Nigerian Labour Movement: Something is Terribly Wrong


Aliyu Aliyu

The happenings in the labour movement in our dearest country Nigeria never cease to amaze me. Sometimes I feel it should be called drama movement instead, because they have proved themselves beyond reasonable doubt to be one of the principal actors in this tragic comedy called Nigeria.

My idea of a labour movement is an economic grouping of the class which has been created for the sole purpose of guarding and amplifying workers rights under a given slave system. The labour movement in other parts of the world champion workers rights, defends their interests and safeguards them from insensitive government policies and the cruel capitalist tendencies of other employers of labour.

But in our beloved country Nigeria,  this as with other annoying happenings is a different case entirley.  The often violent antagonisms and contradictions within the labour movement on one hand are higher and unusually more important than that against the government and other employers of labour on the other hand. If this is true you will agree with me that there is a high level of enthropy, confusion and disorganization in the Nigerian labour movement.

To this effect, I was not surprised but highly disappointed when I read in the dailies about two odd weeks ago that the celebrated labour leader and incumbent governor of Edo State Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole berated the state chapters of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) for abandoning him during the struggle to reclaim his electoral mandate. He pointedly accused them of sellout by supporting his wrongly instated predecessor, stressing that the unions abandoned their duties for what he called A Pot of Porridge. He further stressed that while others where on the side of truth and interested in the struggle, the labour movement where he belonged was busy dining and wining with with persons believed to have stolen the peoples mandate. And instead of standing on the part of truth they were falling upon each other over the appointment of board director membership as well as receiving KIA cars as gifts. Ladies and gentlemen I present to you, the Nigerian Labour Movement.

What makes the situation very alarming is that if a very influential figure like Comrade Adams Oshiomhole who is celebrated as the most popular and longest serving labour leader in this country can complain of being deserted by the labour movement during his time of need then, it looks like the situation has already gone out of hand.

The painful  truth of the matter is that unless the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) shun their internal squabbles and come together under one banner they cannot pose a formidable opposition against the government and other employers of labour.

However there are various lessons to be learnt from key moments in the past when such internal rifts and problems have prevented the labour movement from exercising its rights and carrying out its primary functions.

One such moment was in 1949 when 21 Nigerian coal miners where unduly massacred by the colonial police at Enugu for peacefully demanding an increase in their wages and other conditions of service. The Nigerian Nationalist Movement which by then was among the few pressure groups close to a labour movement was badly fragmented along political and ethnic lines and could barely put up a reasonable fight against the government and other colonial elements.

Another case was in the 1970s when shortly after the formation of the second Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), several labour leaders and activists who were discontented for various reasons mainly due to conflicting  interests rather than ideology  protested vehemently . The disaffected leaders took their protest to the then military government of General Murtala Mohammed which then took  advantage of the protest. Using it as an excuse the military government  in its usual autocratic style dealt severly with the labour movement by instituting  a Commission of Inquiry into the affairs of the movement, it also denounced the new NLC and banned several labour leaders from further participation in the movement.

Another memorable spectacle was when the then civilian administration of former president Olusegun Obasanjo made a very calculated move by decentralizing the labour movement which it perceived as a threat to its democratic dictatorship. This carefully thought-out move was to decentralize the labour movement by creating another labour organization called the Trade Union Congress (TUC) . The move was welcomed with suspicion in various quarters and generally perceived to be a calculated move by the government to weaken and shake the labour movement to its very foundations. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has naturally opposed and disagreed with the NLC on various issues and have constantly sent a subliminal message to the NLC that this it is no more a one mans show.

If the history of the Nigerian Labour Movement is anything to go by, it has clearly shown that something has been terribly wrong from day one and the political equation which remains unbalanced is very simple, The Nigerian labour movement should come up with other creative ways to  confront the government other than strike. Without a serious opposition, the protection of workers rights will continue to remain illusive and the average Nigerian worker would continue to be a slave of the larger modern economy.