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John Odah @ 50

By  Funmi Komolafe

TODAY,  August 24, 2010, our  Comrade and friend, John  Ejoha  Odah marks his 50th birthday.  From the toddler in Benue State,  to the student union activist, he has  grown  to become a name in the trade union movement.

John Odah, the student activist at the University of Jos,  was appointed an officer in the education department of the Nigeria Labour  Congress then headed by Dr.  Taiwo.    Odah came to the Congress at a time that the leadership of the NLC wanted to breathe in fresh ideas into the Congress.  They wanted young, bright and vibrant graduates .   From then on, he never looked back. Workers moved from one education programme to another.

More significantly is Odah’s role  in main-streaming women into  the trade union movement.  Though then a younger officer , this was sometime in 1985-1986, he was quite supportive of the  idea of moving  women into mainstream unionism.

I and others, including Hajia Azumi Bebeji, Stella Peters, and Comfort Umanah were participants in the education programme oraganised by the NLC in Kano coordinated by  Dr.  Kolagbodi  now of blessed memory .    John was an active teacher  in these programmes.  Within a short while, he had become known as Teacher John.

Some of the women  he helped to groom later became commissioners  in their states.  All have recorded remarkable progress in their career  and also motivated others.

All you needed to do was to draw his attention  to any  action against women and you can bet that you would get the support of  Odah.

It is therefore not surprising that he was an active member of Women In  Nigeria. To limit John Odah’s achievements to mainstreaming women would be an underestimation of his contributions to the  society.

During the years of military dictatorship,  when the leadership of the NLC was dissolved,  Odah  sustained the struggle to get the Congress back on  its feet.  Using his international connections with international  non-governmental organsations ,  many of whom he worked with as an officer in charge of education, he  sneaked out  of the country several times to make a case for  the restoration of the NLC at  the International Labour  Organisation in Geneva.

John as  he is fondly called worked with international  non-governmental organisations such as the Friedrich Ebert Stifftung ,  American Solidarity  Centre , Commonwealth Trade Union Council  ( now a part of the International Trade Union Federation), Organisation of African  Trade Union Unity,  etc, and others  and kept his integrity.

A  bridge builder, he  with the support of others in the NLC, promoted international solidarity between the Ghana Trade Union Congress, the South African Congress of  Trade Unions  (COSATU),  Canadian Labour Congress, American Federation of Labour, Congress of Industrial Organisation ( AFL-CIO), etc.

Like anyone else, John Odah has had his  high and low times in the trade union  movement.  The sole administrators who took over the NLC at different times had cause to sack Odah twice.

On one occasion they alleged that he campaigned against the Nigerian government at the ILO. Those were the days of Senator Uba Ahmed as Minister of Labour  of the Abacha regime. Odah’s faithfulness paid off when the NLC  executive was reconstituted and  he got his  job  back.    Though, he never knew he would  become the General Secretary of the NLC so soon.

To date, he  is the youngest  General Secretary of the NLC.

Outside the NLC, he remained committed to the civil society and became a major link between  the NLC and the civil society.  He was for some  years, Treasurer of the Civil Liberties Organisation, maintaining the link between  labour and the civil society. A first meeting with John Odah could give the impression  of one who is anything but radical but that would be a grave mistake.  Not known to raise his voice, Odah  is  firm and consistent with his beliefs.
Academically, he has not been found wanting either.  He  is the only trade unionist who graduated from the National Institute for Policy and Strategic

Studies ( NIPSS) in Kuru with the best student result. A record   yet to be beaten by any trade unionist. The publication of Labour Fact Sheet is also to his credit.  He,  with the support of some international non-governmental organisations initiated  Labour Fact Sheet  a magazine on the activities of the labour movement.  This was used

to highlight the activities of the trade union movement apart from what the dailies in Nigeria report.

Comrade John Odah as you clock 50 years today, women in the trade union movement remain grateful to you.  We are also proud of your activities in the civil society.  Though, you may not have pleased every one you met, we are happy that at least 85 per cent  of those who have met you have  good commentaries about you.

Happy birthday, Comrade, sustain the struggle even as you celebrate today.

Mrs.   Komolafe is an Assistant Editor (Labour) with Vanguard Newspapers.


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