NLC and search for lost tradition



THOUGH the impression the last delegates’ conference of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had on many Nigerians is the disagreement that arose after the election.

Even with their level of disagreement, the two contending groups were unanimous that the labour movement in Nigeria is on the downward slide. Indeed, the ‘change’ mantra was not only popular within the larger political lexicon, but was also a slogan that found expression within the movement.

It was clear to all and sundry that the movement that was bequeathed by the likes of Michael Imoudu, Hassan Sunmonu and Ali Ciroma on Adams Oshiomhole was about to lose its relevance among the Nigerian populace. The movement was at its lowest ebb within 2007 and 2015 during the reign of Abdulwahed Omar.

Incidentally, it was Oshiomhole who handed over to Omar that became the most acidic critic of the regime. The Edo State governor declared at the 2011 delegate’s conference when Omar was contesting for a second term in office that NLC must wake up from its slumber. If Oshiomhole thought NLC was slumbering away during Omar’s first term in office, what happened in the second term between 2011 and 2015 was best tagged, ‘dead to the world’ as NLC was completely aloof to the happenings around it and instigated series of self-inflicted unknown folklores on itself.
The tradition was lost.

While the process of the demise of tradition within the movement did not certainly start solely during Omar’ time as President, the gradual ‘commoditization’ of trade unionism in Nigeria and the movement’s inability to adapt to societal evolution as Nigeria evolved and actors within that evolvement constantly changed characters is a huge influence on what crystalized during Omar’s tenure.

The President of Congress, Ayuba Wabba is convinced that the movement is in dire need of a new beginning starting with soul-searching and self-discovery.

And in discerning the tradition, NLC brought labour leaders, civil society group and other stakeholders to a retreat to chart a path towards a rediscovery of the lost labour movement tradition.

Speaking the retreat in Calabar, Wabba said workers’ believing in the ability of NLC to protect their interests is at the heart of rediscovering the essence of trade unionism. And that such protection can only be offered when labour is truly independent through its activities and programmes.

His words: “The sure way we can build and consolidate our independence as a trade union centre is to carry on activities and programmes which will strengthen the faith of our members in our ability to defend and protect their interests and aspirations. Our desire is to ensure that we are strong enough to stand on our own and take instructions only from our members, based purely on the founding philosophy of our movement.”

It was Sylvester Ejiofor, popularly called ‘labour head of service’ that puts labour movement labyrinth succinctly when he stated: “The social and class character of unions make it compelling that they must be independent of employers and governments. To achieve this, the union while being democratic must rely exclusively on its strength and resource viability. To do otherwise, by depending on management or government patronage subverts its moral authority and make it subservient to employer. Subservience would include physical and mental incorporation. Most importantly it tilts the power relations between the union/management in favour of the latter.” To Ejiofor, therefore, this is the crux of the matter.
Ejiofor did not stop there. He stressed that the most frightening aspect of the dilemma that labour has found itself is the latter day labour leaders that shamelessly and selfishly romance with employer and government to the detriment of the working class.

His words: “Some unions’ leaders tend to justify managements/government patronage on the ground that there are no strings attached and therefore cannot compromise union. Others argued that the issue should be viewed in the context of mistrust and cynicism which dependence of unions on government/employer generates amongst membership and the fact that such generosity could subvert the moral fabrics of the recipients.”

According to Ejiofor, seeking independence amidst government/ employer patronage is akin to putting water in the mouth and singing at the same time!

While Ejiofor agreed that unions are generously seen as ‘agents of social change’ in any society, he insisted that in order to effect change, trade union response should manifest in unalloyed ethical commitments to leadership characterized by the virtues of modesty, humility, tolerance and persuasion; that is also depersonalized and inspirational; lifestyle characterized by moderation and simplicity that would not create the basis for mistrust and cravings for unwholesome resources to sustain it and avoid attributes that characterize decadence in the wider society.

Ejiofor identified revival of trade union education programme that is strictly anchored on advancement of trade union tradition and promotion of class-consciousness of members as critical in the rediscovery of trade unionism ideals and tradition.

For the immediate past General Secretary of Congress, John Odah, whose paper was entitled, “Implementing the document: ‘returning to our founding principles, and the motions and resolutions of the 2015 delegates’ conference”, revitalizing the finances of labour at the state and local government levels is germane to the revival bid. With huge secretariat experience, Odah proposed a rejig of how affairs are conducted at the state level in order to shore up their financial generation capacity .

His explanation: “Some of the affiliate unions in addition to state secretaries also have zonal secretaries. One suggestion is that Congress can start having zonal secretaries for NLC. While this might be a pragmatic way of addressing this problem, we should however bear it in mind that Congress constitution does not provide for zonal structures and attending zonal meetings, as this, at the NLC level, can lead to the type of regional politics that some of the candidates to the last NLC election actively tried to promote. Additionally, the regional cleavages and challenges of a union like NUT, should make us think deeply before allowing this into Congress.”

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