Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM




Many trade unionists and workers and change-seeking elements will look with dismay at the divisions that have opened within the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), particularly as they appear to be based on personalities rather than a genuine debate for which way forward for Labour.

The NLC concluded its 11th Delegate Conference on March 13, 2015 in Abuja after the earlier session held between February 8 and 12, 2015 became inconclusive amidst complaints and disputes by some industrial unions, including the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and National Union of Petroleum Employees of Nigeria (NUPENG), about irregularities in the ballot booklets that were to be used for the elections.

The March 12 to 14, 2015, continuation of the 11th Delegates Conference eventually produced Ayuba Wabba from the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) as the president of NLC with 1,695 votes while the runner-up, Joe Ajaero of NUEE, got 1,400 votes.

But the ‘second’ delegates’ conference has also become another subject of dispute, while indeed a third one is now looming – meaning that NLC faces the prospect of factionalization as had happened in the past.

The Joe Ajaero-led grouping, known as the ‘Restoration Group’ and reportedly comprising not less than 18 industrial unions, has rejected the outcome of the election and organised a Special Delegate Conference to elect a new leadership. Prominent in Joe Ajaero’s faction is Igwe Achese, the President of the National Union of Petroleum and National Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Issa Aremu, the General Secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN), both of whom lost the NLC Deputy Presidential positions. The group is claiming that the election which produced Ayuba Wabba as President was equally flawed and not credible.

The proceedings and disputed outcome of the just concluded Delegate Conference of the NLC is an unfortunate open manifestation of the growing degeneracy in the trade union movement. The trade union leaders have abandoned the very essence of the working class movement which is to advance and defend the economic and political interest of the poor working peoples, especially those organized in trade unions and operating under the umbrella of NLC. All the features of right-wing bourgeois politicking were eminent in the processes leading to the Delegate Conference. These include: the top-down undemocratic selection of the delegates by all the industrial unions; the monetization syndrome that solely determined the allocation of delegates to the affiliated unions by the NLC; the alleged ethnic configuration of delegates’ list of the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria and Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU); alleged mobilization of non-workers (non-union members) to vote; and the alleged bribing of delegate to influence votes by candidates. All this represents a serious backward slide in the central labour movement.

In the absence of full democratic control of trade unions by their members the use of remittances or contributions to the NLC to solely determined the allocation of delegates irrespective of the membership strength of the industrial unions and their participation at NLC activities, is dangerous as it can offer bourgeois politicians and indeed the state, easy means to take full control of the leadership of NLC. A much more democratic way of allocating delegates to the industrial unions should be by an open process that takes into account the financial contribution, membership strength and participation in pro-labour activities and struggles. Unfortunately the NLC, like many of its affiliated unions, currently seldom initiate or intervene in pro-labour activities with which to gauge the participation of its affiliates.

The selection of the delegates by the affiliated industrial unions was also undemocratic. The allocation of delegates ought to be proportional to the membership strength of different states where the unions have presence and the rank and file members in the states should elect the delegates that will represent the union. However the national leaders of all the industrial unions undemocratically selected their delegates that participated in the NLC Delegates’ Conference representing the different states of the federation, something which left it open to possible allocation of delegate slots to yes men.

In the run up to the delegates’ conference some trade unionists including the Abia state leaderships of the NLC and MHWUN held a protest where they accused the national leaderships of MHWUN and NCSU of using ethnic consideration as the basis for the selection of delegates. They alleged that about 90% of delegates of the two industrial unions were selected from the north while most states in the south had one delegate each despite having more members in the states like Lagos. If this allegation was true, it was the monstrous bureaucracy in trade unions that made it possible. It also reflects the alarming depth of the rot and ideological degeneration in the trade unions in Nigeria. Besides, Ayuba Wabba was accused of over staying his tenure by two years as the President of his union contrary to its constitution, a development which the Rivers State branch of the union challenged in court before the Delegates Conference took place.

More fundamentally is the fact that the current fallout of the NLC Delegate Conference is as a result of the obvious absence of fighting leadership in defence of the socio-economic and political interests of the working class. Casualization, contract staffing and other anti-labour practices have been largely left to flourish unchallenged. Before the NLC Delegate Conference little or no concrete intervention had been made by either of the factional labour leaders to secure full implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage which, while being actually a poverty wage, has not been fully implemented by governments at all levels as well as most private sector employers. Despite their statements in the last few days there is little hope that the new NLC leaders or the emerging factions will, unless they are faced with a rank and file movement, pursue negotiation and implementation of a new minimum wage that will take into account the growing rate of inflation. In the same vein, both factions before and after the Delegate Conference failed to state their position on the need for a working class political alternative especially given the fact that the Labour Party’ formed by the NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC), has become just one of the capitalist parties.

We hold that factionalising the NLC on the basis of an election outcome and without working class issues being clearly outlined can never be a means of building a trade union movement that represents the interests and aspirations of the working people. The NLC election which is supposed to be a means to an end has become an end in itself as far as many leaders are concerned.

We of the DSM appreciate the possible disposition of Joe Ajaero to provide a radical leadership for the NLC as demonstrated by the spirited struggle waged by Joe Ajaero and NUEE against the electricity privatisation in Nigeria. We hold that if the NLC had organised solidarity actions in support of the struggle the electricity privatisation might have been defeated. However, when they eventually backed off the struggle against privatisation, the NUEE leadership put up gallant and repeated struggle to ensure that most workers of the PHCN were paid their severance entitlements, something which the capitalist elements intentionally would like to avoid.

Nevertheless, we urge the Joe Ajaero led grouping wishing to call a “special delegate conference” not to go along this road that will lead to factionalisation of the NLC simply on the basis of a disputed election, and instead strive to build the NLC as a democratic and fighting platform with a working class economic and political alternative. There is nothing to stop individual unions or coalitions of unions waging campaigns and struggles that would both advance the interest of labour and be an example for other unions and unionists to follow. If this approach is accepted, we believe that the shortcomings of the 11th Delegates’ Conference can be avoided in future.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) demands the rebuilding of the trade union movement as a democratic movement with a fighting platform with the mandate to advance and defend the socio-economic and political interest of the working class, including building a mass based working class political party with a clear alternative different from the capitalist neo-liberal, anti-poor programs. Unless this is done there is a grave danger that Labour will be weakened at a time when the employers and state are preparing an austerity offensive against working people.

As well as striving to build a movement of rank and file union members, the DSM hereby calls on all the trade union leaders to commit themselves to working class issues and interests as a means of stopping the degeneration and starting rebuilding the trade union movement. This commitment should reflect in the:

  • Immediate action to strengthen the trade unions, aiming to unionise all workers; massive picketing of companies and industries engaging in casualization; etc.
  • Fixing and demanding a new national minimum wage as the current, too low, minimum wage of N18,000 has been severely eroded by inflation;
  • Fighting for the re-nationalisation of all public owned privatized companies;
  • Building of a genuine working class political alternative political platform armed with a program of public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under a working people democratic control to enable the country’s resources to be utilised in the interests of the mass not the profits of the few.
Segun Sango
DSM General Secretary