The Long March to Decent Work

Guest Columnist: ISSA AREMU


The NLC’s 12th National Quadrennial Delegates Conference started yesterday in Abuja with the pre-Conference Central Working Committee (CWC) National Executive Council (NEC) meeting.

The opening Ceremony of the three-day Congress takes place this morning scheduled to hold from at the International Conference centre (ICC) Abuja.

The conference theme is: Towards a Decade of Activism for the Promotion of Labour Unity, National Re-birth and Development.

About 675 delegates, drawn from 43 industrial unions affiliated to the NLC, are attending the conference compared to as many as 3119 delegates from 42 affiliate industrial unions that attended the 11th Congress in 2015.

Increasing unemployment and factory closures seem to have impacted negatively on union memberships. This notwithstanding with estimated 6-million organised work force NLC remains the largest labour centre in Africa followed by Egypt (after Arab springs which allowed for independent free unions). The highpoint of the 12th National Delegates’ Conference is election of new National Executive Officers that will run the affairs of Congress in the next four years.

In attendance at today’s congress would be notable living veteran unionists such as the founding and past NLC Presidents, 77- year old Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu (1978-1984), 87- year old Alhaji Ali Chiroma (1984-1988) and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, (1999-2007).
Comrade Paschal Bafyau, the third of President NLC (December 1998-1994) had passed on (May his soul Rest In Peace).

Scores of representatives of fraternal global unions that include Ghana Trade Union Congress (Ghana TUC), Congress of Southern Africa Trade Unions (COSATU), Organisation of Africa Trade Unions Unity (OATUU), International Trade Union Congress (ITUC) are expected to attend the historic conference to be declared open by President Muhammed Buhari. Of the previous 11 Delegates’ conferences from 1978 to 2011, three conferences were special conferences. ‘Special’ to the extent that, they were fall-outs of military disruption of independent and autonomous democratic union process; 1977/78 (the Murtala/Obasanjo military regime), 1988 (the Babangida regime) and 1999 (the Abdulsalami regime), following Abacha’s dissolution of the NLC executive in 1994. The NLC cumulatively could be said to have been suffocated under the heel of military administrators for almost a decade (the highest being under Abacha dictatorship).

Nigeria as a republic however had a longer spell of military misrule spanning over two decades. Against this background of shared history of military dictatorships with the country as a whole, the NLC 12th delegates’ conference taking place on the eve of a democratic transition assumes a special importance. A successful conclusion of NLC conference raises, once again, greater hope of democratic process in Nigeria and indeed Africa as a whole. Nigeria and (indeed Africa) had produced strong democratic institutions one of which is Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).

Precisely I am involved as a delegate and as Comrade Governorship Candidate of Labour Party in Kwara State; I hereby salute all my comrades, veterans and fraternal brothers and sisters in the struggle for the defence of workers’ and trade union rights. The high points of the conference are two-fold. One, there will be a comprehensive review of the activities of the Congress in the past four years with respect to struggle for decent work.

Critical work place issues such s employment; wages, pensions, health and safety, security and precarious jobs, gender issues and international labour activities among others would come under debate. Agenda will also be set for the next four years in the struggle within the context of the theme for the upliftment of the working and living conditions of the working men and women, to which there will be a robust debate of motions and policy ideas. Secondly there will be elections to produce a President, three Deputy Presidents, five Vice Presidents, Treasurer, National Financial Secretary, Trustee, and internal auditors among others. Happily the NLC leadership had learned from the chaos of 2015.

The NLC had disclosed “that at the close of nominations for the elective offices to be contested, the following nominations were received and cleared for election by the conference credentials committee as published newspapers on Friday January 4, 2019. The positions are largely unopposed.” This commendable improvement on the electoral process of the Congress must the complemented by more engagement to ensure that the break away unions such as in energy, oil and gas sectors return to the congress.

Notwithstanding the self-inflicted crisis that followed the 11th Delegates conference in 2015, we must salute the comrades for putting an end to the myth that trade unions as non-governmental organizations cannot organise their affairs unless they are controlled or made to do so by some big-brother governments and petty dictators.

The proceedings of NLC delegates’ conferences are rich materials in studying internal democracy in the unions and in larger Nigeria as a whole. Labour, national and global issues would definitely feature at this conference: minimum wage, pensions, decent work agenda, internal capacity development, job-creation as well as poverty eradication strategy and economy. Comrades must avoid the pitfalls of exclusion, which often undermines unity and cohesion. In the years to come, all unionists must be united, stop divisive leadership tussles.

The ultimate assessment of NLC at 40 is how it has improved on salaries and wages of workers. The NLC motto is Labour Creates Wealth. Sadly few ruling elite turned workers to working beggars amidst income poverty deny labour’s wealth created. When shares and stock prices go down as we witnessed during the 2008 global financial crisis, the whole world including the media was in frenzy. Yet with massive naira devaluation, spiral inflation, salaries diversion, delayed and wage thefts wages have almost collapsed in Nigeria. Can we imagine that for four months there are no capital gains on the floor of Nigeria Stock exchange? It is economicide, (an economic equivalent of political genocide), to systematically deny workers adequate pay. It is commendable that organised labour closed ranks to fight for the new minimum wage of N30, 000 despite some surmountable organisational differences.

The challenge in the coming years is to deepen its organizing efforts of unorganised workers, especially women and youths in both the formal and informal sectors of the economy. With as many as 12 delegates’ conferences in the past 40 years, that produced as many as 12 labour’s democratically elected administrative councils, it is self-evident that Nigeria labour Congress (NLC) has come of age in democratic processes and experiences.

The republic of Nigeria has a lot to learn from the labour movement! This historic conference takes place after the 40th anniversary of the NLC and affiliate industrial unions last year. The 12th delegates’ conference could very well be called Anniversary Conference.
It also comes at the time NLC under the leadership of Comrade Ayuba Wabba has just won the struggle for the new minimum wage of N30, 000. Significantly, Comrade Ayuba Wabba has just emerged the first African unionist to head the largest global labour movement, ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation).
The union truly makes us Strong. Forward Ever, Backward Never!!

*Comrade Aremu is a member of the Central Working Committee of the NLC and Labour Party Governorship Candidate, Kwara state.

With massive naira devaluation, spiral inflation, salaries diversion, delayed and wage theft wages have almost collapsed in Nigeria. Can we imagine that for four months there are no capital gains on the floor of Nigeria Stock exchange? It is economicide, (an economic equivalent of political genocide), to systematically deny workers adequate pay.