Labour’s anti-corruption theatrics By Segun Ayobolu

To match Interview NIGERIA-BUHARI/It is amazing. He has admittedly not done much in three months and could not have been expected to even if he had not inherited the depth of rot left behind by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) after 16 years of the ravaging locusts. But President Muhammadu Buhari, has performed a veritable miracle in just a little over a 100 days in office. He has managed to convert us all into anti-corruption revolutionaries of sorts.

We are all born again Nigerians now. Astonishingly, PMB, our emergent political Messiah, is himself no revolutionary in any meaningful sense of the word. Yes, he is ascetic. He makes no distinction between corruption and stealing. He hates graft with a passion. But PMB has always been a stout defender of the system. A revolutionary is fervently committed to overthrowing the status quo and fundamentally changing a society’s inequitable class relations.

Paradoxically, both in his first coming as military Head of State and now elected President PMB seeks to change the system only in order to save, stabilise and preserve it. Thus, neither PMB nor his party the All Progressives Congress (APC) is, at least for now, ardently pursuing the real revolution Nigeria needs – drastically and surgically restructuring the country’s defective and deformed federal structure. The anti-corruption war is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for achieving the desired Nigerian revolution. But that is a matter for another day.

The most astounding converts of PMB’s anti-corruption evangelism are Nigeria’s labour leaders. Like Saul’s (later Saint Paul’s) dramatic conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus, Nigeria’s Labour aristocracy, leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) as well as the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and their affiliates, have suddenly seen the light. They are quickly distancing themselves from the darkness of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s years of impunity in which they were firmly embedded. On Thursday, the labour unions organised massive rallies across several cities including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, supporting PMB’s anti-corruption crusade and even demanding death for treasury looters. Of course, this column is not taken in by the labour leaders’ theatrical anti-corruption razzmatazz.

Listen to Mr Bobbai Kagamo, President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) at one of the rallies: “We want everyone to turn a new leaf. We will henceforth expose corrupt persons. This is not the time to trade blames, but the time to support the institutions fighting corruption irrespective of party affiliations. We want people to account for their stewardship”. He was brilliantly playing to the gallery. Would these labour leaders have mobilised their members against corruption and irresponsible governance if Dr Jonathan had won re-election? Were they not mostly silent through the better part of the former administration’s unprecedented reign of impunity? Contrary to Mr Kagamo’s assertion, there is no better time than now to trade blames and the labour unions and other civil society groups carry a humongous share of the responsibility for the general laxity and lethargy that allowed the impunity of the last 16 years to fester.

When the shocking revelations was made that $20 billion due the country’s Federation Account was missing, there were only tame noises from labour – no demonstrations calling for immediate accountability for the money. What did labour do when the former Minister for Aviation, Ms Stella Oduah, was indicted for illegally authorising the importation of two luxury armoured jeeps at hugely inflated costs without appropriation at a time when millions of Nigerians particularly workers and peasants were reeling in poverty? It was the intense pressure from sections of the media and civil society that compelled Dr Jonathan to reluctantly ease her ‘honourably’ out of the Cabinet. Nothing has been done to bring her to justice till date.

What did the labour leaders do when former Minister for Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Allison Madueke, was accused of squandering over N10 billion from public funds on the chartering and maintenance of a private jet?  The same labour unions now threatening courts that protect corrupt persons were thunderously silent when Diezani rushed to court and obtained an injunction preventing a planned House of Representatives investigation of the allegation!

What about Abba Moro, former Minister of Internal Affairs under Jonathan? Under his watch, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) in 2014 organised fraudulent recruitment exercises in which 6.5 million applicants who paid N1000 each were crowded shoddily like cattle into recruitment centres across the country to write examinations for only 4000 vacant positions. At the end of the day 16 of the applicants were confirmed dead and scores injured as a result of stampede and exhaustion in some of the centres. Yet, it was all quiet on the labour front even as the private consultant that conducted the exercise smiled to the banks with hundreds of millions of Naira. Abba Moro remained in the Federal Executive Council (FEC) till the very end of Jonathan’s tenure.

On January 1st, 2012, Nigerians woke up to the shocking announcement of the removal of the purported fuel subsidy by the Jonathan administration and an approximately 100% increase in the pump price of fuel from N65 to N141. In collaboration with other civil society organisations, the NLC and TUC led massive rallies against the increase in several Nigerian cities including Abuja and Lagos. Yet, the labour leaders did not consult with their allies when they abruptly called off the strike following the Jonathan administration’s reduction of the fuel price to N97 per litre.

Subsequent investigations by the House of Representatives revealed that the whole fuel subsidy saga was an elaborate scam in which a few unscrupulous persons were defrauding Nigerians of billions of Naira in fuel subsidy claims without importing any fuel. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has since been pursuing farcical trials of the indicted persons, most with links to the PDP, without progress. Yet, the labour leaders are now commending the EFCC’s new found activism when they were so eloquently silent on the anti-graft agency’s somnolence in the Jonathan years.

Of course, an affiliate of the NLC like the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), has been commendably consistent in holding governments to account right from the period of military dictatorship through the squandered years of the PDP feral beasts of impunity to the present. The ASUU, currently led by Dr Nasir Fagge, is likely to continue to hold PMB and the APC to their word and promise of change and that is how it should be. We can only hope that the anti-corruption rallies organised by the trade unions will mark a re-discovery by organised labour of its essence and a re-dedication to its role in holding power accountable as a key component of civil society.

It will be recalled that organised labour played an active role in the struggle both for Nigeria’s freedom from colonial rule as well as post-colonial Nigeria’s liberation from various military dictatorships. With the democratic restoration of 1999, however, labour and other critical elements of civil society including student unions, religious organisations, formerly vibrant Non- Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and professional associations relapsed into complacency. Many became incorporated as arms of the ruling party and became elaborately implicated in the reigning regime of roguery under the PDP.

A key component of PMB’s anti-corruption agenda should be to facilitate the reconstitution and strengthening of civil society to regain its vibrancy and capacity to hold the state in check. It is only if he bequeaths to the nation such a resurgent and resilient civil society will PMB’s anti-corruption legacy endure beyond his tenure.