- They Violated Constitution – Ag. General Secretary
- It is Tyranny, Illegality – Expelled Members
- Issues Can Be Resolved Amicably – Ministry of Labour
A fresh chapter in the protracted crisis disrupting the National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE) since early this year opened on October 19, 2020 following the confirmation of the dismissal of the union’s General Secretary, Comrade Bamidele Busari, and expulsion of dozens of key members by an Extra-Ordinary National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the union which held in Asaba, Delta State capital, on October 19, 2020.
The crisis in NUFBTE reached a steaming point when the Comrade Lateef Oyelekan-led leadership held an emergency delegates conference midnight of August 21, 2020 at the Food Union Hotel and Suites, Ojodu, Berger, Lagos that was marred by a bloody brawl in which dangerous weapons were freely used.
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Shortly before the emergency conference, the General Secretary, Comrade Busari, and several members of the union were said to have been issued with queries and subsequently suspended by the National Administrative Council (NAC) of the union after a meeting held on Tuesday, 18th August 2020 at the Food Union Hotel and Suites.
While the alleged offence of the General Secretary stemmed from the perception that he failed to manifest sufficient loyalty to the leadership of the union under Comrade Oyelekan as President, the alleged infractions of the dozens of other aggrieved members is their open struggle against moves by Comrade Oyelekan to obtain what is perceived to be a fourth term in office through “unconstitutional means.”
In suspending the General Secretary and eleven other key members in its August meeting, the NAC, according to its resolutions obtained by National Record, deliberated essentially on allegations of anti-union activities. “The NAC-In-Session after exhaustive deliberations, appraised some contemporary issues threatening the image and stability of our union particularly concerning the anti-union, unapproved and unwarranted correspondences by the General Secretary (Comrade Bamidele Busari) and some union members to different quarters which has [sic] caused terrible damage to the reputation and integrity of our union,” the NAC resolved.
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It further stated: “The General Secretary (Comrade Bamidele Busari) should be placed on suspension from the employment of our union with immediate effect pending the decision of National Executive Council (NEC).
“As a deterrent to other union members, the under listed members should be placed on suspension with immediate effect pending the decision of National Executive Council (NEC).”
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The suspended members include Comrade Peter Onoja, National signing Trustee; Comrade Abiodun Philip Abe, Chairman, Ogun State Council of the union; Comrade Oladimeji Olaniyi, Chairman, Lagos State Council II; Comrade Rilwan Opaleye, Branch Chairman, Nestle Nigeria Plc.; Comrade Adebayo Clement, Branch Secretary, Nestle Nigeria Plc. and Comrade David Isiekpe, Branch Chairman, 7Up Bottling Company Ltd.
Others suspended by the NAC include Comrade Abiodun Olawuwo, Promasidor Company Ltd; Comrade Abadom Amechi, Promasidor Company Ltd; Comrade Olagundoye Olubusola Gloria; Comrade Vincent Osagu and Comrade Jonathan Moses.
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At the Asaba Extra-Ordinary NEC meeting on October 19, 2020, Comrade Busari was dismissed while the other suspended members of the union were expelled. National Record could however confirm only sighting the letter of dismissal of the General Secretary, and letters of expulsion of Comrades Philip Abe, Rilwan Opaleye, Abiodun Olawuwo, Amechi Abadom and Adebayo Clement.
In the expulsion letters signed by Comrade Mike Olarenwaju, Food Union’s Acting General Secretary, the Extra-Ordinary NEC based its decision to expel the members on account of “numerous gross misconduct” and “numerous infractions on the Union’s Constitution and the Rules of engagement.”
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The key portions in all the letters of expulsion read: “As a consequence of your deliberate decision not to honour the invitation extended to you, answer the query issued to you and also failed to appear before the Disciplinary Committee set-up to look into your numerous infractions on the Union’s Constitution and the Rules of engagement; the Disciplinary Committee submitted its report and recommendations to the Extra-Ordinary National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of our great Union, which was held on Monday, 19th October, 2020.
“After exhaustive appraisal and deliberations on the report. [sic] The Extra-Ordinary National Executive Council in-session accepted and approved the recommendations of the Disciplinary Committee for your immediate EXPULSION FROM THE UNION.
