On Thursday, April 5, Oyo state public workers suspended a 2-week strike over the implementation of the National Minimum Wage Act (NMWA), for two weeks. The strike was called by rank and file workers who suspended the trade union federations’ leadership and for its 1st week was “illegal”. With the intervention of the Oyo state chapter of the Joint Action Front (which comprises pro-labour civil society organizations and along with the NLC and TUC constitutes the Labour and Civil Society Coalition), there was a reconciliation of the labour leadership with the rank and file power and the strike continued for another week.
Isaac Botti, the Socialist Workers League full-timer in Oyo state, who along with other SWL activists in Ibadan, the capital city of Oyo state participated actively in the strike, and Ekundayo Moro’ntodun Jagun, a member of the SWL Central Committee, put together a comprehensive report of the strike, concluding with lessons for the working class in Oyo state and across the country, for the unfolding period.
DAY 1; Monday, March 19
On Monday 19th March, 2012, Oyo State workers begin an indefinite strike after the suspension of the trade union federations’ leadership in the state, by rank and file workers.
The congress under the leadership of the caretaker committee set up by the workers and led by Com. Bayo Akande issued a statement on 16th March 2012 in which it declared an indefinite strike to protest the non-payment of the N18,000 minimum wage across board, stating categorically that the mass of public sector workers in the state unanimously rejected condemnable wage scale table of Governor Ajimobi. The workers argued that the payment of the minimum wage translates into reduction in the salaries of some workers while for most that would get any “increment”, these would just be of a few hundreds of naira. They therefore, insist that the table is fraudulent and thus, not acceptable.
Early in the morning on Monday 19th March, the workers belonging to about a dozen unions, employed at various workplaces, gathered in their thousands at the NLC secretariat office, Agodi-gate to express their displeasure at the wage scale. After being addressed by Comrade Akande, the leader of the caretaker committee and Dr Aremu, the chairperson of J.A.F Oyo state, the workers marched into the streets and proceeded to other workplaces and schools to solicit the support and support of other workers and youths, in pursuit of their just struggle.
After the protest march on day one, the workers marched back to the NLC Secretariat where they further expressed their grievances against the government with speeches and solidarity songs.
DAY 2; Tuesday, March 20
The second day of the protest witnessed a larger turnout of workers from more workplaces and unions who all converged at the NLC. In fact the compound of the NLC was overwhelmed with teeming numbers of workers, many of whom could not find their way into the premises. The anger of the workers was palpable and captured by the slogan: ‘on no new wage scale which cuts across board; no work’.
2,000 copies of the first leaflet issued by the Socialist Workers League to intervene in this struggle were circulated and enthusiastically received by the workers who echoed the SWL’s demand for the state government to resign if it would not pay workers the as negotiated. The minimum wage is in itself a slave wage as SWL activists argue. For the state government to then refuse to pay such pittance on the basis of a collective agreement reached is to rub insult upon injury which is totally unacceptable. .
DAY 3; Wednesday, March 21
On the third day of the strike, the state took its first step of repression. Workers gathered at the NLC secretariat Agodi as usual, from about 7.00am An hour later, it was learnt that men of the State Security Service had arrested the chairman of the care-taker committee, comrade Bayo Akande. This event made the rank and file workers that gathered at the NLC secretariat very furious. Incensed with pent up anger, the mass of workers decided to march to Eleyele Police headquarter where comrade Bayo Akande was detained, with the intention of forcing the state to release him. The Socialist Workers League full-timer who was among them prevailed on the workers, noting that the arrest might be an attempt at provocation, towards drawing out the workers and then clamping down on them. He advised that comrade lawyer should first go along with some members of the committee to secure the release of chairman. Thus, Barrister Femi Aborisade was contacted and he went to the police station and secured the release of comrade Bayo Akande at about 4pm.
Also, on that same day, before the release of Comrade Bayo Akande was secured, groups of workers were constituted to go and visit neighbouring schools to win their solidarity and support for the strike action. The group which headed for the Mapo area was on this mission was attacked by thugs wearing ACN T-shirts. The workers were beaten mercilessly and stoned by the hoodlums who accused them of disrupting the smooth running of ACN government in the state.
