The Congress must uphold democratic principles and operate by the spirit and content of its constitution

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) last week concluded a number of activities marking its 40 years as the largest workers’ institution in Africa with over seven million members from 43 industrial unions drawn from both the private and public sectors. The anniversary activities featured thanksgivings and public lectures, including “The Future of the World of Work” – a topic which aptly coincides with the theme of the centenary celebration of the International Labour Organisation which turns 100 years next year – delivered by Mr. Guy Ryder, the Director-General of the ILO and “Labour, Politics and Governance” delivered by former Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega.

We salute the NLC and its affiliate unions on the occasion of the historic celebrations. Notwithstanding numerous challenges that the Nigerian workers still grapple with, several gains have been made in the past 40 years. Without any doubt, the NLC, as a non-state actor, has come of age in defence of the interests of its working and retired members in line with the objectives of its constitution.

For sure, the history of organised labour in Nigeria is a long one. The first officially recognised labour movement, the Civil Service Union, was formed in 1912, followed by Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) and Nigerian Union of Railwaymen (NUR). Since the nation was still under British colonialism, the first generation of unionists also had to confront exploitation and oppressions. Meanwhile, the NLC was formed in 1950. But 30 years after, thanks to ideological differences of the Cold War era, the first NLC split into four centres namely, United Labour Congress (ULC), Nigeria Trade Union Congress (NTUC), Nigeria Workers’ Council (NWC) and Labour Unity Front (LUF).

The second and present NLC was formed on the ashes of the old labour centres.  The independent efforts at one indivisible labour centre were propelled by   great veteran unionists like H.P. Adebola, late Wahab Goodluck, S.U. Bassey, J.O. James, N.F. Pepple, A.I. Okwese, Chief E.A.O Odeyemi, M.A. Imoudu, J.U. Akpan, R.A. Ramos, Okon Esshiett and Vincent Igwe Jack. The intervention by the late General Murtala Muhammad regime led to a wholesale restructuring of the then house unions into national industrial union in 1978.

 To the extent that anniversary periods are good for organisational self-criticisms and reflections, the NLC must reflect on the past 40 years. The first challenge is to consolidate the gain of unity in the years to come. NLC leadership must revisit the ugly events of the last 11th delegates’ conference in 2015 which made some few affiliate unions to pull out and even dared to form another labour centre. The NLC in the years to come must therefore uphold its democratic principles and operate by the spirit and content of its constitution if it must maintain its moral authority in pushing for good and accountable governance in the country.

The high point of NLC in the 1980s was when it stood counted in the struggle against military dictatorships for which some notable trade unionists were thrown into detention by the late General Sani Abacha dictatorship. But that could only happen because there was a unity of purpose. We therefore support the call by the Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige that the labour veterans must continue the reconciliation work to reunite all their comrades. They must also avoid the pitfalls of exclusion which often undermine unity and cohesion.

As the NLC reflects on the past and plans for the future, we salute their founding presidents such as Comrades Hassan Sunmonu (1979-1984), Ali Chiroma (1984-1988), late Paschal Bafyau (1988-1994) and Adams Oshiomhole (1999-2007) for their determination and courage to improve the working and living conditions of Nigerian workers.