The lingering crisis facing the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC,
resulting into the creation of another faction, the United Labor
Congress, ULC, is a disturbing and unfortunate development.
It could be described as time bomb that will turn catastrophic
if it eventually explodes. In the current case in point, the parent
Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, is now factionalized with a new labour
union, the United Labor Congress, ULC, emerging. ULC opted out from
the main labour centre and has several affiliates, chief among which are
the powerful , National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers
Union, NUPENG, and the National Union of Electricity Workers, two
critical labour units, which at any point in time can be significant affiliates
and powerful allied to any parent union whether it is the old NLC or the
new ULC. ULC’s strategic partners are however endless as more and
more unions are reportedly being wooed day -by –day by the promoters,
Peter Ajaero and Igwe Agese who double as President and Deputy
President of the new body respectively. Though 18 industrial unions were
reported to be physically present at its unveiling, the new labour centre is
said to have more than 25 industrial unions and senior staff associations
affiliated to it. Among the affiliates listed are: ANAP Chemical and Non-
Metallic Products Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, CANMPSSAN,
Fitters Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, FISSAN, NUBIFIE, NUEE,
NUPENG, National Union of Shop and Distributive Employees, NUSDE,
Nigeria Union of Mine Workers, NUMW, Nigeria Union of Railway men,
NUR, Steel and Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria, SEWUN, Iron and
Steel Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, ISSSAN, Metal Products Senior
Staff Association of Nigeria, MEPROSSAN, Precision, Electrical and
Related Equipment Senior Staff Association, PRESESSA, and Academic
Staff Union of Research Institutions, ASURI. Before unveiling the new
body in Lagos, December, 17,2016, ULC President, Mr. Joe Ajaero told
the delegates that they were not contesting with anybody or faction, but
were engaging in a new path caused by what he described as exigency
of the moment. He however promised to work with other progressive
groups and organizations including unions to better the lots of workers
and ordinary Nigerians at the inauguration of the body. According to
him “we are ready to fight for the interest of workers in line with the
constitution of Nigeria” Corroborating Ajero’s inauguration remarks, ULC
deputy president, Igwe Achese, said it was sad that workers nationwide
have been abandoned to suffer without salaries. He accused the states, as
well as the federal government for the sufferings Nigerian workers were
going through in the country. “You ask where is labour when all these are
going on and you will not get a convincing answer. I believe we have a
responsibility to these workers. That is why we are here to celebrate the
beginning of a new hope for workers” he stated further. However flowing
from the concise remarks by the arrow heads, it is cork sure that a new
body has actually berthed. But the question to ask is why have a third
labor centre, in addition to the Nigeria labor Congress, NLC and the Trade
Union Congress, TUC? Is it that the new group will be better- off fighting
for the welfare of workers the way they have sounded? What then can be
the difference between the old NLC and the new group? But speaking on
the issue, the Secretary General of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Dr Peter
Ozo-Eson, accused the government of being the brain behind the Ajero
faction which has applied to be registered as a labor union. He said that it
was the federal government’s hidden support for the new United Labour
Congress, ULC, led by factional leaders, Joe Ajero, and Igwe Ajese that
led to its formation. According to him, the federal government plans to
weaken labour in order to promote anti-workers policies and engage in
untoward policies and programmes. In truth we agree with the school
of thought that there is government hand in the new labour centre. In
2005, President Olusegun Obasanjo perfected the plan to break the ranks
of the NLC by amending the Trade Union Act which resulted in the
formation of two centres in the country today, the NLC and TUC. Again
this is not different from the Obasanjo days as the present government
appears set to repeat former President Olusegun Obasanjo 2005 feat by
attempting to weaken the Ayuba Wabba strong labour force and bring
in the ULC through the back door. Though it is needless to ask what
this administration really wants or desire to achieve by supporting a
new labour centre, facts are there that for this administration to further
deregulate the petroleum sector, lay off workers and introduce though
economic policies, it needs first of all to break the ranks of labour, and
then create a puppet union/centre which it can influence to do its
biddings. True to type these occurrences are not new in the history of
the country. Time and again efforts have been put by new governments
to stifle labor, it does occur even in the states, local governments and in
the private sector. But with civility and democracy, it is noteworthy to
state that times are changing as labour is getting sophisticated and set
to defend its followers, just as the workers too are getting enlightened to
know their rights and are ready at every point to defend it and remove
any leader who compromises. For us, we see this time as most appropriate
for the Ayuba and Ajero groups to close ranks because workers interests
are better served under one unified centre, and not the other way round.
Factionalization of the NLC is not good for the country now as in time
past; the NLC has stood as the defender of the people in the face of harsh
government policies. Succinctly put, no anti -government movement in
the country ever succeeded without the support of the NLC, so it is time
to repeat that accomplishment .We therefore plead with meaningful and
respected Nigerians as well as past labour leaders to settle the rift between
the factions ; for it is so unfortunate that the NLC which everybody,
every government once dreaded as the voice of the voiceless will now
become a toothless bulldog. Imagine the suffering in the land today as
many workers are without salaries, with fuel subsidy withdrawal,
indiscriminate electricity tariff increase and many labor infractions by
this government which have wrecked untold hardships among the
people .For instance, the NLC declared a strike action against the general
suffering in the country and fuel price increase, which the other faction
declined to join. These are challenges inherent in the current crisis, when
labor does not speak with one voice but is divisive. Regrettably we see this
as government’s real hidden desire and agenda, a divided labor. For that
reason it is a task for the groups in this misunderstanding to continue to
imbibe the generally accepted and age- long slogan: ‘’United will stand,
divided we fall’’ because it will be to the benefit of Nigerian workers
and a sense of honor and patriotism on Ayuba, Ajero and Ajese ,to bury
their egos; their differences and allow common sense to prevail. This
is because a strong and formidable labour force is the bedrock for the
success of democracy and the rule of law in itself. There could be no better
time than now for the three dramatis personae, Ayuba Wabba, Joe Ajero
and Igwe Ajesse to strive to return the NLC to its old glorious days.
Efforts therefore should be redoubled by respected Nigerians especially
past notable labour leaders to settle the warring groups once and for all.