Labour Ministry, NLC Behind the Tyranny Destroying Food Union Part 2 – Comrade Abiodun

0
167
Comrade Abiodun

IN this concluding part of this revealing interview, Comrade Abe Abiodun Philip asserted, among other things, that though the two-year tenure elongation expropriated by Comrade Oyelekan is due to end in December this year, but the Food Union strongman has already perfected plans to hold on to the presidency of the union by hook or by crook. Comrade Abiodun said if not for the principled and welfarist nature of his employers on matter of union, he would also have been out of job by now, and that when efforts to get him sacked failed, the next plot by Oye is now to get him promoted out of the union. Read excerpts for more graphic details…   

Abiodun

Read Part 1 HERE.

NR: Did you see him [Ayuba Wabba], and what did he tell you?

Comrade Abiodun: Yes, we saw him, and we submitted to him all the letters of expulsion, demotion, removal from office; we submitted all the letters to him, and he gave us audience and noted all those issues we brought to him. He said he had been so busy and that he would still get back to us; that’s what he told us.

NR: But by that time, had any of you sighted the cooked up MoU of your meeting?

Comrade Abiodun: We had seen it; we mentioned the MoU issue too and he said we should not worry about that, and that the main issue is to resolve the matter.

NR: After that meeting what happened?

Comrade Abiodun: Nothing! Nothing! In fact, he stopped picking our calls and it got to a point that we got tired and disillusioned, when we realised that his body language signified that he is head to toe with Oye.

As a result of this nasty experience, our group, the Redemption Group, concluded that Wabba’s intervention was principally meant to stop the momentum of our agitation to enable Oye to hit us hard. We were, and are, no more in doubt that our Global President sees nothing wrong in Oye staying in office for 20 years, or even for life, despite the illegality and when members of the union are obviously no longer comfortable with the leadership.

History has recorded the role Comrade Abdulwahed Omar played in resolving same scenario, which we thought was the height of impunity, because that case was like real war, with arms and foot soldiers mobilised. History has also recorded, and is still recording, the role Comrade Ayuba Wabba is playing now.

NR: Has the Ministry of Labour and Employment made any intervention, particularly with respect to the midnight conference?

Comrade Abiodun: We wrote so many letters to the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, they were acknowledged but up till now nothing was done. We went there physically to lay our complaints, nothing was done. Oye had always bragged that functionaries or organisations that are supposed to intervene were with him, the NLC and Labour Ministry. Their silence on the matter clearly shows where they belong. We also gathered that Oye spends the union’s money to buy support and that often; he changed money into hard currency and distribute. So, we now know that since those who are supposed to intervene are looking the other way, the money, our money, is being used against us.

I mentioned earlier that when we had a similar scenario in the past, it was the Ministry that said, “how could someone be in office for three terms (12 years) and refused to call for election. Dr (Mrs) Koripamo-Agary said that will not happen under her watch and she threatened that anyone that foments trouble will be arrested.

If any rational employees are asked to choose between keeping his job and the redundancy, majority, if not all, will definitely prefer to keep their jobs. I want to state with all sincerity of purpose and utmost responsibility that there is nothing new in the redundancy; the union already has a pattern. The understanding is that if an employee is exited through redundancy this year with four months ex-gratia; if another redundancy occurs again, definitely the ex-gratia will not be the same with the last one. It is unimaginable that Oye and Mike Olanrewaju popped champagne and celebrated the exit of 350 staff of Seven Up Bottling Company, 250 staff of Nigeria Brewery, 50 staff of DeUnited Foods, 30 from Pharmadeko, among many others.

Maybe Oye is now so powerful that he has been able to take away such authority from the Ministry of Labour under the dispensation of the current Permanent Secretary and Minister. That is clear from what is going on.

Very reliable sources told us in confidence that Oye has invested heavily on people meant to check his excesses such that no one is able to muster the confidence to tell him the truth. We were told that all those who are supposed to call him to order know that what is happening in the Food Union is a disgrace not only to the labour movement but also to the supervising ministry on labour and trade union matters, but that they are silent because of their vested interests.

