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‘NLC Crises Broke Out Because Of Our Struggle To Make It Active Again’

By Saxone Akhaine, Northern Bureau Chief
09 May 2015   |   3:58 am
Deputy President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Issa Aremu speaks on the crisis in Labour and how to redress the disagreements among the various interests. Aremu is also the General secretary of the Textiles Workers Union.

What is the genesis of the labour crises that we have today in the country? 

Precisely, because we have had bad governance, we normally focus on the malpractices of governments. But we often forget that some non-state civil society exhibit some bad practices that must be corrected by their members.



So what you call crises, for some of us, are necessary struggle to deepen trade union democracy.

The current crises are fall out of lack of respect for the constitution of the NLC during the February 11 election. We had an unacceptable “casualization” or “deregulation” of rules guiding the 11th Delegates Conference.

Closed and published nominations of cleared candidates were reopened on the floor of the Conference to the embarrassment of international observers and veterans alike.

There were fraudulent instances of uncleared names appearing on ballot papers, which suggested insiders’ dealings. If INEC had perpetrated such electoral fraud during the acclaimed presidential/assembly elections, NLC would have legitimately protested.
Yet it was the NLC that was caught in the act of ballot stuffing.

There are two critical constitutional provisions in relation to the Delegates’ Conference, which have been tested in the past 10 delegates conferences of our great movement since 1978 it was formed.

The two constitutional provisions are one, cut-off date for dues payment for the purposes of computation of delegates (Article 6) and secondly, Nomination for Election of National Officers of the Congress (Article 29(1) based on forms that defined the format of nominations failing which you can be disqualified.

In keeping with the constitution the Credential Committee of the Conference, headed by Dr Isa Fagae, ASUU president, had published cleared candidates for the elections in national dailies with some candidates unopposed (including me) only to be reopened on the day of election, a clear abuse of the constitution.

We warned that such aberration would lead to chaos. And that was what happened eventually. Any Constitution is not enacted to create confusion or disorder!

After that chaos, we fixed another conference for Thursday, March 12, 2015.The accreditation and voting went well. But the sorting and counting of votes were manipulated.

The discredited controversial outgoing President Abdulwaheed Omar became emergency electoral officer with a view of installing a preferred candidate. NLC could not count 3000 votes in two days! We had no choice than to redeem the image of the movement with a Special Delegates Conference that led to the emergence of new leadership.

Of course you also remember there are some issues about the spread of delegates to reflect our diversity, moral issues about the eligibility of some candidates who either were about to retire and still sit tight on the executive council of the NLC without accountability to anybody.

Why are you on the side of Joe Ajaero, the President of the other NLC faction?

It is not as simplistic as you put it.  It is not about individuals whether Joe Ajaero or Ayuba Whamba. I contested for the Deputy president after serving as an elected Vice President for two terms. NLC’s credential committee declared me unopposed only for some anti-democratic comrades to reopen us for contest that was in turn shamelessly manipulated.

It is about the principles we stand for – constitutionality or impunity. It’s about who speaks and fights for the working people.

It is about who is tested and those who sit down look and even short change the workers as we have seen with the land/ housing scandals. Those are the issues.

Was the labour headship not meant to rotate between north and south? If so, what happened that the north is having it consecutively?

I have said so before. Labour market issues are like capital market issues. They require some deep specialized knowledge. NLC leadership is guided by our constitution, which does not talk of North or South but recognizes industrial unions and their workers – members free to contest and be voted for once they pay union dues.

However, there are unwritten rules of some balancing along private/public sector divide. For instance, I could have contested for the Presidency.

We are eminently qualified. But we said not long ago Comrade Adams Oshiomhole from my union was a president, we said we should rather contest for deputy President.

The bottom line is inclusion not exclusion. We are Nigeria Labour Congress, so we must indeed reflect pan-Nigerian diversity including gender mix.

You were said to have been on both sides at a time. Is that true?

All comrades were all together at any time. Indeed genuine comrades are still together once we share the core values of honesty, solidarity and struggle for the improvement of the working and living conditions of our members.

Can such a divided labour movement fight for the welfare of workers?

It depends on what you see as division. Don’t forget that as we speak now, there are two Labour centres in the country; namely NLC and TUC. The existence of two Labour centres does not mean we cannot fight together to improve the lot of our members.

Our constitution guarantees freedom of association. However, I agree with you that a united Labour is preferred than a divided one.