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Botched NLC 2015 elections: An eye witness account

The election, to usher in new leaders for the NLC was the highpoint of its 11th Delegates’ Conference and would have seen the Abdulwahed Omar…

The election, to usher in new leaders for the NLC was the highpoint of its 11th Delegates’ Conference and would have seen the Abdulwahed Omar led executive hand over to a new set of leaders.
Omar, together with his lieutenants, was sworn in on March 3, 2011 and even though his critics have consistently lampooned what they termed his “lukewarm” approach to issues as against the fiery manner by which his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole operated, he had constantly maintained that getting results was all that mattered and that no two people operate in a similar manner.
The conference, attended by 3, 119 delegates drawn from 43 affiliate unions, held from February 8 to February 11, 2015 at the International Conference Centre, Abuja and was the biggest in the history of  the congress. Delegates came from the 36 states of the federation and Abuja.
Over 13 posts were up for grabs but focus was primarily on who emerges president with Ayuba Wabba of the Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), Joe Ajaero of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and Igwe Achese of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers of Nigeria (NUPENG) gunning for the position.
In an unusual twist, Achese withdrew from contesting for the position, opting for the position of deputy president after the credentials committee had finished screening of contestants. In fact, it was on the day of election that he stepped down, telling his supporters to cast their votes for Ajaero. His decision to contest for the deputy president’s position was put up for vote before delegates and it sailed through.
This prompted Comrade Issa Aremu who was contesting the deputy president’s position to stage a walk-out, saying he would not accept the changing of the rules in the middle of the game. However, labour veterans intervened and were able to bring him back even though he refused to continue in the race. It is worthy of note that the NLC has three deputy presidents.
Also, President of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, Najeem Yasin who was disqualified by the screening committee for improper filling of form for the position of deputy president was given a waiver at the venue of the conference after a voice vote.
Even though delegates were bitterly divided prior to the commencement of voting, election started smoothly Wednesday by 8: 45 pm when out of respect for the aged, members of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) were allowed to cast their votes, before others followed in an alphabetical order.
 
Bitterly divided delegates
Part of the bitterness was the inability of the contestants to reach a consensus on the position of president. Those in the private sector had argued last December to be given the slot, claiming that the incumbent was from a public sector union; their plea wasn’t accepted.
Of the three, only Comrade Wabba is from a public sector union and was indeed the favourite to win the election, having aligned with the largest unions in a quid pro quo arrangement on the zoning of the positions up for grabs.
Also, some argued that the invitation of Muhammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the forthcoming general elections to the conference, politicised the event, further deepening the chasm amongst delegates.
Some aggrieved delegates accused the immediate past president of the NLC, Adams Oshiomhole, who paid for live television coverage of the programme of turning it to a political rally. Oshiomhole campaigned for votes for the APC and the Minister of Labour and Productivity Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, who was also at the event, spoke to delegates, urging them to vote for President Goodluck Jonathan.      
Tension reached a boiling point Wednesday afternoon during the presentation of the financial report, with water bottles and chairs hurled at perceived enemies. Achese had wanted to make a comment but a part of the delegates, largely from the civil service union, insisted the matter had been closed and was shouting him down. This did not go down well with NUPENG members who started using caps, plastic bottles and then chairs as projectiles against those shouting their president down.
At that stage, both Wabba and Ajaero appealed for calm, with Wabba urging his members and friendly unions to disregard any provocative attempts by those he said were “hired” to disrupt the process. On his part, Ajaero sang a union song, also calling for calm.  
 
Voting starts
Voting, in line with the tradition of prior delegates’ conferences should have started the second day which was a Tuesday but intrigues and high tension meant that the electoral committee (Credentials Committee) headed by the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) Comrade Nassir Fagge had to thread with caution and must be seen to have carried everyone along.   
At long last, it started Wednesday by 8: 45 pm and it was around the same time the next morning that the destruction of ballot boxes occurred after about 23 unions had cast their ballots and gone.  Over 400 NUEE members had cast their votes with no more than 11 left when one of them raised an alarm claiming that his ballot booklet had Ayuba Wabba in more than one place.
The way it was designed, each booklet contained separate sheets for each contestant and voters were expected to tick on a space provided for the candidate of their choice, tear it out and drop in designated boxes.
After one of theirs raised an alarm, NUEE members descended on the glass ballot boxes, breaking and scattering ballots cast, claiming that the process had been compromised.
Before the incident and despite the tension, the voting went on peacefully in a convivial atmosphere that most delegates who left Abuja early morning were even unaware of what happened until later in the day.
 
