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C’River NLC and its missing chairman

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is perhaps, the foremost pressure group in the country. Said to have been founded in December 1975 after a merger with the Nigeria Trade Union Congress (NTUC); Labour Unity Front (LUF); United Labour Congress (ULC) and Nigeria Workers’ Council (NWC), NLC has grown in leaps and bounds with the leadership often taking on government when the need arises.

With its powers drawn from the strength of workers under it, NLC can easily pass for an alternate government. Because of the general belief that labour unions are better organized and well positioned to struggle and extract benefits from government and corporate bodies for their colleagues, NLC in particular is seen as a very formidable group to champion such a cause. For instance, many countries around the world have for decades been celebrating what is generally called “May Day:” a day that is dedicated to remind workers that they once struggled to get the what they wanted – an 8 hour working period.

Historically, Labour Day has its origins in the labour union movement in the United States in the 19th Century. In 1889, the Marxist International Socialist Congress adopted a resolution for a great international demonstration in which they demanded that the workers should not be made to work for more than 8 hours a day. After this, it became an annual event and May 1 was celebrated as Labour Day. Consequently, May Day was first celebrated on May 1, 1890, after it was declared by the first International Congress of Socialist Parties in Europe on July 14, 1889.

It was declared for the workers in Paris to dedicate every year on May 1 as the ‘Workers Day of International Unity and Solidarity’. May 1 in Europe has historically been linked with rural traditional farmers’ festivals but later May Day became associated with the modern labour movement.

That is why till date, labour unions in Nigeria see the day as Sacrosanct, a day they take stock of their welfare and their relationship between government and labour. In most cases, it is a day they set aside to remind the various governments of unkept promises, and their resolve to see to the fulfillment of those promises.

However, last Saturday was May 1, 2021 and, while other states kept to the traditional celebration with March past and interaction with relevant government officials to weigh their relationship and push for more commitment on the part of government, the reverse was the case in Cross River State. Labour leaders both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the state mobilized workers and headed to the Freedom Park along Mary Slessor road to protest against the inability of the state government to rescue their chairman, Mr. Ben Ukpepi, who has been his kidnappers since March 21 this year.

He was allegedly kidnapped in the presence of his wife around 8pm standing outside his house. Immediately the kidnappers zoomed off, the victim’s son got into another car and chased after them.. He was only lucky to escape being killed as the gunmen demobilized the tires. So, after waiting for over forty years without any news about their chairman’s release, Cross River labour leaders went for placards instead of banners. Comrade Monday Ogbodum, chairman Trade Union Congress and Comrade Lawrence Achuta, Vice Chairman, Nigeria Labour Congress were all in agreement that the day was not a normal May Day and called for sadness and not gladness.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the two leaders chorused as they read their addresses separately, “today we should have been celebrating in our traditional fashion, but here we are: gloomy, sad, helpless, hopeless, desperate and utterly flummoxed at the way things have turned against the workers of this state.” “Ukpebi was kidnapped on the 21st March, 2021 from the Civil Servants Estate in Akpabuyo by a cruel and unrepentant gang of perfidious criminals. The NLC chairman, a man with a humble mien who put the welfare of others before his own: a man who cannot hurt a fly has been in the hands of his abductors for more than a month now,” the leaders lamented.

The TUC chairman, Monday Ogbodum in particular said: “The labour movement in the state was dealt a deadly blow on that fateful day and here we are sorrowing instead of celebrating; agonizing and praying that wherever the evil men have taken him to, he is safe.”

He added: “I want to use this occasion and this somber mood to charge the government and the security agencies to do all that is necessary to see the safe return of our Comrade, the Chairman of NLC.” This is not the first time Ukpepi will be spending his time with kidnappers. In December 2019, he was picked up by some unknown gunmen and spent about two weeks with them before he was finally abandoned on a Sunday.

 

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