THE tremendous peace, progress and unity that the National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE) have basked in for almost a decade and half may be coming to an abrupt end if veterans of the union and the leadership of the Nigerian trade union movement do not quickly rise up to calm inflamed tempers and the growing discontent in the union since the beginning of this year.

Enquiries by National Record indicate that at the heart of the brewing crisis is the alleged ambition of the President of the union, Comrade Lateef Idown Oyelekan, to secure a fresh tenure in office as his third consecutive tenure as president is coming to an end. Comrade Oyelekan, in the opinion of many members of the union, is believed to be subverting the constitution of the union to perpetuate himself in office.

In a petition to both chambers of the National Assembly, the Ministry of Labour and Employment and the Nigeria Labour Congress dated January 28th 2020, entitled: “Before It Is Too Late,” several dozens of members of the union from across its branches who signed the petition, accused Comrade Oyelekan of attempting to truncate a constitutionally scheduled delegates conference in favour of an emergency delegates conference in order to manipulate for himself a fourth tenure.  

“When one considers the fact that our Union has remained peaceful without any conflict of national scale, one wonders at what should have caused the call for an Emergency National Delegate Conference in absolute breach of our Constitution. It is imperative to inform you, Sir, that in Rule 6 (vi), our Constitution clearly states that the Supreme Authority of the Union shall be vested in the National Delegate Conference. It is our understanding therefore that the Convocation and Composition of National Delegate Conference are Strictly Constitutional matters that cannot be left to the whims and Caprices of one person.”

The Petition

- Notice -

Though with slight variations in the copies to the four different recipients sighted by National Record, the central theme of the petition revolves around the allegation that Comrade Oyelekan had been unduly manipulating the union for his personal gains.

In the copy sent to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Labour and Employment, the union members avowed that they chose to attach the handwritten list of signatories along with “our individual signatures and pay slips to prove the authenticity of our membership. They told the Committee that the crisis brewing “in our dear Union…is being fanned by the current leadership of Com. Lateef Idowu Oyelekan, as the National President of the Union.”

While noting that the union’s last delegates conference was held in December 2016, the petitioners expressed surprise that the leadership of the union had fixed February 14th 2020 for an Emergency Delegate Conference.

“Distinguished Senator, it is interesting to inform you that Rule 6 (iii) of our Constitution clearly posits that the National Delegate Conference shall be held every four (4) years, judging from the last time, we held our last National Delegate Conference to this year 2020, it is glaring that 2020 is our due Conference year.

“We are bemused and cannot understand the reasons for an Emergency National Delegates Conference being orchestrated by Comrade Lateef Idowu Oyelekan in a due conference year,” the members of the union stated.

Wondering why an emergency conference was being called when there was apparently no crisis of national scale in the union, the aggrieved members urged the Senate Committee to join them in not only condemning the call for the emergency conference but also pronounce it as a breach of the union’s constitution.

They alleged that while they would have brought their grievances against the president to the attention of the Labour Ministry long ago, they had however been “seriously blackmailed, intimidated and cowed into believing that even the Ministry of Labour will not be interested in our travails, because Comrade Lateef Idowu Oyelekan had boasted to us severally that everyone in the Ministry, including the Minister, are on his side.”

The aggrieved members in trying to convince the recipients of their petition that Comrade Oyelekan was actually out to violate the union’s statutes, sketched out portions of the union’s constitution they believe Comrade Oyelekan is breaching in his plot to get for himself a fourth tenure in office.

“When one considers the fact that our Union has remained peaceful without any conflict of national scale, one wonders at what should have caused the call for an Emergency National Delegate Conference in absolute breach of our Constitution. It is imperative to inform you, Sir, that in Rule 6 (vi), our Constitution clearly states that the Supreme Authority of the Union shall be vested in the National Delegate Conference. It is our understanding therefore that the Convocation and Composition of National Delegate Conference are Strictly Constitutional matters that cannot be left to the whims and Caprices of one person.

“In Rule 7 (vii) it is conspicuously stated that the business of the National Delegates Conference shall be the election of National Officers of the Union. Our Constitution did not envisage tenure elongation and the framers of our Constitution in their wisdom did not make provision for that. The Constitution of the Union makes adequate provision for an Emergency Delegate Conference. 

“[In] Rule 6 (iv) it was [sic] stated clearly that “An emergence Delegates Conference may however be held at such time and place as the National Executive Council (NEC) may decide or by a resolution adopted by a majority of the State Councils and forwarded to the General Secretary.

“It is note-worthy, Distinguished Senator, that none of these conditions has been met,” the members told the Senate committee chairman, arguing further that in its last meeting, the National Executive Council of the union did not discuss any matter concerning an Emergency Delegates Conference or was there any resolution from majority of the State Councils calling for an emergency conference.

Comrade Oye, as the Food Union president is popularly called by members of the union, was accused of propping up parallel elements within branches of the union to fight perceived opponents to his ambition, a situation which was said to have caused deep-seated animosity in the 7Up Branch of Food Union. Comrade Oyelekan himself was reported to have personally stated that the whole conflict was being caused by the leadership of the 7Up Branch whom he accused of engaging in “illegal suspension of a branch executive member.”

