1929 the Eastern Nigeria witnessed a defiance of the colonial masters in repelling the direct tax regime. The Aba Women Riots 83 Years ago led by Late Mrs. Ikonna Enyia set the standards for future generations to be steadfast when negotiating.
January 2012 Nigeria was at a boiling point, the faith of Nigerians was placed with the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), to negotiate the reversal of PMS (Petrol) pump prices with the Federal Government of Nigeria. The outcome left Nigerians in consternation; a trait of treachery is attributed to the Unionists and their credibility (If they had any) gone with their deed. But maybe we were expecting too much from the Organized Labour who do not have a clear cut good intentions for its members and Nigerians.
Unionists world over have impacted positively towards realization of their countries’ greatness, some have even brought down draconic governments. A vigorous labour force is the springboard to a nation’s economic prowess, the working class are progressive partners with the government in power they also constitute the Government. An organization having members numbering millions, with membership cutting across all echelon of endeavors still lacking the fortitude to stand a Government’s bad policy, it’s either our Unionists do not know their significance or we have wrongfully been bamboozled. NLC/TUC quasi-activeness is sporadically on salary increment and when there is an increment in petroleum pump prices, but they do not lark with union dues. Forlornly the compass of organized labour goes beyond all those, theirs is to protect their members interests in terms of; I. Employment Process. II. Ensure decent working pay and condition III. Matters of Pension, secured after working years. IV. Ensure, lobby passage of favorable labour laws. And other matters that effect the interest of their members.
The Nigerian working class has been subjected to all sorts of appalling treatments, from those employed by the Government and also the private sector. Tales of woes are rampant in the Nigerian working strata; because of NLC lacking focus the working class is looked down upon, even foreigners operating in Nigeria relegate their staffs. Some recent notable cases of woes in Nigeria are
Abia state Government fired some Workers because they are non-indigenes.
3000 staffs of Intercontinental and Oceanic Banks were sacked; some got their sack through Text messages; without their deserved severance pay.
3000 Airtel workers arbitrarily and indiscriminately sacked.
300 Dangote Pasta workers rough handled then sacked because they refuse to denounce membership of their in-house Union.
Dana Steel took over Katsina Steel and sacked some workers; the sacked Nigerian workers alleged that their jobs were being taken over by Indians, who are paid more than Nigerians.
Polytechnic Kaduna sacked 1,200 workers under questionable circumstances, with non payment of pensions for 40 months.
Asia Plastic Kano enslaving their workers. The workers work in deplorable conditions 7 am – 7 pm, no breaks allowed, work in chemical crammed factory without protective gears and are not permitted to form in-house Union.
February 2007 some firms operating in Nigeria owned by foreigners, some of their workers cried out lamenting their working ordeal namely;
Cway workers said they work under dehumanizing conditions meted out on them by their employers CWAY Foods and Beverage Nigeria Limited. They asserted they worked under the followings I. No Maternity pay II. No Workers Union. III. Work 7 am to 7 pm IV. No break and are not allowed to eat during working hours.
WEST AFRICA RUBBER PRODUCTS LTD (WARP)
This is another firm that its staffs work under traumatic conditions which are,
Staffs work in Chemical filled environment without protective gears.
Locked in an Oven typed factory.
All staffs are employed as casual staffs.
Work for 12 Hours without break.
The Factory doesn’t have emergency exit outlet, which when fire broke about 30 workers where roasted.
The terrible status of NITEL/MTEL staffs.
AKS steel workers in December 2011 were sacked. About 500 of the workers were disengaged, forcefully ejected by area boys and OPC, without gratuity and benefits.
Mr Meriga Maaji of CCECC in Oct 2011 almost lost his manhood from physical assault by a Chinese senior worker of the company.
Slave labour treatment of Dangote’s Savannah sugar. 80% of staffs are casual staffs most have worked for more than 8 years but still remain casual staffs, work from 6am – 7pm and paid peanuts.
Above are just an iota of cases of injustice suffered by the Nigerian working class, most of which NLC have turned a blind eyes on. Injury to one is injury to all; Solidarity forever, those are the slogans of NLC but NLC have abandoned its members when needed. “The protection of worker’s rights can only be guaranteed by the working people themselves through their organizations especially trade unions and working people’s political party… Otive Igbuzor PhD”.
