New leadership underway as NLC holds delegates’ conference

IN 2007, when Abdulwahed Omar became the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Nigerians had attached a ‘messianic’ emblem to the NLC owing to its numerous struggles against continuous hike in the pump price of petroleum products. 

  Indeed, any level of attachment to the NLC automatically attracted empathy from Nigerians. Names of labour activists were more popular than the name of the President of Nigeria. 

  There were very few villages or hamlets, no matter how remote, were Adams Oshiomhole did not ring a resounding bell. The popularity of labour hits an all-time high. Those were interesting period in time past.  

  This also rob-off on the former NLC President, who rose on the back of his popularity to contest the governorship of his home state, Edo and eventually declared the winner by the courts.

   It is unarguably right to say that the pronouncement of Oshiomhole by the courts was a popular decision in the eyes of the Edo people and Nigerians, as they believed that Oshiomhole was too popular to lose the gubernatorial poll.  

  But fast-forwarding the hands of time to 2015, can the outgoing leadership of the NLC claim the entire labour movement still enjoys the same empathy and respect amongst Nigerians? 

  While the first term of Omar could be said to be relatively peaceful, his second term would be described as the most turbulent in the history of Congress. Indeed, events since the 2011 delegates’ conference show that Omar is leaving a largely divided Congress and one that has lost the respect of most Nigerians.  

  The first sign that the second term of Omar was headed for the rocks were the acrimonies that characterized the 2011 delegates conference. Events that shaped this conference witnessed the inability of one of his most experienced deputy presidents, Peters Adeyemi to make the team. 

   The Non Academic Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), in which Adeyemi is the General Secretary, pulled out of the NLC and suspended its participation in all its activities. 

   NASU did not go alone as other like-mind unions also joined them in the protest. The protesting unions were against the way Adeyemi was treated at the delegates’ conference and the manipulations that forced the immediate General Secretary of Congress, John Odah out of office.

  Not only was the General Secretary forced out of office, some staffers that were perceived to be his loyalists were also eased out. The two staffers that were sacked were the then Acting Head of Information, Onah Iduh and Head of NLC/TUC-UK HIV/AIDS Programme, Esther Ogunfowora.

  The case of illegal termination of these staff took about two years to settle at the National Industrial Court (NIC) where the court thoroughly lambasted the NLC for the disgraceful way their staff were sacked without due process. The three staffers were reinstated but soon tender their resignation letters of disengagement from the service of the NLC.

Indeed, the greatest weakness of the out-going administration was its inability to reconcile the aggrieved members of Congress at the end of the 2011 conference.  

Few weeks after the election, some of the gladiators had refused to sheathe the sword.

It was obvious that those that had been benefitting from the not-too rosy relationship between Omar and Odah were determined to dig deeper. 

    It is no doubt that the Labour House headquarters indeed witnessed storming sessions during the tenure of Adams Oshiomhole as President, but he was able to negotiate peace in such a way that the cohesion of Congress was never threatened. But that seems not to be the case under Omar’s administration.

While the scars of the 2011 delegates conference had healed and most of the aggrieved unions have returned and are indeed participating in the on-going delegates conference in Abuja, another scandal that may determine the future of the NLC is presently unfolding. 

   An agreement entered into with a property developer, Kriston-Lally by the NLC to build 5,000 mass housing units for subscribers is threatening the very foundation of Congress. 

Just last week the aggrieved subscribers picketed the NLC events venues in Abuja and prevented the events from taking place. 

  The first was that was picketed was NLC/civil society groups parley with political parties at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua centre. Indeed, Omar had to hurriedly leave the venue as anger rose. Again, a pre-delegates conference press parley that was scheduled for the Labour House was moved to Bolton White hotel for fear of the aggrieved subscribers yet the event failed to hold as the subscribers took over the venue demanding refund of their money.

   Trouble began for Omar from the inception of the project when the secretariat and NLC committee on housing were completely left out of the project. Instead, Omar nominated a deputy president, Promise Adewusi, who was President of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and now the General Secretary of the same union as the chairman of the NLC/Kriston-Lally mass housing committee.

  The NLC entered into the agreement with the company in March 2013. 16 months after the agreement was signed and the NLC delegation visiting Greece, the project has failed to take-off. Subscribers paid 10% of the cost of their choice houses. 

   The early sign of possible failure of the project was when the ground breaking ceremony was continuously moved forward until it was clear to the leadership of Congress that the project, which was intended to be showcased as a major achievement, was headed for disaster.

  In the midst of the confusion surrounding the failed housing deal, Omar assured all workers who subscribed to the project that Congress was doing everything possible to secure their interests. To This end, he added: “All funds deposited in the advertised NLC-Kriston-Lally account mentioned above are safe and secure. All depositors into that account can rest assured that their funds are safe.”

   He hinted that Congress was working with relevant agencies to explore ways of ensuring that subscribers who may have been manipulated into paying into other accounts are protected.

   Several months after the promise, workers are yet to get their money and this explains their present hardline posture.  

Subscribers are further ire by the allegation of the Managing Director of Kriston-Lally, Mustapha Madawaki that he gave Omar $1.4 million in installments without the NLC fulfilling its own part of providing the land on which the houses would be built. 

   Madawaki alleged that Omar collected $1.4 million from him over 15 months as money to be distributed to his National Administrative Council (NAC) colleagues to dissuade them from approaching other developers saying Omar told him there was intense pressure on Congress to enter into another agreement with other developers.

    Omar has continually denied collecting money from Madawaki but another member of the NAC revealed that he was offered $30,000 by Madawaki to help persuade NAC members to speed up the process of securing land for the project.  

The refund that the subscribers are demanding may be far-fetched. The reason is that Kriston-Lally insists that an independent third party nominated by courts should administer the refunding process but the NLC is said not be favourably disposed to the idea even though court papers were claimed to have been served on the NLC to that effect. 

   The question on the lips of the subscribers now is: how do they get their money back if Omar is allowed to handover the mantle of leadership later this week?

Another minus for the Omar’s administration was the way and manner the fuel price hike protests of January 2012 was handled by the NLC, which left its civil society groups dazed. Indeed, that was the first time that NLC did not have a say in determining how much a litre of petrol would be sold for. The government unilaterally did the N97 per litre that was eventually fixed. 

    Again, akin to the 2011 delegates’ conference, internal acrimonies are threatening the conduct of the 2015 conference with some of the gladiators approaching law enforcement agencies to compel individuals to respect an alleged ‘gentlemen’ agreement that was reached during consultation process or have the process truncated.

    Indeed, the three contestants – Wabba Ayuba, Joe Ajaero and Igwe Achese – spent about seven hours at the Directorate of the State Security (DSS) headquarters in Abuja last week. Igwe, who is the President of NUPENG, insists that a gentlemen agreement was reached where it was decided that the post of the NLC President was ceded to the public sector. It is still unknown whether a ‘gentlemen’ agreement would be strong enough to halt the delegates’ conference.

    However, Omar’s presidency was not all gloomy because the number of NLC affiliates has indeed grown under his watch as president    

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