Former governor of Edo State and ex-President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, has revealed that his greatest challenge as a Labour leader was trying to curtail the excesses of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Speaking in an interview with Vanguard, Oshiomhole said the former tried on many occasions to undermine the parliament and make anti-people laws.
Oshiomhole said as the Labour President, he tried to fight Obasanjo to standstill.
He said, “I think the most challenging one I faced was when we tried to, after series of engagements on prices and so on, Obasanjo announced what he called fuel consumption tax and without recourse to parliament.
“In my view, he illegally ordered the demolition of all the toll gates across the country that were created by an Act of parliament . He tried to be very smart by making the tax something that is so negligible, N1.50. Of course, we saw through it that this is where leadership comes in.
“The workers might say N1.50, does it worth our trouble? And a good section of society will say, N1.50, let him take it and let us avoid that trouble. But at the level of the leadership, we sat down and said no, the issues here were two. “First, does the President have the power to order the demolition of toll gates that were a creation of the law? We were convinced that he did not have such powers. That was abuse of executive powers. Two, without an Act of parliament, does a President have a right to introduce a consumption tax on petroleum products? It is not the issue of the amount.
“Because at the heart of democracy, it is not just about what you do or even your intention, it is the process. It is actually a celebration of procedures and parliament is what defines democracy. Because whether you are under dictatorship or under monarchy or so, the only thing that can be absent is the parliament.
“When parliament makes laws, those laws are meant to be obeyed especially to the extent that those laws are not in conflict with the constitution of the country. So, when parliament makes laws about toll gates, in my view, the President did not have the power to demolish them without recourse to parliament to, first, repeal the Act.
“The second issue was, does the President have the power to impose taxes? Taxes have to be imposed or levied by parliament. And if we allow him to get away with it, not only do we create a dangerous precedent, the President will begin to exercise parliamentary powers which our constitution does not invest on him. Unfortunately at that time, we did not have a viable opposition. “Nigeria was almost a one party state even though on paper, there were other political parties.
Somehow, consciously or unconsciously, it became our responsibility under my leadership of NLC to try to provide not a political opposition, but the only countervailing force that could moderate President Obasanjo when he exceed what we considered to be his powers as President.
“I also remember that people often do not appreciate this, when members of the then National Assembly decided to appropriate N5million and N2million to senators and House of representatives respectively for furniture allowance, the NLC under my leadership challenged it.
“We got mass popular support. I am happy that we were able to explain it convincingly to the public that it was not about the amount, although N5 million at that time was a lot of money because the minimum wage then was N5, 500. I believe if you now look back at the first assembly, you will fnd out there is a difference between what was going on then and now in all facets of governance.”