By Rotimi Fasan
The NLC has fallen into irrelevance in recent times and one can understand the urgency it feels, especially under a new president like Joe Ajaero, to register its presence among Nigerians and shore up its undesirable image as a union of time servers, people who are out only to protect their own interest while riding on the crest of popular discontent.
If they make good their threat to embark on a seven-day warning strike to protest against the removal of subsidy on premium motor spirit a.k.a petrol by the Bola Tinubu administration, members of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, should by this morning be on Nigerian streets. Following a failed attempt to meet with the government’s team at a resumed session to work out details of palliative measures aimed at ameliorating the harsh consequences of the removal of petrol subsidy, leaders of the union had vowed to lead their members out on a nationwide strike, beginning from today.
This is not the first time the NLC would be threatening to go on strike. It has for a few weeks now been trying to lead in the direction but for the lukewarm attitude of Nigerians who are obviously unhappy that previous strike actions had left them with nothing while labour leaders got into bed with the government of the day. A recent court declaration has also stopped Labour from embarking on any strike. Which means that should today’s action go ahead, Labour would be in contempt of that court’s judgement.
While labour leaders have at the beginning of this week been urging Nigerians in their usual way to stock up on foodstuff and other household commodities, their action in this regard looks more like scare-mongering than anything else. What’s possible, even probable, is that they would not go ahead with the strike. And if they do, they are far more likely to emerge from it with their fingers burnt than achieving anything praise-worthy.
The truth is that the NLC has developed an unhealthy appetite to raise the political temperature of the country in the name of fighting for workers’ welfare. At the end of the day, it is the union leaders’ welfare that is improved. They are no sooner locked in negotiation with government officials than they return singing from the same hymn book as the same people they had sworn to fight to finish.
In this present instance, it has to be said that the NLC President, Joe Ajaero, has for some time now been spoiling for battle with the Bola Tinubu-led government of the All Progressives Congress, APC. Ajaero who just can’t hide his bias for the Labour Party, LP, candidate in the last presidential election has been looking for any opportunity to lead Nigerian workers out in protest against the Tinubu government. While Peter Obi might have contested the presidential election on the LP platform, it was for him nothing more than a convenient platform to achieve his ambition to be president. The LP platform was a mere conveyor belt for Peter Obi and nothing more. There is hardly any affinity between the ideology of the NLC and the one propounded by Peter Obi before, during or after the campaigns. He is the most pro-market of the three leading candidates in the election. What then can be the reason for Ajaero’s warm support of this candidate and his apparent antipathy to the APC-led government?
It is on record that Mr. Ajaero earlier tried but failed to walk away from a planned meeting with Abuja that was meant to address the issues that followed the removal of the subsidy on petrol. The only reason the NLC went back to the negotiating table then was because the Trade Union Congress, TUC, refused to follow its lead but rather chose to go on with the negotiation with Abuja. So far, the Festus Osifo-led TUC has been more pragmatic and forward-looking in its response to the removal of petrol subsidy than Joe Ajaero and the NLC.
It has made concrete proposals of salary increment and offers that were alternatives to the ones proposed by government. It is demanding a N200,000 minimum wage, tax holidays for employees in both the public and private sector and subsidised transportation for workers, among other palliatives. What has the NLC proposed beyond Ajaero launching attacks at and spouting generalised condemnation of the government as insensitive to the plight of workers?
Nigerians are going through really tough times- some of the toughest in the nation’s history. It would be foolish for anyone or union to hold a president and the administration he leads that is only two months old in office responsible for the plight of Nigerians. The challenges facing the country right now were a long time in the making and preceded any removal of subsidy that the Tinubu-led government has done. In view of the fact that all but two or so of the political parties that contested the last election promised to remove the subsidy on petrol, should tell us that Tinubu’s rivals in the contest for the presidency would not have done anything different from what Tinubu has done.
The possibility is that they could have done worse and all their supporters would have done in such circumstances would be to ask for more time before the measures put in place begin to yield positive result. We’ve been told by economic experts, even if we can’t take all their words for it, that the harsh policies being implemented now would yield good results in a few months’ time. But before then, steps ought to be taken to help Nigerians navigate the economic mines on the path to solvency.
In the interim, Nigerians would and could not be left totally exposed to the vagaries of the economic situation. Everyone and every organisation with a stake in the country ought to rise to the occasion and engage the present policy makers on the way forward. This is not the time for unnecessary posturing and exhibition of bias towards particular candidates in the name of activism.
The outcome of such will not be good on the Nigerian people. Where does the NLC expect Nigerians to get the money with which to buy the foodstuffs and household items they are to stock their homes with in the event of a strike? The same people who since last year have had their little savings confiscated and later devalued by a thoughtless cashless monetary policy? Where was the NLC when Nigerians went through the crucibles of grinding food inflation, fuel scarcity and an artificially-imposed cash scarcity?
The NLC has fallen into irrelevance in recent times and one can understand the urgency it feels, especially under a new president like Joe Ajaero, to register its presence among Nigerians and shore up its undesirable image as a union of time servers, people who are out only to protect their own interest while riding on the crest of popular discontent. Nigerians cannot afford any crippling strike as the NLC has promised to embark on. That’s bound to further take them down the slough of unbearable poverty.
Rotimi Fasan is a Public Policy Analyst.