Frankly the Nigerian worker works amidst miserable conditions, in 1945 Dr Michael Imoudu led a 44 day strike by the Railway Workers which forced wage increase from colonial administration as reflected by Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) award. Decades later with a centralised union body NLC, Nigerians work under appalling conditions which is quite ironic because we are now under Democratic rule but yet NLC present is not felt. Some present day extreme concerns that need urgent attention includes;
Employment process in Nigeria is problematic. Jobs vacancies are advertised but with a requirement of 5-7 years working experience.
Workers are engaged without appointment letter, some work for over 10 years as Casual Staffs.
With monetisation policy implemented no more Housing quarters for Government staffs, but the Housing allowance is not enough to lease an apartment for a year.
Construction Workers are transported in Containers, while their employers dare try that in other countries.
Hoax pension system, pension is one of the biggest scam now in Nigeria. After working years, one languishes at the mercy of uncertainties when it comes to receiving his/her duly deserved pension.
Civil servants fired by Political appointment holder which ought not to be.
In the financial sector, workers are given unreasonable targets. Out of desperation to meet the targets, girls/women are forced to corporate prostitution.
Workers healths are not guaranteed because some workers registered with the NHIS for years but don’t have their Membership card, and do not have access to treatment.
Expatriates are come in to fill positions where qualified Nigerians are available.
Expatriates are paid higher than Nigerian.
Non compliances of the Minimum wage.
After the January 2010 industrial action, pump prices of PMS was reduced to N97 per litre, after the meeting with the Federal government when the NLC leaders came out, the President of NLC Abdulwahab Omar in an interview said “the new price regime was a product of a unilateral decision without input from the labour negotiators, We however state categorically that this new price was a unilateral one by the government”. While Peter Esele the President of TUC said “the decision was accepted after a critical consideration of what was good for the country, stakeholders who were consulted on the issue agreed that the N97 pump price was just the beginning of moves by Nigerians to ensure that issues in the downstream were addressed” Hoodwinked by the contradictory statements of the Unionists leader, Nigerians look in awe trying to comprehend the logic behind NLC accepting the N97 price and Peter Esele’s nomination into the downstream committee (Belgore Committee). 1600 Palliative Buses were said to have been brought, with a population of 160,000,000 then 160,000,000 ÷1,600 = 100,000. 100,000 people are to share a Bus. But again the word Palliative is a word used for disaster hit areas or war torn country which Nigeria isn’t, again why not Palliative National Airline that Nigerians can fly from Sokoto to Lagos at N4, 5000 per trip? that is Palliative.
NLC has become like an appendix of the Government, debasing itself so much that NLC is in tantrums with the Government, and also the working class. During the January strike an affiliate of NLC, Road Transport Employee Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) denounced the strike action saying they are comfortable with the increment. In the same streak, during the January Strike some NLC of the South-East and South-South states were indifferent on the strike, the President was their brother and they said his action will result to sanity in the downstream, they are willing to make sacrifice for their brother who eats a N1 Billion food. Ironically in 1957 (28 years after the Aba Women riots) Mrs. Ikonna Enyia led her women league to the Eastern Nigerian Government of Enugu, where they protested against their brother Chief Nnnamdi Azikiwe. Mrs. Ikonna Enyia and her Aba Women group rejected the imposition of excessive taxation policy on the males, and to that effect the taxation was relaxed.
At this age and time where Unionists in other countries are succeeding in supporting candidates into winning political seats, who will ensure favorable labour related laws are passed, ours is a tale of stereotyped clumsiness. The Nigerian working class is so mortified that even foreigners come to our country and treat our citizens with callousness, just because our NLC’s house is in disarray. The January 2012 strike was a wakeup call for NLC whatever horse-trading the leaders of NLC did posterity will judge them, but Nigerians have made their judgment which is never to allow rogues negotiate on our behalf. As Nigerians weep at the level of corruption in governance, NLC/TUC also joins in condemning corruption ironically their members perpetuate 70% of all corruption in Nigeria. Unconsciously Nigerians have suffered adversely from the misguided actions of unions within Organized Labour. From the sharp practices/the frequent inept strike actions of Oil & Gas union, to the menace of truck & tanker drivers and the Corruption of Civil servants whom all belong to NLC/TUC, sadly the Organized Labour attributes corruption to the leadership of the Government while their members abet Politicians in looting our treasury.
The sweats and blood of past Unionists will never be in vain, their names will remain fresh in our minds, the likes of Dr Michael Imuodu, Wahab Goodluck, Baba Omojola, Ola Oni, Hassan Sumonu to mention a few. Men that fought Colonial administration, and stood their grounds against Military dictatorship for the well being of the Nigerian worker, and Nigeria as a country.
