TUNDE OKOLI: Labour, Civil Society`s Case Against Electoral Fraud

No Comments » May 19th, 2007 posted by // Categories: General Articles




Labour, Civil Society’s Case Against Electoral FraudBY TUNDE OKOLI

It promises to be a big showdown, the last between the Obasanjo’s administration and the rest of the Nigerian society. If Labour pulls it off, a sufficient signal would have been sent by Nigerians that flawed elections will never be acceptable to the citizenry.

WHEN the International Labour Organisation (ILO) recently announced that Africa member-states have adopted the sweeping new Decent Work Agenda in Africa 2007-15, many thought the days of industrial disputes between labor unions in the country, particularly under the conglomerate Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the authorities may as well be over. This was based on the assertion by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Director-General Juan Somavia, in closing remarks at the International Labour Organisation’s XIth African Regional Meeting.

According to Somavia, the document is designed to stimulate the creation of millions of decent jobs and improve the lives of the continent’s working poor. He added: “The targets we adopted are ambitious but achievable. This is Africa deciding where it wants to go and how to get there. It is based on partnership and dialogue between Africa’s employers, workers and governments and with our counterpart agencies in the multilateral system.”

Somavia who noted that “the agenda is an excellent combination of policy directions and tools for implementation”, also pointed out that the agenda commits the ILO’s tripartite constituency to the development of Decent Work Country Programmes as the mechanism for mainstreaming policies for more and better jobs into national development strategies.

From the foregoing, many believed labour unions and the federal government appear to have found a common ground to meet at last. But that seems not to be the case as the NLC is again threatening fire and brimstone as it informs of its readiness for an industrial showdown with the authorities again. The development has prompted mixed reactions with many asking, “what’s up on NLC’s sleeves this time around?”

Prior to his emergence as the president of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) about a decade ago, very little was known of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. Within four years of his first term at the helms of the conglomerate body of labour unions, the profile of the diminutive labour union leader rapidly rose to the level where scores of Nigerians wished he became the country’s president. Indeed, political pundits and a reasonable chunk of the citizenry actually openly pushed for him to run for the nation’s presidency in the 2003 elections. Hence, when he announced his decision to contest the governorship seat of his home state, Edo, last year, even the fiery Lagos lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi chided him, describing the move as a “disservice to the nation.” Gani reasoned that Oshiomhole should have aimed for the presidency straight as the nation needed someone like him there.

Successive heads of the NLC have always been known to enjoy similar popularity, except in the case of Mr. Pascal Bafyau whom many considered a ‘sell out’ during his reign. The astronomical rise in the profile of whoever becomes the Congress’ president is not unconnected with the seeming ‘messianic role the position vests in the office holder.

In the minds of the Nigerian public, the NLC, as embodied by its president, is the champion of the masses’s cause. The NLC through its activities fights the establishment, and when occasion demands, steps in to arrest unbecoming tendencies of capitalist private businesses that are considered anti-people and anti-masses.

Lucky or otherwise to find himself at the helms of NLC at the dawn of the new democratic experiment, Comrade Adams Oshiomole consistently engaged the establishment in sundry battles, particularly over repeated hikes in fuel prices. At a point, many considered him President Obasanjo’s worst nightmare in the Nigerian project. For his many wars against the authorities, he soon grew to become ‘a man of the people’ of some sort among the people. Everywhere he goes an awesome aura of importance and invincibility beclouds his personality. Such was the high esteem in which Nigerians held the Congress President, and, by extension, the NLC.

Looking back at the last eight years of democratic experience, beyond the razzmatazz and colour that Comrade Oshiomhole brought to the office of the NLC president, beyond the celebrated brawls the Congress had with the administration of President Obasanjo (who, during his first four years seemed unable to distinguish between a military rule and a civilian regime, him being a former military ruler), analysts are asking, what are the achievements of NLC all these years?

So, it was with mixed feelings that Nigerians received the latest threat of civil unrest as planned by the leadership of the NLC under its new president, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar. This is the second time NLC would be issuing such a threat since what Ocherome Nnanna termed “Professor Maurice Iwu’s ‘419’ of a general election.” NLC is, however not alone in this regard – sections of the civil society are also threatening civil unrest.