Ministry of Labour’s Copy

In the copy of the petition to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, the members stated that having being in the leadership of the union since 2004, when he was elected as Deputy President under the late Comrade John Onyenemere, whom he succeeded as president in 2008, they are surprised that Comrade Oyelekan is still bent on getting another term after 12 years in power.

They alleged that while they would have brought their grievances against the president to the attention of the Labour Ministry long ago, they had however been “seriously blackmailed, intimidated and cowed into believing that even the Ministry of Labour will not be interested in our travails, because Comrade Lateef Idowu Oyelekan had boasted to us severally that everyone in the Ministry, including the Minister, are on his side.”

The signatories to the petition, among other things, asked the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, to halt Comrade Oyelekan from circumventing the union’s constitution to get a fourth tenure; prevail on him to, rather than hold and emergency conference, conduct the constitutionally due national delegates conference, ensure that the union, in line with its constitution, conduct elections in all the units, branches and state councils, and make sure that all members of the National Administrative Committee (NAC) of the union who have retired from their various places of work seize to function as members of NAC.

NLC’s Intervention

Although National Record could not firmly establish whether the National Assembly responded or acted on the petition, it however gathered that the Senate Committee Chairman on Labour drew the attention of both the NLC leadership and the Ministry of Labour and Employment to the emerging crisis at the Food Union, even though both of them were served copies of the petition.

A reliable source at the NLC headquarters confirmed this by stating that when reached, the President of Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, asked the Senate or House committee on Labour to leave the matter to the NLC to resolve as it was not beyond its conciliatory capacity as the umbrella body to which the Food Union is affiliated.

It was gathered that Comrade Wabba, along with Comrade Emma Ugboaja, NLC’s General Secretary and Comrade Ismail Bello, NLC’s Deputy General Secretary, sometime in February this year met and discussed at length with the union’s NAC in efforts to resolve areas of conflict.

Reliable sources at the NLC headquarters in Abuja and the Food Union confided in National Record that in a combative meeting with the warring parties, the NLC team listened to a deluge of allegations and counter-allegations between Comrade Oyelekan and some branch leaders who incidentally are also members of the national leadership of the union.

Comrade Oye, as the Food Union president is popularly called by members of the union, was accused of propping up parallel elements within branches of the union to fight perceived opponents to his ambition, a situation which was said to have caused deep-seated animosity in the 7Up Branch of Food Union. Comrade Oyelekan himself was reported to have personally stated that the whole conflict was being caused by the leadership of the 7Up Branch whom he accused of engaging in “illegal suspension of a branch executive member.”

However, Oyelekan’s explanation was reported to have been immediately countered by Comrade Peter Onoja, National Trustee of the Food Union, who is a leader from the 7Up Branch of the union with documents, alleging that apart from openly supporting a branch officer to suspend him from the union, Comrade Oyelekan had personally written to the management of 7Up demanding for his sack from the company.

Comrade Onoja was also quoted to have revealed that when the crisis broke out at the 7Up branch early last year, he wrote a memo to the national secretariat of the union and followed it up by personally briefing Comrade Oyelekan and called for the intervention of the national leadership. The effort, he reportedly said, failed as the president did not respond to the crisis in the desired way until the 7Up branch leadership suspended the officer believed to be acting on Oyelekan’s behalf to not only remove Onoja as leader of the Branch but also sack him from the company.

Onoja was said to have told the NLC delegation that the Branch leadership became fully aware that Oyelekan had propped up the suspended member because the president, who had for over a year failed to act on its memo to him on the crisis, promptly reacted to a petition written to him by the suspended member within just three days of receiving it.

Comrade Oyelekan was said to have stated that he was not aware of the memo when asked by Comrade Wabba. However, the General Secretary of the Food Union, when asked at the meeting reportedly confirmed that when he got the memo from the 7Up Branch, he immediately brought it to the president’s attention. It was at that point, our source said, that the NLC president advised Comrade Oyelekan to sort out the problem with all aggrieved parties.

Other allegations against Oyelekan

Multiple sources also confirmed that in the course of the crisis, Comrade Oyelekan had plotted to remove the General Secretary, Comrade Bamidele Busari. According to well-placed sources in the union, the president felt that the General Secretary was not sufficiently loyal to him or fully committed to his ambition of securing a 4th tenure.

According to a source, at some point, the president felt he was always right and must always be obeyed. “With time, Oye started acting like a god, feeling so sure that nobody mattered anymore. He doesn’t want a ‘No’ answer from anybody, neither did he ask for any ones views on any issue. He harnessed every power in the union to his office, including the office of the GS [General Secretary], whom he wants to be his errand boy; or other national officers to be like his aides. He turned the office of the president to be the only office doing everything from negotiation to collective agreement. Even what directly concerned other officers, he will go and do it without informing the concerned officers, he writes memos on issues without the concerned officers knowing,” a source told National Record on condition of anonymity.

