In an illogical and poorly thought out reaction to the assault of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) President Comrade Joe Ajaero in Imo State, both the NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC) declared a nationwide strike. Undoubtedly, Ajaero’s assault in Imo was yet another demonstration that those in authority have little regard for anybody’s rights let alone those of Nigerian workers and their representatives. Be that as it may, the incident still did not justify calling a national strike.
The NLC president, along with his Trade Union Congress (TUC) counterpart were in Owerri, the Imo State capital, for a planned protest against the state government concerning alleged unpaid salaries and gratuities, unjust declaration of workers as “ghost workers” and refusal to implement previous agreements amongst others. Eye-witnesses claim that a team of armed policemen stormed the venue and arrested the NLC president as he was about to address a crowd. Ajaero himself alleged that after his arrest he was rough-handled, blindfolded and taken to an unknown destination where beatings continued.
Unfortunately, there is nothing new about such police behaviour. All is not well with the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) as they are notoriously ill-disciplined and brutal, and although evidence confirms the fact that Ajaero was brutalised, it is wrong to assume that the brutality was under specific instruction from the top brass. It has become standard operational procedure for police to brutalise whoever they please!
Calling for a national strike as a response only served to highlight the fact that the NLC and TUC have lost the essence of labour activism. If a strike was indeed necessary, it should logically have been limited to Imo State. Unsurprisingly, there was little public enthusiasm for a national strike which wasn’t related to minimum wage, pensions, casualization of labour, collapsed economy or anything that has negatively impacted the vast majority of Nigerian workers. In what can best be described as serial public relations disasters, many of the NLC’s planned “warning strikes” last longer than their impromptu “indefinite” strikes!
The NLC and TUC executive officers who are well-paid and enjoy the luxurious perks of office have been described as “selfish and political” players who are not people-oriented, but simply after their pockets and political relevance. Those who stand to lose the most and are at the receiving end of their erratic strikes are the same long-suffering Nigerian workers whose interests they are supposed to represent!
Inadvertently giving an insight into the federal government’s thoughts on the matter, Vice-President Shettima called for an end to the use of strikes as a means of expressing grievances against the government. Ignoring the fact that government is a major employer, he ignored and dismissed the only option left to unions when collective bargaining agreements are not honoured. He claimed that it is no longer “fashionable” to insist on confrontation as a tool for demanding improved welfare conditions for workers.
Although the vice-president said that the federal government is always ready to dialogue, he did not address the fact that they never seem to honour agreements resulting from such “dialogue”! Rather than honour agreements, they clandestinely obtain exparte court orders to restrain unions from striking. In a democracy, workers supposedly have the ability to improve their welfare through the ballot box.
Nigeria is a country blessed with human and material resources but trapped in underdevelopment and failing to realise its potential because of poor leadership. It is no surprise that long-suffering citizens are losing faith in the ballot box in particular and politicians in general. Today’s politicians act as if they owe the people nothing and the people owe them everything! Despite widespread misery and the rot in our institutions, they behave as if someone assured them that there will be no consequence or retribution for their actions no matter how ill-conceived, unethical, immoral or unconstitutional they are!
A government spokesperson claimed that the strike was an attempt to “blackmail” government, whereas the truth is that the NLC has aided government by not calling for an indefinite strike at the economic downturn caused by the removal of fuel subsidy thereby suppressing the initial rage.
There is no doubt that Nigerians urgently require change for the better. In the absence of compassionate political office holders the NLC used to be the beacon of hope of working Nigerians. Unfortunately, these days it fails to fulfill its role in ensuring fair wages, safe working conditions, and the welfare of workers, and fails to protect the interests of the people it was created to serve. Good administration is dependent upon people accepting responsibility for their mistakes. There is no point in union leaders pretending not to have made a mistake, then carrying on as if nobody saw the mistake, and hoping things will somehow improve by themselves.
Executive members of the NLC and TUC leadership are lending credence to the allegation that they are more concerned about their personal interests than those of Nigerian workers. The NLC and TUC leadership said their decision to strike had come as a “shock” to government. Although they deny allegations that they are always being “settled” to calm down, the question then arises; “if they did not benefit personally from the strike, then to whose benefit was it?” The obvious tragic answer is “nobody’s”, in which case they must admit their mistake, focus on their primary assignment and not lose the plot!