For two days, Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) brought Kaduna, capital of the defunct Northern Region and Kaduna State, to a halt and quite unusually indicated that the development was a marathon until all the union’s demands were met. The picture was that of a general strike, except that the industrial dispute was strictly against what the union explained as undemocratic tactics of the state government. In a fit of temper, the government adopted a hard line by responding that it would not go back on all decisions. To further rattle the government, NLC further threatened that, in the absence of a solution, it would extend the strike nationwide. That in itself is debatable but was indicative of what such magnitude might, along with the state of security, turn Nigeria into.
It was, therefore, a surprise that the NLC, after only three days, suspended the strike on the ground that the Federal Government had intervened for a solution. This was all against the arrogance of both Kaduna State government and NLC for a prolonged showdown. So, for whatever other reasons, the suspension of the strike offers some hope, to which both sides must contribute, in place of their erstwhile hawkish posture meant for the consumption of their respective supporters.
All the same, facts must be stated, even if such are bitter. Whatever the Federal Government’s good intention as the Good Samaritan, is the accompanying moral? Federal Government? A Good Samaritan, which could not be good to itself? Otherwise, why did it always take the Federal Government sometimes years to settle strikes and/or implement pay agreements with doctors, non-medical staff, university/polytechnic lecturers, etc, all of them, at one time or the other, on strike, causing the institutions concerned to shut down for almost a year or more, while students spend more time than necessary on campuses?
While the strike is suspended and negotiations commence, both Kaduna State government and NLC must reflect on some of their claims or submissions, which could not have been made with all reasonableness, except perhaps blackmail or desperation. The NLC, for example, threatened that, if after a week of protest strikes, Kaduna State government did not yield ground, the strike would be turned general. It is true industrial grievances are all over Nigeria today but for different reasons and not necessarily against all state governments.
The NLC took to the streets because Kaduna State government rationalised or downsized staff and, till now, has not paid their entitlements. NLC claimed over 30,000 were affected. Above all, and this the major allegation, the standard procedure of consulting the union was not followed. If any other state(s) had similarly mistreated workers, why did NLC pick on only Kaduna State? If, on the other hand, no other state had been involved, there is no logic or fairness to extend the strike to other states.
It may also interest NLC not to have any impression of any support on its dispute with Kaduna State government. Subject to Kaduna State government and NLC observing procedure and fairness, hardly is any Nigerian interested in any negotiations between the unions and governments in Nigeria. From past experiences, both sides had always deceived the public with some bogus showdown while, eventually, government(s) would still proceed with hikes in fuel price, VAT, electricity tariff, or any other proposed increase. The attitude of any observer on the industrial dispute in Kaduna is, therefore, that it serves the two sides right.
NLC made the point that, contrary to the Trade Unions Act, there was no consultation by Kaduna State government prior to the rationalisation/downsizing and neither was there compensation for the affected staff, some of them with up to 30 years service. These are serious issues. These are serious human issues from which Kaduna State government cannot nonchalantly claim it would not go back. Till now, the government has neither denied nor confirmed it. For chances of settlement, the state government must be prepared to comply with oversights, if any.
Kaduna State government sent observers laughing by declaring NLC leader Ayuba Wabba wanted for alleged economic sabotage. That indicates nothing but desperation and political intimidation. Not all laws are necessarily implemented or society will break down. Why, for example, has this law never been implemented against unionists leading strike since the law was made? Let’s pause for a moment and assume NLC leader was tried, detained or imprisoned, that could only make Wabba more popular, possibly inflame industrial relations in the country, with calls for his release by Nigerians and foreigners. Add to that a general strike. In return, Governor El-Rufai would become notorious at home and abroad and a liability if he tries for APC’s presidential ticket in 2023. On top of this, we must remember how the harassment of Michael Imoudu turned him into a hero of the 1945 general strike.
The lately dangerous development in the exercise of fundamental human rights in Nigeria was confirmed during the Kaduna strike. Obviously hired armed thugs infiltrated the strikers in a vain attempt to disperse the strikers; the first attempt by thugs to attack protesters/strikers was during the EndSARS protests at Lekki, Lagos, in October 2020. The right to protest is enshrined in Nigerian constitution, and only those with vested interests in frustrating strikers would be paid to attack them.
Grim prospect for extra party
The closer the next general election draws, the more the attraction of exhibiting the disgrace of Nigerian politics, shameless carpet-crossing aimed at grabbing power. In a real democracy, common national interests are not only the main ingredients but, more importantly, a formidable political figure to hold the strange elements together. Muhammadu Buhari of 2014 was such a solid figure, but also who could offer platform and cover for those other politicians desperate for survival.
There is no dout that Buhari, after six years, has lost much of th 2014-2015 political weight. But then, he is not contesting in 2023. The party, APC, rather than Buhari, therefore, stands more to lose. Yet, it is ridiculous to be aiming at another party to challenge the existing two. To worsen matters, the proposed party is being projected along the 2015 APC. But the bitter truth is that there is as yet no powerful political figure of Buhari’s 2015 and 2019 political standing to deliver for the new party the electoral bloc of northern states, without which no new or even old party can win Aso Rock. This was the reality APC dissidents underestimated, if not disregarded, as newAPC, with the hope of challenging Buhari in 2019. The newAPC stalwarts ended in the doldrums.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan, as an incumbent, was strong in 2015 but only with the grace of northern PDP governors who abandoned him not because of their love for Buhari but sought safety under the 2015 national wave of support for Buhari. Without Buhari, PDP governors could never have been re-elected on the platform of Buhari’s party nor sneaked to the Senate. In short, without them, Buhari would have won on personal merit and, without Buhari, they could not have won elections to the Senate.In 2023, everybody will have to contest in his father’s name.
There should be no surprise at the current APC storm, with the hope it does not lead to fatal crash as was with antecedents of carpet-crossing in politics in 1952 and 1962 in the defunct Western Region. By the time Awolowo left Western Region for House of Representatives in 1959, his Action Group strayed into succession crisis with S.L. Akintola supported by the party as new Premier in Western Region and Tony Enahoro, Awolowo’s choice. As soon as Akintola took office, he shored up himslelf with almost all opposition NCNC members who crossed to Akintola’s new party, the United People’s Party, which transformed into another party, Nigerian National Democratic Party, till the military coup of January 1966.