THE National Secretariat of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) early this week issued a query to the Chairperson of the Edo State Council of the NLC, Comrade Sunny Osayande, accusing him disobeying the directive suspending the nationwide strike and protest.
The query which was signed Comrade Emmanuel Ugboaja, General Secretary of NLC, also
accused Comrade Osayande, who is also a vice president of the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), of making comments that were disrespectful of the national leadership of the NLC.
When contacted by National Record in his office at the Paschal Bafyau Labour House, Abuja, on Friday, October 2, 2020, to comment on the matter Comrade Ugboaja quickly declined to comment.
Comrade Osayande however confirmed to our correspondent via telephone that he got the query to which he had already responded by apologising as they did not want him to talk. He however declined to make available to National Record either the query or his response, stating instead that he doesn’t “want to continue on this matter” as he has left it “to God Almighty.”
He said he is neither anybody’s problem nor against anyone and that as far as he is concerned, he only voiced the frustrations of Edo workers when he spoke to Channels TV. He stated that NLC is not a do-or-die affair and that he is contented with the role he is currently playing as Edo State Council chairperson of NLC and Vice President of MHWUN.
Comrade Osayande’s counterpart, the Edo State chairperson of the TUC, whose comments were more critical of the suspension, was however not queried, our findings indicate.
CWC on the query
Following the suspension of the strike, the Central Working Committee of the NLC met on Monday, September 2020, with the sole agenda of briefing affiliates on the outcome of the agreement between labour and government.
National Record gathered that at the emergency meeting, which held late in the evening of Monday due to failure to muster the required quorum at its scheduled 4pm opening, the comments and the disciplinary action to be meted to the Edo Chairperson was one of the issues deliberated on.
A reliable source at the NLC National secretariat in Abuja who pleaded anonymity as he was not authorised to speak on the matter told National Record that the “CWC did not meet the required quorum but still held anyway.” He said journalists who came to cover the meeting had to leave after 5pm when there were only a handful of CWC members which included NLC’s senior staff members.
While the NLC leadership had canvassed for the alleged infractions of Comrade Osayande to be handled by his union, MHWUN, many affiliate unions however insisted and prevailed on the CWC that the matter was not an affiliate affair but that of Congress and should therefore be dealt with by the national secretariat.
It was on the basis of resistance by the unions who attended, our correspondent gathered, that the General Secretary of Congress, Comrade Ugboaja, was directed to immediately issue and dispatch a query to Comrade Osayande.
National Record findings indicate that in the recent history of the NLC, Comrade Osayande is the second state council chairperson to have been issued a query for not immediately complying with a directive of the national leadership in suspending a nationwide strike.
The first was in 2012 when the then chairperson of Kano State Council of NLC, Comrade Isa Yunusa Danguguwa, was queried for failing to suspend popular action during the 2012 national uprising as workers in the state continued with their civil disobedience for three more days after the directive from the national leadership of NLC under Comrade Abdulwahed Omar as President.
Edo workers sad! Comrade Osayande
It will be recalled that following the suspension of the Monday, September 28, 2020 nationwide protest by the leadership of NLC and TUC after reaching agreement with the federal government on the night of Sunday, September 27, 2020 at a meeting held at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja, some state councils of the NLC and TUC still went ahead and held low-keyed rallies.
The states that held such rallies include Cross River, Edo, Lagos, Oyo, and Plateau, among others. However, none of the chairpersons of these state councils was queried leading to the assumption that Comrade Osayande’s query may not be unconnected with having come from MHWUN, where NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, also hails.
At the Edo State rally, both the NLC and TUC chairpersons expressed their disappointment over the manner in which the strike and protest were suspended without recourse to the relevant organs of the two centres
In his remark at the protest march in Benin City, which was covered by Channels Television, Comrade Osayande noted that Edo workers and their civil society allies were sad that the strike was called off after painstaking mobilisation of Edo citizens.
According to him, in the peak of the preparation, he got a text message at about midnight on the offers that had been made by the federal government and which had necessitated the suspension of the strike for two weeks.
“When I looked at what the federal government brought before labour, it was nothing, it was nothing!” Comrade Osayande said adding the offers made by the government and accepted by the leadership of organised labour were not satisfactory to the working class in Edo.
“I want to remind the national secretariat, the national leadership of organised labour at Abuja that we are not satisfied with the negotiation so far taking place in Abuja… Here in Edo, we are prepared because the suffering in Edo is on the high side despite the fact that the issue of petrol hike, and electricity tariff, there is no electricity in Edo for your information, fuel prices are at the peak, many people have parked their cars, many can no longer afford to buy and they no longer go with their vehicles. There are other taxes here and there…
“They have suspended the strike for only two weeks but I think they have made a grievous mistake, they would have come back to NEC to decide the next step of action, but instead they hurriedly went into negotiation to call off the strike. I think Edo people are not too happy, we are not happy!
“We cannot continue to remain in the hands of the few who will mortgage our conscience, because in the future when we call our workers to say this is our struggle, they will not believe in us. We so much prepared for this.
Our decision in NEC was that there was no going back. As a result, I must confess, I’m sad, I’m sad that Nigerian workers will suffer in the hands of a few. I pray that we should learn from Germany, learn from other countries. When fuel price was increased in Germany, people decided to park their cars on the streets where they abandoned them, and today, Germans have returned to the old price. So when can we learn how to walk and speak correctly. We should speak with one voice, not speak in the morning and change in the night. Enough is enough!” the NLC chairperson stated.
