NLC is celebrating 40 years. In your experience as a former General Secretary of the congress, how has the journey been?
It has been a story of struggle that has its ups and down; a story that Nigerian workers have had their moments of triumph, moments where they fought as if was hopeless and moments in which the resilience of the working people of this country showed clearly that as an organised force, we will continue to move from strengthen strength as long as we remained focused. From 1978 when we had the Summonu leadership of the NLC, there were those teething problems of a new organisation trying to wield together a coherent set of industrial unions under a coherent leadership. One of the major highlight of that era was the 1981 national minimum wage which the NLC got after a two day national strike and the May Day celebration, which prior to that, it was only on May 1, 1980 that the Balarabe Musa and the Abubakar Rimi led government of the PRP gave mayday as a public holiday. This was followed by the then progressive governors of the UPN and the NPP governors in the south east and the south west and Plateau. The following year, the Shagari administration, in order not to be outdone, granted May as a national public holiday. It is part of the struggle of the last 40 years that we now have May Day as a national holiday. Thereafter, you have the Ali Ciroma led administration which took over from Summonu in Enugu in February 1984 and faced two military government, the Buhari government and the Babangida government. This was the time when the military government was implementing the IMF structural adjustment Programme which made a whole lot of things to go up and the living condition of workers started coming down because government t was removing subsidy on social services. Increasing cost of education and health care. The Ciroma leadership fought it and stood with the students when in May 1986, the Ango Abdullahi leadership in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria called on police who came in and killed scores of students who were protesting the expulsion of their student leaders. The NLC wanted to carry out a national protest in solidarity with the students and the Babangida government g responded by closing down NLC offices in all the states and arresting Ciroma, Dr. Osunde who was the General Secretary, Stephen Oshidipe, the National Treasurer and Salihu Mohammed who then the Head of Information.
The intended action was to show the solidarity of the Nigerians workers with the students and all oppressed members of the Nigerian society. After that, the Babangida government used the seeming crisis between factions in the NLC not to recognize the reelection of Ciroma and imposed an administrator on the NLC in February 1988. He was there for 10 months and in December 1988, a new election was held and Pascal Bafyau became President of the NLC. Two years into his second term, the contradictions surrounding the annulment of Abiola’s election as President came, the Babangida government set aside and Shonekan who was the interim leader was also pushed aside by Abacha who became the maximum leader. One of the things Abacha did was to proscribe NUPENG, PENGASSAN and NLC. This was the case for four years until Abacha died in June 1998. The Abdulsalami government that took over unbanned the NLC and the congress was able to organise an election at the end of January 1999 that brought in the Adams Oshiomhole led leadership. Oshiomhole started by trying to regain some of the fame of the congress which had been brought down partly because of the leadership style of the past leaders before him and partly because of the viciousness of the military administration. In the eight years that Adams was President, the NLC had series of street battles with the Obasanjo administration over the government penchant for increasing at will, prices of petroleum products. In 2003/2004, it was so bad when the NLC called for a national strike, scores of Nigerians were killed. If Obasanjo was still a military head of state, he would have proscribed the NLC. What he then tried to do was to rush a law to the National Assembly to try to disorganised the NLC and remove from the NLC, the status of the only central Labour Organisation in the country. We went to the National Assembly and as a result of our advocacy, it was not possible for him to do exactly what he wanted. What he succeeded in doing was to scuttle the efforts to make the TUC join the NLC because we were in an advanced talks with them. The TUC was presented as a body that was going to checkmate the militancy of the NLC. But as history has shown over the last ten years, what we have tried to do was to reach out to the TUC to ensure that they didn’t do the bidding or what government had intended by amending the law to have them registered as a Labour Centre.
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