On reporting the incident at the Labour secretariat, a press statement was immediately prepared and released to the media condemning the unlawful arrest and detention of Comrade Bayo Akande as well as the uncivilized and barbaric attack of workers who were exercising their fundamental rights by thugs who were acting on the instruction of one Mr. Najeemdeen aka Galaxity of the Ibadan south east local government. The Congress therefore called for the immediate release of the caretaker committee chairman and the arrest and prosecution of those who unleashed the vicious attacks on the workers.
Comrade Bayo Akande was released and brought to the NLC secretariat in company of the Speaker of the state House of Assembly and some legislators. The speaker delivered a speech in which she urged the workers to return back to work while fresh negotiations would commence. But the workers immediately rejected the plea, unequivocally, saying on minimum wage across board they stand. At about 5pm the gathering was dispersed by the caretaker leadership.
DAY 4; Thursday, March 22
The day started with the usual gathering of workers at NLC secretariat, early in the morning. The gathering larger than the previous days as workers trooped in their thousands and clustered in groups, discussing events of the past days among themselves. At about 10.40am the crowed was addressed by the new leader of the caretaker committee as government had succeeded in shutting up comrade Bayo Akande, in the course of his brief detention. The new Acting Coordinator, Mr Fasasi addressed the workers and expressed his disappointmen and that of the workerst at the action of the state. He assured them of the support of other civil society organizations and the need to remains steadfast and courageous in the struggle.
The workers after the address resolved never to allow infiltration from the government and that they would not leave their flanks open again by sending out groups of workers on missions but would rather all converge and remain at NLC till 5pm every day or move as a collective body, where and when such is necessary. This decision further paved ways for interactions with the workers and Socialist Workers League activists who circulated more copies of the SWL leaflets and recruited new members. The workers went home as usual at about 5pm.
DAY 5; Friday, March 23
The workers started converging at about 8.30am and by 10am the whole area was crowded. At about 11am the crowd was addressed by two members of the new caretaker committee.
At about 12.30pm, the members of the caretaker committee met to discuss plans for the media interview scheduled for the following day. It was resolved that Mr Fasasi and a few others should attend the interview with splash FM and that Comrade Bayo Akande should not be part of that team since it is evident that comrade Bayo Akande had been intimidated by the state.
At about 2pm Comrade Bayo Akande was led to the podium and he addressed the crowd. It was self-evident from his speech that he had been compromise as the main point of his speech was an appeal to the workers to call off the strike. The workers immediately rejected his appeal, booing him and urging him to go home and relax with his family if he was not ready to stand by the workers, rather than singing such an unwelcomed song.
At about 4pm, the workers returned to their various home with the instruction that they should converge back at the NLC secretariat on Monday morning.
SUNDAY, 25TH MARCH, 2012; JAF-initiated reconciliation meeting
On 25th March 2012, JAF called a reconciliation meeting between the NLC leadership and the caretaker committee. The meeting was held at the ASUU Secretariat, Mellanby Hall, U.I at about 6pm.
Those in attendance included, the NLC Chairman, comrade Bashir Olanrewaju NLC Secretary, Mr. Edama, Chairman Joint Negotiating Council (JNC) Comrade Arowolo, NUT Chairman Comrade Olojede, Honourable Bolomope, Acting coordinator of the care-taker committee, Mr. Fasasi, Dr. Akanji, Dr. Demola Aremu, NBA representative comrade Ola and comrade Isaac Botti of the SWL.
The main purpose of the meeting was to re-unit the NLC including the dissolved NLC leadership and the NLC care-taker committee. What necessitated this action was the need to unite all forces within the working class in the on-going struggle..
In the statement of Dr. Akanji, he emphasized the need for the unions to come together and fight a common enemy. He equally responded to earlier allegations made by Comrade Bashsir Olanrewaju, that the JAF leadership had not considered the concerns of al parties within the trade unions before aligning with the caretaker committee. He argued that this JAF could not stop the rank and file workers from taking the positions they had taken and that it was in the interest of bringing every one together that the reconciliation meeting was called.
Comrade Arowolo in his statement clarified the roles of NLC and JNC in negotiating workers wages. He said it is the responsibility of JNC to negotiate public sector workers’ wages and not NLC. He thus said the dissolved NLC leadership is not to be solely blamed for the situation at hand He further explained the series of efforts JNC and NLC had made to engage the government in negotiation noting that while the government had been recalcitrant, it was not that they had betrayed the workers’ cause, in his own view. He therefore, was of the opinion that rank and file workers must recognize structural authority and allow the labour leaders to continue with engaging the government in further negotiation.
