THE death on Tuesday of human rights activist and frontline labour activist, Comrade Ayodele Akele, has continued to draw a flurry of glowing tributes from his associates and contemporaries within the human rights and labour circles in the country.

Comrade Akele, who was former chairman of the Lagos State Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) as well as former Secretary-General of the National Conscience Party (NCP), the party founded by the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, reportedly died in the early hours of Tuesday after a protracted illness.

The late Comrade Akele also served as Chairman of the Council of Industrial Unions. In politics, he was the Lagos State governorship candidate of National Conscience Party (NCP) in the 2015 election.

“Popularly known as Iturity by his associates in the labour movement, Comrade Akele, according to tributes from his contemporaries, was an activist who lived his entire life in dedication to the cause of workers and human rights. He cut his teeth in activism in the student union movement where he served as General Secretary of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in the early 1980s at the Yaba College of Technology.”

Popularly known as Iturity by his associates in the labour movement, Comrade Akele, according to tributes from his contemporaries, was an activist who lived his entire life in dedication to the cause of workers and human rights.

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He cut his teeth in activism in the student union movement where he served as General Secretary of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in the early 1980s at the Yaba College of Technology.

He was in the leadership of NANS that waged the iconic battle against the introduction of tuition in higher institutions in the country.

Comrade Akele was in the front row in the tough battle with the Lagos State government in the late ’90s in the campaign for workers rights. For his role in that struggle, he was subsequently sacked from his job by the Lagos State government.

Comrade Akele, until his death, was the Executive Director of the Labour, Health and Human Rights Development Centre.

Aborisade Dismisses False News

While there were initial news that Comrade Akele died in a US hospital, Comrade Femi Aborisade later clarified that the news was fake.

In two Facebook posts on his wall, Comrade Aborisade stated: “I can state authoritatively that Comrade Ayodele Akele (a.k.a. Itu, ata wwe) did not die in America. He died in Nigeria.

“Some persons have been spreading the fake news that the death of Itu occurred in America. No, Itu died in Nigeria. May his soul rest in perfect peace!,” one of the posts stated

In the second post, Comrade Aborisade stated: “It is absolutely fake news that timenewsng.com is spreading that Itu died “in an hospital in the United States of America”. Who are “his close associates” who gave timenewsng.com this false information?

“Friends of Itu should help dispute any fake news about Itu’s death. Itu lived a real life, not a pretentious life, not a fake life. Fakeness should not be associated with his death pleases. May his soul rest in perfect peace.”

Tributes

Since the news of his passage filtered in yesterday, there have been a flood of tributes from friends and associates saluting his courage, commitment and unwavering dedication to the realisation of an egalitarian society.

Below are a few of the glowing tributes, some of which were extracted and edited from some the social media platforms:

Comrade Abiodun Aremu: “So sad was the news when a comrade called by 18.51pm yesterday to inform that he read of Comrade Akele’s demise on Comrade Femi Aborisade’s Facebook wall!

“What do I say in such moment when you lose a comrade that is a pillar in our collective struggle! One becomes sad and sad with memories of such an invaluable Comrade. The demise of Comrade Akele, popularly known as ITURITY, filled one with cold silence, sleepless imagination and sleepless dreams as one battles to sleep!

“ITURITY, a veteran of uncountable street battles, ever battle-ready and a stand-well-well comrade, who in articulating his perception on issues at several meetings and mass gatherings would joyfully introduce himself as “ever militant and corrosive fighter,” added his name to the list of our painful losses!

“ITURITY is an uncompromising working class fighter on labour issues and defender of working class interest and the poor masses to the end and was sacked twice by the Lagos State Government under Buba Marwa’s military administration and Bola Tinubu’s civilian administration.

“Our Comrade ITURITY despite being denied his means of livelihood because of the unjust and vindictive sacks from employment and the denial of his final entitlement, (which one isn’t sure has been paid except it was done during the pandemic lockdown), was always available as a frontline leader at the head of several barricades and mass processions.

“He was in most of the street battles of the Joint Action Front (JAF) since inception until recently, due to health issues! In all JAF’s collaboration with labour and in our independent actions outside labour, ITURITY was always among the first ten to hit the convergence point, always battle-dressed with the red beret revolutionary cap to fit!

“ITURITY would be greatly missed by all the organisations where he dutifully committed his struggle life – students’ movement where he served as NANS GS Caretaker Committee with Comrade Lado as President, CD, NC, NCP, JACON, LM, organised labour, JAF, human rights on labour and the environment, etc.

“Adieu our Comrade ITURITY!

“ITURITY, WE ARE ASSURED YOU ARE AT HOME IN THE OTHER LIFE WITH OUR GLORIOUS ANCESTORS! NO DEATH TO FEAR ANY LONGER, YOU HAVE CONQUERED DEATH ALREADY! AND YOUR MEMORY OF STRUGGLE WOULD FULFILL US ETERNALLY!”

Femi Aborisade: “Demise of an uncompromising class fighter: It is with deep pain in my heart to disclose the sad news I have just heard! Ayodele Akele passed on today, 23/6/2020.

“Itu devoted his entire life to the service of ordinary people. A former Secretary General of National Association of Nigerian Students, committed and incorruptible trade union leader, agitator, mobiliser, popularly called “Ata wewe”, Ituriti, may your soul rest in perfect peace!

Kunle Oladejo: “What a great loss in Comrade Ayodele Akele’s death. He taught me labour and trade unionism when I was heading the Secretariat of Lagos State Council of National Union of Public Corporations Employees, NUPCE

“He was the Chairperson of Lagos State NUPCE. He would tell me: “The union is the one paying not Kogbodoku” (the then General Manager of LSDPC). Lead Lamina and the Branch Executive to present the position of the union.” (Lamina was the Branch Chairperson)

“The most important impression he created in me and the lesson I learnt from Comrade Akele is not only to be a courageous leader, but to be an INCORRUPTIBLE LABOUR LEADER.