A cock and bull story – Comrade Ohue
On his part, Comrade Marshall Ohue, TUC’s Chairperson, Edo State said the leadership of organised labour in Edo State decided to still converge despite the suspension to demonstrate Edo workers state of preparedness.
He said: “We were very, very prepared in Edo and we were good to go, and as I speak to you we are still very ready; that is why you see the leadership here, despite the fact that it has been suspended, we ensured that leaders still converge here to say their own said of the story.”
According to Comrade Ohue, the abrupt suspension was unfortunate because it was a national issue on which they have little control order than to comply with the directive. He further lamented that workers neither bargained for suspension nor asked for the offers made by the government and contended that labour may have degenerated to a level not before imagined.
He said: “It is unfortunate that this is a national issue, I bet you, [speaking to Channels TV reporter]; if it were to be a state issue, we know what to do, we are not pushovers, but because it is a national issue and we are maybe obeying the directive of national.
“But we want to make one thing very clear, we are very, very unhappy! We are sad because this is not what we bargained for. We expected them to call Congress and I want to use this opportunity to call organised labour to immediately summon congress and let us look into this issue. We cannot begin to suffer the way we are going. How did we degenerate to this extent? I really did not know!
“When I look back, tears roll down my eyes that this was not what the founding fathers of labour bargained for, that labour has degenerated to this extent, and I really don’t know how we degenerated to this extent. We are supposed to be the voice of the common man in the street; we are supposed to be a voice to be reckoned with, we are supposed to be a voice government will reckon with.
“As I speak with you today, Ngige [Minister of Labour and Employment] has continued to make fools of us because we have not been able to hold our unions. As I speak with you, there is no equal and opposite reaction to what the government is doing. I bet you, in every situation, if there is no equal and opposite reaction, things will always go like this. We cannot continue to suffer this way just for thirty thousand naira, thirty thousand naira!
“As I speak to you, minimum wage is just thirty thousand naira! But the federal government has increased fuel more than three times. Please, there are so many ways to kill a rat. It is high time we told the ruling elite, the politicians; that they cannot continue to mess with us. It is because we have stooped so low; that is why we want to begin to tell them! In Edo this is what is set before us; in Edo, we will not take it; in Edo, we reject in total; in Edo, this is not what we bargained for!
“The federal government must reverse, must reverse, must reverse the fuel price! Must reverse electricity tariff hike, must reverse everything. We Nigerian workers, we laid the eggs before they begin to eat. Should we accept this? We say no and we are saying, let them call congress and let them hear from us. That is the essence of leadership; before you take decisions, you call congress, you hear from us, you hear from the grassroots. They are representing us, they are to carry our message to the federal government.
“We are saddened and we are disappointed. We thereby say, we totally reject this in Edo, it is unacceptable to us in Edo! We are not going to accept it! If by two weeks, they did not call congress, they did not revert, we will know what to do in Edo, we will storm the streets after two weeks!
“Edo people, I address you, this decision is not our decision, we were not consulted. We are good to go and we are ready. If by two week; two weeks is not forever, if the federal government thinks they can use cock and bull story, we are not dumb, we are not daft; Nigeria belongs to all of us, it does not belong to presidency!
“In Edo, we are waiting for two weeks. If by two weeks our demands are not met, they either increase minimum wage to N500k or else, we storm the streets!
Many affiliates still belief strike suspension wrong
Although the NLC, by the query, has taken a harsh and clearly gagging position on a section of its leadership, many affiliates are of the opinion that the suspension of the strike clearly violated established tradition in negotiation by unilaterally signing agreement with government without organ endorsement.
In many social media platforms operated by organised labour groups including affiliate unions, labour activists categorically stated that in the history of NLC campaigns, if a decision was taken about going on strikes, individual officers of the NLC, either elected or appointed or even the National Administrative Council (NAC) has the mandate or power to overturn a decision taken by CWC. On the other hand, the CWC cannot overturn the decision of NEC.
Comrade Abdul Rasaq Saidu, General Secretary, National Union of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), an affiliate of NLC, succinctly made this point the same day that Comrade Osayande spoke to Channels Television.
Comrade Saidu’s comment, who is a member of NLC’s CWC and NEC said in a whatsapp group and forwarded to National Record and edited from shorthand, states: “Shame on you NLC leadership for your failure like in Port Harcourt not to report to CWC and NEC meetings before you suspended strike which was constitutionally decided and mandated is very unfortunate… You have missed the support of Unions and Nigerian Workers.
“From the look of things, I must say here without any apology to declare vote of no confidence in [Nigeria] Labour Congress leadership. It is unfortunate to say the least.
“I am free to my opinion and not being rude. Rude to whom? It seems you didn’t know me, Saidu. However I am not surprised in you; …birds of the same feather fly together. Tell me, who mandated the strike? Was it not CWC and NEC meetings?
“I still repeat it; they have no power to sign anything without reporting back to the organs who initially gave their mandate. Am I not correct? Comrade Ugboaja, NLC GS should know this and advise labour team accordingly. This is my response to this unfortunate limbo. Am Saidu and ready for anyone to challenge my post here. Let us call a spade a spade. How can what happened in Port Harcourt be allowed to repeat on issues affecting generality of the working class? It is unacceptable and some uninformed persons will tell me that am rude.”