The leader of a faction of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Joe Ajaero, who formed a parallel executive barely a week after the first election of the congress produced another candidate, has said that he took the decision to reclaim his “stolen mandate.”
Mr. Ajaero, the General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees, emerged “President of the NLC” at the end of a “special delegates conference” held in Lagos.
The “election”, in which all the candidates were returned unopposed, also saw the emergence of two Deputy Presidents – the National President of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, Igwe Achese, and General Secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, Issa Aremu.
Also returned as Vice-Presidents were Kasumu Kadiri of the Steel and Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria; Kelly Ogbaloi of the National Union of Shop and Distributive Employees, and Yashi Yahaya of the National Union of Civil Service Secretariat and Stenography.
The faction emerged barely a week after the NLC announced at the end of its rescheduled elections as part of the 11th annual conference that the National President, Medical and Health Workers of Nigeria, Ayuba Wabba, was elected its new National President.
Mr. Wabba and members of the new executive, who were sworn-in immediately, have since Monday assumed office amid threats by 23 affiliate unions, led by Mr. Ajaero, to form a parallel executive within the week.
Though the General Secretary of the NLC, Peter Ozo-Eson, had, in a statement, declared the planned “special delegates conference,” scheduled for Lagos illegal and warned members of affiliate unions to ignore invitations to attend, its organizers still went ahead.
Initially, the group had scheduled the conference for Saturday, March 21, 2015. However, PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the schedule had to be altered at the last minute and the date shifted forward to Thursday, apparently to forestall any attempt to disrupt the exercise by the main labour movement.
Interestingly, other officials who were returned unopposed during the disputed rescheduled elections on March 12, who were already inaugurated along with the Wabba-led National Executive, were also named for various offices in the parallel group.
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES via telephone on Friday, Mr. Ajaero was emphatic that he was robbed of victory during the rescheduled poll on March 12.
“In the election of March 12, 2015, I emerged as the President of NLC, despite all manipulations,” he declared. “We had to set up a parallel executive to reclaim my stolen mandate.”
Despite the announcement on Thursday by the NLC General Secretary, Mr. Ozo-Eson, that the National Administrative Council of the Congress had set up a reconciliation committee to attempt to woo aggrieved unions back to the fold, Mr. Ajaero dismissed it as unacceptable.
“We are not aware of any such arrangement,” he said. “We are yet to know who set up the committee and for what purpose. If someone stole your mandate and he is setting up a committee to reconcile with you, does he have what it takes to invite me before any such committee?”
Asked what the emergence of his executive portends for the labour movement in Nigeria, Mr. Ajaero said: “If the unions were set up to fight injustice and they are now perpetrating injustice, what do you expect?”
The electoral process, he said, was manipulated to favour certain interests, pointing out that “delegates from the South-East, South-South and South-West zone in most of the unions were denied access to the venue of the elections.”
Besides, he said when delegates from other unions, like the Pensions Union, were eventually allowed entrance to the Eagle Square venue of the election, most of them, particularly those from Lagos, were stopped and their tags retrieved and given to other people from other areas to vote.
He claimed that after voting, prior to the sorting, it was clear he had received the highest number of votes cast.
According to him, though his polling agents wanted his votes to be counted first, the organizers thought otherwise and insisted it should be the last.
“That was the period they (organizers) started deploying soldiers and police to the venue,” he said. “Counting was delayed till night when light went off suddenly.
“But, as the General Secretary of electricity workers union, the report I got was that there was no outage, but an act planned within the precinct of Eagle Square.”
Within the period the light went off, Mr. Ajaero said his polling agent was attacked.
“The agent, who was attacked slumped while counting was still going on,” he alleged. “When he was taken off, counting continued without any replacement, till the result was announced. That result cannot be acceptable to me.”
On why he did not take the option of going to court, rather than setting up a parallel executive, Mr. Ajaero said, “That was never an option where it was clear the mandate was stolen.”
With the emergence of the Ajaero faction, the NLC has effectively been split into two, Mr. Wabba claiming loyalty of 18 of the 43 affiliate unions. Two unions, whose representatives were returned unopposed have so far opted to sit on the fence.