Indefinite Industrial Action: Can NLC Reinvent Itself, Now?

By Kingsley Anaroke

Indefinite Industrial Action: Can NLC Reinvent Itself, Now?

The nation’s seaport, airports and other important economic locations and terminals in public space are expected to be shut indefinitely beginning from Tuesday October 3,2023, to enforce the nationwide strike declared by the Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC) and the Trade Union Congress(TUC).

 This is a follow up to the 2-day warning strike earlier embarked upon by the unions on September 5 and 6 over  the failure of President Bola Tinubu administration’s to demonstrate commitment to implementing  a series of agreement and pledges which the government reneged on.

The Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria(MWUN) is upbeat about its mobilization strategy in compliance with NLC directives. According to its Deputy Secretary,Erazua Oniha, in a chat with MMS Plus, ”As an affiliate union of NLC, we are bound to comply with the directive of the union. We have sent out compliance notice to all our tiers of administration and directed that they mobilize forces in compliance with NLC directive of full and indefinite strike.”

In a press statement titled,“Phantom Fuel Subsidy Removal is Self-Serving Policy of Economic Slavery” issued by the United Action Front of Civil Society, a platform of civil society groups and activists on matters of governance and democracy in Nigeria, which has endorsed the indefinite  nationwide strike  jointly declared by NLC and the Trade Union Congress(TUC),the leadership of the organised civil society group called on all Nigerians to “Rally behind NLC and TUC in protest against the insensitivity and dubious politics of the Nigerian government, which has, so far, demonstrated total lack of comprehension and sensitivity to the economic challenges facing the country. We wish to reiterate that the inhuman policy of arbitrary hike in fuel price has further impoverished and pauperized millions of households, who were hitherto merely coping with meagre wages and incomes for their livelihoods.”

 The leadership of the United Action Front of Civil Society also enjoined all civil society leaders, activists, working people in the private and public sectors as well as all well- meaning Nigerians  to team up with them in rallying support for the success of the indefinite strike action declared by labour unions by making time to be part of the Civil Society Coordinating Centre charged to enforce citizens sit -at- home and total shut down of the Nigerian public space during the nationwide strike action called to save Nigeria; by pushing for living wages for the working people and better welfare conditions for Nigerians in the face of excruciating consequences of the exploitative and wrongheaded policies of government.

The Head, National Coordinating Centre, United Action Front of Civil Society, Olawale Okunniyi told MMS Plus that the strike is about pressurizing the Federal Government to revert to the old fuel pump price of  N168.00 arguing that there is no subsidy existing anywhere especially with the claims by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC)Limited that there is a running  crude oil swap deal between some designated importers and refineries abroad. He argued further the swap deal has automatically neutralized the purported subsidy cost, wondering why the government has refused to give a breakdown of how and who gets what in the subsidy sleaze.

As determined as the civil society groups are  to enforce this strike action, many Nigerians are playing caution with NLC and TUC, because over the years they demystified strike as a weapon of warfare that forces government down to negotiation table and spurring reforms.  Strike as a weapon of change and collective bargaining died when Comrade Adams Oshiomole was the President of NLC.  He was accused of barking in the media always in the day and dinning with the government in the night. He fought against government policies, declaring series of industrial actions that were very impotent because he would be seen hobnobbing with the government at night. Oshiomole killed labour unionism in Nigeria, is a seeming general belief.

 He was seen as a mistake in labour unionism because he is a core and unrepentant capitalist who lives that much with a fleet of expensive cars and a harem of women (?) instead of a exhibiting the socialist ideals he professes. His life as Edo State governor and utterances against the corporate integrity and beliefs of NLC after his governorship cast a serious spell on labour unionism in the country.

The eroding image and integrity of NLC got stretched more even with the coming of Comrade Ayuba Wabba, who could not successively stage any effective strike despite repeated attempts.     At this point, Nigerians totally lost confidence in labour unions and strike.  .

This presupposes that Comrade Joe Ajaero and his TUC counterparts have a tough hurdle to cross. Recall that they had planned a strike for Wednesday, August 2,2023 which was called off and subsequently had warning strike on the 5 and 6 of September,2023 which looked like a child’s play

 Therefore, the question remains: Can NLC reinvent itself with this planned indefinite industrial action?

Again, NLC and TUC always engage in negotiations with the Federal Government under the name of organized labour unions and their affiliates groups covering government and associated government companies and unionized establishments.  Who fights for the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) which employs more workforce put together than the labour force under the organized labour unions?   SMEs are usually the worst hit in government business-unfriendly policies.

Furthermore, the United Action Front of Civil Society in their statement added,”It is evident that the present government lacks the requisite wherewithal to fix the rots perpetrated by the immediate past government of the same party and may eventually end up worsening the situation. It is regrettable that rather than prioritise reduction in the costs of governance, the Tinubu administration is deliberately indulging in over-bloated appointments as typified by the appointment of the highest number of ministers and the largest cabinet yet in Nigeria history.

“It is also regrettable that the National Assembly which only recently arbitrarily allocated public funds to its members who embarked on recess has also increased the number of its standing committees, which would also translate into additional costs of governance in an economy where overwhelming majority of the masses could barely cope with the costs of living in Nigeria or afford one square meal. 

“The leadership of the United Action Front of the Civil Society therefore urges Nigerians across public and private sectors to rally support for the NLC and TUC in demanding living wages for the working people and improvement in the living conditions of Nigerians, while decrying the insensitivity and deceitful ploy of the Nigerian government to pauperise and enslave them and ensure the reversal of the suffocating policies of economic slavery in the name fuel subsidy removal. 

“Again, we wish to emphasise that the Tinubu administration cannot in good conscience insist on arbitrary fuel price hike while those who looted the national treasury in the name of subsidy are today being accorded red-carpet treatment all over the place. More disturbing is that the government appears determined to subject the citizens to more hardship with the prevailing abysmal exchange rate with consequences for higher inflation in the country. 

“To this end, the indefinite strike action declared by the NLC and TUC is therefore inevitable to save the country from impending upheaval as the harrowing economic situation may heighten self- help, insecurity and violent protests.

“It is deceitful for the government to have delayed the review of minimum wage considering that the present N30,000 monthly can no longer support an average Nigerian worker who, under the prevailing economic situation, has more than 3 dependants in addition to the immediate family. We call on the NLC and the TUC to remain resolute in defending the country against all forms of anti-masses policies that have foisted unmitigated poverty on millions of Nigerians and unprecedented unemployment and hardship in both the urban and rural communities.” They added.  

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