by Fidelis Soriwei, Abuja
Strong indications emerged on Friday that the leadership crisis rocking the Nigeria Labour Congress is far from being resolved.
SATURDAY PUNCH investigations show that the NLC leadership is currently embroiled in a dispute over the position of the general secretary of the congress.
The division among the labour leaders is aggravated by disagreements over appointments into boards reserved for union leaders in the country.
A highly placed source in the NLC said that several members of staff were aggrieved by a covert attempt by the elected officials of the congress to take over the position of the general secretary of the congress.
It was learnt that two prominent labour leaders in the NLC (names withheld) were locked in a fierce contest to become the general secretary of the union.
The leadership of the NLC had met in Abuja last week and effected a change in the position of the acting general secretary of the congress.
Elected officials of the congress under the aegis of the National Administrative Council had removed the former acting General Secretary, Mr. Owei Lakemfa, and replaced him with the Head of Information at the headquarters of the NLC in Abuja, Mr. Chris Uyot.
It was gathered that Uyot was awaiting a directive from the NLC leadership to assume his new responsibility as the general secretary of the foremost labour centre.
Further investigations showed that Uyot would occupy the position of the acting general secretary of the NLC till June 17, 2012, when the congress is expected to appoint a new officer for the congress.
A source in the NLC said that Lakemka, who is attending the International Labour Organisation Congress in Geneva, handed over to Uyot before travelling out.
But the President of the NLC, Mr. Abdulwahed Omar, would not give details of the crisis in the NLC when our correspondent contacted him for comments.
The NLC president said it was only natural for Lakemfa to hand over as acting general secretary to somebody since he was among those travelling out for the international labour summit in Geneva.
He said, “Lakemfa is one of those going to Geneva for ILO conference and would be back by mid June. It’s natural that someone acts in his absence.”
nvestigations, however, showed that the NLC president was saying too little in the raging conflict of interests affecting the unity of the congress.
A top labour leader confided in our correspondent on Friday that Omar and other elected officials of the NLC had prevailed on Lakemfa to step down as general secretary of the congress during a caucus meeting on Tuesday.
It was learnt that the NLC leadership decided that the position of the general secretary be rotated among the heads of department or the principal officers of the congress.
It was, however, learnt that a faction of the NLC leadership prevailed on Lakemfa, who was billed to resign, to resist the move.
The source said Lakemfa told a committee set up to discuss the issue of his severance package with him that his appointment was authorised by the National Executive Committee of the NLC, insisting that he could not be removed at the forum.
Lakemfa was said to have travelled without a resolution of the fresh crisis involving the position of the general secretary of the NLC.
Lakemfa himself became the acting general secretary following the removal of former general secretary of the congress, Mr. John Odah.
Odah, who is operating under the aegis of the Integrity Group of Labour Unions, is aggrieved and is challenging his removal at the National Industrial Court.
Similarly, a former deputy president of the NLC, Mr. Peters Adeyemi, who is the general secretary of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, felt unfairly treated at the 10th Delegates Conference of the NLC in Abuja in 2010.
Adeyemi and his organisation, NASU, have since joined forces with Odah to oppose the Omar leadership in the congress.
The Integrity Group, which came into being shortly after the last NLC National Convention, which returned Omar as president in 2010, openly admitted penultimate week that it was involved in moves to establish a parallel labour centre, claiming that the NLC had become unworthy of being associated with.
However, apart from the infighting and hatred among labour leaders over the position of the general secretary, the congress is said to have come under a threat of the pecuniary interest of members.
It was learnt that the erstwhile unity in the congress is also endangered by the disagreement over the appointment of officials to fill slots reserved for the NLC on the boards of federal parastatals.
It was further gathered that the struggle for board appointments had pitted the elected officials of the congress against the top echelons of the full-time members of staff of the NLC.
The source stated that the NLC leadership had taken a decision during a meeting on February 27, 2012 that all full-time members of staff should be relieved of their board appointments on the premise that they were too busy to take on additional responsibilities.
The source argued that the non-elected members of the NLC in top positions and heading the various units were uncomfortable with the move, as it was interpreted as part of a conspiracy to take over the congress completely by the elected executive under Omar.
It was learnt that the disenchantment was deepened by the belief that the decision was taken to give certain juicy board seats to aggrieved elected leaders of the NLC, contrary to existing arrangement.
Investigations conducted by our correspondent showed that the Chief Economist of the NLC, Peter Ozo-Esan, who is on the board of the Wages and Salaries Commission; Mr. Emma Ugboaja, on the board of the Michael Institute of Labour Studies; and Lakemfa on the board of Pensions, would be affected by this move.
It was learnt that before the removal of Odah, the former general secretary was on three boards: the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency, Trust Fund and the Urban Development Bank.
When our correspondent contacted Ugboaja, who is Head of Administration and Establishment of the NLC, he denied knowledge of such a move.
He stated that it was not true that the NLC was making moves to remove all non-elected officials from the boards, stressing that the appointments were few and not expected to be given to everybody.
“My brother, I think this is not true. As I am talking to you, I am on a board, nobody has removed me (Michael Imoudu); Owei is on a board and Peter is on a board. We are all workers and nobody has removed any one of us,” Ugboaja said.
He said the congress would throw the positions open to all competent Nigerians with the requisite experience and capacity to apply.
He described the claim that two members of the executive were involved in a contest as speculation.
Ugboaja stated that the NLC leadership had begun moves to ensure an effective reconciliation with Odah and Adeyemi.
He said, “Yes, I can confirm to you that reconciliatory moves are on because united we stand and divided we fall.”
When our correspondent contacted Odah on the telephone on Thursday, he did not answer the repeated calls placed to his mobile telephone, neither did he respond to a text message sent to him.
Meanwhile, it was gathered that top functionaries of government were making moves to ensure the registration of another labour centre.
A source said that a former register of trade unions was being used to contact labour unions to queue behind the group that is pressing for the establishment of a new labour centre in the country.
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