Comrade Bolomope also supported Comrade Arowolo’s statement that there is need to recognize the legal structure of labour since government will not negotiate with anybody who might claim he is representing labour.
Comrade Fasasi in his own statement claimed the caretaker committee is not contesting for the NLC leadership but was elected by rank and file workers keen on ensuring that workers are not treated unjustly by the state or marginalized by their own leadership in the course of negotiating issues of primary concern to them. He further said that as trade unions’ leaders themselves, the members of the caretaker committee recognizes the NLC leadership.
On the contentious issue of the minimum wage, the NLC chairman said that the trade union side had rejected the wage scale table in question during the Joint Negotiating Council meeting with the state and that a letter had been sent to the government asking it for clarifications.
Comrade Ola said there is need for NLC to engage the government with facts and figures to drive home its argument.
Dr. Akanji thereafter urged the NLC and the rank and file workers to re-unite as what caused the problem, in his own view, was communication gap between the NLC leadership and the rank and file workers.
Thereafter, Comrade Bashir tendered an unreserved apology to the workers and promised to henceforth carry the workers along in any issue that concerns them and the meeting was brought to a close by 8pm.
DAY 6; Monday, March 26
On the sixth day the workers converged at the NLC Secretariat as instructed by the caretaker committee leadership. The workers came in thousands and at about 9.15am Comrade Fasasi and comrade Oladipo came to address the crowd.
They reported back on the JAF meeting stating the decisions reached. They informed the mass of workers of the reconciliation between the NLC executives and the caretaker committee and the need for the workers to embrace them towards ensuring the fullest of workers unity necessary for total victory. They also spoke on the interactive session summoned by the governor for that day and the need for all the workers to go there and express their grievances and determination to continue with the strike action.
After the speech, the workers as a body marched to the state secretariat for the interactive forum with the governor. But on getting to the Secretariat, the workers were refused entry into the premises of the secretariat by armed men of the Nigerian Police force and men of the Nigerian army. This infuriated the workers and they ensured there was a heavy traffic jam in the vicinity as they occupied the main roads leading to the secretariat, singing solidarity songs including “Ajimobi ti lekun mori, kolejade” (Ajimobi has locked himself in, he cannot come out).
The specialized police squad “Operation Bust” swooped on the occupation, dispersing it after a while. The workers had to beat a retreat and returned back to the NLC secretariat where a press statement was immediately prepared and issued to condemning the governor’s refusal of entry to the workers for an interactive session he had invited them for.
DAY 7; Tuesday, March 27
On Tuesday 27, the workers converged at the NLC secretariat at about 9am. Members of the suspended leadership of Congress, Comrade Bashsir Olanrewaju, comrade Nurudeen Arowolo, Comrade Olojede and Comrade Adediji were already at the NLC office.
At about 12pm, these labour leaders came out to address the crowd. Since that was their first general address since they were suspended, the crowd numbering about 2,000 listened attentively to what they had to say.
Comrade Arowolo spoke first; he expressed his appreciation to J.A.F for its efforts to bring about the reconciliation. He also apologized on behalf of the labour leaders for their inactive role since the strike began. He explained how they had made series of efforts to engage the government in negotiations but which failed because it seemed the governor was not ready to yield to good sense.
He therefore appreciated the courage of the workers to commence the strike action even though the government termed it illegal. He said it was on the basis of this that they (labour leaders) had cause to go back to the governor that the workers had themselves demonstrably made it clear that they would not be accepting the unpopular wage scale and on this note, he said, the strike continues.
Comrade Bashir Olanrewaju also explained why he had not been heard from, since the agitation commenced. He said he was not in the state when the first table was released and that he did not sign it. And that he was afraid to come since he didn’t know what the rank and file workers had in stock for him.
He therefore declared a formal strike and promise to go on air to announce formal strike after the expiration of the 7 days ultimatum.
The mass of workers erupted with joy, but insisted that the there was no need for an ultimatum as what was being done now was to make the de facto strike, formal in the legal sense. It was thus resolved that the strike proceeds as it were.
