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Nigeria: There Was A Labour Movement

By Philip Agbese

Labour finally marshalled the courage to stand against the people. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Unions Congress (TUC) are calling for strikes and widespread protests against the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum sector as implied by the removal of subsidy that brought petrol to N145 to the litre. Labour has deliberately clouded the situation by adopting a seeming populist stand while the reverse is true in reality. Labour is trying to shut the economy down to advance the interests of the subsidy cabal.

There was a time when the organised labour’s stance kept governments in check. Labour was part of the coalition that pressured Ibrahim Babangida out of office as a military president. Labour unions made no small input in the death of Sani Abacha’s despotic regime and the fear of their wrath ensures the dictator’s successor kept to a one year timeline to return to civil rule.

At the cusp of make or mar decisions on the corporate future of Nigeria the organised labour unions went missing. They are cosily ensconced in the back pocket of a cabal that is resolute on collecting subsidies that do not trickle down to the populace least of all the long suffering workers that the compromised union leaders claim to represent.

As NCL and TUC seek to make the Federal Government lose revenue that should power the 2016 budgets there are questions citizens must ask. Before poor artisans and every other person that depend on daily incomes are made to lose their livelihood for some days they should exact commitments from the union leaders. Before youths and other poor Nigerians are moved to the streets as pawns to protest for others’ benefit they should have some queries.

Where was labour when subsidy money was stolen? The NLC and TUC were enjoying the loot with the cabal members of course. They sabotaged what started as a genuine movement, the 2012 Occupy Nigeria Protests, under the guise of lending support. They later took over the movement as they ignored genuine activists to cut a deal with the then government of Goodluck Jonathan. In exchange for deflating the protests the labour leadership got juicy offers – committee memberships, contracts and some influence peddling thrown in as sweeteners. Current crop of NLC/TUC leaders want to follow in the steps of their predecessors. They want to trick Nigerians onto the streets to strengthen their hands in bargaining for appointments and goodies under President Muhammadu Buhari. Let those who are without sense be twice the fools to be used for opposing that which is right.

Where was labour when Deziani finished NNPC? While the NNPC was being looted first by undeclared revenue and fraudulent subsidies, first the labour movement protested and then it joined the buffet when it was invited to partake in gorging on our stolen commonwealth. Labour was not to find its voice again until it saw a ripe opportunity to again get on the groovy train of subsidy looting, if there is still one. Some snide commentators have advised NLC-TUC to use their windfall from the Diezani association to import petrol and sell for N40 per litre. If labour truly has the interest of the masses at heart the way its officials have been professing getting petrol to dispense at N40 should be an easy task for them.

Where was labour when Dasukigate and other unspeakable thefts occurred? At the time labour could have instigated its members to be whistle blowers on government corruption it was engrossed in in-fighting. Its leadership squabble over sharing the crumbs handed out by previous government and was too distracted to recognise that contemporary unionism holds government to account even higher than the parliament that the constitution assigned that responsibility. Labour leadership was too self-absorbed to realise that the crumbs they scramble over – largess from governors, ministers and presidencies past – were meant to be distractions that brought out their greed and ensure the real things never got done. If labour was tricked into grovelling for crumbs in the past it is now snarling for not getting the treats it has become addicted to. Those at the helms of labour certainly want their expensive sports utility vehicles upgraded to the latest ones.

Where was labour when fuel was selling for N150 and sometimes up to N230 in every other town and city outside Lagos and the FCT for the last eight years? Why didn’t labour fight for Nigerians who have been paying above N180 for petrol all these years? As the common man smarted from buying petrol at black market rate in fuel stations prior to now, labour leaders played the ostrich. They buried more than their heads in the sand and did not as much as offer a whimper to the Jonathan government. They complied with the saying that you don’t talk with your mouth full. The buffet offered by that administration was too mouth watering to be lost on account of being critical or saying the truth. It would have been fatal to complain about exploitative petrol prices with the mouth of union leaders fully stuffed; the risk of choking was real.

Does labour lack remorse to the point of trying to take Nigerians on a ride for a second time? There is no point being remorseful when labour leaders know that their allies in government have impoverished the population to the point where they are powerless to resist. They however reckon without the change that have taken place: while the people out of their distrust for labour’s ally – Jonathan, once rejected the removal of subsidy they today have confidence in the sincerity of the present government and they seriously look forward to members of the cabal starving if they refuse to go find honest businesses. Labour is banking on the brand of ignorance and ethno-religious divisions popularised in the time past to recruit street urchins to defend the continued shelling out of hundreds of billions of naira in public funds for some career criminals to share.

The change in government definitely dissipated the smokescreen under which Labour had successfully worked for the past government. Now that it is clear the current government has no desire of continuing to continue retaining its services there is no point being a sore loser. There is no point making the ‘poor masses’, used as a cover to insist on leaving behind the largest stump of corruption, to suffer loss of income by shutting down the economy.

Assuming people actually, against sound wisdom, join NLC-TUC for the protests some vestige of subsidy is again retained with a pyrrhic victory of new price using the middle point of old and new pricing, we would have only moved in circle and sometime in the future Labour will attempt this fraud again. And should this happen Nigerians should be asking the EFCC to probe the accounts of labour leaders, their families and friends to see how much remittances cabal members are making to them.

There was a Labour movement once held in high esteem by Nigerians because when it spoke the government trembled. But that was before Labour became a hired-to- sabotage and paid-to-protest outfit.

*Agbese is National Coordinator, Stand Up Nigeria (SUN)  and is based in the United Kingdom.

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