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The Kokori I know, by Joseph Akinlaja

I am totally shocked at a certain article I read on pages 3 and 41 of The Nation newspaper, precisely on Monday, March 26, 2018. The commentator, Darlington Anule in his opinion titled,  “Between Ngige’s One-Man Show And The Blind Eagle Eye”  misguidedly sought to ridicule and demean the good image of Chief Frank Ovie Kokori, a former General Secretary of one of the most powerful unions in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, {NUPENG}.

Ordinarily, there wouldn’t have been any need for me to respond to this, and those who know me are aware that I hate to join issues with anyone; but for the sake of posterity, this response becomes necessary. Besides, this is an individual who I deputized, when he held sway as NUPENG General Secretary, therefore I have informed and dispassionate views about who he truly is.

Sadly, this unfair commentary came when some of us are becoming so curious and worried that six months after the appointment of Chief Frank Kokori as Chairman of NSITF, a new board for the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, has chosen not to inaugurate the board despite the directive from President Muhammadu Buhari. Yet, in the middle of that, some people flippantly derived pleasure in disparaging Chief Frank Kokori. This is needless, and totally unacceptable.

Frank-Kokori

Not associated with   corruption

Chief Kokori that I know was never associated with corruption in all the offices he had previously occupied in life, neither was he known for covering or abetting corruption. Here is a man who voluntarily resigned from Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC) the precursor to today’s Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) when he became dissatisfied with some activities that were capable of soiling his name and integrity which made him sacrifice all what the office was legitimately offering him at that time. This attitude of his was applauded by many who knew him for his firmness and uncompromising standpoint. That was really significant because that decision came at a time when resignation from such high profile office was almost an impossible thing to do; it was a phenomenon that was totally alien to our clime.

The Kokori I know is an alumnus of University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s premier University, prestigious institute of Social Studies, The Haque Netherland (ISS) where he bagged a Master’s Degree (M.A) in Labour and Development Studies (1984). Frank Kokori was also conferred with the prestigious title of fellowship of the Petroleum Training Institute (FPTI). Until the end of 1999, he dominated the labour – management relations of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry for 22yrs as the Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), perhaps Nigeria’s most powerful and visible Trade Union of that era.

The Kokori I know is a recipient of several national and international awards, a hero of democracy.  Amongst them was the all time revered George Meany Labour/Human Rights award by the American Federation of Labour/Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL/CIO) for the most outstanding labour leader in the world for 1996. He’s also the winner of Febe Elizabeth Valasquez Trade Union/Human Rights award of the Dutch Labour Federation (FNV) for the most outstanding labour activist and human right crusader in the world for 1998. Without contradiction, Frank Kokori was adjudged and acclaimed a world Prisoner of Conscience by two world icons of the 20th and 21st centuries,    of blessed memory i.e the highly revered Madiba, Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Pope Saint John Paul II in 1997.

Other renowned world institutions that also proclaimed Frank Kokori a notable world prisoner of conscience include:    The international Labour Organisation (ILO) based in Geneva Switzerland, Amnesty International (AI) along with big labour federations across the globe between the period, August 1994 – June 1998 during the regime of General Sanni Abacha, the late Nigeria military dictator. We have facts to show where Kokori was locked up in the notorious Bama prison in solitary confinement for four consecutive years. During this period no charges were preferred against him neither was he tried in any court of competent jurisdiction known to law.

It is really appalling to see such a man who enjoys enviable and high profile laurels, honours and accolades internationally from credible and reputable individuals and great institutions and organizations, only for him in his home country to be vilified through tissues of lies, innuendos and propaganda.

I would like to remind Darlington Anule, and others who think like him that whilst it is an extension of the rights of the writer to pen down opinions on topical national issues, it is however important for him to get his facts right and do his due diligence by way of investigation or by interviewing the concerned individual instead of going to press and writing fictitious conjecture with passion and sentiments.

I found it crucial to state emphatically here that the Nigerian state was replete with courageous voices like that of Chief Frank Kokori from the labour movement, especially that of NUPENG. Kokori painstakingly fought against all antithetical elements in democracy, fought for social justice, equity and fairness, fought for and is still fighting for workers’ welfare without looking back.

Despite the ravages of military might, despite the tyrannical occupation of streets by anti-democratic characters, Chief Kokori heroically stood between the oppressed and the oppressors. The events of June 12 still resonate in our memories and cannot go away so quickly. The Kokori I know will be remembered for the pivotal roles he played in the protests against the annulment of the 1993 election and other anti labour policies.

It is also on record that the Gen. SaniAbacha-led regime offered Kokori ‘juicy’ appointments and cash gifts – in the real sense – which the labour leader rejected in the face of intimidation and military dictatorship. He stood firm on his pro-democracy principles; he did not compromise but put his life at risk and strengthened the union in the interest of Nigerians. Darlington should also know that Kokori equally fought for freedom of speech and expression which he (the writer) is enjoying today.

However, people behind social or mainstream media to discuss national issues must be professionals who can apply their creativity appropriately rather than inflame the polity by being snide and scornful. The use of the media to make snarky remarks or to display sarcasm to overheat the polity must be condemned and eschewed at all times. I urge all well meaning Nigerians to consider every desperate fabrication against Chief Frank Ovie Kokoro baseless and take them with a pinch of salt.

Kokori’s laudable and meritorious antecedents have consistently made him to be a beautiful bride to all and sundry. He will never be part of corruption or any group or groups that have mis-managed the fortunes and opportunities of the country in very acquisitive manner. Chief Frank Ovie Kokoro is very pleased to be the Chairman of NSITF; and will ever be grateful to Mr. President for having such a credible platform to display his unique leadership credentials once again for his motherland, Nigeria.

On this note I urge Darlington Anule to do the honorable thing by apologizing to the elderstateman, Chief Kokori. Honestly he doesn’t deserve such insult, he is one Nigerian who should be celebrated and not disparaged, judging from his impeccable track records and sacrifices which have over time made Nigeria an indivisible and liveable entity for us all.

Similarly, I am using this medium to crave the indulgence of the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, who I strongly hold in high esteem not to allow himself to be used by anyone to distort the wheel of progress in Nigeria. My hope and wish is to see Chief Kokori to be formerly and officially inaugurated as the new board Chairman of NSITF and very soon too. He is capable of clearing any mess that may have taken place and prevent other ones.

*Hon Joseph Akinlaja is Chairman House of Reps. Committee on Petroleum Resources Downstream and was Former General Secretary of NUPENG and Deputy President, Nigeria Labour Congress.


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