Food Union Crisis: Ceasefire Or Escalation As NLC Intervenes?

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“The NLC was said to have been moved to again intervene following new developments from the parties in the crisis. On the one hand is the open and growing conflict between Comrade Oyelekan and the Redemption Group while on the other hand is an evolving confrontation between Comrade Oyelekan and the General Secretary of the union, Comrade Bamidele Busari.”

ALTHOUGH there were initial hopes of a ceasefire following reported mediation by the Nigeria Labour Congress, but as at the time of going to press, there were indications that the crisis may after all be headed to litigation at the Lagos State Judicial Division of the National Industrial Court.

Since last Monday until night of Thursday June 18, 2020 (yesterday), many people familiar with the crisis had concluded that a temporary ceasefire in the ongoing crisis rocking the National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE) had been reached been reached by all parties in the conflict following NLC’s intervention in an effort to restore peace to its troubled affiliate.

National Record had in an exclusive story reported the crisis stoked by an alleged ambition of the union’s President, Comrade Lateef Idowu Oyelekan, to secure a fourth tenure in office.

Comrade Oyelekan’s third term as President of the union reportedly lapsed in December 2019 when the union was billed to hold its delegates conference. Some members of the union who obviously had become tired of him, and outraged that he was subverting the constitution of the union to perpetuate himself in office, in January 2020, wrote a petition to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chairmen Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Labour and the Nigeria Labour Congress.

In the petition entitled: “Before It Is Too Late,” the members, among other things, alleged that Comrade Oyelekan truncated a constitutionally scheduled delegates conference and was instead planning an emergency delegates conference in order to manipulate for himself a fourth tenure. 

Following National Record’s story, Comrade Oyelekan, through his attorney, one Oluwafemi Abimbola, claimed that to the best of his knowledge, there existed no petition as alluded to in the story and he threatened to sue National Record.

NLC’s Efforts at Restoring Peace

Although the NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, had on June 1, 2020 called the Editor-in-Chief of National Record, Onah L. Iduh, to contest the validity of its report, arguing that he was wrongly quoted (although there was no where he was quoted in the story); our findings indicate that in addition to its initial moves to nip the crisis in the bud, the NLC has at the moment seemed to have succeeded in brokering a temporary ceasefire between Comrade Oyelekan, and the agitating members of the Food Union, who have now constituted themselves under the aegis of NUFBTE Redemption Group, to challenge the alleged fourth term and other infractions of Comrade Oyelekan.

“Comrade Oyelekan, who is also a Vice President of NLC, was said to have two weeks ago written a letter of complaint to the Lagos State Police Command alleging that his life was being threatened by some members of the union. The Redemption Group, National Record gathered, suspecting a ploy by Comrade Oyelekan to stifle its resistance, also wrote a letter of complaint to the Inspector General of Police through the Zone 2 Police Headquarters in Lago alleging threats to the lives of its members.”

The NLC was said to have been moved to again intervene following new developments from the parties in the crisis. On the one hand is the open and growing conflict between Comrade Oyelekan and the Redemption Group while on the other hand is an evolving confrontation between Comrade Oyelekan and the General Secretary of the union, Comrade Bamidele Busari.

Getting the Police Involved

Comrade Oyelekan

Comrade Oyelekan, who is also a Vice President of NLC, was said to have two weeks ago written a letter of complaint to the Lagos State Police Command alleging that his life was being threatened by some members of the union. The Redemption Group, National Record gathered, suspecting a ploy by Comrade Oyelekan to stifle its resistance, also wrote a letter of complaint to the Inspector General of Police through the Zone 2 Police Headquarters in Lagos alleging threats to the lives of its members.

A frontline member of the Redemption Group, Comrade Amaechi Abadom, told National Record that the group got information that key members of the Redemption Group were mentioned in a petition by the President to the Lagos State Commissioner of Police.

He said: “Our contact in the headquarters informed us about the petition to the Lagos State Police Commissioner. I have no full knowledge of the people mentioned. I know Comrade [Peter] Onoja, Comrade Abiodun Philips and the General Secretary were mentioned. Nobody has been invited by the police. I learnt this morning [Wednesday, June 17] that sequel to the recent intervention by NLC, the President had decided to withdraw all actions against the GS, including the petition to the Police Commissioner. We are yet to confirm that.

“The leadership of the Redemption Group has also written to the police. We feel threatened by his resolve to continue on the part of error. We believe he will stop at nothing in having his crooked ambition realised.”

Comrade Abadom also revealed that another bone of contention now is the President’s quest to force the General Secretary on leave, a move he said is unlawful. “He [Oyelekan] asked the GS to proceed on two years annual leave – that is 2019 and 2020. We believe that the action is to enable him execute his illegalities. He knows that the GS is averse to his bad methods. The GS is the Chief Executive Officer. He is answerable to the organs of the union. He is not secretary to the President.