Accusations and counter-accusations
The Ayuba Wabba’s camp, aka The Redemption Group put the blame squarely on Joe Ajaero’s camp aka The Restoration Group. The Redemption Group in a press conference Friday said Ajaero was a sore loser who disrupted the process because he foresaw defeat.
Wabba, who read a prepared speech for the group said both Ajaero and Achese’s plan was “to destabilize the NLC by all means.”
According to him, “the whole issue began immediately after the release of the numbers of delegates allocated to each union as stipulated by the constitution. A group of union leaders led by comrade Joe Ajearo flew the kite of polarizing the NLC along ethnic and sectorial divide.
“When it was obvious that their strategies using the ethnicity and private/public sector dichotomy had failed, comrades Ajaero and Igwe Achese changed to blackmailing tactics and total destruction of not only Comrade Ayuba Wabba whom they perceived as the clog in the wheel of achieving their inordinate ambition but every individual they thought will not allow them to achieve their inordinate ambition.”
He explained that “in accordance with the constitution of the labour congress, the credentials committee is saddled with the responsibility of overseeing all that have to do with election including printing of ballot papers, supervision, collation and announcement of election results. Incidentally the president of NUEE and General Secretary of NUPENG are members of that committee which was chaired by the president of ASUU.
“My union has no representative in that committee. If there is allegation of malpractices or manipulation then the president of NUEE which is the union that produced Comrade Ajaero as a candidate and the general secretary of NUPENG that produced Comrade Igwe as one of the three contestants to the presidency of the NLC must have hands in the manipulation
“It is very unfortunate that Ajaero and Achese can be part of any group that will tarnish the image of NLC, an organization which they have benefited immensely from and also aspiring to lead.”
He said the redemption group, which comprises his union and over 23 other unions has resolved to adhere strictly with the provision of NLC’s constitution, calling on all unions to “remain calm and focused and to wait for directives from the leadership and constituted organs of the congress,” stressing that his group is ready for elections “any time, any day.”
On their part, Ajaero and Achese are calling for the dissolution of the Omar led NLC executive saying that Omar has lost the credibility to lead. Ajaero is currently a deputy president of the NLC with Achese serving as National Trustee of the NLC. Achese has threatened to go to court.
Ajaero who spoke to reporters Thursday evening at the premises of Bolton White Hotel, Abuja, venue of a National Administrative Council (NAC) meeting of the NLC after storming out of the meeting said he ceases to recognise Omar as NLC president, calling for the NLC’s General Secretary Comrade Peter Ozo-Eson, together with labour veterans to take over the mantle of leadership and conduct fresh elections.
He added that “it is difficult to believe that such things happen in the trade union movement, but it is equally to the glory of God that it was detected…it was not until when my people started voting that some of them each time they vote they come around to say ‘this booklet, we have seen two or three Ayuba Wabba, Ayuba Wabba, two, three, four, six, in one booklet and people can mark three of them together and then drop it in the box.”
 
Decision Day this Wednesday (National Executive Council, NEC Meeting)
In a bid to resolve the matter, the NLC will under the leadership of Abdulwahed Omar meet this Wednesday to fix a new date for the vote.
A statement from the Ozo-Eson Friday to reporters said “as painful as this unfortunate disruption is” the NLC is determined to work with all those concerned and the organs and friends of congress to find a way to resolve the impasse as quickly as possible and “without the current leadership exceeding the constitutionally mandated time limit of four years.”
The NLC is a dynamic organisation with clearly spelt out roles for each of its organs and even unwritten roles for its veterans and friends. Many believe that the current situation calls for this dynamism to be fully deployed for the congress to salvage its badly battered image and strong moral voice.

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