By Dele Sobowale
“They came forth to war; but they always fell.” James Macpherson, 1736-1796. Vanguard Book of Quotation, VBQ, p 267.
The coincidences are unbelievable. James was the father of Sir John Macpherson, who was the second to the last Governor-General of Nigeria, Sir James Robertson, who handed power to Tafawa Balewa on October 1, 1960. The 60th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence has dealt the nation’s organised labour a terrible blow from which it will take a while for it to recover.
First, Labour’s most charismatic leader – Adams Oshiomole – who climbed on the shoulders union members to great fame until he led his party to lose election this year. His humiliation was well-deserved.
Second, Organized Labour, be it NLC, ASUU or TUC, had long ago been a force fighting for workers. But now the leaders of the various unions have become robber stamps. They learnt their lessons from Adams – who had his sights set elsewhere while claiming to champion the causes of millions of workers. The Labour Transport which was started while he was in office with the hope of being transformed into a major transport company employing thousands of people is moribund now.
Those who wanted the accounts of Labour Transport audited while the “Emperor” reigned did not achieve their aims. Those who cannot manage their own business and grow it have developed the effrontery to challenge Chevron when the company seeks to downsize. That was the sort of hypocrisy on which Nigerian unionism was based.
I was confident of the outcome when Organized Labour announced a strike unless the Federal Government reversed itself on fuel price. A fuel price increase was inevitable and Labour was only fooling Nigerians as they have done since 2000. How much more was the only thing in doubt?
I even gave Labour some credit. I assumed they will obtain some price reduction. Total surrender after mid-night Sunday, after calling for a national strike starting Monday morning, was the latest twist in a long drawn-out game of fooling all Nigerians most of the time.
Labour’s “victories” since 2000, with respect to fuel price increases had been obtained by questionable means.
Fuel price was N22 per litre when ex-President Obasanjo first proposed subsidy removal and quantum jump in pump price. Oshiomhole led the first strike and after prolonged negotiations the fuel price settled at N30 per litre.
Despite the 36 per cent fuel price increase, our colleagues on the Labour Desks in all the newspapers made us believe a major victory had been secured by Oshiomhole for workers. Even if it was, and that is doubtful, it was the last honest triumph of Labour.
Late Tunji Oseni opened can of worms.
“Every man has his price.” Anonymous American cynic.
What follows is a recollection of what late Mr Tunji Oseni, a senior brother from Lagos and Senior Special Adviser to ex-President Obasanjo, told me after he left office.
By the time Obasanjo left office in 2007, another attempt at fuel price increase had taken place. The foxy former President had taken a good measure of the Labour leaders who confronted him the first time he tried to increase pump price. It occurred to the government that if Labour was prepared to negotiate after FG announced new price, why not engage them before the price increase is announced; bargain with them; announce a higher price than the intended figure; allow Labour to play to the gallery; fool Nigerians and then come down to the intended price. That became the model for fuel price increases thereafter. The only fools were the Nigerian masses who believed that the NLC actually secured a price reduction for them.
Fuel price was N22 when Oshiomhole called workers out on the first strike. It was N79 when he left office. But, he was called a hero by the media. Those of them still alive know the truth about how failure was advertised as success for so long. It was a conspiracy of silence and fraud. On that conspiracy the myth of the NLC fighting tooth and nail for the masses was built.
Ex-President Yar’Adua also tried the same trick with success when he first increased price on account of crude hitting N145 per barrel. The late President must have been informed about the template for getting fuel price increase without sweating.
Somebody failed to tell ex-President Jonathan about the template when he pulled the trigger on January 1, 2012. At any rate, that was the most ridiculous time to do it. Millions of Nigerians had travelled expecting fuel and transport costs to remain stable until they returned to base. Almost doubling pump prices and getting people stranded was the most foolish thing anybody could do. Many people never forgave him for it. The 2012 fuel price increase was the only one for which Labour could not claim sole credit and perhaps it was opportunity lost.
Unfortunately for Labour and the masses, Organized Labour has become a toothless tiger. It took them three years to get Minimum Wage Bill passed, promising N30,000 per month. We are close to twenty months since President Buhari ordered “immediate implementation”. Still, about thirteen states have not started paying; eighteen owe staff months of unpaid salaries and entitlements and the sky is not falling. One of their self-deluded leaders boasted last year that governors refusing to pay the minimum wage may go to jail. No governor has been charged yet. Surprisingly, he is one of the most enlightened.
Meanwhile, Labour leaders announced that strike might start if FG fails to reverse the price. Nobody believes them; nobody will respond if they call for strike now. Obviously, N160 fuel is here to stay – until FG moves it up. Predictably, prices of goods and services have started escalating. If the minimum wage was regarded as inadequate before now, the economic disasters befalling Nigeria have already combined to guarantee deepening poverty on a massive scale. Perhaps now it is dawning on Nigerian workers that they are being badly led by people who are only interested in collecting their check-off dues without rendering any service in return.
Yes, it is absolutely true that “You can fool some of the people all the time; you can fool all the people some of the time; but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”(Lincoln). Labour’s days of fooling the masses is coming to an end. Henceforth, no worker in his right senses will believe them.
“What next, after two weeks? – Tunji Adegboyega, The Nation, Sunday October 4, 2020, p 11.
My colleague, Tunji was right to ask the question. But, as an older columnist, the answer was obvious – NOTHING.
Last week, the Federal Government heaped praises on Labour for calling off the strike and lashed out at those who were disappointed it was called off. Invariably, when the winner in any negotiation heaps encomiums on the other side, you can bet somebody had sold out. In this case, it is clear that the masses have been sold down the river by the organised Labour.