Vanguard (Lagos)

14 February 2013

Nigeria: NLC/Odah Crisis - a Costly Price of Intrigues

HAVING covered the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, for over two decades, one is in a position to comment on certain developments within the NLC. First for historical records, two for Nigerian workers to have an insight into happenings in their reputable organisation and thirdly to ensure that such anti-labour practices are not allowed in any working class organisation.

I am making reference to the purported sack of NLC's General Secretary, Comrade John Ehoja Odah and his subsequent reinstatement following a suit he filed at the National Industrial Court, NIC.

In May 2011, NLC made it public that it had terminated the appointment of its General Secretary, Comrade Odah. From then, the media took up the story and both sides told 'stories' to the media.

This article is not meant to repeat such stories but to tell the untold stories and analyse the events leading to and after what can best be described as a clear demonstration of "administrative incompetence." One recalls that what led to the internal crisis that the NLC leaders plunged the organisation into began after the re-election of Comrade Abudulwaheed Omar as president of the NLC in March 2011.

The very first National Administrative Council, NAC, meeting of the NLC which was supposed to set an agenda was used to settle personal scores. Odah was accused of supporting Comrade Peters Adeyemi, the General Secretary of the Non Academic Staff Union of the Universities and Associated Institutions, NASU, for the presidency of the NLC. Adeyemi was before the election a deputy to Omar.

Adeyemi lost, Omar won, but it was not over until Odah was sacked.

Whereas, trade unions lay claim to best practices in democracy, the truth is that in 99% of elections held within the trade unions the secretariat is never neutral. Those elected are usually those backed by the secretariat. It is only when the secretariat candidate fails that you have internal crisis in the unions.

In the case of the NLC earlier warnings that the action of the NLC could lead to a crisis was ignored. Those of us who called the President warning of the consequences of the action were called names.

The Odah issue not only clearly showed administrative incompetence, it was obvious that there was a personality clash between Omar and Odah. First, they claimed Odah was medically unfit to continue with his job. Hence he should proceed on accumulated leave. No medical board was set up to confirm this. This was faulted by Odah who reminded President Omar that he had signed papers committing the leave to cash.

Then the NLC leadership told the media of issue of a fraudulent agreement with China for buses was thrown up which they claimed Odah made NLC enter into. The truth however is that President Omar led the NLC team to China and was a part of the agreement.

I contacted a top official of the Trade Union Congress (name withheld) who told me clearly that "I have done my investigations and found that all the allegations against Odah are false". Today, TUC managed buses are in Lagos but hardly can one finds a bus managed by the NLC on the road.

Where does this leave the average worker who commutes to work daily? When Odah was "sacked", an employer told me, "we are following with keen interest how NLC is handling the John Odah case. We are waiting for the day we would be told we sacked anyone without due process?"

It should be noted that Odah would not be the first general secretary to leave the services of the NLC but he was sacked without due process. No query, no warning letters, no suspension. Can the NLC in the near future raise these as issues with any employer? Your guess is as good as mine. One is not contesting the right of the NLC as an employer to hire and fire, but it must follow the due process.

A situation where a president or any trade union or labour centre will address an organ of the union and declare that he cannot work with another Comrade must never be allowed to repeat itself. People have differences but it is the ability to manage such differences in the interest of an organisation that makes a leader.

Comrade Salisu Nuhu Mohammed left and today he is a consultant to the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE). NLC's first general secretary, Comrade Aliyu Dangiwa is still alive but there is no evidence that the leadership of NLC has anything to do with him.

Settlement: It must be put on record that the settlement, NLC\ John Odah issue would not have been resolved via the agreed terms of settlement if John Odah had not gone to court. The NLC paid over four million Naira of workers hard earned check -off as fees to some Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, who represented NLC at the National Industrial Court, NIC, is this justified?

Mutual agreement

Unionists may be clapping that the case was settled based on mutual agreement but perhaps the credit should go to the president of NIC, Justice Babatunde Adejumo who insisted that NLC should not be seen to be in court over such a matter. He suggested that both parties should meet and have terms of settlement which were upheld by the court.

One cannot but agree with the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers statement signed by its general secretary, Comrade Issa Aremu that "conflicts of the recent times were avoidable in the first place. However, in the best places of work, conflict is inevitable".

Comrade Aremu added "What matters is the eventual, conflict resolution that commendably deepens the organisational integrity of the NLC and dignifies Comrade John Odah." True, workplace conflict is inevitable but the highest standard of labour practice is expected from a reputable organisation like the NLC.

Another issue which this crisis has thrown up is the seemingly overbearing influence of presidents in trade unions. Workers should decide once and for all if they want an enduring secretariat or not?

If workers want general secretaries to be elected, so be it. However, trade union employees must be allowed to unionise.

Isn't it scandalous that in this modern age, employees of Nigerian trade unions have no trade union of their own. Consequently, they are at the mercy of labour bureaucrats.

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