Court judgment in an earlier dispute had said the organisation lacked legal power to call a general strike over government policies. A judgment similar to that of University of Ibadan where students are expected to seek for approval before protesting peacefully against matters or policies affecting their welfare.

The recent intervention by the national leader of the All Progressive Congress leading to the Congress calling off the strike cannot be underestimated. The same man that was actively involved in the #OccupyNigeria campaign until Jonathan reversed the decision. This time he said the deregulation is justified and not for the selfish interest. It is noteworthy that the governor of ‘salaries owing’ state of Osun and two Senators were in attendance when the national leader appealed to striking NLC to the return to the negotiation table.

It is a bitter truth that there were reasons in time past for the government to seek deregulation of the downstream sector. It was shocking to hear that the Nigerian Labour Congress announced its readiness to proceed on the nationwide strike protest despite the ruling of the court. They failed to realise that such protest was not timely. In the last two, three months, we had very little in our pockets and ready to buy litres of petrol for N200. We exchanged blows at petrol filling stations before we got two litres. With a shout of ‘twale,’ we bribed the ‘area’ boys with N500 before entering NNPC mega stations.

NLC was busy chasing shadows. State governors do not conduct local government elections nor appoint commissioners. They are celebrating inconsequentialities as projects. Imagine a state governor showing his teeth for donating school uniform to primary school children or commissioning hand driven borehole in this 21st century.

NLC, where do you expect my mother to get money to purchase and amass food items when the state governor has not paid salary for months? Twenty-seventy states of the federation cannot pay salaries. We barely eat once in a day, even, a congo of garri in the west now sells for N250-N300 as against N90-N100 last year. Pensioners are agitating and sleeping in hunger after serving meritoriously for more than 30 years. One person will serve for four to eight years and will go home with millions of naira with other emoluments, while the pensioners gnash their teeth in pain of hunger. These are Governors who cannot not pay N18,000 minimum wage.

For the past four weeks of my stay at home due to an indefinite strike, I have experienced electricity power supply for only 30 minutes. We sleep and wake up in darkness yet, the electricity bill keeps coming with outrageous figures. Students of the foremost (according to NUC ranking) university in the country also protested against epileptic power supply and poor learning environment which has led to an indefinite strike. Nigeria has continued to be a sure market for the manufacturers of diesel and petrol generators. You want to do any business in Nigeria? Get your N50,000-N1000,000 ready to purchase a generator.

The same Congress was sitting comfortably when the nation’s wealth was being mismanaged. An agency boss collected funds in dollars and remitted rebate to the nation in naira. Lives and properties are perishing in the North, with owners becoming refugees in their own land. A minister enthused around with jewelries worth millions of naira when Nigerians were suffering. It will be unbelievable to hear that the Nigerian Labour Congress had not gone out of existence when Nigeria and her citizens were afflicted with these and other pressing issues.

It is astonishing to hear that the same NLC faction that walked out of the negotiation table called off the strike without the pump price returning to the initial amount. It is time for the Nigerian Labour Congress to first put its house in order and fight a common goal. The recent strike failed to achieve its set objectives as stated on the Congress website. Fractionalisation will do any organisation no good. A living witness is the Peoples’ Democratic Party.

This is not the first time the government has attempted to deregulate the downstream sector in its bid to stop subsidy in pursuit of efficiency, healthy competition and transparency. The Nigerian Labour Congress of the 21st century should seek opposition to government morbid policies through better media and not strike nor protest. The objectives should not just be reversal of the increase in the pump price of petrol but to mount pressure on the government to make our refineries more efficient and to build new ones.

The minimum wage should be fully implemented. It is not a crime for Nigerians to experience uninterrupted power supply for at least a month. In the fight against corruption, good governance and transparency, the congress should not be found wanting. Pressing needs should be the priority of the NLC and not the drive to enrich their pockets. La Buena suerte es una farsa. El exito verdadero require sacrificio- Goodluck is a farce. True success requires sacrifice.

• Adesope is a student and member of the Union of Campus Journalists, University of Ibadan. (08177291455)