There has been this allegation; and it is not hidden at both the National Secretariat of the Food Union and in our branches and councils, that it is the Minister and the leadership of NLC that helped Oye to mount pressure on the management of Seven Up Bottling Company to exit all members that are opposed to the 4th term bid of Oye. We gathered that the threat on the management of the company centred on violation of expatriate quota.

You are aware that 350 employees of Seven Up were exited unceremoniously, including the leader of our struggle who is a national officer of the union who was also forced into the redundancy list so that he could be exited. In fact, the management told some of them that if the crisis in their union was resolved, some of them could be reinstated. It is only cruel trade union leaders that could go to that extent to have their grip on power.

NR: Who is the leader of your struggle, I was actually coming to that, are you not the leader of the struggle?

Comrade Abiodun: No, I am not the leader; our leader is Comrade Peter Onoja, he is the National Signing Trustee of the Union. The MD was forced to include him in the redundancy. He was first transferred from Lagos to Kaduna, and while in Kaduna, he was declared redundant. This is despite a clause that union officials cannot, in the event of redundancy, be affected.

I thought part the role of the Ministry is to see to how unemployment is reduced to the barest minimum, but as it is, perhaps it has also become part of the ministry’s roles to take away jobs and ultimately food from the table of Nigerian families.

NR: But don’t you think that Oyelekan must have his fanatical supporters too to be able to maintain the type of grip that you said he has on the levers of power in the union. For instance, he is said to be the “Asiwaju of Food Union”. He is obviously someone who exerts serious control over the veterans of the union, strong links with not just the leadership of NLC but also a high degree of control over officials in the Ministry of Labour as well as employers in the food sector. What do you think makes Comrade Oyelekan thick as to be unshakeable in always having his way to stay in power notwithstanding the opposition?

Comrade Abiodun: No matter how bad someone is, he will still have his supporters. Secondly, some members are loyal to him because they want to save their jobs and not really out of their love for him. You know, they had witnessed how brutal Oye had been; how he had taken away many jobs from members that argued with him. A typical example is Comrade Anthony Ayanshi, a vice president to Oye. He is independent-minded; he expressed his views at meetings and argues with Oye a lot in meetings. When Nigeria Breweries wanted to carry out redundancy in 2018 or 2019; Oye insisted that the name of his vice president should be included. That was how Comrade Ayanshi was shown the way out and many others he deemed are not loyal.

Abiodun

NR: Back to the question on Oyelekan being addressed as “Asiwaju of Food Union” and his control over the veterans of the union and strong links with the levers of power in NLC, officials of the ministry and employers in the food sector.

Comrade Abiodun: Well; I admit that Oye is still in office because of the support from the Ministry of Labour and Employment, NLC and some of the employers, especially Coca-Cola management. He has been able to force out any worker he assumed were opposed to not just his tenure elongation but also to any of his views or policies.

The most recent ones are the branch chairman of Coca-Cola, and the state treasurer of Lagos Council 2. Oye connived with their managements to untimely retire them because they were openly opposed to the 4th term. There are many others that Oye took their jobs. So the support for Oye you think you see in some members is just to protect their jobs. If a questionnaire is distributed among the rank and file of the union for them to make their comments and observations, without their names, you will realise the level they detest him.

Let me tell you; because of Oye’s demand, the management of Coca-Cola, Oye’s employers, shifted retirement age from 60 years to 63 years. A company that has been in existence for more than six decades in Nigeria, at the verge of Oye attaining the company’s retirement age, shifted the retirement benchmark for the company. That also means they know what they are benefiting from his continued stay as president of the union. One of such benefits is that the rights of workers in many but very few companies in the food sector are at the mercy of Oye. He is literally trading with the welfare and rights of our members; and he is trampling on the rights of staff of the union. The management of Coca-Cola is really enjoying his collaboration and they will want him to stay for life. And let me also tell you, no company in the industry uses Coca-Cola as a benchmark for enhancement of welfare in the industry; it is as bad as that.