“If he is to proceed on leave, he writes to NAC – National Administrative Committee, informing that organ on the duration and also who stands in for him for the period. Again, NLC’s recent intervention has, in a way, tried to look into that. We are still watching;” Comrade Abadom said, adding that none of the organs of the union has said anything.

“NEC had come and gone. It is once a year. The last one was held on February 14th, 2020. National Delegates Conference is long overdue. NAC has been completely decimated. Two members of NAC; Tony Anyasi and Christopher Nwosu are both retired two years ago in Nigeria Breweries and Guinness respectively. They are still NAC members drawing allowances against the constitution. They are both puppets in the hands of Oyelekan. Oyelekan is NAC. He represents all the organs of the union. He has pocketed everyone. The organs are dead,” Abadom said.

Elaborating on NLC’s intervention, Comrade Abadom said the Congress leadership delegated Comrade B. G. Olatunji, President of National Union of Chemical, Footwear Rubber, Leather and Non-Metallic Products Employees (NUCFRLANMPE), who is also one of the National Auditors of Congress, to mediate in settling the conflict between the President and the General Secretary.

“The President of NUCFRLANMPE, Comrade B. G. Olatunji, visited our union on Wednesday 10th June, and claimed to be acting on the orders of NLC leadership, to help settle the rift between the GS and the President. That’s the recent intervention by NLC. We also heard that NLC is planning to invite us to Abuja – that’s all the parties involved in the ongoing struggle,” he said adding that the union’s veterans are not happy with the way the fortunes of the union have unfortunately suddenly turned around, even though none of them (veterans) has openly said anything.

“NEC had come and gone. It is once a year. The last one was held on February 14th, 2020. National Delegates Conference is long overdue. NAC has been completely decimated. Two members of NAC; Tony Anyasi and Christopher Nwosu are both retired two years ago in Nigeria Breweries and Guinness respectively. They are still NAC members drawing allowances against the constitution. They are both puppets in the hands of Oyelekan. Oyelekan is NAC. He represents all the organs of the union. He has pocketed everyone. The organs are dead,” Abadom said.

General Secretary Opens Up

Comrade Busari

While previous attempts by National Record to speak to the General Secretary proved abortive as calls to his mobile phone neither went through and when through not picked; just as text messages were not responded to; this time around, he responded to our enquiries.

Comrade Busari, in what is a corroboration of the allegation that Comrade Oyelekan wrote a petition to the police, said he heard about the complaint although he did not see any written petition.

“I also got to know that there was a complaint to the Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command for threatening his life, which my name was said to be included, though I did not see it or the police invitation till now. The police have not invited anybody and I think it was the effort of the NLC team, led by the President of NUCFRLANMPE who brokered peace for the sustainability of status quo ante pending our invitation to Abuja after the lock down is lifted,” the General Secretary stated, adding that he did not hear of or see any counter complaint of threat to life from anybody to the police against the President.

On his being asked to proceed on leave, Comrade Busari said he was verbally asked by the President to take his 2018/2019 leave, which he said he had undertaken while in Kwara/Niger/Kogi states Council of the union.

“I resisted vehemently and I explained that while I was in Kwara/Niger/Kogi states council in 2018, I observed my annual leave between April/May 2018. He then changed to 2019/2020. I told him that it has been resolved that because of the coronavirus pandemic which had given everyone forced holidays, nobody will observe annual leave in 2020,” Comrade Busari said. He added that before the discussion, the President had directed the HOD Admin, his junior, who had typed, printed and signed the letter asking him to go on leave.

He said the crisis of the union is compounded by the impotence of organs of the union which he said perpetually backs the President because some of them have retired from their places of work and are therefore no longer paying check-off dues.

According to him, of the veterans of the union, former President, Comrade S. O. Osidipe and former General Secretary, Comrade Kazeem have been so concerned and have been on a mission to broker peace just like the NLC has been doing everything possible to resolve the crisis.

“The degree of polarisation at the union’s national secretariat, the sources pointed out, is indicated by the number of letters written by the General Secretary to the President and National Treasurer of the union in the last couple of weeks, copies of which were obtained from two different sources in Abuja.”

General Secretary Stands Up to the President

Well-placed sources at both the NLC and Food Union secretariats confided in National Record that though the intervention by the Congress may have brought some measure of calm in the Food Union, lasting peace may however be elusive if Comrade Oyelekan remains determined to have his way in either staying beyond the agreed August Delegates Conference or insist on installing a self-appointed successor.

The degree of polarisation at the union’s national secretariat, the sources pointed out, is indicated by the number of letters written by the General Secretary to the President and National Treasurer of the union in the last couple of weeks, copies of which were obtained from two different sources in Abuja.

