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Nigeria Labor Group Plans Strike to Impede Transition, Inauguration

Nigeria’s most powerful union, the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), has called a two-day strike action between now and May 29, to protest against what it called vote-rigging in last month’s presidential, state and legislative elections. No specific dates have been chosen to protest the victories of President-Elect Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). However, opposition groups have rejected the results and plan to challenge the outcome in court this week. Political Science Professor Sadiq Abubakar of Amadou Bello University in Kaduna says the protests themselves do not represent a serious threat to Nigeria’s scheduled civilian transition of power on May 29.

“So far, there hasn’t been any strong organization against the election. Everybody’s complaining about it, especially all the civil society organizations – labor, political parties. But they have not really been able to come together to organize in such a way that they could threaten the transition. The Nigerian Labor Congress used to be very influential. But it seems to me they have lost some steam. If closing down the country means denying electricity, movement, distribution of petrol, closing down the markets, I don’t know whether they can do that,” he said.

Professor Abubakar says that a combination of Nigerian labor and political opposition forces can only succeed if they become better organized.

“So far, political leaders’ pronouncements are bereft of any determination, and no organization whatsoever. Just giving a press conference, asking people to come out doesn’t mean anything. We should be well organized, in such a way that when they come out, others will have the courage to do so. A one-day or two-day strike in Africa doesn’t mean anything to African leaders,” he said.

On the other hand, the Amadou Bello University professor points out that best chance for the opposition All-Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP), the Action Congress Party (AC) and others to press for a re-run of the vote depends on a strong legal team and a solid presentation in court.

“They have organized some formidable lawyers to argue their case. Looking at the names of the lawyers, we are in for some fireworks in the court. And if they are able to assemble the evidence, I think they will have some chance. It’s one thing to say the elections are rigged. It’s another to organize evidence to prove it. So far, Atiku has demonstrated his capacity to actually mobilize good lawyers to fight his case. And he has won virtually every case,” said Abubakar, who is no relation to the outgoing Vice President.

Professor Abubakar credited President-Elect Yar’Adua with making correct conciliatory gestures toward the political opposition.

“In terms of his moves, they are the right moves. If he wins the case (in court), what he does in the first 100 days will be extremely important. He has to reach out to the opposition parties. He shouldn’t be seen to be vindictive. He has to review some of the programs. Some of the ministers in this administration are very corrupt. The issue of electricity is very important. The university lecturers are on strike. He has to reach out to the Niger Delta. Luckily the Vice President (VP-Elect Goodluck Jonathan) is from that area. There are so many aggrieved people. You have had leaders who are very, very irresponsible who have been taking billions of nairas and dollars, but they have not been doing anything to improve the conditions of the people of the area,” he said.