- Wabba Could’ve Proscribed Media Houses If He Were Nigeria’s President – Publisher
THE Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and its President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, have threatened a N100 million naira lawsuit against National Record newspaper and its Editor-in-Chief/publisher, Mr Iduh L. Onah, over a report on the non-payment of December 2021 salaries to NLC staff before Christmas
National Record had, on Boxing Day, reported how employees of NLC criticised Comrade Wabba for stalling the payment of December salaries before Christmas, but had the moral courage to, in his Christmas message to Nigerian workers, sternly criticise other employers of labour for not paying December salaries before Christmas.
The employees of NLC, who spoke under the cover of anonymity for fear of retribution, had in a floodgate of calls after reading National Record’s report on Comrade Wabba’s Christmas Message, also accused him of hypocrisy and tyranny.
In his Christmas message, Wabba condemned all employers of labour who failed to pay their employees’ December salaries before Christmas Day thereby turning the joy of Christmas for their employees and their families to ‘a jam of pain.’
Wabba also used his Christmas message to urge employers, both in the public and private sectors, “to fully implement the national minimum wage, minimum pension and ensure timeous payment of salaries.”
“The spirit of Christmas is the celebration of love, care and empathy. We urge all employers of labour, public and private to fully implement the national minimum wage, minimum pension and ensure timeous payment of salaries. We feel the pains of Nigerian workers and families likely to spend this Christmas without salaries. We implore employers who turn the joy of Christmas to a jam of pain to cease and desist,” Comrade Wabba had stressed.
The impending lawsuit
In a pre-litigation letter addressed to the Editor-in-Chief/Publisher of National Record on Friday, January 7, 2022, but dated January 4, 2022, Abdulaziz Ibrahim & Co. said its services have been retained by the NLC and Comrade Wabba to draw the attention of the online newspaper to defamatory words in some of its publications.
Signed by Samson Okpetu Esq; Principal Partner, Abdulaziz Ibrahim & Co., the law firm stated, in the letter entitled: entitled, “YOUR UNPROVOKED SERIAL ATTACKS, LIBELOUS AND DEFAMATORY PUBLICATIONS AGAINST COMRADE AYUBA WABBA, Mni AND THE LEADERSHIP OF THE NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS,” among other things, that:
“We are Legal Practitioners, and our services have been retained by Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), hereinafter referred to as ‘our clients’, and we have their full instructions to write this letter to you on the above subject.
“Our client has [sic] drawn our attention to your online publications of 15th March, 2021, 17th October, 2021, 19th October, 2021 and 26th December, 2021 respectively, intended to embarrass, humiliate, scandalize, malign, intimidate and blackmail them.”
According to the law firm, of particular note is the Boxing Day story which it claimed “maliciously, and without any justification defamed, denigrated, abused and libeled” NLC and Comrade Wabba. It quoted at length portions from the story, where sources who are employees of NLC, spoke to National Record anonymously, which it claimed unjustifiably “defamed, denigrated, abused and libeled” its clients.
According to the law firm, “[t]hese words as published by you, are outright lies to juxtapose fiction upon twisted facts, and in their ordinary and natural meaning meant, were, and will continue to be understood as portraying our clients as:
“a) Insensitive and corrupt labour leaders.
“b) Tyrannical, highhanded and· dictatorial labour leaders.
“c) Sold out labour leaders without integrity and credibility.
“d) Irresponsible persons.
“e) Persons incapable of holding public trust.
“f) Cheats and renegades.
“g) Persons of highly questionable background and pedigree.
“h) Conceited, self-serving and self-seeking individuals etc etc.” [sic]
The law firm further asserts: “As you are aware, the Nigeria Labour Congress is one of the most democratic and progressive institutions in Nigeria today. Its leadership comprised persons who are highly respected labour and community leaders. Ayuba Wabba, mni who leads the congress and indeed the global working class movement, has been serving the congress quite meritoriously, without any blemish. His record of blameless and selfless service to the Congress and Fatherland, in case you don’t know, are there for everybody to see, and you could have seen same, but for the fact that you were vindictive, conceited and strong willed in your desire to destroy and tarnish his hard earned image and credibility.
