By Abadom Lawrence Amechi

“Our democracy is still nascent. We have more problems now than May 29th, 1999. Though Nigeria is a multi-party democracy based on a presidential system, the opposition political parties are quite weak.  They do not have countervailing influence. Labour, for years to come, will continue to play the role of the opposition. A corrupt labour cannot engage a corrupt system. Undemocratic labour cannot question any undemocratic move by government. The labour movement should know that its role in shaping an ideal Nigerian State is huge.” 

THE character, calibre and ideological trajectories of leaders that now superintend the apex of some of the affiliate industrial unions of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), obviously the leading labour centre and leader of Nigeria’s labour movement, gives cause for concern. These set of leaders clearly have no idea of the core values of the Congress. They constitute a colony of people with a mentality recalcitrantly foreclosed to learn in other to lead well.

Most of them, especially the elected presidents, have assumed the position of Executive Presidents, taking up the roles of their union’s General Secretaries and relegated the position to that of mere office boy. Some transited from being president to General Secretary, while some have managed to combine the positions of National Treasurer, General Secretary and President together.

These leaders have been described by a friend of mine as shrubs in the forest of imperialism. Their achievements are their support for retrenchment, casualisation, dismissal and suspension of their members. These set of junior workers who now count the number of their houses in Lagos and Abuja and exotic cars that they drive as part of their achievements are just blessings to employers and government. If they are allowed to carry on at the pace and frequency they are going, their nefarious activities and lacklustre performances will diminish the historic role and the heroic image of the great Nigerian Labour Congress.

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Let us not forget that the Nigerian trade union movement contributed immensely in building our country economically, socially and politically. In fact the labour movement had been in the front row of the socio-economic and political struggles, particularly in the consistent agitation for democratic governance in the country.

“Most of our labour leaders have not organised training for their members and staffers for many years running. When organs of the unions meet, the presidents just brief them, pay out allowances, and everyone will chorus “carry go” and depart. Anyone who dares to complain will have his or her job targeted. What a tragedy! Labour that used to take a lot of pride in its culture of robust debate and democratic ethos! Plurality of views through robust debate widen channels and space of trade union discussion and invariably promote the ventilation of competing ideas which generally offer members with options for the formation of policies and programs.  Unfortunately these set of leaders do not have the mental or intellectual capacity to understand this.”

The movement took part in anti-colonial struggles. It also stood unshakeably against military dictatorships. At critical points in our history, the working masses led by the Congress, have been the most patriotic defenders of the country’s sovereignty and integrity. The movement provided us the foundation for a flourishingly active civil society. Our working class heroes like Comrade Michael Imoudu, Wahab Goodluck, S.U. Bassey, Frank Ovie Kokori, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, to mention but a few; suffered several arrests, torture, humiliation, incarcerations and all manners of intimidation in their struggles for justice, equity and wellbeing of the working class people.

The labour movement has come of age! It has over the years carved for itself a huge legendary image. It should therefore not allow some pseudo or wannabe leaders who do not know the cost and efforts put into acquiring its mythical image to destroy it. Labour cannot afford to regress; not at this time.

Our democracy is still nascent. We have more problems now than May 29th, 1999. Though Nigeria is a multi-party democracy based on a presidential system, the opposition political parties are quite weak.  They do not have countervailing influence. Labour, for years to come, will continue to play the role of the opposition. A corrupt labour cannot engage a corrupt system. Undemocratic labour cannot question any undemocratic move by government. The labour movement should know that its role in shaping an ideal Nigerian State is huge.

Though some damage may have already been done by the festering virus of bad leadership; but if not timely tackled and halted, it is bound to escalate and destroy the labour movement.

Most of our labour leaders have not organised training for their members and staffers for many years running. When organs of the unions meet, the presidents just brief them, pay out allowances, and everyone will chorus “carry go” and depart. Anyone who dares to complain will have his or her job targeted.

What a tragedy! Labour that used to take a lot of pride in its culture of robust debate and democratic ethos! Plurality of views through robust debate widen channels and space of trade union discussion and invariably promote the ventilation of competing ideas which generally offer members with options for the formation of policies and programs.  Unfortunately these set of leaders do not have the mental or intellectual capacity to understand this.

In some of these unions today, important organ meetings are avenues for pepper soup, beer and women. Keen observes within the labour circle are already apprehensive. Most of the affiliate industrial unions are time bombs waiting to explode.

The leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress must beam its searchlight on all the affiliate industrial unions. Like the African Union (AU), they should put in place a mechanism for peer review.

If the Nigerian labour movement of today becomes the target of demolition of imperialist forces, it will be easy to fragment because inherent in its fold are a great army of retrogressive forces. Any fraudulent manipulation of the process of electing leaders deprives democracy of its appeal as a process that provides space for fair competition in which all the contestants can aspire to win. The reactionary forces within the labour fold specialise in frustrating this democratic process. They forget that under the military dictatorships; only labour was democratic and hence it had the moral courage to consistently struggle by confronting the various military dictatorships for the restoration of democracy.

Labour must not forget that the State is an institution whose character and behaviour are defined and determined by the conflicting interests of the political beings inhabiting it.  For this reason, the State promotes the interest of the ruling class of its metropolitan paymasters – that is the ruling class of industrial economies to which the former is beholden. If the core of the labour movement is invaded by these set of cancerous leaders, labour itself will become a tool which the ruling class can easily use to manipulate the poor working masses. In industrial unions where these leaders exist, employers are already using them to manipulate, harass and intimidate workers.

One of such leaders was recently boasting that he will rather throw his union into crisis than allow a democratic election to take place. He was proud to say that he has become absolutely undemocratic in a democratic setting. This is someone who has been in position of leadership of his union for the past 16 years. He vowed to destroy the process that produced him for personal aggrandisement. He believes that the Nigerian system that lends itself to manipulations can be exploited to achieve his aim. He has no idea that the Nigeria trade union movement has been the conscience of the nation for many years, and activities and actions of people like him can easily be spotted.

Amechi, a labour activist, is the Deputy Chairperson of Lagos-based Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR).

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