“Consequently, you hereby stand expelled from our union.” (His emphasis)
In the letter dismissing the General Secretary, Comrade Oyelekan who signed it states: “As a consequence of your deliberate decision not to honour the invitation extended to you and failure to appear before the Disciplinary Committee set-up to look into your numerous gross misconduct which found your deliberate refusal to honour the said invitation as an affront, the Disciplinary Committee submitted its report and recommendations to the Extra-Ordinary National Executive (NEC) meeting of our great Union, which was held on Monday, 19th October, 2020.
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“After exhaustive appraisal and deliberations on the report, the Extra-Ordinary National Executive Council in-session accepted and approved the recommendations of the Disciplinary Committee for your immediate DISMISSAL from the service of the National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees.” (His emphasis)
Ag. General Secretary Says they Violated Constitution
When contacted via WhatsApp message and asked to confirm the sacks and speak on the specific portions of the union’s constitution violated by the dismissed General Secretary and the expelled members, since these were not explicitly stated in the letters, Comrade Mike Olarenwaju, the Acting General Secretary stated that the Food Union “as a responsible, considerate, law abiding and as a prime mover and advocate for inter/intra-union peaceful and harmonious relationships actually went extra mile to over-indulge the recently expelled members despite their glaring anti-union misconducts.”
He stated that the process was not only “extremely meticulous” but also effectively complied with due diligence in terms of full compliance “with the relevant provisions of our constitution before carrying out appropriate disciplinary actions against the affected members.” According to Comrade Olarenwaju, it is very amusing that the dismissed and expelled officers are “claiming to be unaware of their obvious monumental gross constitutional breaches.”
When National Record, in the effort to get clearer insight of the allegations of constitutional breaches, called Comrade Olarenwaju explaining the rationale for asking for the specific portions violated and stating the concerns of the sacked members that they were neither served with any query nor invitation to appear before any disciplinary committee as and when due; Comrade Olarenwaju rather offered to send the constitution to this reporter.
“What I will try to let you know is that if you have a copy of our constitution you can make reference to it, if you don’t have, I can make one available to you. The point is that if you go through the constitution, you will see that they violated it and the different organs of our union, the NAC, and the National Executive Council, x-rayed everything before they gave me the permission [to write the letters]; it is not just a question of one person.
“Mr Onah [the reporter], I think I have done what I can do, you can report it anyhow you feel. We are not in court, when we get to court, it is then that I can be asked such questions. I have not seen a journalist asking which particular portions of the constitution [were violated]; unless you are in the court. I just told you they have violated [the constitution],” the Ag. General Secretary said.
He said the queries given to the General Secretary and the expelled members contained the specific offences and the portions of the constitution they violated as well as the evidence of what they did. He further stated that out of the several members queried, only two responded and followed it by appearing before the disciplinary committee, which he said gave them fair hearing and recommended pardon for them to NEC.
“But these other people said they are above the union. Definitely, the owners of the union; the members, have taken their decision and I am only an employee of the union, but then I have given you in a very polite manner, what transpired. But for me to be giving you sections of the constitution, we are not in law court, when we are there, if the court asks, that can be done but not to journalists, whether from CNN or from Nation newspaper or anywhere,” Comrade Olarenwaju said, as he also accused the reporter of being unfair to the union in reporting the crisis.
“Comrade Onah, let me tell you, you have not been fair to us. My president wouldn’t be happy with me if he heard that I am talking to you because we have seen you as one of those people that made your platform available to them. There is nowhere these people have not gone to, abusing processes, abusing channels, it is only Kabiyesi and Emirs that they are yet to go to.
“It is just because they want to blackmail the union but the members of the union know better and they are very angry with them, they are very angry. If not that it is in order for NEC to take this decision, they ought to have been expelled since early this year when they started their blackmail against the union, peddling falsehood against the union. So Mr Onah, please, I think I have given you the best I could; if this is not okay by you, sorry, you can go ahead as usual to publish.
“I don’t think I can do better than what I have done. They violated our union’s constitution; you can go and see the constitution. You know what they have been doing in the past without following due process, without following internal resolution mechanism. I don’t think there is any responsible organisation that would have condoned them up to this level. So that is the thing.
They were being disingenuous – Sacked General Secretary
While Comrade Busari said he was yet to be served his dismissal letter when National Record spoke to him on Wednesday, he however stated that he had heard the ‘rumour’ from a source who attended the Asaba Extra-Ordinary NEC.
