ON Thursday, July 16, 2020, an event occurred in our constituency, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) that gave that day a pride of place in the history of NLC. As an inducted member of the NLC Veterans, the event is worthy enough for me to pause our weekly discussion of pension to discuss it.

A misunderstanding arose from the conduct and outcome of the leadership election at the 10th National Delegates Conference of the NLC in 2015. Efforts to assuage the aggrieved comrades arising from this were made by labour veterans led by the first President of Congress (as NLC is fondly addressed), Comrade Hassan Sunmonu, with the support of a former NLC President, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who waded into the matter, could not be resolved to its logical conclusion.

The aggrieved Comrades and their unions stayed away from all activities of Congress, including the 2019 11th National Delegates Conference of the Congress. Rather, they formed and organised themselves under the United Labour Congress (ULC). Therefore, Thursday, 16th July, 2020 has earned for itself a place in the history of the NLC, being a day Comrade Ayuba Wabba and Comrade Joe Ajaero led comrades from the NLC and the ULC respectively, to a reconciliatory meeting that put aside a sad chapter in Congress history.

The NLC is an amalgamation of four Labour Centres, namely the Nigeria Trade Union Congress (NTUC), Labour Unity Front (LUF), United Labour Congress (ULC) and Nigerian Workers Council (NWC). The emergence of the NLC ended decades of rivalry and rancour in the labour movement involving the four labour centres and unions affiliated to them. The over 1,000 house unions were restructured to 42 industrial unions. Since colonial times, the labour movement has remained the mouthpiece and championed of the plight of the downtrodden masses of our country and workers rights. The arrowhead of this struggle has been the NLC.

- Notice -

The labour movement has taught the political class a lesson or two with what took place on that glorious day. Political parties should have an entrenched dispute resolution mechanism within its structures. If they do, as they will be quick to inform me, then they lack politicians who have grown to become Statesmen they can fall back on in times of crisis. If they do, the nation would have been saved from political prostitution that is common among the political class. Unfortunately, politics in Nigeria is bereft of ideology, which explains why a politician will be in Party A in the morning and in the afternoon he is gleefully basking in the euphoria of becoming a member of Party B. It is time our political parties are organised on the bases of ideology.

Successive military administrations took deliberate actions to contain the militancy and advocacy and “clip the wings” of the labour movement, seen by them as a political class of sorts. This was done through the instrumentality of state coercion, detention of labour leaders, labour regulation as well as outright dissolution of NLC’s democratic organs and the imposition of their agents as Sole Administrators to run the affairs of the Congress. According to Ihonvbere, “while it has had its own problems, and while military rule has seriously mediated its influence and autonomy, the labour movement remains one of the most persistent opponents of military rule in Nigeria. For this posture, it suffered proscription, government intervention in its affairs”.

The greatest challenge the NLC has so far faced since the administration of the affairs of Congress were returned to elected trade union leaders in January 1999, which was self-inflicted, was the post-10th National Delegates Conference 2015 crisis. As much as we would have wished it never happened, it did and the labour movement, especially the NLC, had its image dented. The crisis took away our solidarity, which is the one pillar that makes our organisation, the NLC, strong. Employers, especially the federal government, surely celebrated the conflict albeit quietly because the government as the biggest employer in Nigeria was the beneficiary while it lasted.

In times of union crisis, be it inter or intra, employers do everything possible to cash in on it. At times, the employer is an active participant, even an instigator. Most times, each group/faction proceeds against the other, either with the intention of displacing it altogether or in order to secure separate recognition as a bona fide representative of members or unions loyal to it. At times like that, the employer could resist the union’s demands and attempt to test its strength.

We saw this at play during the negotiations for the new national minimum wage. However, during that period, the leadership of the NLC, led by Comrade Ayuba Wabba and that of ULC, led by Comrade Joe Ajaero fell back to labour’s anthem, our Solidarity Song, to get wisdom. They came to the recognition that “what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one” and that in the solidarity of the two groups, they will be able to “break the haughty power of the governments and gain the freedom of workers,” by getting for Nigerian workers a New National Minimum Wage.

Disputes or conflicts are expression of dissatisfaction with a given situation and an inevitable part of any human organisation. It should therefore, as part of good governance, for any organisation to have a dispute or conflict resolution mechanisms.

The Nigeria labour movement has a robust, inbuilt dispute resolution mechanism within its organisational structures. Congress also has among her members, tested and trusted leaders and veterans who have acquired over time wide experiences in dispute resolution. It may take time, very laborious, but at the end, it will always bring victory for all, giving a win-win situation and creating an atmosphere of no victor, nor vanquish.

It is this win-win situation that we are celebrating today. The Bible teaches us that “when you bring up a child the way he should go, when he grows up, he will not depart from it.” That typifies what took place on our reference day in question. Quoting from the Memorandum of Understanding, entered into by parties to the conflict on that day: “Efforts to assuage the aggrieved Comrades arising from this were made by veterans led by the first President of Congress, Comrade Hassan Sumonu with the support of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole who waded into the matter, but could not successfully resolve the issues to a logical conclusion.

“With the weaning of the strength of the veterans’ intervention, the parties resorted to direct dialogue over the impasse and apparently achieve more mileage in efforts to resolving the situation”.

The labour movement has taught the political class a lesson or two with what took place on that glorious day. Political parties should have an entrenched dispute resolution mechanism within its structures. If they do, as they will be quick to inform me, then they lack politicians who have grown to become Statesmen they can fall back on in times of crisis. If they do, the nation would have been saved from political prostitution that is common among the political class. Unfortunately, politics in Nigeria is bereft of ideology, which explains why a politician will be in Party A in the morning and in the afternoon he is gleefully basking in the euphoria of becoming a member of Party B. It is time our political parties are organised on the bases of ideology.

Trade unionists should learn from what has happened, and realise that it is not in the interest of members of any union for a union to be factionalised and remain in conflict as the beneficiary of such a conflict can only be the employer. The NLC, can now stand on a high moral ground to mediate and bring reconciliation in any conflict affecting any of her affiliates without any party to the conflict questioning her dispute resolution credentials.

The most representative labour centre in the country and the arrowhead, champion and advocate of workers rights and welfare can now look forward to the future with one voice and bring a new world for Nigerian workers and the downtrodden masses of our country from the ashes of old because Congress is now a strong and indivisible power house for the Nigerian workers and masses of this country.

In the new strength of NLC, energised by its oneness, the MOU signed by leaders of both parties, states that “There is now a mutual consensus to scale up activities and service delivery to all sectors without prejudice, realizing that there is power in oneness”.

I therefore celebrate the comradeship that led to this reconciliation and salute the courage of leaders of both parties and their commitment to pursue a reinvigorated action in defence and protection of the rights and welfare of Nigerian workers moving forward.

Solidarity For Ever!

- Notice -

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here