Early last week, the NLC issued a statement expressing its readiness to plunge into another prolonged squabble with the authorities while calling for the immediate sack and prosecution of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Maurice Iwu along with other principal officers of the body for compromising their functions during the just concluded general elections.

The labour union accused INEC of sabotaging the elections, and said it was making broad-based consultations with its allies and would throw its weight behind “all mass action and legitimate steps to ensure justice.”

NLC accused INEC of compromising the trust invested in the electoral body by the constitution and the Electoral Act that guided its activities. For leaders of the labour body, INEC has been so compromised that its “Chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu and its major officers should be removed immediately and prosecuted.” What is more, the cleansing rites should not only be visited on INEC, NLC also said “those who in the name of a ‘do-or-die’ election perpetuated violence, which led to the death of over 200 Nigerians,” should be prosecuted.

The Congress in its statement complained that: “The 2007 general elections were fundamentally flawed and therefore unacceptable. In many states and parts of the country, the results should have been canceled and fresh elections conducted by a credible elections’ commission. Consequently, the National Executive Council (NEC)-in-Session decided that all mass actions and legitimate steps to ensure justice in the elections should be backed by workers.”

In the communiquZ signed by Omar and General Secretary Mr. John Odah at the end of the emergency meeting of the NLC (NEC) last weekend in Abuja, the congress issued a seven-day ultimatum to the Federal Government within which to commence payment of arrears of the 15% salary increase or face industrial unrest.

In any case, the battle line is already drawn. Aggrieved civil society groups are set to take on the Federal Government over the outcome of last month’s general elections, ahead of the scheduled hand-over of power to new helmsmen across the country on May 29.

The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) which functions in a critical sector of the civil society, though opposed to the Interim National Government being proposed by opposition political parties as it claims the idea is unknown to the 1999 Constitution, started its own protest ahead of the NLC by boycotting court proceedings throughout the country for two days (on Thursday and Friday). The NBA said it shared similar sentiments against the elections as the labour leaders and the civil society groups but insisted that the judiciary was the appropriate place for redress

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC), and the Joint Action Forum (JAF) under the aegis of Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), urged Nigerians to stay at home on May 28 and 29 and to hold protest rallies in their communities. In another statement during the week in Lagos, the NLC and TUC said: “On the first day, all Nigerians should stay at home, while on May 29, 2007, when the official ‘swearing-in’ ceremonies are on, Nigerians should in their communities and localities hold their own democracy rallies to protest the rigged elections.”

While noting a few states where it said the people courageously snatched victory from the jaws of election riggers, the labour unions averred that “here is no greater danger to democracy than an unrepresentative government. These protests are about the Nigerian people reclaiming their stolen sovereignty. It is about ensuring that the votes count and that the will of the people and their sovereignty must prevail.”

The labour bodies declared that the protests were not targeted at personalities or particular political parties, adding that they “were about our future and the future of our children. Our protests are against poverty imposed on us by this regime, which also perpetually kept us in darkness after frittering away trillions of Naira. Our protests are against those who sell our collective wealth and cannot even account for the proceeds. Our protests are against one regime that denies workers their legitimate wages and salary increases. They are against a cabal that denies workers their monetisation benefits, carries out mass sack while also imposing high taxes on the few who are still employed.”

As it is now, the stage is again set for another round of industrial unrest. But unlike many of its past disputes with the authorities, scores of people are asking the motive behind the latest onslaught.

For an Abuja-based civil servant and public analyst who preferred to comment under anonymity, the NLC cannot be said to have achieved much. He reasoned that the many squables the Congress had with the PDP-controlled Federal Government of the last eight years in terms of what labour set out to achieve with the struggles. “If in eight years Obasanjo moved fuel prices so many times and succeeded in making Nigerians pay N65:00 for a liter of fuel today… Come to think of it, the man met fuel at N20 per liter in 1999 when he came in, and crude oil was selling at less than $40 per barrel then, now that crude oil is over $70 per barrel in the international market, rather than reducing the price back home, the man is making us pay more – N65:00 per litre. Viewed in this light, the whole struggle seems a waste of time,” he reasoned.

