By Victor Young
COMRADE Emmanuel Ugboaja, was recently appointed General Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC. In this piece, Ugboaja, a lawyer former General of National Union of Chemical, Footwear, Leather Rubber and Non-Mettalic Products Employees, NUFLRANMPE, bears his mind on a wide range of issues including unity movement.
Appointment as NLC scribe
I see it as a humbling experience. It is a career height for me. But on a personal note, it has been a humbling experience. When you work hard, the dream and joy of every worker is to be able to make it to the zenith and it is not everybody that can get there. So, ordinarily it is a feat everybody hopes to attain.
But getting there, you then realized it is quite humbling, the task is enormous but one is happy that, an opportunity has been provided. So, it is a humbling experience to now answer general secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress. It comes with it expectations much more than anybody can imagine. People look up to you, both the regular workers, the Nigerian working people and their families, people look up to you to deliver, and the expectations are high in Nigeria for some succour.
It is to really go to the basis because I have come to the realization that people have less knowledge of what the trade unions are, much less what the NLC is. The NLC means different things to different people, and one needs to have a clear understanding of what the NLC is, for one to then appreciate the direction to go. So,, clearly the take-off point is to get people to understand the organisation that is called the Nigeria Labour Congress and then get to improve on the membership density of the affiliates that make up the NLC and the Nigeria Labour movement.
Docility of labour
We have grown to do more works and the burden has increased. But unfortunately the people’s perception, which is critical has not favoured the amount of works that has been put in by labour in all fairness. Also the Bible will put it as “time and chance.” Time and chance in this instance, means the issues that have played up have not been very favourable to Labour.
Labour has done the same set of things it did in the past but there is growing expectations because when it did it, it did it when you might say people were in the dark that such was possible. Now people have seen that what labour did in the past was possible and they are asking for more. So, it is this challenge of providing more; those specifics are still being provided, but the need to provide more is where the perception of not doing enough has come.
For Labour to be able to provide more, there are certain things we need to do. Part of it is what I called going to the bases. We need to increase our membership density to be able to influence because we are a pressure group. We can only make it as a pressure group if we have mass strength. So, we need to improve on our mass strength. That is a top priority, we need to improve on our communication with the people. Now that communication has become very fast, within seconds, news has spread. Now anything that is happening, the news is out even before you can get a response. But if the response is not there through Whatsap, Facebook, and you are not responding as fast as the information is flowing, if it keeps happening, then the perception will be that you are not performing. But, clearly we are determined to move with the tide, we are determined to do what will make people change their perception about us not doing enough, of us not being there, of us not measuring up to expectations.
“Clearly, one’s determination would be to relate with our brothers. We have never stopped relating, it is only that the formalization has been a challenge. We will continue to move in the direction of where we would not only be one family, but people’s perception of us as one family will also match the reality. The determination is not just in affiliate number but also in the membership of the affiliates.
The drive is to grow the membership of the affiliates, while not losing sight of the need to relate and get our brothers to see the need for us to get closer, and get bigger. Capital is merging, capital is consolidating, we cannot be breaking up while capital is consolidating. It might not be a good strategy to be breaking up to confront capital. If capital is consolidating, then we as the working people also need to consolidate. I know my brothers will see it in that light and clearly, it is going to be easier for us to formulate a working relationship, to formulate a clear platform to operate harmoniously to be able to confront capital. If capital is consolidating by merger we can’t be seen to be breaking up. If capital is consolidating across borders, we cannot be seen to be breaking up within borders.
The irony of it is that all the people involved are normal unionists, everybody has the union blood running in him and part of it is the skill, the capacity for negotiation, capacity to drive collective bargaining. The honest truth is that the human interpersonal relationships are also helpful.
Clearly speaking, a lot of water has gone under the bridge. To even think that we were going to have joint celebration showed the positive intentions and the positive direction we want to be moving. Clearly, it is a task one intends to throw him in, to see if we can get back. Fortunately all the key players are people I have worked with closely with, people I have related closely with. I know what is holding us back on both sides is not huge. It is a bridge we can comfortably work across. It is something that is attainable. Coming back together to work as a team on behalf of Nigerian working families is something that is very realizable.
“I am going to work hard in that direction. Like I said, the truth is that you are relating with unionists that have heavy capacity in negotiation, in bargaining. We all share the same fears of the workers being swallowed, having the wrong end of the stick; and that common determination will have us work together. We are not going to achieve much, if we are pulling in different direction, if we are not holding each other waste in this thug of war. I would do my best because there is nobody in any of the two leaderships that,I cannot have a breakfast, lunch or dinner with. There is nobody in both sides I cannot call by 6am, or 12 midnights. We will see something positive come out of it.
We are clearly not doing well, you don’t need to be an economist to know that we are not doing well. We have crisis all over the place, farmers were not going to the farm, you heard Katsina government negotiating with bandits to allow people go to their farm. If people don’t go to their farm, what they would have added to the economy we won’t get. You heard mines being shut down in Zamfara, what mining would have contributed, we are losing it. The challenge of electricity was not helping the small cottage industries, insecurity is not helping free flow of services. So, it will be funny for anybody to think we are doing well economically, we are not. The factors are there, the challenges steers us in the face.
Manufacturing with the challenge of power, infrastructure in terms of road network to be able to move the goods, both raw and finished are not there. You realize we are not competitive enough, and when we are not competitive enough, then our population won’t be an advantage.
Rather, outsiders are taking advantage of our population when ordinarily our population would have been a boost to our economic growth in terms of diversity, in terms of number of people with skills and ability but clearly our economy is challenged right now.