That the pregnancy was aborted at the eleventh hour was, to discerning minds, not the least a shock. Like the proverbial thief in the night, they waited for us to sleep and hatched a coup which was clinically executed around 2 30 am. Indeed, Nigerians woke up to the reality that a nationwide strike billed for Monday, September 28, 2020 was aborted same day with rather flimsy, illogical and lame excuses that only alluded to the weakness of a hitherto, strong and fiery constituency.
Wait for it, an agreement reached in 2012 on what should be done to revive our comatose refineries was again on the table for negotiation with the representatives of the labour movement and government representatives who, from the list, are more formidable in outlook.
The struggle for an equitable and egalitarian society did not start today. In Nigeria, successive governments have had to do battle with the masses anytime policies considered anti-people emanate from it. And in most cases, the masses rely on the labour movement to force government to reverse such policies.
The recent hike in electricity tariff and pump price of Premium Motor Spirit(PMS) otherwise known as petrol, expectedly drew the flak of Nigerians who considered it a burden too many. They were sure that this increase would be reversed by the labour and civil society groups as they are wont to do in the past. They thought and rightly so, given the antecedents of the coalition of these two groups.
Nigerians recalled the exploits of these groups in the past, particularly the forced reversal of petrol pump price from N141 per litre to N85 in January 2012. Then, there was a strong synergy between labour and civil society. Strikes were not just called without painstakingly working out the strategies. Ultimatums were issued and various stakeholders were sensitized for absolute by-in before eventual showdown.
Alas, Nigerians failed to realize that times have changed and the labour and civil society pillars had crumbled leaving the space to, at best, the third or feeder teams.
Who goes to war with divided and weak soldiers? The first wrong foot was the issue of ultimatum to government. Trade Union Congress (TUC) gave a week ultimatum, while its sister labour centre gave two weeks – a clear indication that there was little or no synergy and consultation between the two. Insiders confirmed that the various constituencies that make strikes effective were not adequately sensitized.
A cursory look at the resolutions reached will put a lie to the perceived strength of negotiation on the part of labour presently.
Nigerians are aware that nothing in this resolution will put a hold on tariff increase by the various distribution companies. Even the exclusion of a certain threshold of consumers in the new tariff by government is not respected by the Discos. It has been a case of uniform tariff for all consumers. Where in this country have you witnessed tariff reversal without resistance from the beneficiaries of such hike?
The committees raised will only assist government to buy more time using the MDAs to send the labour representatives on a wild goose chase. Wait for it- a new vista has opened for labour with the inclusion of their representatives in the various committees that lead to nowhere. Watch them in the days ahead as they struggle, amid intrigues, on who makes the list.
It is not hidden to the public that the four refineries are moribund. They had been cannibalized over the years that almost all the components are worn out. To make matters worse, the manufacturers of these refineries have closed shops or advanced their technology with time that the moulds for designing some of the components had been discarded. Imagine an auto technician going to Peugeot Automobile plant in search of Peugeot 403 parts. That is the state of these refineries. To think that representatives of PENGASSAN and NUPENG were part of this meeting and could not canvass a better position on the state of our downstream sector and the state of the refineries, speaks volume.
The labour movement began a descent to abyss since 2011 shortly before the Nigeria Labour Congress went into its delegates’ congress. A plan was hatched that the stronghold of the movement must be decimated at all cost. A past labour leader was at the tick of this plan. The first casualty of this was the NLC constitution which was altered to whittle down the power of the general secretaries of affiliate unions and the central body. With the successful amendment to the constitution, they went for the jugular of the then General Secretary of NLC, Comrade John Odah, with all the intrigues, he was eventually sacked.
He went to court to challenge his sack and he won and later resigned. Thus began the crippling of the pillars of labour. Next was the elimination of the likes of Owei Lakemfa, a consummate activist and journalist per excellence. Another strong mobiliser in the team at that time was Comrade Anokhuru, who was openly opposed by those he assiduously worked for by mobilizing for strikes when he wanted to contest for a position during the conference. Unfortunately, he never survived the betrayal till he died.
Indeed, after the ratification of the amendment, general secretaries became clerks and at best, supervisors, while presidents of affiliates and the labour centre assumed total control. With this, anytime the president is away from office, the secretariat is helpless until he returns.
Of course, we all know that institutions take time to crumble, but the stage was set for the imminent collapse of the movement as people with little or no resilience, activism pedigree and low intellectual capacity were brought in high-wired intrigues and subterfuge to the unions with the sole aim of lining their pockets. And thus laid the foundation of the current rot in the system.
What you witness now is a labour movement where presidents of affiliates transmute to general secretaries after serving their constitutionally approved terms. It is no longer a calling that requires passion and commitment fired by pedigree, but a job for life.
No election is conducted today without the undue interference of government through its agencies. Some of them even approach government to bankroll their election. What will a heavily induced candidate do to the benefactor in a situation like we have now? Your guess is as good as mine.
Finally, the movement has been so structured that civil servants are planted at the helm for obvious reasons.
Its sister centre has not fared better. There was a period a leader of the Trade Union Congress was blackmailed to submission by government with a threat to deal with the leader by demobilizing the son from concluding a course. The rest, they say, is history.
With the foregoing, a wait for labour to bare its fangs against government may be waiting for Godot. Labour as currently constituted has lost verve and public confidence earned during the time of Comrades Frank Kokori, Hassan Sunmonu, Pa Imoudu, among others.
–Fanimo is a former chief operating officer of LEADERSHIP newspapers.