The Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress embarked on a nationwide strike from Tuesday November 14 and after the intervention of the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, called it off two days later. The reasons for the strike, according to the labour leaders, was the needless brutalisation of the NLC President, Joe Ajaero, and other labour leaders in Imo State on November 1 by people suspected to be agents of government who were averse to the mission of the labour leaders in the state; outstanding salary arrears owed Imo workers, unjust declaration of 11,000 workers in the state as ghost employees, unsettled gratuities, non-compliance with N30,000 minimum wage act, and declaration of 10,000 pensioners as ghost retirees.
While one might be tempted to view the labour leaders’ mission in Imo State as pristine, the underlying factors are what give them out as hypocrites who have politicised unionism to achieve parochial political interests.
It is believed in some quarters, and perhaps rightly so, that the timing of the actions of the labour leaders in Imo State was tailored to coincide with the November 11 governorship election in the State so as to discredit the incumbent, APC’s Senator Hope Uzodinma and shore up the ratings of Labour Party’s Senator Athan Achonu before the voting public. That seems to be the crux of the whole shenanigan by the labour leaders. The other issues surrounding workers’ welfare in the state were just a smokescreen which Ajaero and his cohorts deployed to suit their narratives and justify their actions.
This is so because the current leadership of NLC and TUC have paraded themselves unapologetically like a people in bed with the Labour Party since the run up to the last general elections till now. To them, any political party that is not Labour Party must be discredited in any state where they have any glimmer of hope of winning election especially in the southeast.
Their last mission to Imo State was certainly not in public interest but in Party interest. It was the basest politicisation and weaponisation of unionism in the history of our nation.
This is not to justify the unleashing of thugs to dehumanise anybody not to talk of leaders of unions as ubiquitous as the NLC and TUC. Such attacks only aggravate rather than alleviate issues. It should never have happened. It further widens the schism between government and workers and can be used as an excuse by workers to foreclose any form of dialogue with government. Such brutalisation belong in the stone age and should not be witnessed in our society governed by laws. Every citizen irrespective of their affiliations and views deserve government protection and where one is suspected to be going over the line, there are laid down procedures to rein in such a person rather than resort to self-help. Two wrongs do not make a right!
Having said that, it is pertinent to state that one wonders where Joe Ajaero and his team were when the governor of Abia State, Mr Alex Otti sacked about 10,000 workers in one fell swoop for no good reason other than that they were employed by the previous administration? The careers of many senior civil servants including Directors have been cut short with suspensions and forced retirements under cloudy circumstances. And even at that, Abia workers who escaped being sacked have had their salaries slashed significantly leading to several protests by pockets of workers in the state including a time they had to block the office of the State’s Accountant-General to drive home their points.
At some point, pensioners also had to cry out against the ill-treatment meted out to them by the Alex Otti’s administration.
In all of these, Joe Ajaero pretended like he was no longer the president of NLC and abdicated his responsibilities to Abia workers by turning blind eyes and deaf ears to the workers’ plight simply because Alex Otti runs a government of the Labour Party. To Ajaero and his team, Alex Otti’s inhuman treatments of workers cannot be challenged as long as the government is not run by the PDP or APC. To them, everything LP is perfect even if their members, the workers are being grossly shortchanged.
This practise of unionism by hypocrisy took a turn for the worse when Ajaero led his team to Imo State to protest against the governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma for alleged industrial breaches far less in magnitude and effect than those committed by Alex Otti in Abia State. The timing of the planned industrial action in Imo State on the eve of a crucial governorship election was a well planned but failed political move by leadership of the labour unions and the Labour Party which they have sympathy for to diminish Uzodinma’s ratings before the workers who form a critical mass of electorates in the state.
To further give credence to this shenanigan, Alex Otti had in the run up to the November 11 governorship election in Imo State brazenly ordered Senator Hope Uzodinma to prepare his handover note to the candidate of Labour Party, Senator Athan Achonu. His plans as the only governor of Labour Party in the entire country was clear: deploy the same strategy used in Abia for the Imo State election.
In the run up to the March 18 2023 governorship election in Abia, labour unions in the state were allegedly compromised and used by the Labour Party to instigate workers against the then state government led by the PDP, to discredit that administration so as to pave the way for the election of Labour Party’s Alex Otti.
The same strategy was planned for Imo State with Joe Ajaero appointed to lead the charge. Unfortunately for him, Imolites do not accept such extraneous interferences in their election processes. It did not end well for him and his team.
The subsequent nationwide strike action by NLC and TUC was just a face-saving measure by the unions. The other issues given as reasons for the action were mere appendages used to pull the wool over the people’s eyes.
Such politicisation of unionism in our clime should come to an end forthwith if the unions were to regain the kind of respect Nigerians had for them in the not-too-distant past having contributed in no small measure to the end of military dictatorship in Nigeria. Their value before Nigerians, it will seem to discerning Nigerians, has been on a consistent downward slide since the emergence of the Fourth Republic and Ajaero and other leaders of workers’ unions in the country have a lot of work to do to regain the confidence of the people as unions that truly represent and pursue the interests of Nigerian workers everywhere irrespective of party affiliation or such other parochial considerations. They must be consistent with their struggle and stop being selective with their fight to improve the overall welfare of workers. They must not be seen to be fighting for the welfare of workers in Imo State simply because a certain Hope Uzodinma of the APC is the Governor while they ignore an even worse plight of workers in Abia State simply because a certain Alex Otti of the Labour Party is the Governor.
NLC and TUC should respect the agelong saying that what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. Anything other than that is unionism by hypocrisy, and that will lead to a gradual driving of the nail into the coffins of the unions.
Jude Chijioke Ndukwe sent this piece from Abuja and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org