Opinion: It’s about time labour puts its house in order

by Issa Adamu


NLCNLC must obey its own rules! Workers who are ordinarily victims of casualization of terms of employment by dubious employers cannot afford the luxury of casualizing their own rules for electoral advantage.

The negative public reactions and commentaries that have trailed the inconclusive 11th Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Delegates Conference election on Thursday morning of February 12, 2015 constitute food for thought for comrades and activists of non-state civil society organisations, including me as vice-president of the congress.

Indeed, the editorial of THISDAY on February 22, 2015 entitled; “NLC And Its Disrupted Election” encapsulates the matter like this: “The inconclusive election is embarrassing. The Labour Congress needs to recover its focus fast.

The first lesson lies in the fact that the Nigerian public has legitimately shown that it can reward best practices with appreciation and sanction unacceptable behaviour with damnation. Ironically, the mass condemnation of the recent development flows from the love for labour as change agents.

The attendant negative commentaries following comrades-on-comrades near violence of the 12th of February conference mess are painful departure from the previous praises, accolades and appreciation when NLC had lived up to the best democratic practices in defence of the rights of workers and the public.

My phone and IPad in-boxes are full of unprintable adjectives following the discovery that the names of some candidates appeared in some of the ballot booklets in more than one and two places.

Paradoxically some un-complimentary adjectives comrades had used to describe the unacceptable televised images of some legislators of the Federal House of Representatives jumping fences to make a point. Happily, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, the outgoing President of NLC, has since apologised for the unusual conduct that was clearly not in labour character in recent times. Bjorn Beckman is a Swedish political economist and development scholar. He has published extensive original works on trade union performance and workers power in Nigeria.

According to him, “expressing dissent, organising alternative opinions, challenging those in power, and contesting for office are all central features of a democratic process.” His conclusion is that trade unions in Nigeria have passed all these democratic tests.  In a country in which parties and party formations were once long prohibited by the military, only trade unions have been vehicles for democratic expression at work places and larger society.

Unions had held periodic elections, removed elected leaders and routinely re-elected new ones at a time it was unpopular to do so in the larger society. I recall with nostalgia that in February 2003, NLC under Comrade Adams Oshiomhole successfully organised its 8th Delegates’ Conference. Also in February 2007 and 2011, NLC successfully held 9th and 10th quadrennial delegates’ elections respectively.

It is remarkable that NLC has inaugurated 10-elected executive leadership in the past 37 years of its formation (NLC came into being in 1978!).  Past Congress delegates’ conferences were adjudged as the most democratic in international labour movement; the whole day devoted to discussions on motions submitted by affiliate industrial unions on issues of world of work and society (job-creation and job retention, education and health, HIV, women participation and non- labour issues like democratisation in Africa and US-Iraq war, privatisation etc.) Few hours were spent on elections of officers that were mostly unopposed. No party convention in Nigeria was as organised.

What then went wrong with the 11th Delegates Conference of NLC held between Monday 9th to Wednesday 11th February 2015 at International Conference Centre, Abuja? The Conference had three stages namely: opening ceremony, business sessions featuring critical issues such as reports by Conference committees, debates on motions and National Executive Council (NEC). Notwithstanding the scandalous crisis of inconclusive elections, the 11th Delegates Conference was still remarkable.

The conference had a colourful opening ceremony on Monday February 9, 2015 attended by the 3,119 delegates drawn from the 42 industrial unions affiliated to NLC, a good number of observers, international guests and other local and international invited guests. It was the highest in terms of number of delegates in the history of the Congress.

There were also notable labour veterans; former President of NLC and governor of Edo State, Comrade Oshiomhole; the founding President of NLC, Alhaji Hassan Sumonu; founding General Secretary, Comrade Aliyu Dangiwa; former President of NLC, Comrade Ali Chiroma; the employers association represented by the Director General, Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Mr. Oshinowo and international guests from Ghana TUC, Kenya, Brazil, Cuba, Organisation of Africa Trade Union’s Unity (OATUU), International Trade Union Congress (ITUC), UK, ITUC Africa represented by the General Secretary, Kwasi Amankwah, International Trade Union Confederation, Brussels and representative of Director General ILO, diplomats among others.

Past elections were successful because NLC strictly adhered to its constitutional provisions with watertight rules guiding election nominations, clearance of candidates by its Credential Committee, early preparation and transparent balloting processes supervised by its veterans and international friends. The recent failed election is a product of a departure from time-honoured rules and conventions.

The sudden and unprecedented casualization of rules guiding elections and open-ended self-serving interpretation of the constitution of the recent weeks is totally alien to the NLC. The NLC Constitution provides time limit for two critical issues in relation to the Delegates Conference namely: Cut-off date for dues payment for the purposes of computation of delegates (Article 6) and Nomination for Election of National Officers of the Congress (Article 29(1).

Constitutionally the list of contestants duly cleared for NLC Delegates Conference Elections released by the Conference Credentials Committee chaired by Dr. Nasir Fagge Isa, who is also President of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and adopted by Congress-in-Session ought to be the appropriate and only list of contestants for the elective offices at Delegates Conference.

There were legitimate appeals by some unions whose candidates were disqualified by the Credentials Committee for non-compliance with Article 29(1) of the NLC Constitution dealing with nominations for elective offices.

The pros and cons had been debated by the NLC organs, namely NAC, CWC, and NEC and conclusively found untenable. Reopening nominations during Congress-in-Session, fuelled suspicion about foul play as uncleared names already featured on ballot papers while the challenge of hurriedly printed new ballot papers resulted in sharp practices corrupting the entire process. The crisis of confidence was a logical outcome of abandonment of the rules.

The lesson; NLC must obey its own rules! Workers who are ordinarily victims of casualization of terms of employment by dubious employers cannot afford the luxury of casualizing their own rules for electoral advantage. The recent development is highly regrettable coming from the biggest labour centre in Africa. The good news is that NLC has re-strategised and resolved to put the past behind as a united and indivisible movement and free and fair elections based on transparent rules on Thursday March 12, 2015.  Kudos to labour veterans, delegates and all those who have intervened to resolve the crisis.


Issa Aremu is the Vice-President of Nigeria Labour Congress.

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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