Another source, while corroborating this allegation, said Comrade Oyelekan’s I-can-do-anything attitude was why he single-handedly amended the constitution of the union with the aid of a lawyer. The constitution amendment issue was said to be a major contentious matter discussed at the union’s last NAC meeting.

The source said while it is the responsibility of the General Secretary, as custodian of the union’s documents to, after amendment, forward the constitution to the Registrar of Trade unions for ratification, it was however Comrade Oyelekan who, after secretly amending the constitution, did so without the knowledge of the General Secretary. The source said it was after he did that that he then informed the General Secretary to follow up the process.

Another source, who equally pleaded anonymity, however revealed that Comrade Oyelekan was given the mandate to amend the union’s constitution since 2012 and 2016, with a committee set up for that purpose. The source noted that with the benefit of hindsight, the president may have deliberately decided not to amend the constitution in 2012 because of his aspiration to get a third term by the end of his second tenure in 2016. The same motive, the source stated further, may have guided his resolve not to do the amendment since 2016.

“What the president is now trying to do in the amendment that he has single-handedly done is to make himself as the chairman of all the union’s assets even after leaving office. Although a committee was set up in 2016 for the amendment, he did not use the committee but instead called a lawyer who singlehandedly amended the constitution to suit his designs and after that he sent it to the Registrar of Trade unions,” the source told National Record, while also revealing that since the outbreak of the current crisis, the Registrar of Trade unions has been duly informed to stay action on processing the constitutional amendment.

In spite of the current mood in the union where dozens of member are bent on seeing the back of Comrade Oyelekan, National Record gathered that there still exist a deep feeling of respect and sympathy for him. Some members of his union while praising his humility, focus and commitment to the growth of the union, which they said enabled him to achieve so much in the course of the past 12 years of his being at the helm of affairs, however lamented that his prolonged association with power may have affected him in a way that he has lost touch with the reality that he cannot stay there for ever.

Another allegation against the president which is said to be related to the 4th tenure ambition borders on his successful quest to mount pressure on the management of his employers, Coca-Cola, to alter its retirement age from 60 to 63. “He was supposed to have retired this year when he clocked 60 years on April 2nd. He manipulated Coca-Cola to raise its retirement age from 60 to 63. It is only Coke [Coca-Cola Company] that has 63 years as retirement age in the industry. In the past, our General Secretaries retire at age 60 and the President has been enforcing it religiously,” our source revealed.

While Comrade Oyelekan was also alleged to have at some point plotted to install his son as General Secretary when he was due to leave office at the end of his third term, he was said to have dropped that plan when Coca-Cola agreed to raise the retirement age. Our correspondent, however, gathered that in addition to the 4th term plot, there was a Plan B to appoint one of his his right-hand men, Comrade Mike Olarenwaju, as General Secretary; one of the major reasons he was said to have been bent on removing Comrade Busari from office.

It was gathered that if not for the intervention of Comrade Wabba at the union’s last NAC meeting in February when he insisted that the sack the General Secretary was unwarranted and totally out of the question, Comrade Busari would have been removed.

Our sources stated that although from all indications, the various plots may have backfired and exposed, it was still not sure what will happen next. Our sources at both the Food Union and the NLC National Headquarters say Comrade Oyelekan, seeing the recent changes in the political dynamics of the union, has started moving his personal possessions from his office at Food House. Both sources believe that he has realised that the agitation to stop him from getting a 4th term is now real.

Efforts by National Record to speak to Comrade Oyelekan failed as several calls to his mobile went unpicked just as text messages sent to him were not responded to. Similarly, calls to the General Secretary, Comrade Busari, did not go though as his number was said not to be “available at the moment.” Comrade Onoja, though picked our reporter’s initial call, he however told him that he will call him back as soon as possible but didn’t. When he was called again and reminded of our enquiry, he still insisted that he was willing to speak on the matter but that he will call back as soon as possible; but he did not do so up to the time of going to press.  

Oyelekan as an Achiever

In spite of the current mood in the union where dozens of member are bent on seeing the back of Comrade Oyelekan, National Record gathered that there still exist a deep feeling of respect and sympathy for him. Some members of his union while praising his humility, focus and commitment to the growth of the union, which they said enabled him to achieve so much in the course of the past 12 years of his being at the helm of affairs, however lamented that his prolonged association with power may have affected him in a way that he has lost touch with the reality that he cannot stay there for ever.

They believe that it would have been better if he had decided to quit when the ovation was loudest and without scheming to further impose himself or anybody on the union. Members pointed out that his staying power in the past 12 years as president was based on his prudence and resilience which enhanced his capacity to lead the union out of a deep crisis that it was immersed in to become one of the frontline industrial unions with huge investments all of which he initiated and completed within his two terms in office.

But a few months to come will tell if Comrade Oyelekan will not leave the union in a deep crisis that will damage his legacy he had put in place in the better part of the last decade to achieve.

Food Union Hotel, one of the legacies of Comrade Oyelekan

- Notice -

1 COMMENT

  1. Unionism is wide and a study on its own. African leaders should face the reality of leaving office volountrily when the ovation is loudest.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here