By Emmanuel Aziken
If anyone still thought of Nigeria’s organized Labour as a serious bunch, that idea would have evaporated after the promised strike action was called off last Monday without any of the demands being met!
Of course, many gave up on the present set of labour leaders long ago after they consistently kept mute in the face of the rapacious denigration of the working class in the country.
Your correspondent appropriately consigned the present set of labour leaders to the wrong side of history last year after they ate their vomit in their face-off with Dr Chris Ngige.
That was after Dr Ngige as minister of labour sufficiently rubbished labour by messing up Chief Frank Kokori in shifting him from his appointment as chairman of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF.
If for anything, Kokori is about the last of the veterans of labour leaders who espoused the interests of the working class. After sufficiently paying his dues including incarcerations and denials, he was appointed chairman of NSITF. However, for one reason or the other, Ngige denied him.
In a rare show of assertiveness, the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC vowed to uphold the dignity of one of their heroes and on May 8, 2019, blockaded Ngige’s Abuja residence as a show popular resistance.
Ngige, somehow, got out of his house and stood his ground against the president’s nomination of Kokori.
That action, by the way, again demonstrated the apparent lack of coordination that is very visible in the Buhari administration where appointees of government do as they like. It is in that atmosphere that we have seen agencies of government confront one another based on the nuances of their heads.
After Ngige got its way and shamed the NLC, there was a seeming hiatus as it was suggested that he would not be returned to the cabinet.
President Muhammadu Buhari apparently buoyed by Ngige’s disrespect for Labour brought him back to the same portfolio!
Of course, Buhari’s abhorrence for organized labour did not come today. In his first coming as a military leader, he sufficiently showed character in his fights against the unions.
The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA and the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ among other labour unions saw his lashes between 1984 and 1985.
For the joy of it, two journalists, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson were imprisoned for embarrassing his government though they published the truth!
Returning Dr Ngige to the cabinet despite the fact that the man did not evince political dexterity in massing votes for the All Progressives Congress, APC in his native Anambra State should have been a shock.
Returning him to the Ministry of Labour and Employment was a sufficient indication of the president’s disgust for labour.
However, what should puzzle every Nigerian was the fact that the NLC president, Mr Ayuba Wabba on September 9, 2019, congratulated Ngige on his reappointment saying:
“On behalf of my family and the NLC, I wish to congratulate you on your recent appointment by Mr President as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and your subsequent designation as the minister of labour and employment.”
At that point, your correspondent did not need any more evidence of the total betrayal of the working class by the Wabba led leadership of the NLC.
So, when the pump price of petrol was hiked last month, one did not expect any serious action from the NLC leadership. Rather than facing the issue at hand, Wabba relocated to Port-Harcourt to fight the local battle of the unions there while the rest of the country was seething!
Instead of engaging President Buhari on the issue, he preferred to go and engage Governor Nyesom Wike taking over the duty of the local Rivers State chapter of the NLC.
Till today, one has not heard Wabba directly address the president on the issue.
One reaction of the NLC leadership was a tepid claim to NAN on September 12 that the body would soon come out with a position on the hike in the cost of electricity and petrol.
Imagine the heck! That the NLC would SOON COME out with a position, meaning that it had no position.
Despite the resources available to it and the billions of naira accruing to it in check-off dues and other emoluments, organized labour still had to wait weeks to prepare a position and organize for a strike!
President Buhari could make the satire of comparing fuel prices between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, shows the serious disconnect between the administration and labour. It underlines the fact that labour has not for once been able to canvass the fact to Buhari that the N30,000 unimplemented minimum wage in Nigeria is a pittance to workers in Saudi Arabia.
After being sufficiently drained by the political leadership that has shown incompetence in steering the affairs of the nation, it is further rubbish for the leadership of the labour unions to give the pretence of bringing succour when they cannot offer one.
For Dr Ngige who has sufficiently cowed the NLC and TUC, it is one sign of accomplishment in the face of taunts of not having helped his party to any election victory in his native Anambra State.