Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Nigeria Update: Rumblings in the House of Labour

Rumblings in the house of Labour

Tuesday, 03 May 2011 00:00
Nigerian Guardian
From Collin Olayinka, Abuja

The ongoing crisis within the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is affecting the vibrancy of its secretariat, which has been in disarray after its General Secretary was forced to take an accumulated vacation

SEVERAL weeks after the delegates’ conference of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the battle to control the largest Labour centre’s National Secretariat still continues.

The battle began when the General Secretary of Congress, John Odah, was asked to take what the President of NLC, Abdulwahed Omar, termed Odah’s accumulated leave since 1999.

While there was palpable tension at the NLC Secretariat prior to the delegates’ conference due to intense politics, the tension and apprehension went a step higher after the inaugural meeting of the newly elected leadership that now constitute the National Administrative Council (NAC).

It was gathered that against an age-long tradition of the NLC where its elected leadership usually reaches out to others who lost out in the elections, the current NAC decided to send the General Secretary on vacation for allegedly fraternizing with the former Deputy President, Peters Adeyemi. The reason offered for authorizing Odah’s leave was that Odah is ill and needs a break, a position which he has refuted.

A source at the Labour House secretariat said that besides the unusual nature of the vacation, the letter conveying the decision of NAC to Odah failed to state when he was to resume. Besides, Omar thanked the General Secretary for his services to the Labour Movement and wished him a deserved rest. Odah was said to have noted that it conveyed a message other than taking an ordinary vacation.

Odah, sensing undertones, wrote back requesting clarifications. Although the president responded allaying his fears, stating that Odah was to resume on September 2, 2011, but public comments he had been making differed from the official communication with Odah.

Another letter was to follow which showed that Odah is to resume in November 2012. Odah observed that he was still not comfortable with some aspects of the President’s second letter.

The fears expressed by Odah were as a result of an alleged simmering plot to remove him as head of NLC secretariat by those who see him as being too powerful, unbendable and uncompromising on issues of workers’ welfare. The plot to remove him came to its peak following preparations for the NLC’s delegates’ Conference when some key subordinates allegedly conspired to frustrate all his (Odah) preparatory efforts for the conference.

Statutorily, it is only the Conference that has the power to remove a General Secretary. But the plot was that if Odah was frustrated and could not produce the necessary reports for the conference, it would be easy to move a motion to remove him on grounds of incompetence.

He complained about this plot at the last meeting of the NAC preceding the conference when he specifically mentioned names of two principal officers, Owei Lakemfa, a Principal Assistant General Secretary heading the Industrial Relations and Organisation and Emma Ugboaja, a Senior Assistant General Secretary, Administration and Establishment, as not flowing with him.

This was evidenced in the report as Lakemfa and Ugboaja, either submitted inadequate reports or did not submit at all. The reports of activities of their departments were supposed to be part of a larger report the General Secretary prepares and presents to the conference. It was gathered that the President, throughout the preparation for the conference, allegedly placed other obstacles on the path of the General Secretary.

Most sensitive aspects of the conference were handled by junior officers against the statutes of the NLC, since its establishment in 1978. For instance, the President was said to have asked Ugboaja to take on the work of the Secretary to the Conference Credentials Committee, a job usually done by more senior officers.

The Accountant of NLC, Segun Rotimi who had performed that function on two previous conferences and who had been approved by NEC as Secretary of the Credential Committee, was reportedly stripped of the function. Ugboaja was also Secretary to the Constitution Review Committee making him the only principal officer to serve in two committees of any NLC delegates’ conference.

Besides, Ugboaja was also assigned the duty of collecting forms of some contestants against the provisions of the Constitution of the NLC, which stipulates that such was the function of the General Secretary. Both the General Secretary and the Chairperson of the Credentials Committee, Ladi Iliya, and a Vice President of NLC were unhappy and said so at the last meeting of NAC preceding the conference.

Most of the present NAC members are reportedly not comfortable with the happenings at the foremost labour centre.

Ugboaja who was the General-Secretary of the National Union of Chemical, Footwear, Rubber, Leather and Non-Metallic Employees (NUCFRANMPE), left the union under serious circumstances. Met for comments on the happenstances at the secretariat of the NLC, he said he was not prepared to comment on the issues.

He stated that if the report submitted to the delegates’ conference was not coherent enough, the conference knew what to do.

His words: “If what was presented to Congress was not good enough, it knew what to do. I do not wish to comment further on this issue. But what Congress is concerned about now is how to ensure the implementation of the minimum wage and how to organise workers to get their rights. I do not wish to be dragged into the politics of the NLC.”

Meanwhile the battle for the control of the soul of the NLC secretariat may shift to a new ground soon. This is because of another letter Odah wrote pointing out more anomalies on his accumulated leave that was approved by Omar for conversion to cash in 2007.

In a letter dated April 7, 2011 to Omar, a copy of which The Guardian obtained, Odah pointed out that the vacation still outstanding was that of between 2008 and 2010, which should be 90 days.

The letter read in part: “The facts are that, as in many establishments, my accumulated leave for 2009–2007 was commuted to cash and paid to me in 2007. You, Comrade President, approved the letter permitting the leave for nine years to be commuted to cash…This means that only the period for which I have accumulated leave is 2008–2010; that is only three years.”

Odah further argued that he did not deliberately refuse to go on leave but was forced to sacrifice the vacation due to the nature of his work. While refuting the allegation that he refused to hand over to an acting general secretary as directed by the President, Odah posited that the ambiguity of the letter written to him to proceed on vacation did not create a conducive atmosphere to guarantee a proper handover. He said all the four letters he had received on the subject matter contained contradictions. He fears that the accusation that he refused to hand over might be used to justify his eventual removal.

Odah urged: “What exactly are the real reasons for asking me to proceed on an accumulated leave of 12 years when the records are there to show that my accumulated leave is actually for three years (2008 – 2010) only? Why is my health condition being falsely used as the reason for asking me to proceed on leave when it is clear that, as a matter of fact, I am fit and healthy as can be attested to by my doctors?”

There are obvious signs that Congress may be receding in its importance. For example, the presidential debate, pioneered by Congress, but did not take part this year. There was also a partnership with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which entails that NLC plays an active role in election monitoring. These two initiatives hit the rocks because of the absence of a vibrant secretariat. Indeed, The Guardian learnt that most of those selected to monitor elections did so within their domain. Reports by NLC monitors were used in the past to shape the response of Congress on how the conduct of elections went.

The NAC of the NLC, indeed met last week Friday, but did not discuss the controversial leave of its General Secretary. The Guardian learnt that the issue was raised by the President of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Igwe Achese, but was stepped down.

Nevertheless, the issue of the Chief Scribe of the NLC going on accumulated leave, the realization that his leave is actually for three years which presupposes that he is expected to resume in July is one that must be resolved sooner than later.

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