While the General Secretary confirmed that as part of his duties, he writes letters and memos every day, he however refused confirm if he indeed wrote the said letters when this reporter enquired about the specific letters in question. He rather stated that he wrote letters “on internal matters that I would not wish to discuss with an outsider.”

Letter on Duties and Functions of the General Secretary

The General Secretary, in the first letter, dated June 1, 2020 and titled; “Re–Constitutional Provision for the Office of General Secretary of National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees,” drew the President’s attention to the usurpation of the functions of the General Secretary which he said are illegal.

“For some years now, either by omission or commission, the office of the National President has hijacked and usurped the functions of the office of the General Secretary. It is clear and without any controversy that usurpation of duties and functions are clearly illegal. Illegality is an affair that nobody wants to touch, do or delve into. For the purpose of emphasis, the office of the National President has been scheduling and holding meetings with management of our industries on all issues relating to workers welfare, employment and deployment of employees and all other matters relating thereto, and I pray to submit that those matters are clearly and directly within the constitutional provisions of this great Union ceded visibly and directly under the purview of the General Secretary of our great Union.”

To support his claim, Comrade Busari noted that Rule (C) of the union’s constitution provides that: “The General Secretary shall be a full time, appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Union. He shall be responsible for the proper handling of all correspondences addressed to him on behalf of the Union.

“He shall attend all meetings of the National Administrative Committee and the National Delegates Conference and shall keep or cause to be kept accurate records of these meetings. He shall pay periodic visits to branch offices of the Union nationwide.

“He shall be in charge of the National Secretariat of the Union and shall be responsible for the general control of all staff of the Union. He shall coordinate the activities of all the departments of the Union as well as those of the State Secretaries and shall report from time to time to the National Administrative Committee and the National Executive Council on the affairs of the Union. [His emphasis]

“He shall together with other Officers of the Union ensure that the affairs of the Union are carried out in accordance with the provision of the Union’s constitution and the law of the Country.

“He shall keep the nominal roll of Union members. He shall prepare annual programmes of actions to the National Executive Council.”

According to the letter, the spirit and intent of the union’s constitution unambiguously point to the fact that the President in many of his past actions took over the duties of the General Secretary. “It is clearly unconstitutional and ultra-vires the Office of the National President to mandate the Heads of Departments (HODs) to report to the National President directly and circumvent, disregard and violate the constitution of our great Union by compelling them not to report to the General Secretary in line with the clear provisions of Rule 14(E) of our great Union.”

In making the point on the functions of the General Secretary, Comrade Busari also noted the duties and functions of Assistant General Secretaries and Deputy General Secretaries all of whom are subordinates of, and take administrative instructions from, the General Secretary.

“It is therefore clear that administrative instructions should come from the Office of the General Secretary and not otherwise. Therefore, Sir, all Heads of Departments should henceforth take direct instructions from the office of the General Secretary as any contrary administrative instructions from any other quarter will amount to contravening, disregarding, violating, infringing and disobeying the constitution of our great Union,” Comrade Busari stated.

The letter was copied to the Permanent Secretary, the Registrar of Trade Unions and Director of Trade Union Services, all in the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment. Others copied include the President and General Secretary of NLC as well as all NAC members of the Food Union.

Memo on Payment Vouchers

The General Secretary’s second letter drawing attention to the duties and functions of his office as spelt out in the union’s constitution was addressed to the National Treasurer of the union. Dated 1st June 2020, and entitled; “Re–Constitution [sic] Provision on Payment Vouchers,” the letter argued that while the union’s constitution mandates the President to be the sole signatory to minutes of all meetings, it emphasizes the point that both the President and General Secretary must be signatories to vouchers for all payments approved by the National Administrative Committee.

The letter stated: “I refer to Rule 14(A) of the constitution which provides that “The President shall sign the minute [sic] of all meetings. He shall together with the General Secretary sign vouchers for all payments approved by the National Administrative Committee.

“I also wish to refer to rule 14(F) of the constitution which provides that “The office of the national Treasurer of the Union shall ensure that all approved expenses of the Union are paid on the receipt of valid payment vouchers signed by the National President and the General Secretary.

“The corollary of the above provisions of the constitution of our great Union is that the provision must be complied with, otherwise, any expenditure made by anybody, officer of the Union or any executive member shall be null and void. In other words, no expenses shall be made and paid without valid payment voucher jointly signed by the National President and the General Secretary of or [sic] Union.”

Comrade Busari noted that since his appointment as the substantive General Secretary of the union, he had not approved more than two payment vouchers. He said: “The implication of this is that the action of your office as the National Treasurer which take pleasure in not following the constitutional provisions of our great Union runs contrary to the ethics of due process and compliance with the constitution of our great Union.

