Did Nigerians Reject NLC? | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Did Nigerians Reject NLC?

Posted: May 26, 2016 at 2:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)


 By Kingsley Ighomwenghian

And so, it came to pass that in the fifth month of the first year of President Muhammadu Buhari’s occupancy of the Aso Rock Villa, there was a call for a nationwide strike by the Nigerian Labour Congress and its sister- Trade Union Congress (TUC) that failed seemingly even before it took off.

This was very much unlike what it was in the days (1990s) of Chief Frank Ovie Kokori as General Secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Union (NUPENG) and Adams Aliu Oshiomhole (who later became President of the NLC and now outgoing Governor of Edo State), his counterpart at the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN).

Yours humbly recalls those days at “The African Guardian Magazine” during the struggle to compel the then Federal Military Government to validate (or is it de-annul) the result of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election believed to have been won by the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola.

The strike was so fierce that those of us that disobeyed labour’s stay-at-home order had to trek from The Guardian’s Rutam House head office near Oshodi in Lagos to our homes. That was the power of Labour as re-enacted a few other times during the eight-year stint of President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999 and 2003 and as recently as the #OccupyNigeria lockdown rally held in Ojota, Lagos.

Perhaps, basking in the euphoria of such supersonic past outings, Labour, indeed, sought to rally Nigerians against government’s plan to hike fuel price for the umpteenth time by “removing subsidy on petrol,” such that the price jumped from N86.50 to N145 (I hear two stations in Abuja are selling at N137 per litre, don’t ask me where).

But as William Butler Yeats wrote in his 1920 piece “The Second Coming”: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer,/ Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold,/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” a theme that also resonated in one of our own Chinua Achebe’s epic novels “Things Fall Apart,” Nigerians were not enthusiastic this time around. Is it that they ‘trust’ President Muhammadu Buhari, just tired of Labour or have become battle weary?

How do you explain that the Labour strike did not ignite as much fire as in the past, especially with some very strategic affiliates in the oil sector- NUPENG and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) expressing support for the removal of subsidy, following which their members would not participate in the strike?

That meant fuel stations were in business, there were no tanker drivers to block the roads and no long vehicles to tip sand on the Lagos Third Mainland Bridge.

Truth be told, many were not shocked when the NLC, last week, suspended the nationwide strike so as to resume dialogue with the Federal Government.

Did Labour’s strike action fail? I don’t think so. Is this to mean it is becoming irrelevant? I have no reason to believe so either, even as this is debatable on the streets of major towns across Nigeria, depending on the temperaments and leaning of whoever is arguing at that particular time. Why, for example, did it take Labour so long to decide on the strike, when at least two newspapers (including Independent) hinted, using banner headlines 48 hours before the eventual pronouncement of government’s plan?

Another rhetorical question in the analysis of the suspended (they are ever suspending ad infinitum. After all, the January 2012 was suspended, not cancelled) is: Nigerians need to know why the TUC pulled out. Was it a case of mutual distrust, non-belief in the latest cause, or what? Causing a division between the two Labour power houses, some say was FG’s masterstroke.

As I was putting this piece together, I came across this tweet by Gimba Kakanda (@gimbakakanda) “NLC suspending a strike over fuel price hike is like a known bachelor divorcing his wife (that he) never had in the first place.”

Reacting to the debacle on his facebook wall, Dr. Dele Omojuyigbe, journalist, journalism teacher, media critic/analyst, public affairs commentator and author per excellence, sympathised with the NLC on the “recent failed strike,” which he described as “the price of leadership” and “a big lesson.”

As if reading my mind, he put the discourse in perspective thus: “Nigerians have not rejected them (Labour) and cannot afford to reject them. But they rejected their open division and lackadaisical manner of direction. We reject a factious NLC with little show of dynamism and astuteness. They need to consult more and feel the pulse of the people on issues of concern before rolling out the tanks in battle.

Feeling just the pulse of the state NLC executive may give them a wrong signal. They have to work together to reclaim the trust of Nigerians. Definitely, we will need them soon, when this government fails (God forbid) to justify the confidence reposed in them by Nigerians, who understandably accepted the present, excruciating fuel price-hike.”

For the Federal Government, he says Nigerian may be licking their wound after the failed outing by Labour, by accepting the new price “grudgingly and are already making the sacrifice. But we are watching. NLC should come together, gird their loins and wait.

This sacrifice must not be in vain. We have planted and we must reap in due season. At that harvest time, there must be no tale. Our headache then should be how to carry our bountiful yield, otherwise, let the NLC roll up their sleeves, blow the bugle and we shall troop down the streets with them to chant “aluta”. But I have hope.”

Last line: It is over a year since the NLC election that split the group into factions in the days leading to Nigeria’s last Presidential poll: One led by Ayuba Waba and the other by Joe Ajaero, why has it become impossible for the past leaders of the group to reunite the factions? Is the current problem beyond Oshiomhole or his successor- Abdulwahid Omar? Or, are they culpable in the current crisis plaguing the labour centre? Just wondering…