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12th NLC Congress: Long march or decent work?

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By Issa Aremu

NLC’s 12th National Qurdirall Delegates Conference started  Monday February 4, 2019 in Abuja with the pre-Conference  Central Working Committee, CWC, National Executive Council, NEC, meeting. The conference is scheduled to hold  from Tuesday 5 to Thursday 7 February 2019  at the International Conference centre, ICC, Abuja.

NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Waba (4l) flanked by other Labour leaders during the rally to create awareness on the new Minimum Wage for workers organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress at the Federal Capital territory, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida

Oshiomhole calls for united labour movement to confront challenges

The conference theme is:  Towards a Decade of Activism for the Promotion of Labour Unity, National Re-birth and Development.  An    estimated number of delegates is 675 drawn from 43 industrial unions affiliated to the NLC 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.

NLC , the largest labour centre in Africa

This notwithstanding, with estimated six-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 who will run the affairs of Congress in the next four years.  In attendance  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 President of 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 Muhammadu Buhari. Of the previous 11 delegates’ conferences from 1978 to 2011, three conferences were special confabs.

‘Special’ to the extent that, they were fall-outs of military disruption of independent and autonomous democratic union process: 1977/78 (Murtala/Obasanjo military regime); 1988 (IBB regime) and 1999 (Abdulsalami regime), following Abacha’s dissolution of the NLC executive in 1994. 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 the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC.

Precisely because yours comradely is 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 as 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, Internal Auditors, among others. Happily NLC leadership had learned from the chaos.

This commendable improvement on the electoral process of the Congress must be 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 organisations cannot organise their affairs unless they are controlled or made to do so by some big-brother governments and petty dictators. Comrades must avoid the pitfalls of exclusion which often undermine 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. NLC motto is: Labour Creates Wealth. Sadly labour’ s  wealth created is denied the working men and women as looted public funds by few ruling elite turned workers to working beggars amidst income poverty.

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 the 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.

Deepen organising efforts of unorganised workers

The challenge in the coming years is to deepen its organising 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 democratically elected Administrative Councils, it is self-evident that the NLC has come of age in democratic processes and experiences. Nigeria as a republic 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 Wabba has just emerged the first African unionist to head the largest global labour movement, ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation ). Union truly makes us strong! Forward ever, backward never!!

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