Sunday, April 14, 2024

How NLC can regain its mojo


Even before the official commencement of the indefinite strike which it ordered its affiliates to embark upon, the Nigeria Labour Congress had called it off.

After it had extracted niggardly gains from the Federal Government, it suspended the strike. Though this looked disappointing to Nigerians and conjured a feeling of deja vu, it was savvy.

The NLC had to save face. And wisdom, a sage once opined, consists in knowing when to stop. For even though the strike was popular and it resonated with the Nigerian people, who are hurting as a consequence of the peremptory withdrawal of fuel subsidy by presidential fiat and without a prior plan by the government, the NLC declared a strike without the muscular and unwavering support of all its members and stakeholders.

The Organised Private Sector of Nigeria made up of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN; Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture, NACCIMA; Nigeria Employers Consultative Association, NECA; Nigeria Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, NASME; and Nigeria Association of Small Scale Industrialists, NASSI, was clarion in expressing reservations towards the strike.

It stated, “The view of the OPSN is that of deep concern, if not anxiety. As a matter of fact, the Organised Private Sector of Nigeria, OPSN, is reiterating its call on the Federal Government and Labour unions to work assiduously to avert the looming disruption of socio-economic activities in the country. The economic indicators are not good and simply put, the economy cannot afford a nation-wide strike at this time.”

The Federal Government was quick to latch onto the lukewarm attitude of some of the unions and the outright disclaimer of the OPSN to the strike to undermine the NLC.

In spite of the fact that its cause was right and it sufficiently appealed to Nigerians, the NLC did not run a tight ship. Neither did it enter the strike with the robust support of all its members and critical stakeholders.

If it was clever to suspend the strike, on account of its own failings, several matters seem to arise from the concessions it has extracted from the Federal Government.

If the palliatives it extracted are to extend to all cadres of federal workers – senior and junior – and for six months, what happens afterwards? Would the challenges arising from the removal of fuel subsidy take flight? Would the economy have suddenly improved to render the palliatives unnecessary?

Second, it would seem the palliatives narrowly apply, and only to Federal Government workers. What of their colleagues in the states? Will the palliatives devolve to them? Third, what happens to pensioners whose paltry monthly stipends are unaffected and who patronise the same markets as the federal workers?

“Once upon a time, the NLC was viewed as a formidable foe of dictatorial governments and the avatar and champion of the Nigerian people”

They appear to be glossed over in the scheme of things at a time when they are most vulnerable and some are buffeted by illnesses related to aging.

Fourthly, and most important in my view, what becomes of millions in the informal sector of the economy? Like the pensioners, they have been driven to the margins of this Faustian pact. Yet, whether we like it or not, they drive the Nigerian economy.

Fifth, what is in it for the Organised Private Sector of Nigeria? Little wonder, it was dubious about the strike right from its inception. But apart from the specious concessions which the NLC extracted, the umbrella of Organised Labour must put its house in order and recover the mojo and the luster which it has since lost.

For the past few decades, the NLC which used to be a formidable adversary and a thorn on the sides of anti-people governments has lost its way.

Rather than consult widely and enter strikes and disputes robustly and from a position of strength, it is hasty.

It scarcely lays premium on thorough engagements with its members and letting their ships sail in the same direction. This was evident in the latest strike in which a critical stakeholder such as the OPSN was singing a discordant tune – and doing so on the roof top.

Once upon a time, the NLC was viewed as a formidable foe of dictatorial governments and the avatar and champion of the Nigerian people.

Apart from being a vanguard for Nigerian workers, it aligned itself with the suffering Nigerian masses.

Alas, and especially during the last military dispensation, Labour made a volte face and an about turn. Instead of pitching its tent with the Nigerian people and advancing the cause of workers, its leadership worked in cahoots with the oppressors.

Strikes were cynically called or declared, not to improve the well-being of workers, but to serve as some sabre-rattling bargain measures to extract filthy lucre to feather the nests of the leadership.

Labour leaders morphed into aristocrats and held the workers with contempt. Labour apparatchiks and career staffers were exhorted to embrace “rational militancy”.

Compounding this is an inexplicable resort to short termism and a narrow world view.

For the nearly one academic session that the Academic Staff Union of Universities went on strike under the watch of President Muhammadu Buhari, hardly a whimper was heard from the NLC.

One would have thought that crucial matters such as education would pre-occupy it. That it would draw the ire of the NLC if clumsily handled and that such shabbiness would prompt it to call a nation-wide strike – a lofty action which would have been welcomed and embraced by Nigerians at the time. Regrettably, the NLC stood askance and lost.

Matters are also not helped by jettisoning a holistic approach to issues and not laying premium on international best practices and protocols.

What, for instance, are the minimum UN/AU/ECOWAS benchmarks Nigeria should invest or expend in critical areas such as health, education and infrastructure from its annual budget or GDP? These high-priority, top-notch issues are within the purview of the NLC. This is the more so because their unions are affiliated to it and these issues concern all Nigerians.

In addition, what interest rates should be charged by our financial institutions to enable businesses and manufacturing concerns to thrive, employ more workers and pay them living wages? In what ways, and by which percentage, can the government impose tariffs on imported goods to make locally produced versions competitive?

What pressure can the NLC exert on the Federal Government to address the vexed issue of power in order to make electricity available and affordable, thereby making our manufacturers produce cheaper and affordable goods?

Furthermore, and in this era of phantom palliatives in which billions of Naira are being voted out and reportedly deployed to succour or empower Nigerians, what has the NLC done to ensure that the templates used are rig-proof and that the palliatives reach the real and targeted beneficiaries?

These are concerns which the NLC should urgently address to put it into reckoning with Nigerians and to ultimately regain its mojo and relevance.

The times are dire and they call for vigilance by all and sundry.

Mercifully, the NLC has the resources and is blessed with thinkers and technocrats who can help galvanise and rebrand it for the challenges ahead. It should take advantage of its métier(s).

*Dazang, former Director of Voter Education at INEC, wrote from Abuja.

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