Urging Ajaero To Heed Oshiomhole’s Warning To Wabba Against Turning Labour Activism To Hustling For “Bread And Butter”

By Isaac Asabor

To those that are deeply grounded in labour struggle in Nigeria, and to those that have been following the trend of events in the sector, it is no more news that Comrade (Gov.) Adams Oshiomhole, as his name was prefixedthen, in 2015, precisely when he was the governor of Edo State, excoriated the then outgoing Nigeria Labour Congress’ (NLC) president, Comrade Abdulwaheed Ibrahim Omar, and in the same vein warned hissuccessor, Comrade Ayuba Wabba against turning labour activism to hustling for “bread and butter”.

Given the foregoing, it is germane to recall that in the face of a post-election crisis within the congress that literarily tore its fabric, and thus split it into two factions, the former leader of the union and the governor or Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, at the time urged the congress’ new leadership to rebuild a unified labour force, and avoid “bread and butter” unionism. Thus, it is expedient to refresh memories in this context by saying that the leadership scrimmage that swayed the NLC at the time, particularly in 2016, and dawdled into the first quarter of 2017when the then General Secretary of National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Joe Ajaero and the President of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) Igwe Achese jointly announced theformation of a parallel labour Centre christened the United Labour Congress (ULC).

In his message to Wabba, Oshiomhole intoned his fear onhow the NLC lost its reputation and influence over the years, and urged the new leader to sidestep personal gains and drew the once-vibrant union back to almost an irrelevant state.

“It must be obvious to you by now, Mr. President, that the Nigerian Labour Movement, and in particular, the Congress, has lost a significant amount of prestige and influence in the eyes of the Nigerian working people and the Nigerian public at large,” Mr. Oshiomhole said.

He said many Nigerians, especially the working class, view the NLC as part of a system that tyrannizes them,and not one that provides adequate checks on the government.

He added, “The Nigeria people no longer see the congress as the ‘voice of the voiceless’, and a bulwark against socio-economic and political oppression and injustices in the polity. The congress is essentially viewed as either being complicit, or at best, indifferent to the cries of the working class people and the middle class citizens who are daily at the receiving end of an unjust social order.

For the NLC leadership to regain its influence, Oshiomhole said Wabba must see his unique role beyond mere “bread and butter”.

“It is against this backdrop that your leadership must see its historic role beyond the ‘bread and butter’ issues, to re-assert its independence, re-connect with grassroots workers…”

Ostensibly accentuating the impact of Mr. Wabba’s election, the former NLC President urged him to consider its concurrence with one of the direst periods in Nigeria’spolitical and economic history, and stressed the need for the new Congress leadership to sharpen its capacity to engage public and private institutions at all levels to provide the necessary checks and balances.

It will also be recalled that the outgoing leader of the NLCat the time, Mr. Omar, was accused by fellow unionists of performing below the expectations of both the workers and Nigerians.

Again, Comrade Joe Ajaero, now the current president of the NLC, and then the leader of electricity workers’ union, who contested and lost the union’s presidency to Comrade Wabba, accused Comrade Omar of failing in all areas during his tenure.

Apart from failing to address issues of the welfare of the workers, including casualization/contract of oil workers and implementation of minimum wage, Ajaero said the power and influence of the Congress to defend workers’ rights as well as being the vanguard of the poor and the oppressed in the country, diminished to its lowest level under Comrade Omar.

He said the immediate past leadership of the Congress lost focus, direction, discipline, sense of duty and commitment to the Nigerian workers and could not sustain the momentum of the extra ordinary achievements of the NLC under the Oshiomhole Presidency between 1999 and 2007.

In fact, the Omar-led NLC was accused of bungling the January 2012 nationwide protest against attempt by the Jonathan administration to remove fuel subsidy and increase the pump price of petrol.

Not only was Omar criticized by Comrade Ajaero, not a few Nigerians felt betrayed when the Congress called off the strike and abandoned innocent Nigerians to be killed by armed government security operatives.

Besides, the Omar leadership was also criticized over its handling of the Kriston-Lally housing scheme; a multibillion naira housing scandal in which thousands of workers who invested their savings, were at the time of the crisis not given homes or their money.

Against the foregoing backdrop, it is expedient to ask, did Oshiomhole really meant it when he intermittently embellish his advice with the phrase, “bread and butter?” It is easy to dismiss the words he chose to use in expressing himself at the occasion as being derogatory, baseless, especially because Oshiomhole was involved. However, that does not rule out the fact that he invariably spoke from experience, thus making not a few Nigerians conjecture that he also might had tasted the so-called “Bread and butter”.

In fact, as a writer and Journalist, I am highly convinced that Oshiomhole’s allusion to “Bread and Butter”, particularly when understood from the context of labour activism, unarguably explains the idiomatic expressing of hearing from the horse’s mouth. What does it really mean to hear from the horse’s mouth? To my understanding, if a piece of information comes from the horse's mouth, it comes directly from the person who knows best or knows most about it, and so I am sure what Oshiomhole’s said years back regarding “Bread and Butter” in labour movement is surely true.

Therefore, it is expedient to urge Ajaero and his co-comrades to eschew backing out from earlier planned or ongoing nationwide strike as recently been witnessed, particularly since he was in February this year elected as the national president of the NLC.

To anyone that has been following the trend of events as par labour unionism in Nigeria will agree with this writer that the level at which our dear comrades now romance with governments, particularly with the federal government is becoming mistrustful as not a few Nigerians raise eyebrow each time talks to resolve a planned or an ongoing strike commences. Aptly put, Nigerians always read meaning to that. The foregoing view cannot be farfetched as the issue is usually gossiped about, and discussed in hush-hush tone since it is usually a hot potato.

To my view, there is an urgent need for NLC to have a rethink concerning its modus operandi as it is crystal clear that it has diverged from the course of protecting the interest of workers and citizens in governance structure. Aptly put, its role is fast corroding. The well ricocheteddictum, “What affects one affects all”, which invariably is its signature tune amidst any given protest do not seem to apply anymore. NLC known for its dynamic, unfailing, gritty, dogged and absorbed social action has since turned out to be a lame duck.

The generational people-centric and socialist disposition of protecting the interests of workers and strongly advocating for living wages and general citizens’ welfare which NLC is reputed for is totally lost in recent times. NLC is now a shadow of itself, and a toothless bulldog.

In fact, gone are the days when the NLC was an effective forerunner of Nigerians’ struggle to be free from the stranglehold of oppressive leaders. In the days of yore, it could be relied on to rise up to the challenge of protecting the oppressed populace from the suffocating policies of the government. The foregoing view cannot in any way be pooh-poohed as it could be recalled that, at least on two occasions, the NLC was able to force the President Olusegun Obasanjo government to beat a retreat and reduce the jump in the prices of petroleum products.

Given the foregoing, it is germane to urge Ajaero to heed Oshiomhole’s warning to Wabba against turning labour activism to hustling for “Bread And Butter”

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