Well, the truth is that Oye has not only been threatening and trying to get me sacked from my job and even go after my life too; and I know that he has not given up on that. Oye has found it very difficult to get me sacked because my employer, Nestle Nigeria PLC, is one of the very few very responsible organisations in the food sector that place high premium on its staff. If not that Nestle highly values and prioritises the welfare of its workers, I would also have been jobless by now. In addition to that, Nestle Nigeria PLC has a policy of non-interference when it comes to union affairs and it strictly abides by that principle.

What I can say on the title of Asiwaju of Food Union is that Oye is petty by nature, and everyone in the union knows that, especially that he loves titles. Seven Up Bottling Company Branch gave him Asiwaju of Food Union when he was serving his second term as President. What you do not know is that, after the Asiwaju title, the Northern Caucus of the union also gave him Sardauna of Food Union. He loves using our money to buy recognition, no doubt. All these titles were given to him during his second term in office because nobody envisaged that he will contemplate third term.

NR: Let’s take you back to the redundancy in some of the companies. While we gathered that the redundancies were inspired by Comrade Oyelekan to get rid of opposition to his leadership, some of the workers who were laid off told us that they personally requested to be included. Don’t you thank Oyelekan may, after all, have nothing to do with the mass sack?

Comrade Abiodun: Look, Oye has everything to do with the redundancies in the sector. For instance, the Seven Up Bottling Company redundancy was hatched by him. When Comrade Onoja was the Branch Chairman, the company took a step towards redundancy but the Branch led by Comrade Onoja presented all the indicators that the business was doing well and the issue was laid to rest.

But when this crisis came, Oye mounted pressure on the MD to transfer Onoja to Kaduna from Lagos. Onoja is a staff who had served 25 years at the Ikeja plant! Oye had directed that members of the Branch Exco loyal to Onoja should write a petition to denounce him and also a letter of apology to the union for rebelling against his leadership. Majority of them refused but a few people wrote. Those few were exempted from the redundancy while all the members of the Exco who refused to write were all sacked in the redundancy. The Unit Chairman that denounced NUFBTE Redemption Group has been offered employment in the Union for the role he played. As I stated earlier, even when redundancies are justified, union leaders are normally exempted in line with established understanding with unions.

NR: But comrade, if Oyelekan is so powerful as to get employers in the food sector to be sacking those who are seen to fight him, what about the security of your job, I mean, how are you still able to hold on to your job being in the frontline of the struggle?

Comrade Abiodun: Well, the truth is that Oye has not only been threatening and trying to get me sacked from my job and even go after my life too; and I know that he has not given up on that. Oye has found it very difficult to get me sacked because my employer, Nestle Nigeria PLC, is one of the very few very responsible organisations in the food sector that place high premium on its staff. If not that Nestle highly values and prioritises the welfare of its workers, I would also have been jobless by now. In addition to that, Nestle Nigeria PLC has a policy of non-interference when it comes to union affairs and it strictly abides by that principle. I was told recently by a close confidant who works in Coca-Cola but a member of FOBTOB [Food, Beverage and Tobacco Senior Staff Association] that because Oye has found it hard to convince my management to sack me, he had started plotting to see how I could be promoted.

NR: Will that not be to your advantage?

Comrade Abiodun: Sure it is but that will mean that I will no longer be a member of Food Union, I will now be made to join FOBTOB. You know, NUFBTE is for junior workers as against FOBTOB which is for senior staff.

The Congress mobilised workers and civil society organisations to Rivers State to challenge the unfair labour policies of the state government. The Congress led such a struggle to Kaduna State. But here we are in the Congress family, where a fascist of the worst kind holds hostage an industrial union affiliate, doing worse things than any government has ever done, and the NLC, rather than harshly reprimanding such a leader is instead enabling it. Please, comrade tell me, where is our sincerity in the labour movement?

NR: I see. What is the name of the unit chairman that denounced the Redemption Group and from which unit?

Comrade Abiodun: The name of the Unit Chairman that denounced NUFBTE Redemption Group is Comrade Adekunle Oderinde from Nigerian Breweries, Ota Unit. We also know that Oye has not relented; he is also mounting pressure on the managements of members still in the struggle. His target is to exit all opposition members so that he will be president for life.

