NLC'S ELECTION: INTRIGUES AS WORKERS GO TO THE POLLS
Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) will, from tomorrow, March 1 to 3, host Nigerian workers as they gather to hold the Delegate Conference of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to elect a new leadership that would run the congress for another four years.
The election of the congress is coming just a month before the national election, which has always been the trend since 1999 when Nigeria returned to democracy with President Olusegun Obasanjo. Then the NLC had elected, the Comrade Governor in Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, as the workers president a month earlier.
This time around, the NLC has decided to give the incumbent president, Comrade Abdulwahed Omar, a 'blanket ticket' to return for the second term. Omar was first elected president in February 2007. He took over from Comrade Oshiomhole and was a deputy president in the Oshiomhole-led executive as well as president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), an affiliate with more members than other unions.
However, before the congress came up with the list of the nominees early this month, some numbers of candidates had expressed opinion about contesting the post of the NLC president as some believed they could lead better in terms of advocacy.
The like of Comrade Joe Ajaero, the General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Comrade Samuel Adeoye, president, National Union of Civil Engineering, Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers (NUCEFWW) and Comrade Peter Adeyemi, General secretary, Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU), but as it is expected in politics, there were schemings and trade-offs with some players being assured of tickets in the alternative openings. But the arrangement, WorkForce gathered was not in tune with some of the stakeholders who had been left out of the caucus meeting that sealed Omar's candidacy.
'I was surprised the way a vocal candidate who had made everybody to know that he was challenging the incumbent president just chickened out, all because he has been assured of a position in the election,' he lamented. The major concern, however, is not in the return of Omar, but the perception of the affiliate unions on how the first term of the congress boss had been to determine the ticket for another term.
It is not out of contest that workers and other Nigerians have tried to see NLC under the incumbent president as more docile compared to the firebrand administration of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
But the NLC president in one of his interview with WorkForce said style of leadership differs, while success should be the yardstick, no matter the approach a leader might have been deployed.
His view was also corroborated by the congress deputy president, Comrade Peter Adeyemi, who said that the present regime though might not have acted as Nigerians expected, but has not been a failure all the same.
He enumerated the catalogue of success the present regime led by Omar has achieved which include the electoral system, and the agitation for the sack of Iwu, the deregulation of the oil sector, which the present government has allowed to remain at status quo as well as the minimum wage. 'The level of activism by labour depends on the situation we have in the country. If we have a government that is always shooting trouble, then labour will respond appropriately.
'But the government we have now respects labour and believe in dialogue, unlike the former government of President Obasanjo, who was always fomening trouble by increasing pump prices,' he said.
He said that labour hit the streets 11 times, during Obasanjo's government just in response to the increases in fuel prices, while there had never been any increase since the late President Yar'Adua and Jonathan Goodluck.
The president of the National Union of Shops and Distributive Employee (NUSDE), Comrade Kelly Ogbaloi also said that he did not see the return of Omar as unjustified as he had displayed during the first term a real sense of competence. 'We have two ways of approach to leadership, the shouting type and the quiet type who even in quietness still achieved, that is Omar.
'Comrade Omar has actually achieved as the NLC president and he is still very competent. The present government suspended action on deregulation because we mobilized against it,' he said. Comrade Ogbaloi said the battle for the payment of a new wage could also been seen to have been concluded, which he maintained was equally a track record of Omar. He also listed the struggle against the Union Bank as a rare feat, that has earned the labour leader respect and confidence among the members affiliates.
On the opinion that Omar might have gotten his ticket on regional sympathy, the NUSDE boss said the labour movement did not share such sentiment. 'In the community of labour, we are one and do not share in that dichotomy or devise currently being discussed. 'Though I do not rule out scheming which is normal in terms of election, but such scheming cannot be seen as North/South dichotomy,' he said.
The labour leader, however, said that as much the present administration could have been seen to have performed, much is still expected of the congress as a true representatives of the work force. He expressed that labour would have to give more voice to the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill, though not initiated by the congress.
'Likewise, the casualisation campaign should be more intensified and backed with action. The NLC must no longer allow our capitalist employers with their cronies in government to continue to trample on workers' rights,' he maintained. The General Secretary of National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Comrade Gideon Ogbuji said Omar as a teacher in his tenure has been able to teach affiliates tenets of democracy.
'We have seen the way he handled the case of the Union Bank, leading the picketing, the protest against Iwu, fuel deregulation, what else do we want from him?' he queried. Comrade Ogbuji emphasised that leadership differs, and the congress have been quite contented with the kind of leadership by Omar.
He also denied that Omar was considered for second term on ethnicity sentiment.
'There is nothing like that. if Omar fails in his responsibility, he can be removed. Those are the sentiment kite some people wants to play, but labour is indivisible, our unity is incontestable,' he said.