Former President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, has charged the leadership of the organised Labour to prioritise welfare and rights of Nigerian workers over personal political interests.
Oshiomhole, a serving Senator representing Edo North Senatorial District, gave this charge on Tuesday while speaking with newsmen after meeting with Vice President Kashim Shettima at the State House, Abuja.
He expressed his reservation about ill-treatment of workers at any level, citing his affinity with the Labour movement, as a former President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC).
Oshiomhole, who is a former Governor of Edo state was reacting to the nationwide strike action called by the NLC and its sister body, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), which started in the early hours of Tuesday.
While the first timer Senator expressed his continued commitment to the cause of the Labour, he, however, disapproved of the ongoing strike, saying it does not adequately address the crucial issues facing workers.
He also urged the NLC and TUC to prioritize engaging state governments that are not implementing the agreed-upon wage for workers in their respective state.
According to him: “Labour cannot be apolitical because politics is about the people. And I have argued when I was in NLC that nobody has a right to be partisan, much more than those who turn the will of our industrial progress.
“But in saying that, we must recognise that however how hard you try, when it comes to politics, people are going to have different reasons for supporting different candidates.
“You have to be careful not to be seen to be doing the bidding of a particular candidate or a particular political party. As President of the NLC, I made no friend with any politician in Edo State.
“So Ogbemudia once asked me, ‘we want to be able to say leave the matter to me, he’s my boy, I will call him.’
“I am not anybody’s boy. I want to make my decisions. I take responsibility for those decisions. You can’t find me in the house of a politician. Not because I hate them. Because they represent the value that I represent.
“I represent those guys who can only vote. Even though the law allowed that to be voted for, unfortunately, the system hardly throws them up.
“So I have to prioritise what is it that I’m ready to die for? And what is it that I’m ready to accommodate? “
Oshiomhole who is also a former National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress urged the NLC to prioritize holding state governments accountable to the N30,000 minimum wage agreement, which also covers local government and state workers.
He queried why the NLC was not mobilizing strikes against states still failing to implement the approved minimum wage while targeting the federal government.
Oshiomhole advised that Labour must engage vigorously on issues like unpaid salaries, but cautioned against actions perceived as overtly partisan.
He stated that those states are not being mobilised to go on strike.
His words: “The federal government had granted N35,000 increase. And those discussions were supposed to be for and on behalf of not only the federal government, but on behalf of all workers in Nigeria, including those employed by local governments and state governments.
“And the additional revenue accruing from the withdrawal of subsidy trickles down to the state and to the local government.
“Now, I would have wished that somebody the NLC recognise that the hunger in the stomach of federal employees is not any worse than the hunger in the stomach of those state employees, nor local government employees.
“If these are the issues on the table, even as a senator I will publicly support an action against any government that thinks that we should lament away our hunger and while the people do what they do.
“Unfortunately, this strike is not about those issues. And I think we have to be careful not to mix our political opinion with our responsibilities, because the issues confronting workers are so many that they should become the priority.
The Senator reiterated his stance against brutality against any Nigerian while stressing that addressing the hierarchy of workers’ needs should be NLC’s focus.
He said: “But let me be clear. I do not support the brutalization of any Nigerian. I emphasise, any Nigerian, including a journalist, including the unemployed. Of course, including Labour Leader”.
Commenting on the just concluded off-season governorship polls, particularly the one in Imo State, Oshiomhole noted that the people chose based on the performance of of the governor in the last four years.
According to him, most analysis of how the people make choices in the inner recesses of the states, especially in the media, are based on wrong indices, which do not represent the realities of the voters across the states.
According to him: “Particularly for Imo state, there have been a lot of forces working to undermine security in Imo State and they’ve resorted to measures that are adding tension in Imo State and some people even want to plunge the state into darkness, believing that when it is dark the people cannot vote.
“But I think for me my take away from the Imo election is that these forgotten majority of people who are voiceless, who can’t even access you. But they have the power of the ballot.
“That it is not what sponsored commentators say on television or sponsored writers write in newspapers that will inform their judgment, their judgments will be formed by what they have seen the governor doing, and those aspect of what the governor is doing that touch them.
“For example, when the governor construct a road to the village, a village that was not accessible before and you tell those villagers that the governor is bad. They’ll say ‘he may be bad for you o, but he’s good for me’.
“When I saw the governor commissioning a very modern hospital in a remote area and you go on television to say ‘that Governor Hope is a bad man.’ They’ll say ‘he’s bad to you, but he gave us hospital. We are going to give him our votes’.
“For me, that is the beauty of democracy and it also put on notice, commentators that they shouldn’t sit in the comfort of state capitals and comment almost with managerial confidence about the goings on in the state when they have never even visited that state.
“The worst mistake you can make is to rely on sampling people in Abuja whom we call ward 17. They don’t exist in the states but they are very vocal. They are the ones you will find being hosted by TV hosts. But those voiceless guys, they are potent.
“They are actually the ones that vote, while the commentators asking whether people have started fighting? I think that what has happened in Imo shows that this democracy cannot be arrested by urban elites”.
Deji Elumoye in Abuja