NR: We thought that the tenure elongation that Oyelekan got from the nocturnal conference was for only two years; was it not supposed to end this year, or has that changed?

Comrade Abiodun: The illegal elongation was for two years. It is illegal because our constitution does not recognise that arrangement. The unlawful tenure elongation is supposed to lapse this year, by December.

However, we’ve very reliable information that Oye has already started some underground work to again extract another two-year elongation so that he could stay till 2024, after which he will plot another elongation again, possibly get Wabba and the Ministry of Labour to grant him life presidency of Food Union.

In the plot to achieve this, we’ve also confirmed that he had directed all junior employees in Coca-Cola where he works, to mandatorily donate their monthly sampling for the month of January 2022. The monthly sampling is worth around N10,500 per employee and the union has close to 3,000 members in the company’s plants across the country, so you can do the arithmetic; I think it is over N30 million. The workers, we gathered, grudgingly complied for fear of losing their jobs to redundancy. The samplings were monetised and the purpose is to enable Oye to boost his financial war chest, to empower him to buy his way for another tenure elongation.

NR: Please, what is monthly sampling?

Comrade Abiodun: Monthly sampling is a products pack or package usually given by companies to employees at the end of every month. In this case, it is a mix of products by Coca-Cola handed out to Coca-Cola employees every month end. It is a common or standard practice in the industry which workers and their families usually look forward to at the end of every month.

Abiodun

NR: Oh, I can imagine the disappointment of many families, and in January of all months. Well, Comrade, you may have read in the interview we had with the General Secretary of your union, Comrade Mike Olanrewaju, sometime last year, where he said Oyelekan’s leadership negotiated a package for the laid off workers that was better than they ordinarily would have gotten. As a player in the industry, what is your take on that claim?

Comrade Abiodun: If any rational employees are asked to choose between keeping his job and the redundancy, majority, if not all, will definitely prefer to keep their jobs. I want to state with all sincerity of purpose and utmost responsibility that there is nothing new in the redundancy; the union already has a pattern. The understanding is that if an employee is exited through redundancy this year with four months ex-gratia; if another redundancy occurs again, definitely the ex-gratia will not be the same with the last one. It is unimaginable that Oye and Mike Olanrewaju popped champagne and celebrated the exit of 350 staff of Seven Up Bottling Company, 250 staff of Nigeria Brewery, 50 staff of DeUnited Foods, 30 from Pharmadeko, among many others.

NR: We heard that the union owes its retired employees huge retirement benefits, and in a few cases deceased employees’ families are also owed death benefits. How is this so, since the union cannot be said to be poor given its vast investment running into billions?

Comrade Abiodun: This aspect is so sad! Between 2020-2022, the union lost 14 staff. The families of more than 80% have not gotten their severance packages as we speak. That is to tell you how inhuman Oye is. May their souls continue to rest in peace. This is a union that makes 80-90 million monthly. The union employees are being paid peanuts, in fact, if not for this struggle, their salaries have remained stagnant for over 12 years. Some were paid 10 thousand naira, while there are others that are paid 5 thousand. An employee’s salary increment depends on his or her relationship with Oye.

Oye’s PA [Personal Assistant] earns higher than the General Secretary of the union. Oye is the worst calamity that ever happened to the union. Against the backdrop of all these crimes against the union, members are of the view that Oye should no longer be allowed to circumvent the process that brought him to power because of greed. The founding fathers of the union who framed the union’s constitution, in their wisdom, stated that election should be conducted every four years. It is also clearly stated that it can only be extended for a maximum of 3 months from the end of that tenure. Oye has violated that constitution; he has disrespected Zone 2 MoU and court orders. He has taken more than 2000 jobs because of tenure elongation. Tragically enough, Oye is using the union’s money, our check off dues, to shut the mouth of people and relevant authorities that are supposed to intervene. Obviously, it seems as if Oye is above the law!

NR: Is this conclusion not too harsh on him because there those who also argue that Oyelekan performed excellently well in terms of the investment profile of the union under him?