DAY 8; Wednesday, March 28
The workers gathered at the premises of the NLC at about 10am. The workers were seen chatting in groups and discussing the level of compliance of workers to the strike at various work places.
No address was made as most of the labour leaders were busy compiling information on the financial position of the state. So, the crowd of worker were just listening to music and dancing in what was a festive atmosphere of the oppressed who dare to break their chains.
At about 2.30pm Comrade Adediji came to address the workers and he said the labour leaders were working on the wage table that wiould be presented to the government.
He urged the workers to be steadfast and remain committed to the struggle. He therefore, enjoined them to keep converging at the NLC secretariat as directed by the labour leaders. The striking workers then dispersed for the day.
Day 9; Thursday, March 29
The day started with workers converging at the NLC secretariat, Agodi Ibadan as usual in their thousands.
At about 11.30 Comrade Arowolo came out and addressed the workers. He stressed the need for rank and file workers to work together with the labour leaders to ensure things go on smoothly. He encouraged them to source for relevant information that could be used in arguing their position with the government. And that as soon as everything is in place negotiations would commence.
He further explained that no worker should go and sign any attendance sheet but that they should all converge at the NLC secretariat as usual. Thereafter the crowd was dispersed.
Day 10; Friday, March 30
The usual gathering of the crowd started at about 9am. The workers came to the convergence point at the NLC in groups and by 11am the crowd had numbered to about 3,000.
At about 12pm comrade Adediji, the Chairperson of LASCO came and addressed the crowd. He urged them never to be distracted by the government’s threat of sacking workers who refused to go to work. He restated the position of the workers that unless a new acceptable wage scale is released there would be no resumption of work.
He also mentioned the attempts by the government to cause a division among the ranks of workers by threatening lower ranks workers to return to work. The Congress immediately denounced such threats. The workers resolved to stand as one and never divisions by the state, using either the carrot or the stick.
It was reported also by comrade Adediji that the NLC Chairman was invited to Channels Television in Lagos for a debate with the Oyo State Government on the strike in Oyo state. He was also expected to be at Splash FM that same day.
It was gathered that a monitoring team was sent out to monitor the situation of things at some schools and offices and they reported back that there was over 90% compliance with the directive of labour on the strike.
Day 11; Monday, April 2
The workers were gathered by 8am at the Labour house, where they were addressed by comrade Arowolo of the JNC informing them of a meeting of the labour leaders with some “stake holders” in the state, scheduled for that day. He also briefed the gathered workers of a media interview at BCOS.
At about 1pm Comrade Bashir Olanrewaju, Comrade Arowolo and Comrade Olojede further addressed the workers, numbering about 4,000. They reported back on the outcome of their meeting some elders and other stakeholders in the state and how the elders pleaded with them to call off the strike. They reported that they had replied by saying they would present the elders’ message to the congress of workers which alone could take the decision to call off the strike or continue. This plea was overwhelming rejected by the congress. Comrade Arowolo urged the workers never to go back to work unless government meets their demands. He urged the workers to continue to converge at the NLC every day
Day 12; Tuesday, April 3
The workers converged at the NLC secretariat as usual at about 8.30am. They numbered about 1000 while many more joined later in the day. At about 11am, the NLC executives held a closed door meeting which they claimed was to resolve some interval problems. The meeting lasted for about 2 hours while the workers were patiently waiting to be addressed.
At about 2pm a team from the Federal Ministry of Labour & Productivity came and held a meeting with the labour leadership
After the meeting with the Ministry of Labour Comrade Arowolo addressed the crowd and informed the workers that a meeting had been held with the Federal Ministry of Labour as part of the attempts by the Ministry to facilitate further negotiations between the workers/trade unions and the government. The FMLP team had reportedly met with the state government and as soon as a date for negotiation had been fixed, it would be communicated. He also informed them of the meeting the labour leaders would be having with the speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly at about 5pm later in the day. Thereafter the crowd was dispersed at about 4pm. He urged the workers to continue to converge at NLC until further notice.
Day 13; Wednesday, April 4
There was the usual gathering of workers from 9.00am in the morning. While they were waiting, members of the back-up committee were busy working on the wage scale to be presented to the government. At exactly 2pm Comrade Arowolo came out and addressed the crowd. He informed them of the meeting they had with the Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly and how she had pleaded with them to resume work so as to give room for negotiations. But her plea was rejected as the labour leaders said workers would not resuming back to work until an acceptable wage scale was formulated
He urged the workers never to be afraid as the government’s threat was nothing to be afraid of. He said there was going to be another meeting with some stakeholders that day.
