The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is 40. It rolled out the drums to mark the anniversary. Its President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba and some of his predecessors have been speaking on how the Congress will remain relevant in fighting workers’ cause and holding those in power accountable. TOBA AGBOOLA reports
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has clocked 40 having been established in 1978. To mark the anniversary, it began a five-day event on Monday at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.
At the event, past and present presidents, secretaries and other officials, including workers relived some of the sad and happy moments of NLC.
It was a journey down memory lane as speaker after speaker took turns to reminisce. Not only that, the celebration offered a platform for the Congress to address the challenges facing workers and chart a new course for Labour movement.
First to mount the podium was its former President, Adams Oshiomhole, who also chaired the occasion. To him, the NLC has every reason to be happy with and celebrate its existence in the past 40 years.
He said the pioneer President, Alhaji Hassan Sumonu, laid a solid foundation for the labour movement. He said but for Sumonu, the labour movement would not be where it is.
Speaking on the delay in the emergence of a new national minimum wage, Oshiomhole insisted that what determines the quality of workers is not only the wages, but also the trust in the leadership that their interest is protected.
He called on the leadership of the Congress and other labour movements to not only improve on the skills of negotiation, but also strive to acquire political power.
NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, in a keynote address, said the NLC wanted to opportunity provided by the occasion to engage in self-examination of the past, the present and project into the future.
“We need to celebrate our modest achievements and learn from our mistakes. We need to know if we have adhered to or deviated from the fundamental principles of our organisation. In celebrating these achievements, we need to think of ways of reinvigorating, revitalising and transforming the organisation to a formidable one that can stand the test of time,” Wabba said.
He traced NLC history to 1974, following the Apena Cementary Declaration, where the leaders of the then four labour federations agreed to bury their political and ideological differences in favour of the formation of a united labour organisation called the NLC.
According to Wabba, “the understanding was implemented in 1975. But this development in the labour movement ran counter to the thinking of the then military regime of General Murtala Muhammed, who became uncomfortable with the remarkable achievement of the movement for the amiable resolution of differences within the working class movement. This auto-transformation of the movement outside the framework of government meant the growth of an organisation, which she will not be able to control”.
“Since our formation in 1973, we believe that the NLC has lived up to its mandate as a trade movement which is, the protection and defense of its members. We have also tried to play the role of an advocate for Nigerians, who demand that the economy of the country iproves and that politics is designed and practiced in order to contribute to the development of the country and its citizens.’’
Wabba said NLC’s struggles have been shaped by the continued division within the political and economic elite, which has delayed national development and harmed the material condition of citizens; massive looting of state resources by the political elite and its deployment in personal consumption.
He also said the polical elite had been hiding the balances in secret locations around the world, including the absence of formidable opposition political parties, which drew the labour movement into contentious battles with the states.
The announcement by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, that the Federal Government will announce a new national minimum wage in the fourth quarter of the year received applause and mixed feelings. Some participants said the new wage should come earlier than the announced date.
According to Ngige, the Federal Government would announce the new minimum wage before the end of third quarter which is September.
He added that in furtherance to the determination by the Federal Government to attain the decent work agenda, which involves opportunities for works that are productive and deliver a fair income, security in work place and social protection for families, there had been overtime, three minimum wage reviews and the tripartite committee on national minimum wage was set to review the minimum wage.
“Memoranda are being received from relevant bodies and persons to enable the determination of a new minimum wage for the nation. By the third quarter of this year, a new minimum wage will be announced for the country,” he said.
He appealed to workers for more time and understanding because the government wanted to ensure compliance by state governments. Thereafter, other union leaders took turn to address the workers.
The NLC at 40 Organising Committee Chairman, Comrade Peter Adeyemi, said the NLC from 1978 till date, has, like any human organisation, witnessed some trials and struggles.
He said on two occasions, its leadership had been dissolved by the military regimes of General Ibrahim Babangida, between March and December 1988, and General Sanni Abacha in 1994 untill Abacha’s demise in June 1998, when the union reclaimed its autonomy two months later in August 1999.
“In between, the Congress has encountered a number of challenges, gone into battles with the government and other employers and won some memorable victories for Nigerian workers in particular and the masses in general.
“Reaching our first 40 years is, therefore, an opportunity to celebrate. It is also an opportunity to reflect on decades of struggles, the impediments, the successes and to outline the immediate and medium-term challenges facing our movement as we march towards the golden jubilee of this Congress in another 10 years,” he said.
Adeyemi added that the objectives of the anniversary were to highlight Congress’ history and its accomplishments, reflect on the challenges facing the NLC and the wider labour movement and identify ways the challenges could be addressed and articulate an agenda for the Congress in the next 10 years as it marches towards its Golden Jubilee.
The former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Attahiru Jega, said workers deserved better than what had been offered to them by government.
Jega, who was the guest lecturer at the event, urged workers to participate in politics rathet than agitating for wage increase alone.
Speaking on the topic, “Labour, politics and governance in Nigeria”, the former Academic Staff Union of Universities’ (ASUU’s) President also urged workers to put pressure on elected leaders to be responsible and responsive to the needs and aspirations of the citizens.
According to Jega, workers must be mobilised to engage in electoral process to increase and improve the integrity of the process and contest on the platform of the working people’s parties.
A member of the NLC Central Working Committee, who is also the Secretary-General of the Textile Union, Comrade Issa Aremu, said the NLC remained the biggest labour centre in Nigeria and, indeed, in Africa with over seven million members organised and potential 40 million members.
He said the NLC with seven million worker – membership from 52 affiliate industrial unions, is the biggest independent free trade union movement in Africa, followed by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
He said the NLC can improve on its democratic heritage, if members avoid the pitfalls of exclusion, which often undermine unity and cohesion.
“In the years to come, all unionists must be united and stop divisive leadership tussles. At 40, NLC must put pressures on the likes of Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State to stop undermining union organisational and financial independence.
“The governor must withdraw the recent reported illegal anti-union stoppage of check-off dues to public unions in Kaduna State.
“The governor’s reported directive is reminiscent of colonial and military anti-union discredited and unsustainable decrees and measures aimed at undermining the unions. President Muhammadu Buhari must impress it on all governors to follow his commendable steps in bailing out the state workforce through payments of bail outs to the governors. He must also defend the 1999 Constitution with respect to labour matters. Labour issues are purely Federal exclusive issues not state affairs,” Aremu said.