Cablegate: Gon Intent to Abolish National Labor Congress

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

251425Z Jun 04




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary. President Obasanjo's government seems to be
pursuing efforts to persuade the national assembly to
disband the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC). The
Government of Nigeria (GON) asserts that it wants to
liberalize Nigeria's labor movement. The NLC believes
the GON's move is vindictive and designed to weaken the
only active opposition to GON rule. The Senate is
split along party lines on the matter. End summary.

2. For the second time in five months, President
Olusegun Obasanjo may soon present a bill to the
national assembly seeking to amend the Nigerian Trade
Unions Act. This bill, like the previous one, would
put an end to the Nigerian Labor Congress as the only
central labor organization in Nigeria. The bill also
aims to codify the process and procedures through which
labor organizations may declare strikes.

3. Among other things, the bill proposes liberalization
of the Nigeria labor movement via registration of
multiple labor unions that would replace the NLC. The
bill would require trade unions wishing to declare a
nation wide strike to secure the prior approval of at
least two-thirds of its members. Now, the NLC's
central committee decides such matters.

4. The GON claims the bill is justified since its
enactment would ensure compliance with the
International Labor Organization's (ILO) requirement
that labor confederations be democratically organized.
The GON further claims that the bill would promote
democratization of labor and thus strengthen it, as
well as allow workers to choose to become members of a
labor organization of their own choice, in keeping with
the spirit of the constitution.

5. The NLC thinks otherwise. Its Deputy President,
Joseph Akinlaja, told the media that the bill springs
from the federal government's vindictiveness rather
than a commitment or concern for the labor movement.
"If we want multiple labor centers, it will be the
decision of the workers rather than by any law of the
federal government", Akinlaja said. He suggested it is
not a coincidence that the GON revived the idea of
presenting such a bill to the national assembly barely
a week after the NLC led a nation-wide strike
protesting GON-approved fuel price increases.


6. The general belief in labor circles is that the
GON's sole aim is suppressing labor and silencing
voices of dissent as witnessed during the last three
industrial actions embarked upon by the NLC. We have
not seen the latest version, but recall that the
previous one sought to permit the existence of multiple
labor federations. No doubt, such action would weaken
the NLC's power and influence as the sole labor
federation recognized by law. The bill that circulated
late last year stipulated that trade unions no longer
had to be affiliated to a central labor organization in

7. Last year's bill had also sought to outlaw strikes
not approved by two-thirds of the members of a labor
union. The bill stipulated that 'no trade union or
registered federation of trade unions by whatever name
called, shall embark on an industrial action unless
upon a resolution approving the strike action, passed
by at least two thirds majority of delegates
representing all the members of the union or federation
of trade unions in secret ballot at a meeting for that

8. Another section of the previous bill indicated that
a government official (the Registrar) "shall remove
from the register the Nigeria Labor Congress as the
only central labor organization," while another section
stipulated that two or more trade unions, irrespective
of their trade, occupation, or industry, could jointly
form a federation of trade unions.

9. Not all labor leaders are apt to be unhappy about
reviving the proposed bill. The rival Trade Union
Congress, an association of senior employees who are
not allowed by law to affiliate with the NLC, had
supported aspects of the labor bill last year. TUC Head
of Administration, Dan Uhumangho, had then told our
political specialist that the TUC supported the removal
of all relevant sections of the bill that recognized
the NLC as the sole labor federation in Nigeria. He
said the TUC believed that every player in the labor
sector should be allowed to have a say on any issue
that affects it, since the NLC merely represents its
own constituency and has no right to speak for others.
Uhumangho had further said that the TUC supports
creation of multiple labor centers, saying this is in
line with democratic principles and the ILO's
convention on freedom of association.
10. On the other hand, Uhumangho had said the TUC did
not support the aspects of the bill that seek to
discontinue automatic dues check-off for union members.
He had said that if check-off dues, which remain the
major source of union funding, were rescinded, the
unions would have cause to seek funding from outside
sources that the GON might consider inimical to
Nigeria's national interests. Uhumangho had added that
the TUC also opposed withdrawal of a trade union's
right to engage in industrial action.

11. It is not clear how the new bill will play out in
the national assembly. The senate is split along party
lines on the matter. Several senators of the ruling
party, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), hailed the
bill, saying it is democratic in that it gives workers
freedom to decide to what group they may belong. But an
Alliance for Democracy senator has claimed that the PDP
aims to impose a dictatorship. According to the
senator, the bill "violates the basic constitutional
liberties of freedom of association and expression of
ideas". Most senators, however, believe the fate of the
proposed bill will depend on views to be articulated at
a public hearing soon to be organized.

12. What is clear is that even if the ILO has
consistently advocated the existence of multiple labor
federations in a country as a means of guaranteeing
freedom of association, this fact does not, in and of
itself, fully explain the GON's latest move. The likely
re-introduction of the bill and its prospective impact
on the NLC are indications that the GON is pursuing
this measure to weaken organized labor's resistance to
its unpopular policies.


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