On 'The mother of all strikes'

As at the time of writing this piece, the National Industrial Court sitting in Abuja had stopped the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, from embarking on a strike action they had tagged (as usual), as ‘The Mother of All Strikes’.

NLC protest over fuel price hike in Abuja on May 18, 2016.

However, in a ruling on Tuesday, the NIC President, Justice Babatunde Adejumo, had restrained the labour unions from going on strike, pending the determination of a suit the federal government lodged before it. Justice Adejumo further ordered all the parties to maintain status quo until the legal dispute is settled.

By the time it was morning of the day of the planned strike, series of twists and turns had already played out, principal among which was the division down the ranks of the leadership of the trade unions following negotiations with the federal government.

A faction of the NLC, led by Ayuba Wabba and claiming ultimate legitimacy had earlier walked out of negotiations with federal government and vowed to continue with the strike, while the Joe Ajaero-led faction reached an agreement with federal government and were going to set up a committee to resolve all attendant issues surrounding the increase of the pump price of petrol.

Fast forward to Wednesday, May 18, 2016, a day presumed by some people as the day members of the Buhari-led government would be fed a hefty dose of their own medicine when the same masses who voted them into power would gather once again and (reminiscent of the ‘Occupy Nigeria’ protests), march in their multitudes against what they felt was an insensitive, ill-timed, and perhaps senseless increase in the price of petrol.

Trust the ever unpredictable nature of the average Nigerian, the story was different like that of the bizarre play in which all the actors sensationally deviated from a well-crafted script and acted an unwritten and unrehearsed script, leaving the playwright in a quandary of monstrous proportions.

In an unprecedented and seemingly coordinated action (or inaction if you will), Nigerians simply refused to join the industrial action everyone had feared would cripple the economy and bring the entire nation to its knees.

In Lagos, the economic nerve centre of the nation, the notorious Danfo buses were doing brisk business as usual, banks were open at the normal time to customers, the roads were as busy as ever with general vehicular and pedestrian traffic, schools were conducting regular academic activities, and summarily, Lagos was in full swing!

Oh, I later heard about and saw pictures of what turned out to be pockets of miniature protests staged by the faction of our labour congress that was bent on going on strike.

Well, what can I say? A handful of people burning tires and chanting war songs around Fadeyi bus stop, on the ever busy Ikorodu road in Lagos, and millions of others in their offices, shops, on their mobile phones conducting various businesses, even hawking in traffic, just to make ends meet; the contrast was too sharp!

I should be right or maybe am a little bit disillusioned, but I think for the first time in its chequered history, Nigerian workers and masses made the right choice, they were objective, they went to work instead of staying at home to protest what looked every inch unjustifiable, and as a result helped to avert a major economic disaster in terms of revenue losses usually associated with industrial actions of the intended magnitude.

Ipso facto, what was intended to be one of the biggest industrial actions ever in the history of Nigeria failed absolutely.

I sought the opinion of a cross section of the people I met randomly in the course of the day, and what humbled me was the universal sense of discernment which pervaded the air, crystalizing in a general opinion that considering the current economic realities, going on a strike action would amount to economic suicide for the entire nation, and reminiscent of the classic by Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti titled ‘’, Nigerian workers simply refused to listen to the impartations of their representatives and advocates; the NLC.

For me, there are lessons to be learnt in all these. Most importantly, let the federal government not go to sleep thinking that all is kosher, rather it is time to repay the masses (and quickly too) with quick-fix economic policies and actions for their loyalty and belief in the system even when all was looking bleak.

This is no time for petty political rivalry but rather, a general mindset focused on working together to heal Nigeria’s many festering sores albeit, as fast as possible.

Let me warn, NLC might have failed today but if government goes to sleep thinking it has won its fiercest battle, then it may be in for a shocker. The masses may be patient today, however methinks that if they don’t see positive signs soon, they will not even need any NLC, TUC, or whatever unions exist presently to pull of ‘the grandmother of all strikes’.

All said, I celebrate the newly emerging Nigerian spirit that has obviously placed national interest above sentiments and personal gains. The NLC has been demystified, and for the first time the workers, and not the NLC, has pulled off ‘the mother of all strikes’ simply by going to work!

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