By NBF News

Nobody can bribe us to submission-NLC scribe
'Why we didn't down tool over Yar'Adua
Thursday, March 11 , 2010

John Odah

For those familiar with the Nigeria Labour Congress, (NLC) National Executive Council, NEC meeting, especially when contentious issues are at stake, last Thursday's meeting in Kaduna turned out to be one of the most peaceful NEC, meeting.

Not even the N500 million bribery allegation against the union leaders to allegedly lure them into supporting the government's proposed deregulation of the downstream oil sector proved any hard nut to crack.

Although, the bribery issue came up, as the President of the NLC, Comrade Abdulwahed Omar, mentioned it in his opening remarks, Daily Sun learnt that it did not take the union leaders much time before unanimously agreeing to approach the court to clear the union's name, even as it reiterated its earlier stance on its position on deregulation, which is 'No to deregulation.'

Speaking exclusively with Daily Sun shortly after the meeting, NLC's General Secretary, Comrade John Odah, disclosed that contrary to insinuations in some quarters, the NEC was summoned specifically on contentious issues surrounding the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, and to also discuss generally on the state of the nation.

He argued that NLC's participation on the Government Committee on Deregulation did not in any way mean that labour has accepted deregulation. Rather its participation was to ensure that all the conditions given by the union to the government before any deregulation could take place were properly marshalled. He added that labour was not in any way averse to dialogue, especially on issues that would have effect on the generality of the Nigerian masses.

On the allegation that NLC refused to speak up when it matters most especially on the political logjam in the country, Odah said:

'We spoke out. What the NLC refused to do was to do the bidding of some elements that wanted to rent us, rent the image and credibility of the NLC as a formidable nationalist organization to achieve their hidden political agenda.

'You see, in NLC's New Year message to workers and the masses, the President of congress, drew the attention of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and those in positions of authority not to allow the President's ill health to distract governance. He went beyond that by urging them to defend the provisions of the Constitution by ensuring that Nigerians and indeed, Nigeria as a nation, do not suffer as a result of the President's sickness.

'Secondly, the NLC President had while hosting the Swedish Ambassador to Nigeria sometime in January this year condemned President Yar'Adua's aides for creating the ground for the impasse. We believe that if the President had been properly counseled by his aides, he would have done the correct thing by properly transferring power to his deputy.'

The NLC's scribe said that the union did not spare the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from criticism because it believed that if the party were operating within the ideals of democratic philosophy, it ought to have a mechanism in place to check the excesses that was occasioned by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's long absence from his duty post: 'For that failure, we believe that the PDP has failed Nigeria and Nigerians and we have condemned that many times.

'So the allegation that we refused to speak out is absolutely a lie. We are aware that some people wanted us to join them to protest or to embark on a general strike. We have to weigh these options very carefully knowing that the NLC being a formidable organization does not have to wield its power carelessly in a very tensed and volatile situation that we found ourselves.

'We are conscious of the history of our struggle for democracy and we felt that we must not do anything that has the capacity to create anarchy or collapse of law and order which may possibly lead to military intervention.

'Remember that the army high command had to warn its officers not to take advantage of the situation to plan a coup. So we were afraid that if we had called for a general strike and go ahead to protest, it would have created the situation some anti-democratic forces were waiting for to truncate our democracy.

'By the end of January when the crisis persisted, we had called a meeting of the National Administrative Council where it was decided that the Vice President should be vested with full Presidential powers. NAC also called on National Assembly to immediately amend the relevant provisions in the constitution which tended to create the confusion and ambiguity.

'The Central Working Committee, the second highest organ of the congress was to further deliberate on the issue and chart the strategies to achieve this objective when the National Assembly intervened and politically resolved the crisis.

'The point I'm trying to make is that the leadership of the NLC will never trade the integrity and capacity of the organization for personal fame. We discovered that some of the groups making the most noise during the impasse were being heavily sponsored. We are not mercenaries, the NLC is not an organization which anyone or group can wake up and manipulate or rent to achieve their motives. If we will act, we will do so on our own terms and which must be inspired and motivated purely by patriotism. We will not trade on the integrity of the NLC for personal recognition, popularity or power.'

Speaking on the bribery allegation, Odah said that those behind the allegation were bent on dragging the leadership of the union into dirty politics, which he noted had never been his lot and would never engag in it, no matter the level of provocation. He argued that those antics were normal, especially once the union was approaching an election year, adding that people use such allegations just to distract and paint the leadership in bad light for the purpose of putting it at a disadvantaged position before the elections:

'When asked by a journalist the other day about this bribery allegation, my response was simply that this kind of frivolous allegation sometimes happens shortly before election campaigns into elective positions in the NLC. In my more than 20 years in the employ of the congress, I can say this kind of antics result from labour politics.

'In the first place, I never spoke with the reporter. It is completely unethical to quote me copiously. I think that is crimina.l

'Essentially however, I see this bribery allegation as very unusual. Unusual because I see that it is against common sense for the government give bribe to us knowing our anti-deregulation posture. Are they saying that the bribe was given to the congress leadership to oppose deregulation? It is just cheap blackmail. In fact when we started the anti-deregulations rallies and protests mid last year, May 2009, the propaganda, then by the government, was that we were being funded by some vested interests in the oil sector that are benefiting from the regulated downstream sector.

'Now even just shortly after we restated our opposition to deregulation, the allegation or rumour of bribery is still being bandied around. So I think it is labour politics, because we have a fair idea of where the mud is being thrown from. But I will never get myself involved in dirty politics.

'Let me make the point that the NLC as of the moment is so democratically inclined that it would be stupid of any leader to collect money with the hope of manipulating the organs of the congress, it is impossible. Our affiliates know this Members of our organs know this as was displayed during the emergency NEC meeting here in Kaduna.

'We may engage in rigorous debates and deliberations but once a decision is reached, and usually based on superior arguments, it becomes the burden of every member the congress to enforce such decision. There is no room for anyone to impose his agenda on NLC. Perhaps, the most passionate request I wish to make to those behind the bribery allegation is for them to come out with more facts, convincing and reasonable facts that will prove that yes, the leadership of the congress was bribed. For now it makes no sense because, there is no indication, to the best of my knowledge that we will shift ground on our opposition to deregulation.'