“It is on that basis that I will narrate the important victory we scored on the struggle of WEMABOD workers against the management in 1992. After NUPCE members in this branch won an IAP award, the management lied against WEMABOD workers that they had spent all the money budgeted for the hospital bills of NUPCE branch members.

“After I succeeded Comrade Ayo Arogundade who was handling their issue before me, we continued a series of meetings mostly with one Mr Akinlaja who boasted that he was from the same town as Governor Olumilua, the then Chairperson of Oodua Investment and would always call me akerekoroabijawara (a Yoruba word meaning a smallish person, but quick to fight).

“At a point I was detailed to do an investigation by Comrade Akele because we suspected fraud in the claim of the management as we later found out during and after my investigation that the management colluded with a private hospital in Ikeja to fabricate the lies against the WEMABOD workers.

“WEMABOD Board then sent Akinlaja to LSDPC in Anthony to try to bribe us with mint fresh naira and dollars. Of course, we chased them out with all the cash they brought which we later estimated would be around N100,000 in 1992

“So we decided to send a petition to Oodua Investment which was drafted by Comrade Akele. I took it to Cocoa House and I also made copies for the people I know like my GNS teacher in FUTA, Professor Mrs Fatunla.

“The victory was that the Managing Director and the Personnel Manager were sacked and the IAP award was granted!

“Comrade Akele was not only a labour and human rights activist; he was an environmentalist per excellence as a chartered quantity surveyor who participated in all UNFCC climate change conferences before he died.

“I remain grateful to Comrade Akele because he ensured that I was not only issued a visa for 2012 UN Climate Change Conference in Qatar, but when my passport was stolen, it was too late to go even with the financial sponsorship I had then as I got another passport late. By the time I called the National Chairperson of NCP, Dr Tanko, he told me that they were already at the airport on their way back. It pained comrade akele that i could not make it!

“One thing I would miss Comrade Akele for is the consistency in whatever he struggled for or against. He was so passionate about 1989 Labour Party that his union, NUPCE, played a key role in Lagos State Branch of Labour Party.

“He was well-involved in the campaign to free his friend in General Babangida’s gulag, Comrade Femi Aborisade. He was also a foundation member of Labour Militant.”

Comrade Baba Aye:The death of Ayodele Akele marks the loss of one of the fiercest and most consistent class fighters in Nigeria, over the last four decades. From June 1980, when, as a students’ leader at Yabatech he emerged as founding Secretary General of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) he trod a path of self-sacrifice and unrepentant struggle as unionist and socialist activist. At the time of his death, he was National General Secretary of the National Conscience Party (NCP).

“As a quantity surveyor, he worked at the Lagos State Property Development Corporation (LSPDC) from where he was elected Lagos State Chairman of the National Union Public Corporations Employees (NUPCE) in the late 1980s till 1996 when NUPCE along with CSTWUN and RSEU, merged to form the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations Civil Service Technical and Recreation Services Employees (AUPCTRE).

“Beloved by rank and file workers who had implicit trust in him, he was elected as the first Lagos State Chairman of AUPCTRE, a position he held until he was sacked as an employee of LSDPC by the military governor Brigadier General Buba Marwa, for his union activities.

“While rank and file workers had unalloyed confidence in Iturity (the authority of “itu”), same could not be said for most sections of the trade union bureaucracy. He was in the view of these strata, too hot-headed for the “politics” of “bargaining”, “negotiation” & “social dialogue”. Not surprisingly, when he ran for Chair of the Lagos State Council of NLC in ‘92/’93, he came third out of three contestants. The winner, who was from CSTWUN would in no time leave to serve as a commissioner under Buba Marwa!

“As soon as the new civilian government of Bola Tinubu was sworn-in on 29 May 1999, we (as leaders of public sector unions in the state) demanded the reinstatement of Akele. Playing the card of a NADECO “fighter for democracy” card, Tinubu promptly heeded our call. In his first speech on being reinstated, Akele immediately amplified our call for action to reinstate workers who had been sacked by Tinubu (yes, one of the first things the so-called pro-people AD did in Lagos was sack thousands of public sector workers in the name of “rationalisation”, starting within its first month in power!)

“The state government constituted a review panel headed by a permanent secretary (who would later become head of service) Mr Sunny Ajose. Akele led a team of unionists representing the Council of Industrial Unions Operating in Lagos State to the panel. Along with Akele and me, there were officials of NANM, NUCSSASW, NUPPPPROW and ASCSN.

“When Akele was sacked a few years later, I remembered how Ajose and other permanent secretaries on the panel kept saying “Mr Akele, you don’t even appreciate how kind we have been in returning you”. This was because he never stopped calling a spade a spade and in the most iconoclastic manner during the review. We eventually got most of the workers (particularly in the health sector) reinstated. He was obviously never forgiven.

“The following year, workers in Lagos were locked in a monumental battle with the government. NLC had negotiated a review of the national minimum wage to N7,500 for the federal public service (and richer states like those in oil producing states and Lagos) and N5,500 for (other) states. The Alhaja Olorunimbe-led NLC Lagos state council abandoned workers to their fate when the Lagos state government insisted it could not pay more than N5,500. Akele rallied the COIU leaders and rank and file union members. A partial victory was won. But the empire struck back, once again Akele was sacked, and as much workers as were reinstated after the 1999 retrenchment were as well thrown into the abyss of unemployment.”

Comrade Aye’s full tribute can be read on his blog here.

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