There was a time in this country when Organised Labour under the aegis of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) would sneeze and the country would shiver. I don’t know whether anybody noticed the NLC protest to the Villa last week. It was meant to draw the attention of the federal government to the hardship largely occasioned by the rising cost of living in the country. The protest, to say the least, did not achieve its desired impact and the government treated the Labour leaders with disdain. In a nutshell, it flopped. The NLC-TUC might have lost their relevance and now become a shadow of their active past.
The Organised Labour’s claim to represent Nigerians now seems untenable, because over the years, their leaders have used their office to get cozy with the authorities and to ride to power. So, trust is lost and mutual suspicion holds sway. The government understands the psychology of the labour activists, their antecedents and their rating among the people they claim to represent. As it is today, the Organised Labour is almost like an orphan, derided by their constituency and largely ignored by the authorities.
The immediate precursor to the NLC-TUC flip-flop can be traced to their inaction at a critical point in the nation’s history, the last being the removal of fuel subsidy and astronomical increase in the pump price of fuel to an unprecedented margin and, of course, the internal wrangling that led to a break-away faction. No doubt, the APC government held so much promise; they had a messianic message of delivering the country from bondage, only to end up hoisting hardship and poverty on the people without a whimper of complaints from the supposed defenders of the poor. The NLC-TUC fought the government to a standstill in 2012 over deregulation and removal of fuel subsidy. That same Organised Labour acquiesced sheepishly when the current government toed that same old line, leaving working class families, pensioners and the unemployed in frustration, anger and distress. Today, the minimum wage has been eroded by the massive devaluation of the naira and inequality between the rich and the poor has widened and Labour’s half-hearted call on the government to increase the minimum wage has fallen on deaf ears.
In addition to these woes, the government still has in place neo-liberal economic policies that are not pro-poor, and are neither progressive. Instead, it resorted to the old gimmick of tokenism and palliatives, with their N-power and N5,000 each for the poorest of the poor. These are not sustainable policies and surely cannot fix the nation’s poverty quagmire. The prices of fuel, gas, kerosene and diesel have also gone up, yet Labour did not interrogate or speak to issues that are germane to the survival of ordinary Nigerians.
NLC’s trajectory of resistance against anti-people policies is replete with many options—strike, dialogue, the downing of tools to street protests. Which of the offensives have Organised Labour deployed to press home their demands? When the NLC-TUC led their members to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki’s office last week, they demanded among others that the Senate should confirm the appointment of Ibrahim Magu as the EFCC chairman, in an attempt to align themselves to the anti-corruption posture of the government. Perhaps, they need a reputation manager to let them know that EFCC’s acting chairman’s confirmation is a political issue that should not concern the Organised Labour.
To add to the ineffectiveness of their protest against hardship, NLC-TUC had to be woken up from their docility mode by musicians, civil societies and social crusaders.
These “progressives” are gradually losing their rights to fight social and economic disorder in our country. Their old proactive, combative and vibrant mode of decades back is gone but its vestige is traceable to their leaders’ romance with government. If Oshiomole’s passive combat or secret romance could take him to Edo Government House, his successors could position themselves strategically to secure their political future. Who knows?
Therefore, the scornful attention NLC-TUC and their leaders received from the Presidency last week, the fact of the protest not resonating with the people, the eventual dumping of their 18-point agenda on Acting President Osinbajo and the inaction of the rest of us are indicators that Organised Labour has lost its essence. If they were relevant, government would have no choice than to listen to them, heed their call, act on their requests and reverse their obnoxious anti-people policies.
Labour can organise themselves in such a way that government would be forced to reckon with them and go to meet them on the street, instead of begging to see the acting president, while the later chose to see only 20 members. What happened to street protests and NLC’s negotiating skills of the past? How did they negotiate to get N18,000 minimum wage? Why does a lord-servant relationship now exist between government and Labour if some form of compromises did not take place along the line? Is it safe to say that the erstwhile opposition did help to organise and project Labour (which) is now miserable because their former allies are now sitting pretty in the Villa?