Comrade John Odah is the Executive Secretary, Organisation of Trade Unions in West Africa (OTUWA) and also former General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress. He spoke on the disputes in NLC. Here are the details as presented by MOSES JOHN.
What is your take on the crisis in NLC?
After the delegate conference of NLC there was a crisis, but recently some group that called themselves factional group of the NLC want to register themselves as a separate labour centre. I was very active in terms of monitoring the outcome of the election, and it was very unfortunate that some groups went and disrupt the outcome which was very transparent but those of you journalists that witnessed the election know very well those responsible for that.
The negative publicity that these events brought against the Labour movement in Nigeria is very sad and regrettable. The subsequent rescheduled election was done with the active participation of all the veterans that have played active roles in NLC in the past till date but for the vigilance of members and security agencies, those of you who are journalists also saw the attempts made to hijack the process all over again.
It was very unfortunate that our colleagues who lost the election refused to accept the verdict of the workers and if you are a democrat as you claim, you cannot just throw away an entire process because you have grievances but rather you can put yourself up for re-election at subsequent times. So the fact that our colleagues want or plans to go ahead to create a parallel labour centre after almost two years is not something we can go ahead to dance about.
What actually went wrong that brought the labour movement here?
As far as I am concerned, that seems to have always been the intention before even the election came to be, prior to the May Day celebration, Ajaero and Ayuba had signed an MoU that borders on the active participation of both groups in the celebration which was brokered by the members of reconciliation committee but it was not followed through and another celebration had to be done in Lagos as against the unified one planned earlier for Abuja.
But I think a point has to be made really that following the very concerted effort we made in 2004 and 2005 to stop President Obasanjo from balkanising the NLC and from liberalising the process of registering a center from the initial bill which states that two unions can form a federation and we made our case before the House of Reps and Senate that eventually arrived at a compromise of twelve unions. I do not think if our comrades did not refuse to be active participants because they were not in the leadership of their respective unions, then anybody who thinks they can come and dismantle the NLC as it is and attempt to make their efforts go down in futility will only be living in some illusion. This is because a lot of sweat and effort have been invested in the unity that we now currently enjoy. And in any case, if journalists can go and read the 2005 amendment bill, you will see that it is an exercise in futility.
Also If you see the copy of letter written by Ayuba and Kaigama to the minister of labour, you will see that it was explicitly stated there that by law, it is not possible to go and form another union from an existing one. So, I think they are aware of that development and the mere reason why they teamed up with a former union leader who is now a politician to create what Ayuba called “planting of unions without membership” in the transport sector, and balkanise the medical and health unions.
The Judicial Staff union took a long time before we could affiliate them in 2010 how much more attempting to create new unions that hardly has any membership and all this is happening because they are trying to get a fall back plan, should the law take its course against formation of a new union from an existing one.
Our comrades have refused to be patient because Comrade Ajaero is only just 50 years and his is a general secretary that does not have a stipulated tenure, so if you fail at an attempt to lead this year you can prepare better against the next election cycle instead of causing crisis in the movement.
What is the implication of this agitation against the Nigerian workers?
First it is creating an avoidable distraction and as such it is creating an alibi for Ayuba and his team. should he fail to fulfill his campaign promises. They can easily attribute that to the many distractions they have witnessed in their tenure.
Don’t you think the NLC can go to seek redress in courts to resolve this crisis, since you said they have violated a section of the constitution?
I am not sure that is what I said, I did say though that it is impossible, as reiterated by the TUC and NLC in the letter to the minister of labour, which they pointed at the labour law both the original and the 2005 amendment which says you cannot parade yourself as a union once you are not properly registered which is what the parallel union is currently doing by going about saying they are a United Labour Congress
Secondly I do not think it is the responsibility of the NLC to go to court to seek redress but instead there is an onus of responsibility on the ministry of labour to disallow the flagrant abuse of our laws until Comrade Ajaero’s union is properly registered and they can now shout to high heavens. I am saying this because Nigerians should not be furthered confused on the purported stance of the law in this situation and should also know it is illegality for our comrades parading themselves as a centre even when they have not been duly registered.
I also want to be quoted as saying that Nigerian workers deserve unity and this has been there since 1975 when the cemetery declaration that all the four centres decided to be unified and fuse into a single labour unit.
So therefore you comrades covering the labour beat, you need to keep reminding and sensitising Nigerians on the history of the NLC that if anyone comes around to claim that it was Obasanjo who brought about the current face of labor union then such person should be deemed ignorant of the true history of the union. As far as is documented, it was Murtala Muhammed that commissioned the reorganisation of industrial unions from nearly a thousand to just forty-two when people who lost out in the new labour union petitioned him.
This culminated with February 28, 1978 election in which Sunmonu emerged president of NLC in Ibadan. Anything else apart that established history is just mere fallacy and sheer display of ignorance. Over the years, the NLC have defended this position at the ILO and the freedom of Association committee, when people say that NLC is taking over by government, we say when government attempted to take control, but we took our movement back.
They did not even think Sunmonu was even going to win because Sunmonu has already risen to the level of senior staff and he has better prospects with his twin brother then in the ministry of works. So they at some point asked him to choose between his career and serving as President of NLC.