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Labor’s Treachery against the “Occupy Nigeria” Revolt

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. There is no doubt that the last unprompted mass revolt against President Goodluck Jonathan’s cold-blooded...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

There is no doubt that the last unprompted mass revolt against President Goodluck Jonathan’s cold-blooded economic war on Nigeria’s middle- and working-class families was a damp squib, as the British call something that turns out to be a disappointment after good expectations.

 Here was a splendidly promising, spontaneous, unscripted, and unexampled mass insurrection against an evil ruling class. Its promise—and initial success—filled us all with renewed faith and enthusiasm for our fatherland.  For the first time in Nigeria’s history, a broad scope of Nigerians across our traditional primordial fissures of religion, region, ethnicity, etc. united in the face of a common threat from a greedy, unimaginative, and unconscionable elite that is dedicated to exterminating the masses of our people piecemeal. There is no parallel for that historic coalition of the oppressed in Nigeria.

Then Nigeria’s thoroughly compromised labor movement hijacked the revolt, lulled the people into a false sense of solidarity, and finally extinguished the revolutionary fire that was burning down the foundations of Nigeria’s ruling elite.

The Nigerian Labor Congress and the Trade Union Congress didn’t join the mass protests until at least three days after the fact. They were obviously drafted by President Jonathan and his agents to help contain, and if possible snuff out, the conflagration that was going to consume them.

From the very start, I privately expressed concerns that the Nigerian Labor Congress would infiltrate and dilute the people’s revolt. My friend, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, who is president of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center, thought I was being overly suspicious. He said he could vouch for the credibility of NLC president Abdulwaheed Omar. I wasn’t convinced. I told him his trust would be betrayed. I didn’t say that because I had oracular powers. I don’t. But I had this steadily escalating sense of premonition that the labor leaders would commandeer and crush the spontaneous mass revolt from within. And they did.
Finanice Minister Ngozi Okonjo_Iweala congratulates NLC president Abdulwaheed Omar and his TUC counterpart for a job well-done.
 The signs were evident for anyone with even the wispiest perceptual capacities to see. First, the current leaders of the NLC are unapologetic protégés of Adams Oshiomhole, the most cunningly duplicitous labor leader Nigeria has ever produced—but who for a long time enjoyed an unearned and undeserved reputation as a dogged and forthright defender of the Nigerian masses, a reputation he fraudulently exploited to become governor of Edo State. 

Second, Adams Oshiomhole, NLC’s puppeteer, is an unapologetic advocate of petrol price hike—as he has always been, although he had done a great job of pretending to be for the people. It has now come to light that all the strikes he led against previous petrol price increases were all grand, elaborate, and carefully choreographed performances. Since NLC’s current leaders are his puppets, they couldn’t possibly perform anything independent of their controller.

 Third, in the course of the mass revolt, a government document I saw showed that the NLC, in fact, had given its imprimatur to government’s plans to increase the pump price of petrol (which is now cleverly masked as “fuel subsidy removal”) many months back. So labor had been in cahoots with the government to fleece the masses all along. All their pretensions to the contrary were mere theater. 

NLC and TUC leaders’ hijacking, neutralizing, and extinguishing of the people’s revolt reminds me of Malcolm X’s witty dramatization of how the popular revolt of black Americans against racism in the 1960s was contained by the government through “civil rights leaders.”  These civil rights leaders weren’t originally part of the “March on Washington” during which Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

 Like the “Occupy Nigeria” movement, it was a spontaneous grassroots revolt that took the American black bourgeoisie by surprise. The government was scared to death that a “black steamroller was going to come down on the capital,” as Malcolm X memorably captured it. 

Then the government quickly called the black civil rights leaders of the time and told them to stop it. "Boss, I can't stop it, because I didn't start it. I'm not even in it, much less the head of it," Malcolm said in an imaginary conversation he made up between the conniving black bourgeoisie and the John F. Kennedy administration. Malcolm said this during a December 10, 1963 speech he delivered in Detroit, Michigan, titled “Message to the Grassroots” .

 When the black bourgeoisie said they were helpless before this black steamroller, Malcolm again made up a response that the government gave to the compromised black civil rights leaders: “I'll put you at the head of it. I'll endorse it. I'll welcome it. I'll help it. I'll join it.”

