A DIVIDED LABOUR HOUSE

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MONDAY EDITORIAL

 

 Nigeria Labour Congress should put its house in order

At a most difficult period when the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) ought to be constantly striving to secure better working conditions for its members, it is deeply enmeshed in a leadership crisis. Torn apart by some serious internal contradictions which have put into question the ability of the NLC to manage its own affairs, organised labour is increasingly becoming irrelevant in the country.
 
The trouble started late last year, when the patched house of labour broke into two as the Joe Ajaero and Igwe Achese faction floated a parallel movement ironically named United Labour Congress. In the accusations and counter-accusations that followed, Ayuba Wabba, who was elected president at the Congress still pledged to “do everything within our power to preserve the unity and coherence of the labour movement which was handed down to us by our forebears.” Not many people still take him serious despite the fact that members of the opposing camp have behaved like bad losers.
 
The seed of division within the ranks of labour was sown during the 2015 delegate conference to choose its leaders. The exercise clearly underlined the challenge of conducting credible elections in our country. It was a disgraceful parody of how those who seek to “serve” the public behave, with representatives of Nigerian workers acting like overgrown kids – smashing ballot boxes and throwing out ballot papers and openly campaigning along ethnic and religious lines.
 
Wabba, then Chairman of the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) was pitted against Ajaero, General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE). Wabba was generally accepted as the winner of the controversial contest and the keys of Labour House were handed over to him. But Ajaero alongside Achese, President of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, disputed the outcome of the election and have been operating a faction of the congress from Lagos since then. Efforts by many labour leaders and other stakeholders to bring both factions together have proved futile.
 
In such a divided state, the government of the day moved in to exploit the congress, particularly when government increased the cost of pump price of petrol mid last year. While we support fuel subsidy removal as a policy, the cynical manner in which the Muhammadu Buhari government acted on the issue, almost as if it was doing the people a favour, ought to have been challenged by a focused and organised labour.  But the feeble protests organised by the Wabba faction of the NLC came down in a whimper.

It is therefore instructive that the NLC is becoming increasingly muted in affairs of its members, the main reason for its existence. The workers it ought to protect now bear the brunt of the economic mismanagement in the country as many of them are thrown out of jobs at will while those who manage to retain theirs go home with dwindling wages amid rising costs of living. Indeed, the NLC leadership crisis has turned the congress to a bystander in the affairs of its men and women, putting little or no efforts to protect their rights. It is even more worrying that the formation of another labour centre may plunge a bad situation into an outright catastrophe.
 
 That is why we implore the leadership of the congress to return to the table and resolve their differences in the interest of workers. As Issa Aremu, former Deputy President of the NLC rightly said, “it is never too late to return to one labour movement. Let us bring our grievances to the table and resolve our differences.” That is the sensible thing to do.