Comrade Joseph S. Ndirang, Labour Party Chieftain, Abuja
It is strange that most Nigerians do not know that the Labour Party is the baby and brain child of the Nigerian Labour movement as championed by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), alongside its civil society allies. The Labour Party enjoys the sympathy and moral support of the masses, especially those engaged in the informal sector of the Nigerian economy such as; the market women, the artisans, the manual labourers, masons, mechanics, tailors etc. The founding fathers of the Party had a deep vision that had to do with the political emancipation of Nigerian workers and the masses at large. They understood that if the rights of the workers are to be fought for and won, the Labour Movement will have no other option than to engage in partisan politics.
Nigerians at a point in time were tired of military coups and counter coups, hence the mass agitation for a return to democracy. Civil Society in conjunction with the Nigeria Labour Movement, under the aegis of NADECO, fought the military regime to a standstill. After much pressure, the General Babangida Junta came to the conclusion of lifting the ban on political activities in 1990.
There were two schools of thought within the Labour Movement, one group believed that it will pay the workers better, if they stay off politics and only support the political party that has a manifesto that covers the interest of the workers and the masses. The other school of thought opined that it is better for the Workers to have their own political party that will further the collective interest of the Labour Movement. The political party is to serve as a tool for political engagement at all levels of governance. This second school of thought prevailed after much persuasion. The Labour Leaders decided that a party be formed to champion the political interests of the workers and their allies.
The Nigerian Labour Congress, which was then the only labour centre in Nigeria, smartly mobilized its civil society coalition, to make the first move of forming an independent political party. Stringent conditions were spelt out by the Military Junta to frustrate labour from meeting the requirements for the formation of political parties, but the Nigeria Labour Congress resiliently worked round the clock and was able to beat the military Administration to its game. In his usual subtle manner, General Babangida named five (5) political associations, out of
about twenty four (24), that met his conditions, which included the Labour Party.
The Military President (as Babangida called himself) Maradonically cancelled the five parties and created just two parties namely: The Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC). He then took some officials of the Labour Party into the two new parties. Comrade S.O.Z. Ejiofor of CSTWUN (now AUCPTRE) was placed in the SDP, while Comrade A.A. Salam of NULGE was placed in NRC.
At the end of the day, M.K.O. Abiola, the Presidential Candidate of the SDP won the Presidential Election but was denied power, which was the advent of the June 12 1993 saga. General Babangida tried to transform himself from a Military Leader to a Political Leader. This was vehemently resisted by Nigerians. He later had no option than to “step aside” as he called his exist.
General Sani Abacha, who took over from Babangida was followed by General Abubakar Abdulsalam who immediately set the ball rolling for civil rule. The Party for Social Democracy (PSD) was formed by Labour in 2002 and later returned to its original name, the Labour Party. Since then, the Labour Party has survived all kinds political winds and storms.
THE STRENGTH OF THE LABOUR PARTY
If the truth must be told, the Labour Party in Nigeria is one of the strongest political parties in existence. It has strong political tentacles in all the states of the Federation. The large trade
unions in Nigeria, that have members in virtually all the 774 Local Government Areas, speaks volumes for its capacity, strength and spread. The Labour Movement has used its extensive membership to overcome several obstacles placed in its way. Obnoxious demands such as the need for intended political parties to have offices in all the states and the local government areas, were easily attained by the NLC. This was through the use of its affiliates, unions like the NUT, NULGE, NURTW, NANNM, MHWUN etc. These affiliates opened party offices within seconds for the use of Labour Party.
That was a massive demonstration of the strength and capacity by Labour. This strength and capacity is still very strong. The Labour Party enjoys the massive underground support of most Nigerians, especially the working classes in the public, private and informal sectors. Civil Society sees itself as an integral part of the Party, except that their role is not so pronounced. The lack of seriousness on the part of the labour movement to properly use its strength to build a giant political party that can democratically take over power in Nigeria is what one cannot understand.
