Amid a post-election crisis that has split Nigeria’s main labour movement, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, a former leader of the union and current governor or Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, has urged its new leadership to rebuild a cohesive labour force, and avoid “bread and butter” unionism.
Mr. Oshiomhole, acknowledged as one of the most successful labour leaders in Nigeria’s history, seized the opportunity of congratulating Ayuba Wabba, who was elected last week as the new president of the NLC, to deliver pot-shots at the outgoing leader of the union, Abdulwahid Omar.
Mr. Omar succeeded Mr. Oshiomhole as NLC president in 2007.
In his message to Mr. Wabba, Mr. Oshiomhole expressed concern over how the NLC has lost its prestige and influence in recent years, and urged the new leader to avoid personal gains and reposition the once-vibrant union.
“It must be obvious to you by now, Comrade President, that the Nigerian Labour Movement, and in particular, the Congress, has lost a significant amount of prestige and influence in the eyes of the Nigerian working people and the Nigerian public at large,” Mr. Oshiomhole said.
He said many Nigerians, especially the working class, view the NLC as part of a system that oppresses them and not one that provides adequate checks on the government.
“The Nigeria people no longer see the congress as the ‘voice of voiceless’, and a bulwark against socio-economic and political oppression and injustices in the polity. The congress is essentially viewed as either being complicit, or at best, indifferent to the cries of the working class people and the middle class citizens who are daily at the receiving end of an unjust social order.
For the NLC leadership to regain its influence, Mr. Oshiomhole said Mr. Wabba must see his unique role beyond mere “bread and butter”.
“It is against this backdrop that your leadership must see its historic role beyond the ‘bread and butter’ issues, to re-assert its independence, re-connect with grassroots workers…”
Underlining the significance of Mr. Wabba’s election, the former NLC President urged him to consider its coincidence with one of the most critical periods in Nigeria’s political and economic history.
He stressed the need for the new Congress leadership to sharpen its capacity to engage public and private institutions at all levels to provide the necessary checks and balances.
The outgoing leader of the NLC, Mr. Omar, has been accused by fellow unionists of performing below the expectations of both the workers and Nigerians.
Joe Ajaero, the leader of electricity workers’ union, who contested and lost the union’s presidency to Mr. Wabba, accused Mr. Omar of failing in all areas during his tenure in the last four years.
Apart from failing to address issues of the welfare of the workers, including casualization/contract of oil workers and implementation of minimum wage, Mr. Ajaero said the power and influence of the Congress to defend workers’ rights as well as being the vanguard of the poor and the oppressed in the country, diminished to its lowest level under Mr. Omar.
He said the immediate past leadership of the Congress lost focus, direction, discipline, sense of duty and commitment to the Nigerian workers and could not sustain the momentum of the extra ordinary achievements of the NLC under the Oshiomhole Presidency between 1999 and 2007.
The Omar-led NLC was accused of bungling the January 2012 nationwide protest against attempt by the Jonathan administration to remove fuel subsidy and increase the pump price of petrol.
Most Nigerians felt betrayed when the Congress called off the strike and abandoned innocent Nigerians to be killed by armed government security operatives.
The Omar leadership has also been criticised over its handling of the Kriston-Lally housing scheme, a multibillion naira housing scandal in which thousands of workers who invested their savings, have yet to be given homes or their money.