By Abadom Lawrence Amechi
THAT National Union of Foods, Beverages and Tobacco Employees’ (NUFBTE) sky is laden with dark clouds, an indication of a coming storm, is an understatement. Those who think that they are in a position to administer the union as their personal estate because they have constitutional mandate to lead, should know that no individual or group, no matter how powerful can ever win the war against the members. In any democratic system, power truly belongs to the people instead of it being the exclusive preserve of an oligarchic few.
If one may ask, what is it that Comrade Oyelekan has not done in twelve years, that he may want to see accomplished with a two-year tenure extension?
Comrade Oyelekan has spent twelve years as President of NUFBTE! Those who are saddled with the responsibility to lead must know that they have to lead well. A leader is not supposed to bring untold misery and hardship upon his followers. I would like to state clearly here that the greatest honour and service that a union leader can give to members of his union is to feel their pulse.
NUFBTE leadership should take a realistic reading of public mood and perception, and truly gauge members’ feelings and interests. In my last telephone conversation with a comrade in Kaduna, I was told that members have been following the present leadership ‘foolishly’ because there seemed to be no alternative. According to him, the entire food workers all over the country are happy over the emergence of the Redemption Group.
A great institution can be destroyed by not only an inept leader but one that is desperately addicted to power. If the present leadership of NUFBTE is allowed to superintendent over our union in the next two years, the damage they will unleash on the union cannot be remedied in the next ten years.
Comrade Oyelekan’s supporters argue that he built a hotel, and for that, he should be allowed to carry on uninterrupted against the constitution.
“A labour movement that lacks character and principle can only bark. Today, struggles are done on the pages of newspapers. The labour movement that used to be the most potent force in the mobilisation of workers and Nigerian masses against the many injustices in the land, seem to have lost its organisational and moral strength. The people that have come to equity do not have hands let alone a clean one. We are in serious trouble! A nation without conscience is lost. Social and political rules are predicated on moral principles as set by God. No nation or institution survives when these moral principles are sullied by greed and selfishness.”
To build the hotel, our members were levied seven thousand naira (N7,000) each. The levy was paid in two tranches and over three hundred million naira was realised. The hotel has been in operation for eight years running and profit has not been declared once.
Salaries of the hotel’s staff are paid from workers check off dues. The hotel cannot sustain itself. Most unions started business from prudent management of workers check off dues. The Senior Staff Association of Food, Beverages and Tobacco built hostels in institutions of higher learning without levying their members. If Oyelekan should be allowed to continue because he has another hotel building project going on in Ibadan, as we are told, it then means there can never be an end to his presidency.
I cannot imagine President Muhammadu Buhari telling the nation that he has to stay in power beyond 2023 in order to complete ongoing projects. For us in NUFBTE, twelve years of slumbering autocracy is too long a night!
Now that we are awake, we should speak out because silence does weigh heavily on sealed lips. In the Nigerian labour movement, plutocracy is in vogue. Most affiliate presidents are very rich, only God knows how they are making the money. In our world, the man who has money has everyone at his beck and call. With the present economy, even those who are working are economically distressed. Ten thousand naira or less can make a delegate to a trade union congress trade his birth right. Affiliate presidents understand the major weakness of Nigerian workers and they are leveraging on it.
The labour movement is presently at the lowest ebb of morality. Some people, who are in the position to advice Comrade Oyelekan also got illegal extension in their respective unions for one reason or another. Oyelekan boasted to us that no amount of petition to the ministry will jolt the officials into inviting us. Truly, we have written several petitions articulating our displeasure, but Ministry of Labour and Employment that is supposed to be regulating us has not seen the need to invite us. We are tempted to believe that what Oyelekan said about the ministry is right!
A labour movement that lacks character and principle can only bark. Today, struggles are done on the pages of newspapers. The labour movement that used to be the most potent force in the mobilisation of workers and Nigerian masses against the many injustices in the land, seem to have lost its organisational and moral strength. The people that have come to equity do not have hands let alone a clean one. We are in serious trouble! A nation without conscience is lost. Social and political rules are predicated on moral principles as set by God. No nation or institution survives when these moral principles are sullied by greed and selfishness.
The Romanian-born Jewish writer, Elie Wiesel, in his book; Nights, talked about a Jewish teacher named Moishe. Moishe, after few days of leaving Sighet in Hungary, returned to tell a horrifying story of how their train was stopped and everyone taken to the bush by the Gestapo (German Secret Police), who systematically butchered all but him. Unfortunately, no one believed him. The people of Sighet see Moishe as a lunatic.
Then few days later, the Nazis overran Hungary and the Gestapo unleashed their terror on the people. Moishe was vindicated.
We have seen the many errors of the past twelve years in our union and we can imagine what the next two years will lead to if an illegal extension is procured. The current leadership of NUFBTE is a replica of the German Gestapo, but who will believe our report?
Comrade Amechi, a member of NUFBTE, is deputy chairperson, Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) Lagos.