Organised Labour: Barking But Not Biting! By Omole Ibukun

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EARLIER this week, fuel queues as long as the rivers in my village re-emerged on the streets of Abuja. The transport fare that doubled in February doubled again, meaning that I now pay four times the rate of the fare I paid in January to move from one place to the other in Abuja.

Also this week, the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which was already on for up to three months was again extended for another three months because of the failure of the federal government to meet ASUU’s justified demands.

As far back as August 2019, NLC’s National Executive Council (NEC) had resolved to embark on protests over the insecurity in the country in the communiqué of that NEC meeting. The communiqué said NLC “would convene a national security summit to dispassionately engage the current challenges of insecurity in Nigeria and proffer sustainable solutions.” The communiqué also noted that “prior to the proposed security summit, the NEC resolved that NLC would hold rallies across Nigeria to sensitise government and citizens on the need to urgently arrest the current drift in security.”

College of education lecturers are threatening to strike, just like their polytechnic counterparts. Virtually other non-academic staff unions of universities have also been on strike.

Earlier this week, a female student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto was murdered in cold blood – beaten to death and then burnt alive – by her course mates for asking them to stop making religious posts on their class group. The killers were later seen boasting on camera that they killed and burnt her.

Earlier this month too, the Lagos State chairperson of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ms Sessi, was quoted saying that “On behalf of the workers in Lagos who represent more than 50 per cent of the voting population, we hereby support your second term in office” to the APC governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, during the May Day celebrations. This seems to be the response that will be expected of the Labour leadership nationally as they throw their weight behind the same ruling class that has infected the country with artificial fuel scarcity, shutdown of schools and insecurity, especially of religious and ethnic ramifications. These leaders are the reasons why many people now regard organised labour as a toothless dog that cannot bite but only bark.

On March 31, 2022, after the Trade Union Congress (TUC) lost its Secretary General (Musa Lawal Ozigi) and its Kwara State Council chairman (Comrade Akinsola) to the vicious hands of terrorist bombing on the Kaduna-Abuja rail track, the TUC President signed a press statement where he said: “Congress, hereby, mandates all its affiliates throughout the country, and our civil society allies to get ready to engage the Government to rise up to its constitutional role of protecting citizens and properties. If nothing is done by this administration to fish out these criminals, rescue those held captive and bring them to justice, organized labour is going to react.”

This labour leadership keeps reminding me of the proverb that “A barking dog does not bite” which is very true. If the TUC and NLC leaders are so busy with action or preparation for action, they won’t find it easy to issue so many empty threats and promises. They excuse this emptiness of their threats as a strategic patience, but it’s interesting how they have not run out of patience since 2019, and how their strategy is yet to work after a whole political term.

Till date, no protest has been called by the TUC, even when on Thursday 8th of April, the families of the victims of the train attack staged a protest during the Ministry of Transportation’s press briefing at Radio House in Abuja. The same victims’ families also staged another protest few days ago in Kaduna seeking justice for the dead and the release of the abducted ones, but where is Comrade Musa Lawal and Comrade Akinsola’s struggle family – TUC? Nowhere to be found.

As far back as August 2019, NLC’s National Executive Council (NEC) had resolved to embark on protests over the insecurity in the country in the communiqué of that NEC meeting. The communiqué said NLC “would convene a national security summit to dispassionately engage the current challenges of insecurity in Nigeria and proffer sustainable solutions.” The communiqué also noted that “prior to the proposed security summit, the NEC resolved that NLC would hold rallies across Nigeria to sensitise government and citizens on the need to urgently arrest the current drift in security.”

#EndSARS protests happened afterwards over the same issue of insecurity and police brutality and the protest lasted for 14 days without NLC even issuing a solidarity statement to the protesters.

The TUC President was quoted threatening few days ago about ASUU Strike that: “We advise that everything must be done to dispense with the impasse to avoid a situation where Congress might be compelled to embark on a solidarity strike.” But as we speak, nothing is on ground in terms of preparation for a solidarity strike by the TUC even when protests by students of UNILAG, UNILORIN, UNIBEN, and OAU have commenced over that.

On the 12th of April, the NLC leadership met with the striking unions in the education sector and two days later on 14th April, issued a 21-day ultimatum to the federal government to resolve the issues in the education sector. But exactly one month after that ultimatum, the ultimatum is yet to lapse by the calendar of the NLC leadership.

In a press conference reported on February 16, the TUC threatened to take an emergency decision on the fuel scarcity lingering in the country, threatening mass action and posturing like the FG is pushing the union to the wall. Months after, the TUC is yet to embark on any mass action over the fuel scarcity. One cannot easily forget how the NLC threatened mass protests over fuel price increment for months since late last year and two days to the day of protest, it was called off even though fuel price unofficially increased and fuel scarcity lingered.

Right now, everything is directed at political power in 2023 as NLC and TUC are jostling for which side of the ruling class to support while promising to recover the Labour Party from politicians for workers. Empty promises that Ms Sessi already betrayed by promising Sanwo-Olu of the APC a second term. The same labour leadership make empty promises like those politicians they try to condemn. They keep barking but refuse to bite.

This labour leadership keeps reminding me of the proverb that “A barking dog does not bite” which is very true. If the TUC and NLC leaders are so busy with action or preparation for action, they won’t find it easy to issue so many empty threats and promises. They excuse this emptiness of their threats as a strategic patience, but it’s interesting how they have not run out of patience since 2019, and how their strategy is yet to work after a whole political term.

Labour leaders move about with police escort as entourage, so they don’t feel the insecurity in the country. They fly planes if they have to travel so they don’t experience the insecurity on the road, except for now when the cost of flying has increased or for places where airports are not close to.

What makes the situation more saddening is that the Labour leadership calls those of us asking for mass action ‘dreamers’ while claiming that they are the realists. Meanwhile it is those who make empty threats and empty promises that are actually the dreamers. No one is listening to their threats anymore. They should just keep silent if they are not going to do anything. They are very weak in action but very loud when it’s time to bark.

Labour leaders move about with police escort as entourage, so they don’t feel the insecurity in the country. They fly planes if they have to travel so they don’t experience the insecurity on the road, except for now when the cost of flying has increased or for places where airports are not close to.

Labour leaders have their exotic jeeps fuelled from the checkoff dues from the minimum wage of poor workers, yet those workers trek to work or join the ‘99 standing’ inside cheaper but crowded buses. Labour leaders have their own children studying in private schools or abroad while education workers are yet to be paid. It’s understandable if they don’t bite. They can’t bite. If they can, they should please prove me wrong?

Comrade Ibukun writes from Abuja and can be contacted on 09060277591

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