22nd Kolagbodi Memorial Lecture

Re-Inventing the Nigeria Trade Unions Movement through Organising:

–          Prospects and Challenges


On behalf of the above named Foundation and with the collaboration of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), I write to invite you to the 22ndAnnual Kolagbodi Memorial Lecture.

The theme of the 22nd Lecture is Re-Inventing the Nigeria Trade Unions Movement through Organising: Prospects and Challenges and it will be delivered by COMRADE ISMAIL BELLO, Deputy General Secretary, National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria and moderated by Comrade Chris Uyot, Deputy General Secretary, Nigeria Labour Congress [NLC].

Kolagbodi Memorial Foundation (KMF) instituted the Annual Lecture series in 1993 with the focus to infuse intellectual input into the labour movement and the building of solidarity between and among the trades unions and the civil society in Nigeria.

The event is scheduled to hold as follows:

Date: Thursday, 8th November, 2018


Time: 10.30am – 3.30 pm prompt

The Guest Speaker is expected to address some of the following issues:

  • What are the strategies and practical measuresto adopt that can guide increase unionisation of the workforce in view of enhancing trade union strength, protection of jobs and job security, and defence of workers’ rights to unionise?
  • What are the proposals for creating work environments of trade union consciousness, critical social consciousness, human and environmental rights’ consciousness and mass and democratic participation in unions?
  • How can trade unions build organizing capacity for rank and file members for responsible and accountable leadership across board?
  • Is there a possibility of compelling employers to discloseemployment figures and accede to unionising of their workforce through popular campaign and legislative advocacy?
  • What are the options of collaboration between unions and pro-labour civil society groups on a sustained agenda of organising and virile unionisation?

We look forward to the comradely presence.

Yours comradely,


Executive Secretary




As noted in the preview to the last Annual Lecture in 2017 – “the organizing capacity of the trade union movement to resist the successive neoliberal attacks and implementation of the aforementioned policy measures, continues to wane at every period of the imposition of the inimical policies, despite that the trade union movement, since 1988, accepted a collaborative role with successive regimes, and continue to participate in various committees set up by Government on the economy”.

Also, in the introduction on the rights of workers to unionise published in the Nigeria Labour Factsheet June 2018 edition, the following remarks underscored why the theme – Re-Inventing the Nigeria Trade Unions Movement through Organising: Prospects and Challenges is aptas our preference for the 22nd Annual Kolagbodi Memorial Lecture. The theme is in view of rebuilding the labour movement in Nigeria in the 21stcentury world of work with its new forms of production relations. The remarks went as follows:

“… Millions of workers abound in the private sectors in Nigeria that are not organised into trade unions. Probably as opined by some veteran trade union leaders in the country, one of the setbacks in the past two decades for the Nigeria trade union movement is that the automatic check-off dues’ deductions at source and compromises of workers’ interest by some trade union leaders with employers have tended to put organising on the low side. It’s like the common parlance of ‘whether the oga (boss) sell or no sell, the load carrier must have his or her paythat is now the operative nuance in the unions. What this meant is that whether a union is alive to its responsibility or not to workers who they are supposed to service, the monthly deduction to a union secretariat or/ and compromised settlement is a sure banker, hence union organisers are absent in most unions and commitment to the development of the unions is fast eroding. Much of this could be said to hold in both the public and private sector unions since the imposition of the neoliberal Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in the 1986 that aggravated the socio-economic downturn with the attendant consequences of continuing collapse of workplaces and job losses, increasing rate of unemployment, indecent work and job insecurity”.

Further testimony to the necessity to address the challenge of organizing was expressed by Comrade Emma Ugboaja, Head of Industrial Relations of the NLC in his interview with the Nigeria Labour Factsheet published in the June 2018 edition. He said:

“.. Most of the memberships of the unions were legislated into being, rather than through struggles, while a few have been through struggles of workers demanding from the managements to let them go and be part of a trade union. Some were through direct legislations and decrees under military dictatorship – that you are here and so on and they then became a function of all. Clearly, we were beginning to get new work environment, new work culture, new work opportunities that are not captured in those laws and legislation. Time has now caught up with those laws because we have laws that tell you, you need 50 people or 20 people to form a union. But now you see a situation where 5 workers can produce goods worth billions of revenue in a place and you see them working as slaves. Clearly, the world of work is changing and we are trying to get our unions adapt to the changes because most of our unions are still stereotyped in the traditional union categorisation, which was a product of military decrees and legislations. Then you have people ridiculously and cynically telling you about the dichotomy of junior and senior staff unions. Ordinarily there is no such constitution any longer because the ILO recognises the world of work and the need for workers to belong to a trade union, not on the basis of their race, their colour and definitely not on the basis of whether they are senior or junior. Clearly, the unions traditionally are still keeping to that and it is through education that we are getting them to appreciate the need to open up on some areas that could have been seen as intrusion. For instance the teachers, a long while ago, the Nigeria education sector was driven by public sector but increasingly now, we have more people now in private schools than in public schools. But the Teachers’ union is still made up largely by public schools’ teachers, so you have almost 50% of the teachers in the country outside the trade unions organised forum. The same with the nurses. There was a time the medical line was driven by public sector but you and I also know now that the private sector has more numbers of private sector health workers and most of them are clearly not organized …”

It is clear from the above stated paragraphs that unions in Nigeria are receding, hence the necessity to take the challenge of organizing for the survival of the unions as a priority. What is being proposed, using the platform of the Annual Kolagbodi Lecture is an Agenda to be developed by trade unions organisers and educators on PRACTICAL ORGANISING in order to ensure maximum unionization taking cognizance of the new world of work, effective organizing strategies to combat anti-workers policies at all levels of industrial relations and critical consciousness building that can enhance the capacity of rank and file workers for interventions and role play in the larger societal struggle for socio-economic and political development.