Before the workers began to converge at the Eagles Square venue of the rally by 8 a.m. on Friday, speculations were rife that President Jonathan would participate at the event to deliver his valedictory message to the workers.Another version hinted at the possibility of Buhari attending. Those who felt the president-elect would attend point to his presence at the NLC National Delegates Convention in February. They see his presence as necessary to show appreciation to the workers for their support towards his election. It would also be an opportunity to unveil his vision for workers to the new executive of the union.Expectations were further raised around 9 a.m. when an advance team from the presidential villa arrived the venue. However, the team was withdrawn shortly afterwards. Word went round that the president was engaged in another crucial assignment.But sources claimed the president wanted to avoid being booed by federal civil servants for the delay in payment of workers’ salaries for December 2014. The development was said to have adversely affected the workers’ budgets for the New Year.It was also suggested that the perceived factionalisation in the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) might have caused the president to withdraw so as not to be seen to side any faction. While the Comrade Ayuba Wabba-led NLC and the Bala Kaigama-led Trade Union Congress (TUC) held their rally in Abuja, reports emerged that the Comrade Joe Ajaero and Comrade Issa Aremu-led faction of the congress held a parallel rally in Lagos same day. This suggests that the disputes arising from the February Convention of the congress, where the election was held, have not been resolved to revert to a unified umbrella labour union.The unease over the president’s absence was not helped when the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Joel Danlami Ikenya read a speech seen to be not directly from the presidency.President Jonathan attended the 2014 May Day rally where he declared to workers that “the challenge of the nation is not poverty, but redistribution of wealth” while promising better welfare for them.Amidst the lamentations of workers over unpaid arrears of salaries in both public and private sector workers in some states and the declining working conditions in Nigeria, the absence of President Jonathan was a major talking point at the venue.“We are disappointed that we miss the president’s valedictory message. It is quite unfortunate that he is not here even though we don’t know the reason for his absence,” said Comrade Babatunde Liade, the General Secretary, National Union of Civil Engineering, Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers (NUCECTWW).Comrade Ismaila Ayuba, the chairperson of the Abuja branch of the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations Civil Service Technical and Recreational Service Employees (AUPCTRE), said his members had expected to see the president but don’t understand why he is absent. He added that he is consoled by the new buses donated to the union by the president under the SURE-P programme.On his part, Buhari did not attend the rally. According to sources, his absence might not be unconnected with what was seen by the presidency that his public actions recently amounted to a parallel government before the May 29 handover date.At the February NLC convention, Buhari had pledged to restore “good governance, efficient and effective public sector, and to “promote growth of industries and use of local content.”President of the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), Comrade Marwan Mustapha said he is not worried by Buhari’s absence. He expressed confidence in president-elect and his deputy, Yomi Osinbajo to uphold the rule of law and enhance the welfare of workers.Comrade Wabba however insisted that the absence of President Jonathan to deliver his speech to the workers did not take the shine off the rally.“It is not about the president’s speech; it is about the workers; it is our day and not about an individual. You can see unprecedented number of workers. This is the first time we are having these numbers; even there is no seats to occupy the workers. That is to tell you that they have confidence in the present leadership,” he said.He added: “There is no factionalisation in the NLC, you can see all the unions attended this rally.”If Wabba’s assurances are anything to go by, it raises hope that organized labour would be engaging the incoming administration on a united front.
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