He said he will be in a better position to respond accordingly when served and noted that before a worker is dismissed, genuine reasons have to be given. “I am waiting for the letter of dismissal. By the time I read the content of the letter, then I will know what to address. If they say dismissal, you know before you can dismiss a worker, you have to give genuine and legal reasons why they are dismissing you. What is the misconduct that warranted dismissal; did you steal, did you embezzle money? Essentially, until I see the content of the letter, then I will know how to address it,” Busari stated.
When asked why he failed to respond to a query given to him or appear before a disciplinary committee set up by the union, Comrade Busari said there was gross abuse of process in the entire saga which he sees as deliberate witch-hunting. He said he was first suspended without a query and then later invited to appear before the disciplinary committee.
“It was at this point that they realised that they forgot to query me. So they went back and wrote a query to fulfil all righteousness. When I got the query, the simple response I gave was that the matter was already before the court. They were really being disingenuous, and recklessly so. The query came after I had gone to court to challenge the suspension. I went to court knowing that their objective was to dismiss me but they were very clumsy,” Busari said adding that he was not saying anything further on both issues for fear of subjudice.
When pressed on the allegations contained in the said query, Comrade Busari said: “The said I wrote to the Registrar of Trade Unions. That is why they said I should come and face a disciplinary committee. They levelled two allegations against me; they said I should come and explain why I wrote, without NAC’s approval, to the Registrar of Trade Unions asking for a copy of the amended constitution and telling him not to approve it. That is one. Number two, the stated that I placed some of the staff on notice of retirement without the approval of the NAC; which is part of the day-to-day duty, a constitutional function of the General Secretary to notify employees of the union who are due for retirement. Those were the issues raised in the query.
They are just doing those things illegally to force us out – Comrades Abe and Olawuwo
On the part of the expelled members, this reporter spoke on record with only Comrades Abe and Olawuwo who said they were also yet to be served with any notice of expulsion.
According to Comrade Abe, who until his expulsion was the Ogun State Council Chairperson of the union, he heard the news from sources at the Asaba NEC.
“All those of us who are plaintiffs in our case at the National Industrial Court have been expelled. On the court record, we are 32 but we come from all branches of the union across the country. There are state officers and there are branch officers and unit officers. All those people have been expelled.
“You know, we assume those positions through elections but they have dissolved them and appointed people; in all our locations that we have strong backing or supporters and members resisting the continued stay in office of Oyelekan; they have removed all of them and they are now writing to management to say they should disregard those elected and currently in office and relate with people they just appointed and introduced to the managements of the companies.
“They are just doing those things illegally to force us out. Some others have been negotiated out through redundancy. You know in the industry, we have this understanding where whenever any company is going out for redundancy; there is always a clause in our agreement that no union exco member will be affected. It is always written in all our agreements, but purposely, in companies that Oyelekan saw that he has no support; he will insist that the names of the executive members of the union be included so that they can give them some wavers by reducing the redundancy benefits for such organisations. The moment the company looks at the cost of what the union is trying to wave, the will sacrifice the person, Abe said.
On his part, Comrade Olawuwo said the issues are clear and that the moment members began to protest that Oyelekan has stayed more than his welcome and that he should either leave as stipulated in the constitution and not organise an illegal emergency delegates conference in an election year, he would mark out those people for either expulsion or redundancy.
On not appearing before the disciplinary committee, Comrade Olawuwo said though he got the letter of invitation to appear a week after the committee had finished sitting, he would ordinarily not have appeared even if he got it earlier since that would have been like a goat appearing before a court presided over by a hyena.
“For me, I got the letter after the so-called committee sitting had held. Apart from that, for us, we don’t want to entertain anything from them because, we do not know the justice that a goat would receive in a court where a hyena is the chief judge. If you go to that court, you are committing suicide.
“Equity demands fair play; they did not honour the constitution when they were supposed to, so they cannot just take one part of the constitution to say they want to use it to discipline people who have queried their autocratic ways. Look at all the things being done now; going to branches and dissolving the branch executives that were duly elected and installing others without election. Where does the constitution stand on that? Olawuwo asked.
The Issues Can Be Resolved Amicably – Ministry of Labour
Although the Ministry of Labour and Employment has been communicated to on the dismissal of the General Secretary via a letter addressed to the Minister of Labour and Employment dated October 21, 2020 and which was copied the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Director of Industrial Relations Services, Registrar of Trade Unions, as well as the President and General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC); the ministry is still of the opinion that the crisis can still be resolved amicably.
