November 18, 2023

Power show, By Muyiwa Adetiba

Power show, By Muyiwa Adetiba

Muyiwa Adetiba

For reasons I can’t explain, the song ‘Power Show’ by Fela was what came to my head as I watched the President of the Trade Union Congress on TV threatening to shut down the economy because his compatriot in the Nigeria Labour Congress was beaten and humiliated in Imo State.

When asked whether shutting down the economy of a country of over two hundred million people was an appropriate response considering the injury, embarrassing as it is to decent sensibilities, was to an individual, his reply was that one could not beat a child and determine how the child would respond to the beating and that countries sometimes went to war because of perceived slights to their Head of State.

I could only shake my head at such a simplistic logic coming from a national leader. Ajaero, the president of NLC, and a native of Imo State, was in his State to effect a strike action when he was manhandled. The timing of the strike was curious if not suspect considering it was barely a couple of weeks to the gubernatorial election. But that is a story for another day.

Now, for some background for those who are not aware of the song. Some forty years ago, Fela, Nigeria’s singer and enigmatic social commentator for all times, did a critique of a set of people, especially those in the middle level cadre, who, having an overarching sense of self-importance, seek to be noticed if not acknowledged for what they do. In the process, they use their positions to oppress and frustrate the same people they are meant to serve.

He titled the song ‘Power Show’ (Na Wrong Show o). He gave examples. Over the years, I have noticed that many of those who show the traits Fela sang about were more of enablers than decision makers and I have thus re-christened the phenomenon as ‘Power of the small men’. Small, not in size but mentality. They abound – in gatemen who manage a fairly congested parking lot, secretaries to busy Ogas, clerks who process sensitive files.

The style is the same. They exaggerate their importance in the scheme of things so that some benefits, often pecuniary, can be attached to what they do.So when TUC’s Osifo went on air to threaten an indefinite strike because of a bruised face and more indirectly, a bruised ego, I immediately suspected a ‘Power Show’ and knew this mentality of ‘small men’ in power was not limited to gatemen and secretaries. We also have people in high places who have such an overarching sense of self-importance that they can’t see the limitations of their power and thus can’t see the consequences of certain actions. This, I must add, includes the big masquerade(s) of Imo State who probably orchestrated the beating as well.

For the records, I am appalled that anybody, let alone a sitting president of the country’s foremost labour union, could be assaulted as Ajaero was, for leading a non-violent protest, however suspect or illegal it might be.  That swift recriminations and redress did not come immediately from constituted authorities to show remorse and calm the situation shows the character and caliber of the people in high places.

The flurry of activities and apologies that followed the now suspended strike sounded superficial and forced to me. All told, what happened in Imo State before, during and after the assault on the Labour President showed a failure of leadership at different levels. That said, what was the purpose of this indefinite strikethat labour embarked on this week? To teach Imo State Government a lesson? To teach the Federal Government a lesson? Or to teach the Nigerian people a lesson?

Organized labour as we know it, is just an infinitesimal percentage of the population or even the entire labour force. But its workers are in such strategic places that they could shut down the economy which could in the long run, affect the livelihood of the rest of the populace. Was that the purpose of the labour leadership? The government will receive some flak for a failed economy but the poor will bear the brunt of it.

Was that what the labour leaders wanted? Besides, Labour itself will not go unscathed. The worst case scenario of incessant strikes is that the nation space becomes ungovernable and some ambitious military officers cease the opportunity to realise an inordinate ambition. Would that benefit organized labour? Would a military government tolerate the current unbridled freedom and grandstanding of Labour? And defying the injunction of an Industrial Court sends signals beyond the moment. It shows an organization that is not any different from the Executive in its contemptuousattitude to the rule of law. It shows the hypocrisy of an organization that has become as highhanded as those it has positioned itself to fight.

The economy is so fragile; the political space so delicate that only those who don’t wish the country well would wish for a further deterioration of the situation. They are many unfortunately. But I will not want to think that the nation’s labour leaders and therefore protectors of the interests of all Nigerian workers, should be found among them. This is the time to build and to plant; hands that are not on the plough should not be sabotaging. Any strike action at this point in time must not be frivolous and must have a long term national interest.

What I see so far are personal agendas masquerading as workers’ interests. Unfortunately, each day of strike creates its own collateral damages. It sets the country’s economy back to the tune of billions. It disrupts plans of ordinary folks and creates its own emergencies from which some folks might never recover. More importantly, people die that would otherwise have lived. But I doubt if the ‘aluta’ people and their supporters understand the wider implications of a single day of a national strike. If they did, they would be more circumspect.

Mercifully, this current strike lasted just two days. It had been a distraction. It had compounded rather than alleviate the already dire situation in the country. Those who lost money, opportunities and loved ones as a result of the strike will not thank labour or government for causing the loss. And what was achieved at the end of it all? Nothing concrete. Just a few massaged egos.