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NLC: Setting Priority in Oshiomhole’s Way By Olushola Omogbehin

NLC: Setting Priority in Oshiomhole’s Way

Abeni Aso-Oke

Abeni Aso-Oke

Comrade Adams Oshiomhole or if you like, Senator Comrade Adams Oshiomhole (just make sure comrade is included) made my day on May day 1 or you call it workers’ day, when he said on a national television that “the mind of labour should not just be about wages. They must engage government on appropriate industrial and trade policies.” Beaming with smile because he spoke my mind, I quickly referred to a recent article which I titled: “How Governors Swallow Subsidy Proceeds and Breed Hunger in Nigeria” which bemoaned the over concentration of the activities of the Nigeria Labour Congress at the federal level, leaving state and local government workers at the mercy of governors who have turned themselves to demigod because of immunity and lack of proper monitoring by citizens and civil society organisations. This is what I bring to you in this piece. Beyond negotiating minimum wage for workers which seems to be the only function of NLC in Nigeria and going on strike, what are the other obligations of NLC to the citizens because not much is heard about them at the state and local government levels.

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Founded in 1978 as an umbrella organization for trade union in Nigeria, the Nigeria Labour Congress which was a merger of Nigeria Trade Union Congress (NTUC), Labour Unity Front (LUF), United Labour Congress (ULC) and Nigeria Workers Council (NWC) has for many years predominantly pursued wage negotiation leaving other objectives to Nigerian workers unattended to. The only time NLC seems vociferous is during negotiations on wage increase after which it would go to bed. Even at that, once its wage negotiation is implemented at the federal level, there won’t be thorough supervision on its implementation at the state and local government levels due to the absence of enabling law. What do I mean?

The structural national minimum wage introduced in 1981 by President Shagari was the first post independence wage policy that instituted a base for wage across different economic sectors in Nigeria. In 2000, the federal government passed the National Minimum Wage Act that provided for a legal framework for setting and adjusting the minimum wage rate in the country while the government under Buhari signed into law, a new minimum wage bill. In all however, there is nothing in the law that made payment compulsory in every sector. It is therefore a truism that the enforcement of minimum wage in Nigeria has been so weak due to the absence of wage law.

As the purpose of establishing a minimum wage is to protect workers against exploitation, alleviate poverty, reduce income inequality and to promote social and economic well-being, the history of minimum wage implementation in Nigeria has favoured federal workers more than state and local government workers because of the inability of NLC to follow and see to its implementation process at sub-national levels. As minimum wage is expected to be reviewed every five years, it is sad to know that the last review which was in 2019 from ₦18,000 to ₦30,000 was yet to be implemented by many states.

In January 2022, states like Kogi, Abia, Cross River, Zamfara, Taraba, Imo and Benue were yet to implement it thereby depriving workers in those states what their colleagues are enjoying in other states and at the federal level. Earlier this year according to BudgIT analysis, about 15 states are yet to implement the 2019 ₦30,000 minimum wages. What then should NLC do to ensure compliance to implementation now that another negotiation is on the table?

Going forward therefore, NLC and TUC should as a matter of necessity work towards bringing up a Law through the appropriate law making body that will enforce the payment of minimum wage and also criminalise non-payment. This will enable the enforcement of compliance with wage implementation at every level of governance including private sector after approval. And the best way to achieve this is for the national body of the union to join forces with the state level for a robust negotiation with each state government for implementation. NLC at the state level should not be left at the mercy of the state governors.

Okay, let us now dabble into some other areas where our dear NLC is deficient in its duty towards the generality of Nigerians.

Among other, the functions of the Nigeria Labour Congress are: to promote and defend the rights, well-being and interests of pensioners and ensure their recognition by the society; to promote and defend democracy, probity and transparency in the trade union and in civil governance; and to work for the industrialization and prosperity of the Nigerian nation and ensure protection of jobs, full employment and humane working environment.

From the above, one important objective NLC seems to have neglected is working for the industrialization and prosperity of Nigeria and ensures protection of jobs. With the daily demise of industries in Nigeria, it is evident that NLC is deficient in this regard. This is why Oshiomhole charged on workers’ day that: “the mind of labour should not just be about wages. They must engage government on appropriate industrial and trade policies.” As the comrade senator further explained that the problem we have today vis-a-vis insecurity is also a manifestation of the not so young members of the society who are literate but socially excluded because of lack of appropriate skills, NLC should form dialogue with government and private individual and investors to invest in the manufacturing sector that provides the bulk of job in the society.