There is more than demanding N18, 000 minimum wage, which the minimum wage is not implemented at all levels. From statistics, Nigeria has the lowest minimum wage structure in all OPEC countries, and basic amenities are duly provided by their countries except Nigeria. With N18, 000 salary and one is forced to provide Water, Electricity, Shelter, Transport, Health all with N18, 000? PMS pump prices were increased and NLC agreed to call off strike? Section 14, Subsection 2b of the 1999 Constitution states that: “The Security and Welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”
Jan 3rd Mustapha Muyideen was the first casualty of the Protest against fuel hike, as many as 16 (Unverified) others were killed in various locations of Nigeria. NLC joined the strike on the 9th of January but claimed to have orchestrated the nationwide protest. Civil societies groups, well meaning Nigerians started shaking the country from 2nd of January within and outside Nigeria. NLC joined in, hijacked the protest and compromised the protest.
Chairman of Joint Task Force Dipo Fashina who represented Civil Societies in negotiating with the Federal government after the meeting said “ the so called negotiation were full of blackmails and arm twisting and no mention of removal of fuel subsidy” he further enlightened that on the second day of negotiation with the Federal Government “ the President berated Labour for supporting his presidency during elections , and now turning against him to a nationwide strike” Dr Fashina who had insights of the strike, protest and negotiations asserted that “NLC was operating a half house”.
January 2012 Nigeria was grounded, the tsunami-type-tide protest started with civil societies and well meaning Nigerians who united without ethnic or religious affinity (OccupyNigeria), the protest shock Nigeria to its roots as corrupt entities retrieved OccupyNigeria gained grounds; NLC infiltrated and dissipated the movement. The first day of the protest in Abuja, security operatives arrested Dino Meleye, Martin Obono and others for protesting. Kaduna was brought to a standstill with veteran politician Balarabe Musa, Comrade Shehu Sani amongst the parade. Kano saw a massive turnout with a renewed bridge building strides where the likes of Bashir Yusuf and others reached out to Christians and Christians also paid back the kind gesture by shielding Muslims while praying during the protests. Lagos was exemplary, a total lockdown was witnessed, men and women of all nomenclature trooped out. South western states were agog and played their own part massively. The lessons for NLC to learn are, Nigerians out of patriotism sacrificed; without aforementioned coordination OccupyNigeria advanced. OccupyNigeria without a headquarter, without a singular leader had a tattered legion that had the guts to all embraces each other and challenge the Government.
In some quarters NLC claimed to have called off the strike of January 2012 because of the security situation in the country. Before the strike the security condition was already awful, the Federal Government increased the Pump prices amidst the bad security situation, then why attribute calling off the strike because of security reasons?
Unionists were instrumental towards the attainment of our independence, and also in building Nigeria. NLC already has a written roadmap, implementation is what is required. NLC should be a grandiose alliance that Nigerians will look up to for the emancipation and defense of Nigerians; instead it has become a nuisance fraternity. During the reign of Olusegun Obasanjo, subsidy was removed on Automotive Gas Oil (A.G.O, Gas diesel) and Low Pour Fuel Oil (LPFO, black oil) and the proceeds of the saved money was to be used in renovating our refineries till date our refineries lay in redundancy state. NLC was part of that negotiation with President Obasanjo which resulted into a closedown of factories because the factories could not sustain the cost of AGO and LPFO and affiliates members of NLC were laid off. NLC membership twirl on all endeavors, NLC has the asset to ascertain all Government spending, and follow up on true state of policy implementation, but NLC would not.
The Government has in the past tried to crush a united trade union, and still intends to hit the sledge hammer on them. While NLC stand at akimbo, currently there are moves to pass Bill on stopping NLC from any strike action, it’s a matter of time politicians in government will find a path to legislate laws that will subdue NLC. Come May 1st workers day, the NLC will celebrate workers day, an avenue for labour leaders to meet Politicians and demand stipends. May Day is supposed to be a day NLC reorganizes, and restrategize. “….first remove the plank out of your own eyes, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Mathew 7:5)” NLC is in the position to catalyst a new Nigeria, the pain of our past heroes shall never be in vain. Treachery at the helms of NLC is a stumbling block for NLC to attain its giant statue, Names like Omar Wahab, Peter Esele, and Pascal Bafyau will hardly be remembered. But with or without NLC Nigeria will forge ahead, with an army of enlightened citizens ready to OccupyNigeria Long live the federal Republic of Nigeria.