ByÂ Funmi Komolafe
TODAY,Â August 24, 2010, ourÂ Comrade and friend, JohnÂ EjohaÂ Odah marks his 50th birthday.Â From the toddler in Benue State,Â to the student union activist, he hasÂ grownÂ to become a name in the trade union movement.
John Odah, the student activist at the University of Jos,Â was appointed an officer in the education department of the Nigeria LabourÂ Congress then headed by Dr.Â Taiwo.Â Â Â Odah came to the Congress at a time that the leadership of the NLC wanted to breathe in fresh ideas into the Congress.Â They wanted young, bright and vibrant graduates .Â Â From then on, he never looked back. Workers moved from one education programme to another.
More significantly is Odahâ€™s roleÂ in main-streaming women intoÂ the trade union movement.Â Though then a younger officer , this was sometime in 1985-1986, he was quite supportive of theÂ idea of movingÂ 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 byÂ Dr.Â KolagbodiÂ now of blessed memory .Â Â Â John was an active teacherÂ in these programmes.Â Within a short while, he had become known as Teacher John.
Some of the womenÂ he helped to groom later became commissionersÂ in their states.Â All have recorded remarkable progress in their careerÂ and also motivated others.
All you needed to do was to draw his attentionÂ to anyÂ action against women and you can bet that you would get the support ofÂ Odah.
It is therefore not surprising that he was an active member of Women InÂ Nigeria. To limit John Odahâ€™s achievements to mainstreaming women would be an underestimation of his contributions to theÂ society.
During the years of military dictatorship,Â when the leadership of the NLC was dissolved,Â OdahÂ sustained the struggle to get the Congress back onÂ its feet.Â Using his international connections with internationalÂ non-governmental organsations ,Â many of whom he worked with as an officer in charge of education, heÂ sneaked outÂ of the country several times to make a case forÂ the restoration of the NLC atÂ the International LabourÂ Organisation in Geneva.
John asÂ he is fondly called worked with internationalÂ non-governmental organisations such as the Friedrich Ebert Stifftung ,Â American SolidarityÂ Centre , Commonwealth Trade Union CouncilÂ ( now a part of the International Trade Union Federation), Organisation of AfricanÂ Trade Union Unity,Â etc, and othersÂ and kept his integrity.
AÂ bridge builder, heÂ with the support of others in the NLC, promoted international solidarity between the Ghana Trade Union Congress, the South African Congress ofÂ Trade UnionsÂ (COSATU),Â Canadian Labour Congress, American Federation of Labour, Congress of Industrial Organisation ( AFL-CIO), etc.
Like anyone else, John Odah has had hisÂ high and low times in the trade unionÂ movement.Â 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 LabourÂ of the Abacha regime. Odahâ€™s faithfulness paid off when the NLCÂ executive was reconstituted andÂ he got hisÂ jobÂ back.Â Â Â Though, he never knew he wouldÂ become the General Secretary of the NLC so soon.
To date, heÂ is the youngestÂ General Secretary of the NLC.
Outside the NLC, he remained committed to the civil society and became a major link betweenÂ the NLC and the civil society.Â He was for someÂ years, Treasurer of the Civil Liberties Organisation, maintaining the link betweenÂ labour and the civil society. A first meeting with John Odah could give the impressionÂ of one who is anything but radical but that would be a grave mistake.Â Not known to raise his voice, OdahÂ isÂ firm and consistent with his beliefs.
Academically, he has not been found wanting either.Â HeÂ 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 recordÂ Â yet to be beaten by any trade unionist. The publication of Labour Fact Sheet is also to his credit.Â He,Â with the support of some international non-governmental organisations initiatedÂ Labour Fact SheetÂ a magazine on the activities of the labour movement.Â 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.Â We are also proud of your activities in the civil society.Â Though, you may not have pleased every one you met, we are happy that at least 85 per centÂ of those who have met you haveÂ good commentaries about you.
Happy birthday, Comrade, sustain the struggle even as you celebrate today.
Mrs.Â Â Komolafe is an Assistant Editor (Labour) with Vanguard Newspapers.