WEAKNESS OF THE LABOUR PARTY
With all the attendant strength of the Labour Party, the under utilization of this strength has been the undoing of the labour movement. It all started when Comrade Adams Oshiomole completed his tenure as Congress President in 2007 and decided to contest for the Edo State Governorship. He began his campaign with the Labour Party ticket, but to the utmost dismay of the labour leaders, he went into a political marriage with the then ACN and contested on their platform.
This singular action weakened the strength of the Labour Party. Politicians who had sympathy and are ready to use the platform of the Labour Party to contest various offices, became discouraged, because they could not see the rationale behind Comrade Adam’s movement from the Labour Party to ACN.
NOTE: Comrade Adams made efforts to explain the circumstances that led to his decision to move to ACN during the 40th Anniversary of NLC, which is still unacceptable to sceptics like me). Since then, the strength of the Labour Party has been in decline.
It was further made worse by people like Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State. He enjoyed massive support of the Nigerian workers and their civil society allies to climb to power, only to abandon the Labour Party after six years as Governor in 2017. For reasons that are politically selfish, he moved to the PDP in an effort to gain political relevance after his tenure as Governor. But this dream never came to fruition.
He finally jumped to the new Zenith Labour Party formed by Comrade Dan Nwanyanwu, the former Labour Party Chair, and tried to aspire for the Presidency. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, he quickly tried contesting for the Senate in 2019, but he could not deliver.
To add salt to injury, the Leaders of the Party did not help matters. They were busy mortgaging the Party’s tickets to the highest bidder. Most politicians, who attempted to fly their tickets under the Labour Party, had very bitter experiences. The Party was turned into a money-making venture, thereby down playing its social democratic ideology. The leaders
became sit-tight Officers, who refused to vacate office even after the expiration of their tenures. All other Comrades that had political ambitions decided to abandon the Labour Party for other favourable parties. The Party therefore went into obscurity.
Having miraculously scaled the recent axes of the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Party needs to do away with any crisis or impediment that will retard its progress.
As it stands now, the Party still enjoys the sympathy and support of the masses in Nigeria. So many political actors, including women, youths and people with disability are willing to fly their political tickets with the Labour Party in 2023. It will only take the present Leadership of the NLC and TUC to take the bull by its horns by initiating the following steps:-
- Call an enlarged meeting of the Labour Political Commission and all stake holders with the aim of settling all outstanding disagreements. This should be done in the spirit of true reconciliation.
- Seek out committed members, especially within the Labour Movement and civil society, to constitute an acceptable National Working Committee (NWC). These members should democratically lead the Party to its next desired haven. Such NWC members must be selfless people with proven integrity and unquestionable character.
- Mobilize funds from affiliated unions of both the NLC and TUC to provide initial funds for the Party to take off on sound financial footing. This will prevent money-bags from hi-jacking the Party for their selfish use.
- Summon a massive National Convention to be attended by all stake-holders; Chairs, Secretaries, Treasurers and Women Commission Leaders in all the States of the Federation, from both NLC and TUC. Such a massive Convention should be given great publicity, to formally announce the rebirth of the Party for the Nigerian masses. The Constitution of the Party should also be reviewed to remove all obnoxious clauses that gave unlimited powers to the National Chair and other chairs down the ladder.
- The Convention should confirm and ratify the selected NWC member. The new NWC should commence the piloting of the Party and make plans to immediately constitute state chapters of the Party. Those that emerge as state officials will proceed to the local governments to constitute the ward level leaderships.
- The Party should make it a matter of policy that aspirants seeking political office under the Labour Party’s platform should be people of integrity and must be judged to truly possess the quality, capacity and ability to deliver the office for which they are contesting.
The potentials of the Labour Party in the Nigerian Political space cannot be overemphasized. It has the capacity to deliver the real democratic dividend to the teeming populace of Nigeria, if given the rightful leadership and enabling environment to thrive.