For him, the labour circle failed to channel their struggle well, or perhaps, the purpose behind the struggles was not properly articulated before NLC jumped into it. “Struggles must be purpose driven and the leadership of the struggle must, at all times, remain focused.”

Poet and social critic, Odia Ofeimun spoke almost in the same vein. Ofeimun who confessed that he has high regards for Comrade Oshiomole however expressed that the NLC appear to compromise a lot of things in its many negotiations with the Obasanjo-led federal government. “The NLC always seem to quickly come to agreement with the government in their many negotiations. Sometimes it even seems pre-arranged. I mean, how can one explain a situation where government would arbitrarily increase fuel price and the NLC starts trouble and then government calls NLC to their so-called round table, and abracadabra, we would have a new price? Meanwhile, the NLC would extract a promise from government that it would not increase fuel prices in a long time, but in another few months, we would find ourselves at their round table negotiating a new deal again. I mean…”

Ocherome Nnanna in his column opined that the labour body ought to have taken some important steps long before now, as he deemed it unwise of the NLC for sitting back and letting the politicians lead the action before acting in the aftermath. “Former NLC President, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, got it wrong when he justified Labour’s refusal to openly act against Obasanjo’s tenure elongation programme, which was killed exactly one year ago. His argument was that since the politicians always jump in to collect the benefits of the struggles by labour and civil society, it is now up to them to go and fight it out with Obasanjo! He made it look as if the tenure elongation ambition of the President was none of labour’s headache. Not many people agreed with him on that rather funny and strange line of reasoning.

“The fact is that Labour and civil society do not engage in struggles and protests in order to gain power. They are not in the game to gain governmental power, so they cannot ‘collect’ the gains of the struggle through that way. Rather, they are in it to create and enhance civic consciousness and bring about improved democracy, good governance and life more abundant for all,” he wrote.

As Nnanna wrote, Oshiomhole’s position was understandable in that he was already eyeing partisan politics with all the distractions it can impose on an individual. But too bad for the former NLC president, he is now a victim of the monster he shied away from killing.

Apparently taking a cue from lessons learnt from his predecessor’s experience, the new NLC President, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar and his executive board, seem to have determined not to leave the struggle for a better polity to the politicians, the result of which is the looming industrial unrest as threatened by NLC. But for a discerning mind like Nnana, the NLC needs to properly define its objective and devise strategies to establish its claims firmly in the minds of Nigerians. “The purpose, for instance, should not necessarily be to reverse or cancel the polls or create an avenue for the return of un-constitutionalism. If any of the elections is to be reversed, it must be in line with the laws of the land as currently obtained. In other words, let the election tribunals decide. The main objective of the civil actions should be to mobilise all sectors of the Nigerian society to move toward a total overhaul of the electoral and political system that foist unwholesome public institutions such as the INEC and public officers such as Iwu and his ilk upon us.”

The world over, the organised labour has always served as the umbrella body under which workers organize themselves as pressure group to press for better welfare and working conditions, especially from the government and multinational companies. Expectedly, the organised labour has since its evolution assumed the posture of militancy in the struggle for the protection of workers’ rights where the authorities concerned become evasive and objectionable to the plight of the workers. In a recent editorial, a local newspaper opined that “The purpose of every trade union therefore, is to provide a forum for concerted action, to fight as a team for those things that are commonly desired by the entire working population and to aid members in times of crisis.” These are issues, many believe, should be paramount in the minds of union leaders when pressing home demands for their members.

Nevertheless, observers opined that the government on its part should strive to avoid unnecessary clash with interest groups by doing what is right always. Surprisingly, this has been one area that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government has been found wanting since it came to power in 1999. The government has simply refused to learn from its past experience, hence its repeated preference to use force when dealing with the organized labour in a democratic setting.



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