He then apologised for the absence of comrade Bashir Olanrewaju who went to Ekiti for the burial of Ekiti state NULGE chairman who along with two other leaders of the union in that state had died in an auto-crash while heading to Benin City for the NULGE Constitutional Conference.
Day 14, Thursday, April 5
The workers gathered as usual in the morning at the Labour House. They were addressed by the NLC leadership which reported back to the that the elders of the state made strong pleas for the workers to return to work, assuring them that they would prevail on the government to embark on serious negotiations that would lead to resolution of the workers grievances. The labour leaders then appealed to the rank and file workers for the suspension of the strike so as to place the ball in the court of the state government.
The workers grudgingly heeded the leadership’s plea, with a resolution that the suspension should be for a limited period i.e. two weeks, subsequent upon which a state-wide general strike would be called if the Oyo state government remains recalcitrant.
The strike was then suspended for a 2-week period as resolved, bringing the first act of the emerging drama of struggle over the implementation of the new minimum wage in Oyo state to a close.
Subsequent to the strike
The following day after the strike was suspended; miscreants who allegedly have ties with the ACN government in the state attacked the Labour house, vandalizing cars and offices. This was a ply by the state, as further events would show; on Easter Sunday (April 8) the police sealed off the Labour house, with 50 armed anti-riot mopol men. The police commissioner claimed that the labour house is government property and the state would not stand by and watch vandals destroy it. He further asserted as reported in the Nigerian Tribune of Monday April 9, that, that” there were factions among the workers…(and) that a particular group of workers had been causing crisis among the workers”.
The state governor claimed to be unaware of this invasion by the police of the NLC secretariat, but that the police must have chosen to act in the interest of law and order.
The State Chairman of the NLC, Alh Bashir Olanrewaju was equally transferred by the Local Government Service Commission to a remote Local Government Area immediately after the strike. Governor Ajimobi who once again claimed not to have been aware of this punitive measure has however ordered the reversal of the transfer.
While the state continues with its antics and warms up for repression, the mood amongst workers in Oyo state is one of anticipation and “no retreat, no surrender”, if by April 19, the status quo remains. The second act of the unfolding struggle in Oyo state is one that would not be as easily quelled as the first. It is equally a sampler of the struggles that lie ahead for the working class in Nigeria. As the pitiable minimum wage of N18,000.00 is further eroded by deepened inflation unleashed by the increase in fuel prices in January, the coming period will witness an avalanche of wage-related struggles.
In lieu of a conclusion
It is necessary for worker-activists to draw some lessons from the Oyo state public sector workers’ strike. First, ultimate power resides with the rank and file of workers, lasting revolution cannot but be from below. Second, the unity of as many workers as possible is of the essence. Third, how far the trade union bureaucracy would go depends on the extent of upsurge of workers’ power from below in such unity of all workers. Fourth, the state would use all means –coercive (with the police, army and thugs) and ideological (through elders, “stake-holders”, etc) – to try to break our struggle. Fifth, there would be set-backs, to the extent that class conscious leadership is lacking or weak, but while these could delay victory, victory is certain for as long as struggle continues. Sixth, the working class is the fundamental social force for social change, it however has to forge solidarity with all other strata of the exploited, oppressed and marginalized for it to win victory and for working people as a whole to be assured of our self-emancipation. Seventh, revolutionary socialists must stand out as tireless, creative and forthright organizers within, of and for the working class to deepen its grasping of the weight of history it bears, in short, to serve as catalysts in the multi-faceted processes (which time and again, has to be re-casted) of it becoming a class for itself from being merely a class in itself.
Socialist Workers League will continue to fight besides the workers across the country in their struggle for better wages but pointing out the systemic nature of our collective exploitation by the bosses which can only end with the overthrow of the capitalist system and the building of a socialist system based on solidarity and co-operation. As international socialists, we will equally stress the fact that our struggle in Nigeria is one with the struggle of the 99% of dispossessed working people across the world and for us to win our self-emancipation, we must overthrow capitalism as a global system, and together “bring to birth a new world, from the ashes of the old”.