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By M. Babajide Alabi
Published in the Sunday Vanguard of May 22, 2016.
To be candid, I still do not understand the false confidence that came over the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) when it announced a nationwide strike in protest against the recent fuel price increase in the country. I am very amused that the leadership seem deluded that they can still get the attention of Nigerian workers, as it was a few years back. It seemed somewhat foolhardy for the NLC to think it still commands respect among workers.
The response to the planned nationwide industrial action called by it would have by now wiped off any slightest thought of respect. There has been mixed reports on the success and failure of the strike action. While there were pockets of rallies in some cities, they were not significant enough to shut down or paralyse the economy and make the Federal Government to hastily rescind its decision. There were reports that many civil servants all over the states of the federation reported for duties as usual. It is recognised that the NLC is hoping for dialogue with the government so as to favourably resolve this. But how far this will go is in doubt.
The lukewarm attitude of the workers is not surprising at all, considering the fact that the congress had abandoned them to their fate for quite some time now. As at last week many of these workers were amazed at how NLC suddenly woke up from its state of inactivity which had made people to write it off as “dead.” Surprisingly it has resurfaced again.
It is unfortunate that the NLC, the umbrella body for labour unions lost its voice as workers were struggling under economic yoke caused by non -payment of their wages by various state governments and tyrannical economic policies. The resultant effect of which many of these workers now struggle to feed themselves, pay school fees of their children or pay for basic essentials to get by.
In the midst of the “suffering” of these workers the leadership of the NLC had adopted silence as its “Golden Rule”. It kept silent and allowed these workers to “work out their own salvation.” The plights of the workers, pensioners or the common men and women on the street were of little value to the NLC. Or how do you explain the fact that there was no call for strikes from the congress to protest the unpaid wages of the workers in various states?
The NLC got it wrong. The only time the NLC made any attempt at sympathising with the workers was earlier this month when it demanded for upward review of the minimum wage. This demand triggered a lot of condemnations, among which was that the NLC leadership has lost touch with reality. Many observers questioned the motive of NLC when most state governments cannot pay the lower minimum wage.
The NLC leadership’s condemnation of the fuel price increase was swift. It accused President Muhammed Buhari’s governnment of being insensitive to the plight of the common men. One wonders if the NLC looked itself in the mirror before issuing this accusatory statement. If the leaders had done proper self assessments, it would have realised it was in no moral position to accuse anybody of insensitivity.
The most recent strike spear headed by the labour congress was in 2012 when the administration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan increased the price of fuel in a similar manner. The response of the populace to the 2012 strike call was instantaneous and massive. From Lagos to Abuja to Maiduguri the “call” was well received. Offices, parastatals, local and international airports and businesses were all shut down to force the government to reverse its decision. It paid off as the government met the NLC “in the middle”.
It is natural for the NLC leadership to expect the same enthusiasm that greeted the 2012 strike to play out again this year. Unfortunately it has not been so. The NLC seemed to have over exaggerated its abilities this time around. The leadership totally forgot the fact that the 2012 nationwide strike was nothing more than a political/civil society ‘engineered’ mass protest. The success of the 2012 rally should be atrributed to the politicians who made NLC members accomplices in their grand game of making the country ungovernable for Jonathan..
In 2016, the tables have turned as these “activists/politicians” of yesterday are now the major players in the government of the day. The NLC made a fundamental mistake of not considering this fact before calling Nigerians out for strike. Do we still need to probe further why the current strike would not have any meaningful effect?
This development has brought to limelight once again the relationship between politics and unionism in Nigeria. Is labour unionism strong anymore in Nigeria to withstand political influence? It is doubtful. We all remember the various manipulations the “evil genius” IBB put the leadership of the NLC through during his reign. All these, no doubt allowed the weakening of the union structure.
NLC WAS ONCE UPON A TIME!
Once upon a time in the history of Nigeria, the NLC was the darling of the masses. The congress was held in high esteem by the common men, as it was regarded the only organisation that could stand for them and champion their causes.
The NLC was the voice of the people and the defender of the workers. The NLC of old, in the midst of every economic tyranny or political strangulation was always the voice of reasoning on the side of the common men. The trust Nigerians placed in the leadership of the congress was absolute as the leaders were men of integrity and honesty.
These were the days when unionism was at its raw best. These were the days when unionism was not tainted with political or selfish gains. These were the days when union officials do what they say and not otherwise. The days when there was a marked difference between political campaigns and labour rallies. These were the days when campaign podiums were totally different from rally stages.
During these golden years, the NLC was an alternative to the government of the day. I remember vividly that during the oppressive military era, the congress was the unofficial opposition party which many times checkmated the dictators. During the golden years of NLC, the masses hung on to every word from the leadership of the congress. Infact at this time in history the common man could go to the bank with the words of the NLC leadership. They were as straight as the sword
The words of the leaders of the congress were laws to the masses of Nigeria. Because of the maximum influence the union had, the various governments knew the extent they could “pull” the souls of the common men as per the policies they “churn out”.
Unfortunately it seems the best days of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is far behind. It has been torn apart by greed, selfishness, ambitions and even tribal sentiments. It is not strange to have as many factions laying claims to leadership of the congress, without impacting the members they are supposed to stand for. Will the NLC ever rise again? There is doubt.
Published in the Sufnday Vanguard of May 22, 2016