WERE it not for the fact that the material conditions of the moment have forced many Nigerians into cynical inaction, they would have been asking questions about the contraption, which operates today as the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
Perhaps, the manner of emergence of Ayuba Wabba, as the president of the labour union signposted what was to come. Wabba came into office in controversial circumstances. After a keenly contested election between him and Joe Ajaero for the presidency of the NLC, Wabba was declared winner amid protests by the Ajaero group. The protesting group did not stop there, they ensured that a faction emerged from the labour union. Even though Wabba has managed to stay atop as the president of NLC , his main challenger, Ajaero, still controls a sizeable chunk of the labour unions. And government, for some devious reasons, has been dealing with both factions. That notwithstanding, Wabba has managed to remain the officially recognised leader of NLC today.
Government’s fair weather disposition to the NLC came into play during the last industrial action declared by labour over the increase in the pump price of fuel. While the Wabba-led NLC gave notice of an industrial action, the Ajaero faction opted out of the plan. Consequently, government quickly went into negotiations with the dissenting group and reached certain agreements with it. Government’s tactic was one of divide and rule. The development did not augur well for labour. Government, through such subterfuge, took the wind off labour’s sail.
But that is not the hang of my intervention here. I am rather concerned about the fading appeal of labour unionism in today’s Nigeria, especially under Ayuba Wabba.
Before the advent of the present order of ineptitude, labour unions in Nigeria made appreciable impact in their spheres of operation. We can readily recall the contributions of the Michael Imodus, Hassan Sumonus, Paschal Bafiayus and Adams Oshiomholes, among others, to trade unionism in Nigeria None of these activists left the stage unsung. Theirs was the golden era of trade unionism in Nigeria.
Perhaps, our most recent experience with impactful labour unionism was that of Adams Oshiomhole . Even though trade unionism had, by his time, been watered down by labour’s unholy mix with government, Oshiomhole managed to run away with some salutary stories, however minor. He always got government, through strike actions, to reduce the pump price of petroleum products, even if marginally, any time government reviewed the prices upwards. Oshiomhole may have been criticised then for such tokenisms. But nobody could completely discountenance the fact that he had something to his credit.
Today , we can safely say that we are looking back with nostalgia. The days of impactful trade unionism in Nigeria have gone with the winds. The present leadership of NLC under Ayuba Wabba is a shadow of what its predecessors were. The story has moved from commitment and vibrancy to dubiety and moroseness. Where labour is expected to show commitment to the welfare of the Nigerian worker and the plight of the downtrodden, what you see is a self-serving indulgence that negates the elementary spirit of trade unionism the world over. The days of selfless trade unionists have gone. What we have today are sanguine opportunists, who feed fat on the misfortune of the less privileged.
If this submission is yet to make sense to you, then join us in considering these scenarios. In February this year, government announced an upward review of tariffs paid by electricity consumers in the country. The move was clearly anti-people and it gave Nigerians, the rich and the poor alike, considerable concern. The people’s outrage was accentuated by the fact that power supply in the country is at its lowest ebb. Yet, government had the shamelessness to ask the people to pay for the electricity they did not consume.
In a normal labour setting, the development would have set labour unions on the warpath with government. The situation would have provided a recipe for government-labour showdown. But what did we get? Our labour unions stayed complacent while government perfected its plan to increase electricity tariffs. At the end of January, 2016, electricity tariffs went up by over 100 per cent. And what did labour do? It mobilised pockets of its members across the country to picket the offices of some of the electricity distribution companies. The exercise lasted for a few hours. And that was the end. Electricity tariffs remained increased. They were not even adjusted downwards a little, as a way of demonstrating that government took the action of labour seriously. That was the beginning and end of the matter. Today, Nigerians are paying for darkness and the labour that is supposed to protect them is looking on, morosely.
Then came the recent increase in the pump price of petrol. It came with a bang. There was no prior warning. There was no discussion or negotiation with labour unions. Government simply jerked up the pump price from N86.50 to N145. Here, Ayuba Wabba’s NLC was at its complacent best. It had no plan of action. It had no agenda. It did not know how to counter government’s action. However, to demonstrate that it exists, even if in name, it called out a few workers in a few states of the federation to a strike. Lagos, the seat of the Nigerian economy, was not affected. People went about their normal businesses.The exercise was so feeble. It made no impact. There was no mechanism in place to force government into submission. Then after three days of a pretentious strike, Wabba announced the suspension of the action. Government did not invite the real labour to the negotiating table. It conceded nothing because there was no labour union to force its hands. Today, the pump price of petrol remains N145. This situation was unlike what used to obtain. If it were to be during the days of committed trade unionists, government’s N145 mark would have been adjusted a bit downwards, at least, in deference to labour. But we got none of that. The prices of other petroleum products have since joined the rising trend. The pump price of diesel, particularly, has been on the upward swing.
The result of all this is that Nigerians are moaning and groaning. There is no electricity supply to their homes and offices. And they cannot afford petroleum products to power their generators. Those who can afford it are doing so at a runaway cost. Many in business are in danger of shutting down operations. The cost of doing business in Nigeria has risen to an all-time high. Small scale businesses are packing up on a daily basis. Many private homes and apartments have gone desolate. They live in darkness. The people’s purchasing power has also declined considerably. The harsh economic situation has crippled many homes. There is no organised labour to call government to account. And so, what we have today in Nigeria today is a situation of every man to himself while the devil takes the last man.