How NLC fell from its glorious perch of ‘people-centered’ activism

When it took the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) about three days to respond to the most recent hike in fuel, it only appeared to underpin what Nigerians regard as a foregone conclusion – and it is that they have become a subordinate arm of the government.

The formation of NLC, the foremost labour union in Nigeria, was hinged on the representation of the interests of the workers in the country to the government. As such, the essence of NLC lies in protecting the interests of its members which comprise virtually all workers – public and private – in the country. When issues arise that affect the welfare of workers in the country, NLC is expected to show up.

Since the inception of the fourth republic have accusatory fingers been pointed at the NLC leadership but the inefficiency of recent times seems to surpass accusations of the time past.

Two times in the space of three months has the government increased the cost of petrol yet the country is not at a standstill. In September, there was a threat of nationwide industrial action but a meeting between labour leaders and government representatives which lasted well into the midnight saw to the thwarting of the threat. 

Many workers were left wondering as to why the strike didn’t happen given that the fuel hike wasn’t reversed and the electricity tariff increment was only suspended for two weeks.

If they were wondering in September, they would have been dumbstruck last Friday. Not a single public statement was issued by NLC in the wake of the increase. Despite public outcry against the government and petroleum regulatory bodies which expectedly graced front pages of print media in the country, it seemed NLC was in a deep sleep till the following week.

In the past decade, the only strike action that has made the government reverse its decree was Occupy Nigeria in 2012 and labour was not responsible for it. It was the collective frustration of people in the country which gave birth to the historic movement.

Now, the latest threat of strike issued to the government must have been met with a sarcastic scoff from workers because it is ostensible that nothing that emanates from the stable of NLC holds water. They are now seen as an unofficial agency of the government which kow-tows to the dictates of those at the helm.

Since the seamless transition of Adams Oshiomole from labour into politics which saw him become a two-time governor and chairman of the ruling party, the apex labour position has probably been seen as a stepping stone to the most rewarding career in the nation, with the former Edo governor becoming a sort of model.

With NLC now regarded as toothless, workers are fast coming to the reality that if it would win a war against the government for its severe policies, it would not come from the union supposed to represent them, perhaps from a movement similar to Occupy Nigeria.

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