There are eerie analogues between the events Malcolm X brilliantly dramatized, some would say over-dramatized, in 1960s America and what happened in Nigeria last week. The “Occupy Nigeria” mass revolt took both the Jonathan government and the morally bankrupt labor aristocrats at the NLC and the TUC by surprise. When government told them to stop the revolt, they probably said, like the black bourgeoisie in 1960s America, they couldn’t stop what they didn’t start. So the government put them “at the head of it,” to use Malcolm’s words. It did this by choosing to “negotiate” with labor, the same labor that was never a part of the revolt, that joined the revolt three days after it had started. 

Soon enough, the masses of the people began to look up to NLC and TUC leaders as the “leaders” of the revolt. Then they “became” the revolt. They took it over. As they took it over, they took control of its rhythm, form, compass, and denouement. And they are being rewarded for their skillful performance. I read that TUC president Peter Esele has been rewarded with membership into the Special Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) Task Force. That’s such a swift compensation for treachery!

But we shouldn’t despair. The leaderless, unstructured, spur-of-the-moment, if for now unsuccessful, mass upheaval that we saw in the past few days has restored many people’s optimism about Nigeria’s future in more ways than one. First, it has disproved the time-honored national myth that Nigerians can never unite over anything other than football. 

Second, for the first time in Nigeria’s 51 years of existence, Muslims and Christians signed a covenant to live in peace in Kano, the hotbed of sanguinary religious convulsions. Pictures of Christians guarding Muslims while they prayed and of Muslims reciprocating the gesture by visiting churches and assuring Christians of protection and fraternal solidarity warmed my heart beyond measure.

Lastly, this battle isn’t over yet.  The suicidal and clueless Nigerian elite are unlikely to relent in their cowardly and egomaniacal violations of the poor. When the combustion does erupt again, it would take a decidedly different course. Labor leaders would no longer be able to stop what they didn’t start. A wise government would learn from this, retrace its steps, and respect the will and wishes of the people it claims to govern. But is any Nigerian government wise?

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  1. Nigerians are getting wiser, gathering momentum and boldness. One day, and it'll be very soon, our revolt will be beyond the labour unions and will consume them.
    Thank you Farooq for another captivating eye-opener.

  2. a very insightful piece i must say. Well scripted. It burns my heart to kno that we have so may traitors and moles around us. Up until d unilateral price fixed by d president, Labour kept sayin 65 or nothin then out of d blues they called off d strike. May omar and esele's generation pay this treacherous act towards d nigerian masses. And wehn OccupyNigeria does erupt again i pray it consumes dem along side our evil rulers not leaders

  3. This tracheal deceit from the NLC and TUC is a very important lesson we would never forget in the history of our struggle against bad governance.They only manage to exterminate the strike action and not our collective determination to liberate ourselves from these tyrants, that was in-build in our fresh mind. The struggle continues, we are all boiling from within, and our next boil off will surely halt bad governance giving way to Nigeria of our dream.

  4. A good digestive piece 4 a conscios mind.Well,i, for once have neva belived on d NLC/TUC achiving anything tangeble 4 d masses.Looking at timeline,there was neva a moment in d recent past when they've succesfuly fought and won any labour battle.The last minimum wage strike is stil fresh on our mind.Til date,d govt. Is yet 2 implement it.My fear is,d NLC is rather misusing d all powerful weapon,STRIKE,in d arsenal of any labour movt.When d masses loses confidence in them,as it is now,they're useles.Oshiomole traded with d masses and became a politician today,we shall see with d rest.

  5. Thank you my dear brother, for yet another insightful treatise. I quite share your optimism about the awakening of the Nigerian masses. This awakening is taking roots, thanks to the new means of mass social intercourse brought about by technology. I believe also that this episode has given the masses a taste of the tremendous power they possess in shaping their destiny. Let's all keep our fingers crossed.

  6. This merely shows that all Nigerians are either cowards, fools or 419-ners. You can't trust and do anything good with anyone of them. But no problems 'cause the next time I see the chance to revolt, I'll revolt alone and believe me I'll be remembered in the history of Nigeria.

  7. anothet Kperogi masterpiece. You knw a burning fire that is not quenched well, the flame goes but it smoulder. Thtscthe anger with Nigerians next time it erupts, it ll be a volcano with a larva tht will consume whosoever dare it. Enuf is enuf

  8. your piece remains a usual rare masterpice Nigerians wanting to read. The last mass protest was just testimony to the fact that Nigerians could not be taken for grantage. it also depicted that in a no distant future,with the level of enlightment and knowing of civil right, Nigerians would raise against this unpopular and unscrupulous government.The NLC/TUC stand was treacherous- they have betrayed the confidance and trust of Nigerians by receiving a reward of membership in the PIB TASK FORCE.


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