Comrade Abiodun: Investment profile? Well, there are many issues, many atrocities related to the leadership of Oye that are so obviously shameful that we feel reluctant to talk about them openly, especially about the hotels. One little insight for you to note is that aside the monthly check-off dues of about N85 million from members, including casual workers, Oye also levied each member seven thousand naira mandatorily. The hotel is seen and operated as his personal property and it has since inception been run by his kinsmen and they report to him. The hotel project is been single-handedly handled by him without recourse to any organ of the union. Because of these unethical conducts, members do not know if the hotel is operated at profit or loss or even how much has been made since the hotel took off.

NR: Is the mandatoryN7,000 levy monthly or annually?

Comrade Abiodun: It was a one off levy for all members of the union from across the country, and it is in addition to the monthly check off dues. The Constitution of the union states that each council must have a minimum of 5,000 employees and the union has 13 state councils across Nigeria. The estimated amount collected from the levy was therefore at least N455 million. Every worker paid the levy, both old and newly employed, before the hotel was built. But Oye never mentioned this fact to anyone outside the union.

We in the Redemption Group would want the world to note that, though some of us had the choice to join Oye and continue to also be in office, but we chose the path of honour and truth, and against all odds, rising up to challenge Oye to respect the union’s constitution. This is a man that cannot read or write, yet he is still fighting to remain in office after almost two decades. This is not the type of union we, or any true trade unionist, would crave for. We want a labour movement that will be a point of reference, not cabals that feel they are above the law.

NR: We gathered that there is no term limit for elective positions in the union; that is, that officers of the union can continue to contest and stay in office as long as they are able to get the support of members willing to vote for them. If I may say, why don’t both the Redemption Group and Oyelekan test their popularity in a free and open electoral contest?

Comrade Abiodun: That has been the position of the Redemption Group, because we stated  that even if there is a fault in the constitution where there is no tenure limit; there is also a democratic process built into the constitution where it is stated that elections must be conducted every four years, and that where election could not hold at the dot of four years, there could only be a maximum of three months elongation within which election must be conducted for elective positions.

This is where the Redemption Group has challenged Oye to say to him that if he knows he is popular, he should put himself forward to contest with us in an open and democratic contest. If he wins, we will congratulate him. We are not saying that he should not contest; No! All we are saying is that he should not circumvent the democratic process constitutionally stipulated; that is the position of the Redemption Group. But Oye chose to push for tenure elongation rather than an open, democratic election. And he did this in a very dubious and clandestine way by enforcing a clandestine emergency conference in the dead of night, even when the court had stopped him.

NR: Do you see the NLC turning around to support your cause in view of this overwhelming evidence of manipulation?

Comrade Abiodun: That will be very desirable and the right path that the Wabba leadership should have threaded since this crisis began. But it seems Wabba shares some despotic traits with Oye not to have been offended by his [Oye’s] penchant to cling to power by all means. But if Wabba is not offended, what about other national leaders in the NAC of Congress or is it that Wabba is the only person who takes decisions for the organs? Are members of the various organs of Congress not offended, or capable of independent reasoning for even a single person to ask questions at organ meetings? Certainly, there is more to what is happening than we are seeing!

The Congress mobilised workers and civil society organisations to Rivers State to challenge the unfair labour policies of the state government. The Congress led such a struggle to Kaduna State. But here we are in the Congress family, where a fascist of the worst kind holds hostage an industrial union affiliate, doing worse things than any government has ever done, and the NLC, rather than harshly reprimanding such a leader is instead enabling it. Please, comrade tell me, where is our sincerity in the labour movement?

We in the Redemption Group would want the world to note that, though some of us had the choice to join Oye and continue to also be in office, but we chose the path of honour and truth, and against all odds, rising up to challenge Oye to respect the union’s constitution. This is a man that cannot read or write, yet he is still fighting to remain in office after almost two decades. This is not the type of union we, or any true trade unionist, would crave for. We want a labour movement that will be a point of reference, not cabals that feel they are above the law.

Concluded.

close
newsletter

Let's Keep you updated

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER AND STAY UP TO DATE

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here