The president of the Nigeria Labor Congress, Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, announced his retirement last month after eight consecutive years as the leader of the umbrella organization for trade unions in Nigeria. Before his ascendancy to the leadership position, the Nigerian labor movement was seen by many as a stooge of the then military government because some who say it failed to defend the cause of workers.
Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole said he restored the credibility of the union during his eight years as president of the Nigeria Labor Congress.
“Before I came in, a lot of people thought the union had become a pro-government institution. Under the military, it was alleged that it was completely compromised. When we came in, we had promised that we would restore the independence of the movement and restore its credibility. As I speak, I believe that 80 percent of Nigerians are unanimous that we’ve done our best literally. We have been trusted not just in matters of wages, but we have been trusted with all matters affecting the politics, economy of the entire society of Nigeria,” he said.
Oshiomhole said most analysts and commentators would agree with him that during his presidency, the Nigeria Labor Congress had become the main opposition to government even though it is not a political party.
He said his eight years as president were exciting and at times full of tension. Oshiomhole said one of those difficult moments happened during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
“There were difficult moments and moments of tension, like when the president, Chief Obasanjo had to accuse the NLC of behaving like a parallel government, and we thought we had gone completely outside our mandate. But for us, the challenge of sustaining democracy and upholding democratic values, and getting government to account to the people require that those of us who are organized found the courage to ask questions on behalf of the many who have no voice,” he said.
Oshiomhole said if he had the opportunity again to lead the labor union, he would do the same thing again. He agreed that the Nigeria Labor Union had become too political. But he said the union had an obligation.
“Yes, we were quite political. We made the point from the outset that although we were not going to affiliate with any political party, but we could afford to be apolitical because at the end of the day politics shapes society; it determines the color and character of government. So it’s not something we can afford not to be interested in, “ he said.
Oshiomhole said the NLC became the voice of the people, especially when some political opposition members were co-opted by the government and others were intimidated into silence.
On the situation in the volatile oil-rich Niger Delta region, where several foreign oil workers had been taken hostage by militants, Oshiomhole said the Nigeria Labor Congress is concerned about the plight of the oil workers.
“We are very much concerned. We’ve been engaged with government that the workers in the Niger Delta area are workers. Whether they are Nigerians or foreigners, they are entitled to security of life and property. And we do not support the idea of making them a scapegoat, of kidnapping them and taking them hostage. We do not believe that the oil workers are responsible for the problems confronting the people of the area. We also believe that for many years, the Nigerian government did not do justice to the people of Niger Delta,” Oshiomhole said.