By Owei Lakemfa
Musa-Lawal Ozigi was a bearded, ebullient but serious minded Nigerian patriot who exuded confidence in a better society and had a positive effect on his compatriots and those around him. He was a lawyer and my comrade in the Labour Movement.
On Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2022, he wrote me a letter. It was one about our collective love for Nigeria and human progress. The Distinguished Alumnus of the Institute Of Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, wrote in his capacity as the Secretary General of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, one of the twin labour centres in the country. It was the last letter I would receive from him.
In it, he lamented that organised labour had not “successfully tapped into the opportunity provided in a liberal democracy which emphasises grassroots participation, negotiation of interests and interactivity”.
He told me that more importantly, the dividing line between economics and governance is very indistinct and that “the rationality that propels the state’s constant interference in labour matters equally dictates the need for trade unions to take active interest in politics.”
For Ozigi, the fact that the ruling class takes decisions affecting the socio-economic well-being of workers and the masses should be a salient justification for labour’s involvement in partisan politics. He emphasised the strong linkages between democracy, good governance and workers economic well-being. He did not see any reason why workers should sit back and watch events in next year’s general elections, more so when they have the capacity to influence its outcome.
Ozigi’s submission was that: “Organised Labour is capable of enthroning social democracy in Nigeria and bring governance closer to the people.” He argued that the incessant labour agitations either in form of street protests or strike actions alone cannot guarantee decent work, good governance and social and economic justice by a political ruling class that is self-serving and insensitive to the plight of the workers and citizens in general.
As a basic step forward, he said the TUC was holding a mass conference in Abuja on March 10, 2022 which it requests me to moderate. At the packed conference, Ozigi greeted the TUC women three times and somebody in the audience teased him that he was trying to ingratiate himself with the women; to which he replied that the women membership had greatly multiplied and are now quite powerful. But that since he is a male and cannot join them, the least he could do was express his loyalty.
As the conference wound up, he came to me to express his personal gratitude and I teased him: “Comrade, you are the second Ozigi in the trade union movement (the other, decades ago, was the President of the Medical and Health Workers); are you related?”
He replied in the negative and I said: “You have to pay a fee for using that name in the Labour Movement.” He laughed and nodded that he would. But, I will never hear his laughter again. His unique voice would no longer resonate in the gathering of workers.
Ozigi had a Tuesday, March 29, workers assignment to carry out in Kaduna, a two-hour drive from Abuja. The Abuja-Kaduna highway had over the years become so unsafe that many had abandoned it. Even government, whose twin duties for being in power are the welfare and security of the citizenry, seemed to have ceded partial control of that vital corridor to bandits.
Both cities have international airports, but the bandits reach also extends to the Kaduna Airport. In March 2021, they stormed the staff quarters at the airport and kidnapped some families. This March 26, they came to the Runway 05 axis of the airport and shot dead at least a security officer as a commercial aircraft was taxing.
With no water transportation between Abuja and Kaduna, the roads and air unsafe, the safest way of travelling the Abuja-Kaduna route is the railway. Nigeria from 1898 had functional train services from Lagos through Kaduna to Kano and Enugu to Port Harcourt. But the indolent political/military class had been so inefficient that by the late -1980s, the rail system was dead.
It is one of the miracles of this generation that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, could revive part of the railways, with the Abuja-Kaduna Railway which was commissioned by the equally inept All Progressives Congress, APC. But maintenance has been a problem, with the railways breaking down in the midst of nowhere.
The media had also for years highlighted corruption in ticketing, which meant there were undocumented passengers riding the trains. There were also issues of insecurity partly as a result of undocumented passengers, brake-downs and more seriously, the activities of bandits who had, at least on one occasion, tried to derail and attack the train.
All these were to play out on the fateful night of Monday March 28, 2022 when Comrade Ozigi, his wife and the TUC Chairman in Kwara State, Comrade Akin Akinsola, boarded the AK9 train service in Abuja. At Dutse Village, in the Chikun Local Government Area, there was an earth-shaking explosion. Bandits had blown the rail track and derailed the train.
It was like a precise military operation: the bandits were stationed precisely where the train derailed and within minutes, were machine-gunning it. The fire power was concentrated on the business class section. Bullets flew, and victims fell. Comrade Musa-Lawal Ozigi, a great soul and courageous labour leader had no means of defending himself; like other ‘bloody Nigerian civilians’ he had no weapons.
At that moment, the firepower was in favour of the bandits. The comrade was equally in no position to defend either his wife or Comrade Akinsola travelling with him. He fell silent to the bullets. So did Comrade Akinsola. Mrs Ozigi who was also shot, survived. The bandits also kidnapped a number of passengers.
Today, one week later, Nigerians are yet to be given a straight forward report. Given the ticket racketeering, it is difficult to ascertain how many passengers were on board. The media reports are that 398 bought tickets, 362 validated the tickets while 970 passengers were on board. It is difficult to know the number killed as some of the kidnapped, especially the injured, might have died in the hands of the bandits.
Some of the survivors claimed that the tone of some of the attackers gave the impression that they are non-Nigerians. As usual, President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to deal with the bandits and ordered security forces to go after them. One governor hinting that the Nigeria state is useless, suggested hiring mercenaries. But nobody is taking responsibility. Nobody is being punished. We would soon add this as just one more tragedy in a long list while we wait for the next.