By Funmi Komolafe
IT was a gathering of who is who in the labour movement as the NLC rounded off its 40th anniversary activities.
The events climaxed with induction into Labour’s Hall of fame; the first of its kind in the history of the labour movement in Nigeria.
Expectedly, issues of wages, politics, the economy and other social issues featured during the three-day programme of February 26 – 28, 2018.
The anniversary wasn’t for NLC alone. A former president of the NLC, Comrade Ali Chiroma turned 85 on February 27. Once Comrade Chiroma mentioned it, the leadership of NLC made sure it was celebrated with the cutting of a cake. Cutting the cake drew some joyful tears from Comrade Ali Chiroma. Chiroma was the second president of the NLC that is now 40 years old.
Comrade Hassan Sunmonu also reminded union members that he too turned 77 in January.
Chiroma and Hassan Sunmonu have something in common which only those who worked closely with them ever noticed. True, both came from the public sector, not that, both love proverbs. Osogbo-born Hassan Sunmonu hardly spoke to anyone without a proverb. Chiroma too would remind you of a particular Kanuri proverb while speaking. Chiroma, many a time, demonstrated the rigidity of a Kanuri but you knew where he stood at any time.
Sunmonu’s tenure won the National Minimum Wage after the May 11, 1981 strike against the President Shehu Shagari civilian administration. Chiroma’s tenure was the height of ideological split within the NLC as progressives and democrats.
Both sides resolved again to work together in the interest of Nigerian workers and this was reflected in the election of Comrade Pascal Bafyau.
With Bafyau’s election, ideological differences were downplayed and unity was fully restored again.
Comrade Pascal Bafyau from Numan in Adamawa State who succeeded Ali Chiroma had a rather controversial tenure essentially because of his attitude of diplomacy in Labour’s relationship with the military that made the public see him as a weak leader.
Paschal was general- secretary of the Nigeria Union of Railwaymen before his election as NLC president.
The truth is, Pascal would rather do everything to ensure that workers owned a party and took over political power. Many faulted his method but not his commitment.
He was the only one who was deceased when NLC turned 40. After Bafyau came Edo State-born, Kaduna-based Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole. Oshiomhole like Pascal, was general-secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers when he was elected president of the NLC.
Oshiomhole like Sunmonu, led a militant NLC. Both were fearless leaders who had reasons to confront governments at all levels once convinced they were on the right path. Oshiomhole popularised the culture of protest on political and economic issues.
Like Sunmonu, he fought and won battles of national minimum age. He also fought and won several battles against the deregulation of the downstream sector of the economy. Simply put, increase in the prices of petroleum products.
Adams Oshiomhole’s tenure fought and won battles against state governments, against the federal legislature over N25 million furniture allowance among others. Oshiomhole made history. as the first person from the trade union movement to hold an executive post in government with his election as Edo State governor for two terms of eight years.
After Oshiomhole came Abddulwaheed Omar, president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, Omar backed by a formidable secretariat started off with the traditional militancy of labour but was watered down to a level that made the public lose faith in the NLC leadership. His tenure also witnessed the manifestation of a deep internal crisis within the NLC.
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, president of the Medical and Health Workers Union emerged president after Omar. With his election, history seemed to replay itself. Chiroma from the Medical and Health Union had his election challenged by Comrade Takaya Shammang of the Electricity Workers Union just as Ayuba Wabba also had his election challenged by Comrade Joe Ajaero of the same Electricity Workers Union.
As president of Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria, Ayuba turned the fortunes of the union around. It is to his credit that the union built or acquired property in Abuja.
After series of interventions, some of the unions that broke away returned to the NLC and were present at the 40th anniversary.