In this direction, is the need for NLC to increase gear and go into negotiation on how to revive the moribund industries in Nigeria and possibly the creation of new ones. Beginning with textile industry, Oshiomhole elucidated that Kaduna textile industry alone had about 30 thousand textile workers producing different types of fabrics but suddenly disappear into the tin air. This of course is the story of all the textile industries across the country that led us to taking pride in wearing imported cloths. As Oshiomhole asked, how do we bring back Michelin Manufacturing Company that suddenly bolted out of Nigeria and we began to import every tire on the road? What is labour doing about reviving Dunlop, Oluwas Glass, Cocoa industries, our refineries and many other such moribund companies in Nigeria?

As one of the main tasks that confront trade and labour unions everywhere in the world is to protect in every way the class interest of the proletariat, it is important to know that they also play significant role in shaping business and politics in every nation. Regarding socialized enterprises, it is undoubtedly the duty of the trade union of any society to protect the interest of the working people, to facilitate as far as possible the improvement of their standard of living and constantly correct the blunders and excesses of business organizations resulting from bureaucratic distortion of the state apparatus. It is also the duty of trade union to constantly collaborate with government and all political parties in order to deliver the best to its members.

Nigeria is not an exemption in this labour arithmetic but the activities of NLC and TUC have so far proved so negligible in this direction. In line with the objective of working for the industrialization and prosperity of the Nigerian nation and ensure protection of jobs, NLC and TUC should work out modalities with government that will fix our moribund industries and the creation of new ones. This is because evidence around the country shows that many cottage industries that are supposed to be providing job for people are grounded because of misuse or lack of maintenance which has practically turned us to a consuming nation. Research has shown that some of these industries can come alive with little political permutation with the right authority. NLC and TUC should come to the rescue.

This can also come through partnership with state or local government and private sector to help project in a large scale every laudable programme that can provide skill for the people regardless of your educational standard. In this direction is a state like Nasarawa that is currently undergoing what is tagged “Industrial Renaissance”. The objective of this initiative as Governor Sule explained in a television programme, is to support vocation and technical education so that people can acquire skill and be independent. According to the governor, this programme which is aimed to change the narrative of people looking for unavailable job and give birth to people who will shun civil service and embrace private sector which pays better and takes care of their workers, gives skills in electrical installation, auto mechanic, welding, fabrication, irrigation and many more. As this will also produce people who will be independent and employers of labour, it will as well be a source of revenue generation that will take care of the liability of the state and end the era of borrowing.

NLC must also be responsible for the plight of pensioners because one of its objectives is to promote and defend the rights, well-being and interests of pensioners and ensure their recognition by the society. A situation where someone will serve his nation for 35 years and left to die in a queue while demanding for his legal right must be addressed. This is why pensioners are presumed to be dead long before their actual death. If NLC will come to their rescue, there will be no need for them to protest and die in the process. A situation where a governor will serve for just four years and at most 8 years and be referred to as a political prodigy with both normal and abnormal entitlements and pensioners treated with disdain should be looked into by NLC because one of the benefits of any association is the protection of the interest of members.

Ultimately, since democracy can best be protected when elected representatives are accountable to the electorates, another elemental function that NLC must not ignore is the promotion and defense of democracy, probity and transparency. Since revenue to state has tripled according to Festus Osifo, TUC in conjunction with NLC should make the governors accountable for every kobo they have collected from the federation account. This apart from fulfilling the function of defense of democracy, probity and transparency, will also make governors to do more and reduce the pressure on federal government. Industries will come up at the state level and job would be created for everybody to be happy.

There are other functions but comrade Joe Ajaero and Festus Osifo should first pay priority attention to these. The hunger in the land is not entirely the fault or the failure of federal government policies but the inability of state government or state governors to effectively utilize the resources accrue to their state because nobody is asking questions. NLC and TUC should ask question on behalf of the people and facilitate industrial rebirth at local, state and federal levels. Wage increase is good but the functions of trade union go beyond it. We can’t be part of the world trade when we are not trading. GOD BLESSES NIGERIA.

Olushola Omogbehin a public affairs analyst Writes from Abuja Nigeria omogbehino@yahoo.com 08069220040

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