“Your publication of highly libelous and defamatory words about and against our clients were deliberate, and calculated to destroy whatever respect they have both Our clients have therefore [sic] suffered severe odium, opprobrium, ridicule, psychological trauma and untold embarrassment consequent upon your reckless publication, which has put them in a bad light before reasonable members of the society as evidenced by the numerous telephone calls they have received from concerned members of the central working committee, civil society organizations and the global working class movement.”
The law firm stated that as a result of the defamatory content of the Boxing Day story, the NLC and Comrade Wabba have asked it to “hereby demand that:
“i. You retract the unsubstantiated publications and render a clearly worded unconditional apology to our clients to be conspicuously published in your NATIONAL RECORD online Newspaper and any two (2) well read National Newspapers of prominence in Nigeria.
“ii. You pay Nl00,000,000.00 (One Hundred Million Naira Only) as damages and compensation for the pain, injury, agony, psychological trauma and mental torture they had gone through and had to live with since the publication of the highly slanderous and defamatory reports.
“While we are now advising our clients on what other rights and remedies are available to them against you, within the realm of civil and criminal law, we hereby request that you comply with our clients’ demand in the manner spelt out in the preceding paragraph of this letter, WITHIN SEVEN DAYS from the date of your receipt of this letter, failing which we shall be carrying out our clients’ further instructions in this regards, the attendant negative consequences of which we are sure, you will find greatly unpleasant. And this shall be without further recourse to you.
“To be fore warned, it is said, is to be fore armed!”
Wabba would’ve proscribed all media houses if he were Nigeria’s President – Onah
In his response to the pre-litigation letter, Mr Onah, the Editor-in-Chief/Publisher of National Record, while asserting that the online newspaper stands by all its publications, including the Boxing Day story, also stressed that he will not succumb to the goal of Comrade Wabba and a few members in his leadership to dilute National Record’s mission of independent journalism and focus on the goings-on in the labour movement.
He said in addition to reporting on virtually all NLC’s press statements and releases as well as activities of unions, National Record considers it a core responsibility to give voice to the concerns of all workers including the employees of affiliate trade unions and those in the two labour centres in the country.
“I think Wabba would have long ago proscribed media houses in the country if he were the President of Nigeria. He is angry that National Record reported the reactions from Congress employees saying they did not receive December salaries before Christmas as they used to. Perhaps he had forgotten just so soon that he reprimanded other employers for not paying their workers.
“We at National Record have decided before now that a more important role the publication was going to play is being on top of, and accurately report, how workers, who are the weaker party in the labour market, are protected from undue exploitation and oppression, and that they in National Record, they will continue to have sufficient and robust access to our independent journalism; and that is what we will continue to provide.
“We will meet Wabba in court and he should be ready to prove that our reports, including the Boxing Day report, are false. He should not expect us to prove his case for him or expect that the court will grant him his desires just by merely asking;” the publisher said.
He added: “It is not enough for him to allege defamation or libel against him or NLC. The core questions to ask in order to establish the truth in the report were asked of all NLC staff we spoke to, and they all unequivocally confirmed that the NLC did not pay December salaries before Christmas. Did the NLC pay the new national minimum wage in accordance with the wage act of 2019 before December 31, 2021? According to our findings, it did not.
“The nuances of tyranny alluded to by the workers are inherent in both the unilateral non-payment of December salaries before Christmas, which the employees spoken to say was somewhat of an aberration in Congress, and of course the non-implementation of the N30 thousand minimum wage for 42 months, a situation that was also happening in the Congress in the history of minimum wage application.
What more facts do we need to make reasonable conclusions? Wabba should leave the NLC out of this. If he is so conscious of his image as a trade union leader, he should also at all times be conscious of the fundamental principles of the trade union movement.”
National Record had reported on New Year’s Day that December salaries were paid to Congress staff along with six months of arrears of the N30 thousand minimum wage 42 months after the act was signed into law, beginning from Thursday, 30th to Friday, 31st December, 2021.
Congress staff had begun rigorous but clandestine agitation for the payment of the new wage since early 2021, when it became clear that the leadership was reluctant in the implementation. At a point, they threatened to embark on strike more than a year after April 18, 2018 when President Buhari signed the minimum wage bill into law.
Wabba is said to have proclaimed that he will not pay the entirety of the 42 months of arrears of the minimum wage after the six months’ part payment on December 31st 2021.
Although sources at the NLC said he had agreed to pay arrears of only 11 months, but the chairperson of the in-house union in NLC, Comrade James Eustace, had told National Record that that was merely speculative.