|07ABUJA852||2007-05-02 15:55:00||UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY||Embassy Abuja|
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 000852
1. (SBU) SUMMARY. At a joint National Labour Congress (NLC)
and Trade Union Congress (TUC) May Day celebration in Abuja,
labor leaders condemned the April 2007 state and national
elections and voiced displeasure with the failure of the
Obasanjo administration to address basic issues affecting
labor. While the presenters did not hold back in their
criticisms of the elections or the administration, it is
clear that the message was passed to those gathered to keep
the event peaceful and not let it develop into a protest.
Labor leaders indicated they will continue to work with civil
society to "find a way out of the current crisis," though
they did not offer any specifics. Police and security
personnel were visible in large numbers and screened all
placards and banners brought to the event, not permitting any
messages related to the elections. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) Among a peaceful and calm crowd at Abuja's May Day
celebration, leaders of the Nigerian labor movement delivered
strong condemnations of the 2007 elections. TUC President
Peter Esele called the elections a "rape on democracy,"
adding that they had "failed the nation." NLC President
Abdulwahed Ibrahim Omar told the crowd that "whatever
government is formed based on these flawed elections will be
politically and morally disabled. The Nigerian people have a
duty to ensure that the country is not led again by people
who have no mandate. Indeed, our country can not make
progress if its affairs are managed without the consent of
its people, expressed through free and fair elections."
Esele also announced the intent of the labor movement to put
forward a presidential aspirant in 2011. Despite these
strong messages, however, the leaders offered no insights
into future actions of the labor movement, both noting only
that they are in consultation with interest groups to
"fashion a way out of this crisis."
3. (SBU) Esele and Omar were also frank in their critique of
the Obasanjo administration and its failure to address
important labor issues, including: increasing unemployment,
reduction in power supply, increased reliance on imported
fuel, loss of manufacturing jobs, pension arrears,
casualization of the workforce, monetization of civil servant
benefits, education and health. Omar called for a new
approach to governance, noting that "in many spheres of life,
(Nigeria) is in a notably backward movement under a ruling
elite that does not appreciate the challenges of government."
Notably, President Obasanjo (though listed on the program)
did not attend and sent Minister of Labor Mohammed Hassan
Lawal in his place. A presentation by a representative of
Abuja Federal Capital Territory Minister Malam Nasir El-Rufai
elicited several minutes of sustained booing, especially
during the representative's attempt to outline the Minister's
positive labor policies.
4. (SBU) Police and security officials were present in large
numbers and Inspector General of Police Sunday Ehindero made
it clear in the days prior to the event that any activity
qualifying as a protest or demonstration would be shut down.
Poloff noted three individuals walking toward the venue with
anti-Yar'Adua signs and received word minutes later that
three protesters had been arrested on their way to the venue.
Although police and security officials did not allow
participants to enter the venue with placards or banners
related to the elections, placards critical of the
administration were allowed. A few of note were:
-- Education is a Right, NOT a Privilege
-- Stop Corruption; Save Nigeria
-- Reform Yourself Before Reforming Us
-- HELP! Aso Savings and Loan Has Made Us Bankrupt
-- We Can't Be Slaves in Our Own Country
5. (SBU) COMMENT. It was clear, given the crowd's positive
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reaction to strong statements condemning the elections and
criticizing the Obasanjo administration (and the booing of
El-Rufai's representative) that those present would have
needed little persuasion to use the occasion to stage a
protest. Omar and Esele had plainly gotten the message out
to their constituent unions that a protest would only give
cause to shut down the event. It remains, however, unclear
what actions, if any, the labor leaders may plan in response
to the elections and as each day passes momentum is lost.