A highly placed source in the ministry, who pleaded anonymity for not being the authorised officer to speak on behalf of the ministry, told National Record last Wednesday that if all the parties in the matter are conscious of the objectives of the union, there would not have been a crisis in the first place.
When asked to elaborate on that conclusion, the senior officer stated that the crisis is about power and who controls the resources of the union and not really about constitutionalism. The ministry, the officer said, as the regulatory authority on trade unions and broad industrial relations sector, is abreast of every development in the Food Union especially on the two main issues that are at the heart of the lingering crisis, which he said include the union’s amended constitution and the allegation that Comrade Oyelekan was bent on tenure elongation in violation of some sections of the constitution.
“Let me tell you, we don’t support anybody in this crisis even though those mounting pressure that the president must go and go now have been accusing the ministry of siding with the Oyelekan group. I will tell you that it is absolutely not true. This crisis came to public knowledge after February this year but what most of those in the opposing group usually don’t mention is that at the Union’s NEC meeting when the issue of emergency delegates conference was mentioned, none of them stood up to counter the motion to grant the current executive two years to enable it to carry out a project which they claimed has already started.
“The Ministry was there and we recorded everything that transpired at that NEC meeting. There was the argument that the current leadership had saved N200 million and had secured a property to build a hotel and for that reason, it needed two more years to be able to diligently execute the project. A motion was moved and seconded. There was a call for a counter-motion and no one said anything with the exception of the Ogun State chairman of the union, who said though he was not raising a counter-motion, he wanted to advise that rather than two years’ extension, he would advise that the President ‘anoint’ someone he trusts to take over from him at the quadrennial conference,” our source revealed, adding that though the opinion was applauded, the motion for an emergency delegates conference where the two-year extension would be ratified was not dismissed but rather a date was set for August 2020.
On the issue of the amendment of the union’s constitution, the officer said when the constitution was first brought to the ministry; officers in the Directorate of Trade Union Services who saw it were surprised because it had no term limit for elected officers including the President apart from the fact that it had not been amended for decades.
“We learnt in the ministry here that a committee was set up in 2012 to review it and report back to NEC for approval between that time and 2016. At the 2016 conference, we were told the amendment was still not ready as the committee had reported not finishing the amendment. However, in between the last conference and this year, a copy of the amendment was submitted to us for approval. The various officers who went through the copy were surprised on a number of lapses in the amended copy submitted and we raised these issues which still include the lack of tenure, which we insisted must be inserted. The second matter was the tenure of office of state and branch officers which was pegged at three years, the third matter was the Board that would oversee the union’s investment,” the source said.
The source revealed that eventually, the tenure of the president was put at two terms, while that of state and branch officials was upgraded from three years to fours of two terms. On the board of the union’s investment, it was to be composed of four former members of NAC of the union to be recommended and approved by NEC who would also approve the chairman of the board to be appointed out of the four members, while the General Secretary is to serve as the Secretary to the Board.
Asked why the Ministry was not present at the August 21, 2020 midnight emergency delegates conference, the officer said there was a court order halting the conference and as a result, the ministry as a law abiding institution could not attend.
When asked if the ministry was represented at the union’s Extra-Ordinary NEC in Asaba on October 19, the officer said yes but upon enquiry why it didn’t attend the emergency delegates conference but attended the NEC, the response was that the NEC was legally convened.
“The Ministry is the custodian of the activities of trade unions and we abide by the law. Mind you, the current leadership still has up to this December to complete its four years, as it was re-elected on December 16, 2016. So it is still within its legal term of office of four years. Under this new constitution, the current president cannot contest again because there is now term limit,” our source said, disabusing the predominant notion within the opposition group in the union that Comrade Oyelekan doctored the constitution in such a way that he literally owned the union. The officer said this was wrong and that officers in the ministry will never do such a thing.
At a point, the officer said, driven by the suspicion that some vested interests had doctored the constitution to have eternal grip on the assets of the union, the union’s General Secretary wrote demanding to see a copy of the submitted constitution as he had complained that it did not emanate from his office which ought to be the custodian of such documents. The request, the officer said, was turned down because, as it was later established that out of the 13 branches of the union, 11 wrote to confirm that the amended constitution passed through due process at the NEC and that the only objections came from Ogun and Lagos branches and that even three members from the Lagos branch countered the position of the Lagos Branch.
“Like I said before, these disagreements can be resolved amicably if for instance people from NLC can come out to mediate and speak truth to everybody. The issues are really very clear but in our country we make simple things very difficult,” the officer stated.