“Therefore, Sir, henceforth, any payment in form of cash or cheque shall not be due for payment unless such cash or cheque is in conformity and compliance with due process and the clear and unambiguous provisions of our great Union’s constitution, that is, the payment voucher is duly signed by the National President and the General Secretary of our great Union.”

Retirement of 4 Officers

The third letter, also addressed to the National Treasurer, dated June 8, 2020, is simply titled; “Retirement Benefits.”

The letter simply stated: “Kindly be informed that, the following Officers of our Union has [sic] been retired on the information contained in their employment file.” [sic].  After listing the officers detailing their dates of birth, dates of employment and duration of service to the union, the General Secretary requested the National Treasurer to calculate “their retirement benefits, including Gratuity, Furniture and Outfit Allowances for the past years to be included.”

In concluding the letter, the General Secretary stated: “If the Organisation should have enough money running into Millions of Naira to pay Contractors and other expenses, the Organisation should also pay the retirees and those of our staff who died in active service which their benefits is [sic] still pending.”

National Record gathered that this letter was also a reaction of the General Secretary being asked by the President to proceed on alleged accumulated annual leave.

Sources in the Redemption Group told this reporter in confidence that the four officers, who are supposed to be on retirement leave but still actively operating without any inclination to leave service, were those Comrade Oyelekan had allegedly used over the years to undermine the office of the General Secretary.

The Officers include Comrade Sule Francis Hamidu, State Secretary, Plateau/Bauchi/Nasarawa/Benue States’ Council; Comrade Sunday Ilesanmi, Deputy General Secretary/HOD-Admin/Personnel; Comrade Samson Ayeni, Deputy General Secretary/HOD-Food/Confectionaries; and Comrade Olalekan A. Okewole, Senior Administrative Officer, Lagos State Council II, Ikeja.

While three of the alleged retirees were said to have been due for retirement on grounds of age rather than length of service, Comrade Okewole is stated to have been affected by both, having been born in 1956 and had served the union since 21st June 1982, thereby serving the union for 38 years.

According to the letter, Comrade Hamidu, born in January 1954 and employed in January 2000 has served the union for 20 years; Comrade Ilesanmi, born in September 1959, served for 12 years, while Comrade Ayeni, born in May 1959 and employed in July 2008, also served the union for 12 years.

The letters to the union’s National Treasurer were also copied to the Registrar of Trade Unions, Director of Trade Union Services, Ministry of Labour and Employment as well as the President and General Secretary of NLC and all NAC members of the Food Union.

The Temporary Ceasefire

Comrade Olatunji

After the intervention of the NLC through one of its National Auditors, and President of NUCFRLANMPE, the General Secretary, last Monday, June 15, 2020, wrote another letter addressed to Comrade Oyelekan withdrawing, among others, the letters under reference.

Under the heading; “Withdrawal of Letters,” Comrade Busari stated: “Owing to the intervention of well-meaning trade unionists especially, the delegates of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) led by the National President of National Union of Chemical, Footwear, Rubber, Leather and Non Metallic Products Employees (NUCFRLANMPE), Comrade Olatunji, on the disagreement between the National President and the General Secretary with the hope of finally settling the issues at Abuja after the lifting of interstate lockdown by the Federal Government; I hereby withdraw all letters written through my office to the National President, National Treasurer and other staff of our Organisation.

“By a copy of this letter, all concerned should please take note.”

All those served with copies of the previous letters were also copied with this last letter.

Oyelekan, NLC Mute

Efforts to get the President of the Food Union, Comrade Oyelekan to comment failed. Calls to his mobile numbers did not go through as both line called were said to be switched off. A text message sent to his MTN mobile since Tuesday was not responded to as at the time of going to press.

Similarly, the President and General Secretary of the NLC failed to respond to enquiries forwarded to their WhatsApp numbers.  

Redemption Group Not Fully Convinced By NLC

As we prepare to go to press, a well-informed source in the Redemption Group told in National Record that notwithstanding the temporary truce brokered by the NLC, the Redemption Group has not relented in using all legitimate means to ensure that its constitution is adhered to. The source said the group has decided to approach the National Industrial Court in Lagos any moment from now to enforce the union’s constitution.

The source added that this step is being taken because the group is not fully persuaded of the overall good intentions of the Congress against the backdrop of the overwhelming feeling in the group that some leaders of the NLC are working behind the scene to get Comrade Oyelekan two more years as against the desire of majority of members of the union to see him leave office in August after the delegates conference scheduled to hold after the lockdown.

“We are tired of Oye’s deceptions. He is probably using the NLC to buy time and manipulate everyone as he had done for over a decade. He kept saying he has projects on hand, and had always lobbied to stay in order to complete them. That’s now a stale excuse. Let him go; Food Union is not his personal property. The next President we shall elect will complete and even initiate new projects. As they say; soldier go, soldier come; barracks remain;” the source stated.

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