Viewpoint

December 22, 2023

Tribute to Comrade Joe Ajaero at 59

NLC advocates quality salary, pension, insurance for journalists

Joe Ajaero, NLC President

By DENJA YAQUB

When some leaders of The Guardian newspapers branch of the Nigeria Union of Journalists led by Gbolahan Gbadamosi, now a lawyer based in the United States of America were sacked by the management of the flagship of Nigeria’s newspaper industry sometime in the year 2000, they filed a complaint at the headquarters of Nigeria Labour Congress, then fully located in Yaba, Lagos under the leadership of Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole.

After attempts to resolve the issues through dialogue to ultimately reinstate the union leaders failed, NLC decided to massively picket the premises of the newspaper firm. Journalists from all the major print and electronic news media were effectively mobilized to cover the picket.

Among them was a young labour journalist from Vanguard newspaper who did not only cover the picket but was part of the tactical planning team who along with another senior journalist, Comrade Owei Lakemfa were familiar with the terrain, especially the timing of the picket to coincide with both editorial and production period.

As agreed, workers from affiliates of the NLC massively, like bees moved from Yaba to RUTAM HOUSE, the headquarters of The Guardian newspapers located at Isolo and effectively took over the premises, taking the management in total surprise.

Rather than keep safe in a corner writing reports, the journalist from Vanguard newspaper was leading a team of workers straight to production lines, including the newsroom to ensure none of the reporters could sit on their news desks. He led us to the location of the production machines and workers ensured the machines went off.

And for days, we occupied The Guardian newspapers premises despite presence of heavily armed riot policemen mobilized by the management to attack us.

That exceptionally brave journalist is Joe Ajaero of the Vanguard newspapers at that time.

Born in Emekuku, Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo State, South East Nigeria in 1964, December 17 and educated at the Universities of Nigeria, Nsukka and Lagos; Times Journalism Institute, Lagos, he also attended the International Professional Practice Partnership in Cape Town, South Africa where he obtained a certificate in Advance Tariff Structuring and Subsidy Design Options.

He  attended St. George’s Business School at the Cambridge University, Harvard Business School as well as the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organisation in Turin, Italy.

Comrade Joe recently completed his Law degree at Baze University, Abuja. He earlier had his first degree in Education at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Masters in Industrial and Labour Relations at the University of Lagos.

He did his mandatory youth service under the National Youth Service Corp at the 1st Mechanised Division of the Nigeria Army in Kaduna

He later joined Vanguard newspapers where he rose to become Assistant News Editor before he realised he could serve humanity more fighting for and defending workers’ rights working directly in the trade unions. He left Vanguard to head the Information and Training Department of the National Union of Electricity Workers, now National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, recruited by one of our best in the trade union movement at the time, Comrade Precious Kiri Kalio, now late. Kiri – Kalio was also one of the Deputy Presidents of NLC just as he was General Secretary of NUEE and a strong opponent of the privatization of public electricity. Comrade Joe who succeeded him as General Secretary of NUEE is currently on leave of absence and serving as President of Africa’s largest labour centre, the Nigeria Labour Congress since February 2023.

Comrade Joe is not a stranger in the movement. He has always been part of mass struggles from his days as a student activist at UNN. As a journalist, he was part of “rescue actions” led by people like Comrade Lanre Arogundade and others like Comrades Owei Lakemfa, Tony Iyare etc to ensure the Nigeria Union of Journalists was properly led by people who knew defence of the rights and freedoms of members of the union were inviolable, especially at a period media houses and journalists became vulnerable during the era of military dictatorship; with a decree specifically promulgated to circumscribe the rights of journalists to practice their profession without hindrance.

Comrade Joe was fully involved in the pro-democracy struggles that ended military rule in Nigeria and suffered brutalities in the hands of state agents, particularly the secret police, the State Security Service. One of such incidents occurred in Ilorin, the capital of Kwara State, north central Nigeria while attending a tactical meeting of a combination of human rights and labour activists during the regime of General Sani Abacha. He is not a stranger to brutalities, either by state agents or paid street urchins.

The recent physical attacks on him by state agents in Owerri where he led workers, as appropriately decided by the National Executive Council of NLC was not anything he never expected. Any serious workers’ leader will not expect anything less from a state that considers workers, creators of the wealth that has been and still being massively plundered and siphoned into private vaults of public officials and their cronies, less deserving of their wages and pensions.

Only little minds; reactionaries and beneficiaries of the rot that has eclipsed our country will allude his role as a labour leader in the struggle for the right of Imo State workers to have their salaries and pension entitlements paid as a personal engagement to advance any cause other than implementing decisions of an organization he is leading as well-known freebooters, political jobbers and dancers in the unfortunate gallery of visionless anti people politicians have roundly claimed in public space.

Not when the state government is recalcitrant and shamelessly repudiating workers agitation for the payment of more than 42 months salaries and pension entitlements. Not when the state government has consistently avoided dialogue. Indeed, not when NEC of an organisation he leads has directed that a strike and mass actions be organised against the state government to ensure workers’ rights in the state are fully enforced.

For Comrade Joe Ajaero, he new what leadership means and he knows the price of leadership and he is clearly prepared for it. This he demonstrated as the General Secretary of NUEE. He didn’t sell out workers when public electricity was “auctioned” on the privatization table as directed by the International Monetary Fund and its neo liberal imperialist partners, characterized by their local comprador agents who had connived to make public-owned state enterprises run out of purpose.

After the vicious fatal attacks on him and some trade union leaders in Owerri, affiliates of the NLC decided to take very decisive national actions in line with what is historically correct. An injury to one is an injury to all.  Every conscious labour leader with conscience knows this.

A national strike and mass actions were organized and successfully held not just to protest against the brutal attacks on the President of NLC and other labour leaders but against any form of attack on any Nigerian during any protest against any form of violations of fundamental rights.

All verbal attacks that followed the national actions have recorded the attackers as gangsters of the same gallery the Debtor Governor of Imo State who chose to unleash violence on those he is shamelessly owing is criminally dancing. No leader of repute will wish his own history destroyed with careless statements on protests against violent attacks on labour leaders, except those who allow momentary emotions, political indiscretions and deliberate attempt to rubbish a movement to propel individual self-glorifications that have over time become unsustainable. 

Comrade Joe led workers protests in Owerri as President of NLC and when he was so brutally attacked, only a state apologist; anti people advocate will condemn a national action against such fatal attack.

We are happy Comrade Joe celebrated his 59th birthday alive on Sunday 17th December 2023 just as we pray Comrade President of NLC lives longer in sound health to continue in our collective struggles for a better society.

Happy birthday Comrade Joe Ajaero, the President of Nigeria Labour Congress, Africa’s largest labour centre.