By Abadom Lawrence Amechi

THE crisis in the National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE) continues to fester and deepen dangerously. This is because the top leadership of today’s Nigerian labour movement have characters that are not only alien to the movement but have also imported the dangerous politics we witness in the larger society.

In the Food Union’s crisis of 2004, the charismatic and indefatigable Comrade Adams Oshiomhole resolved it without taking sides. In the crisis of 2006/2007, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar; a silent and shrewd negotiator, resolved it without taking sides. Today, the union is again engrossed in another crisis. Unfortunately, there is no glimmer of hope in the horizon of labour that suggests that the present crisis will end soon. This is because the leadership of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) led by Comrade Ayuba Wabba has sided with Comrade Lateef Idowu Oyelekan and his cohorts, notwithstanding the absolute abuse of constitutionalism.

On the 19th of August, 2020; the Lagos Division of the National Industrial Court (NIC) granted an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the leadership of NUFBTE from convening an emergency delegates’ conference. Despite the NIC’s order, Comrade Wabba, the Congress President, allegedly aided the leadership of NUFBTE by purportedly attending the conference said to have held in the early hours of 21st August, 2020 between 12:00am – 3:00am.

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When I heard of the purported conference holding deep in the night and with Comrade President of Congress alleged to have being in attendance, there were naturally a number of questions that popped up in my mind. Did Comrade Wabba bother to talk to the General Secretary to confirm if there was a correspondence to the union concerning the injunction? What was in Wabba’s mind when he got to the venue of the nocturnal conference without seeing the representative of the Ministry of Labour and Employment and the General Secretary of the union? Did Comrade Wabba forget that the General Secretary is the Chief Executive Officer of the union? etcetera, etcetera.

I am not surprised that Comrade Wabba is supporting Comrade Oyelekan’s tenure elongation. He lacks the moral sway to talk Oyelekan out of it, as Wabba himself is a product of two years’ tenure extension when he was President of Medical and Health Workers Union.

In Nigeria, it is our leaders that break the law. They evade paying tax, they drive against traffic, and they bulldoze their way through in every situation. They recruit the children of the common people to destroy and maim for them in elections. They are the ones that disregard court orders. We have a corps of leaders that, by dint of deep reflection, we can never be proud of. In fact, our leaders are, by and large, unscrupulous.

If indeed the said conference held, it would be an absolute display of impunity. The leadership of NUFBTE and Wabba cannot claim ignorance of the court order stopping the union’s planned emergency conference slated for 21st August 2020. The lawyers of Comrade Oyelekan were in court, the General Secretary of the union was in court. The ruling was handed to the General Secretary. The constitution of our union in rule 14(c) is unambiguous. It says: “The General Secretary is the Chief Executive Officer of the union. He shall be responsible for the proper handling of all correspondences addressed to him on behalf of the union.”

When I heard of the purported conference holding deep in the night and with Comrade President of Congress alleged to have being in attendance, there were naturally a number of questions that popped up in my mind. Did Comrade Wabba bother to talk to the General Secretary to confirm if there was a correspondence to the union concerning the injunction? What was in Wabba’s mind when he got to the venue of the nocturnal conference without seeing the representative of the Ministry of Labour and Employment and the General Secretary of the union? Did Comrade Wabba forget that the General Secretary is the Chief Executive Officer of the union? etcetera, etcetera.

Comrade Wabba, in a meeting on the 11th February, 2020 in Abuja, told us the story of a new sect called union busters in America. These groups, according to him, are hired by capitalist investors to burst trade unions, and he pleaded with us not to allow such situation get to Nigeria.  I have now realised that we may never need busters here, because the leadership of labour are already busting the unions for the capitalist.

Apart from Comrade Wabba, no other official of NLC was present. The amiable and people-friendly General Secretary of Congress; Comrade Emmanuel Ugboaja, was conspicuously absent. I could not have imagined the learned gentleman descending to a level of disobeying court order. No official of any of the sister unions were there on solidarity ground.

I am yet to understand why it is only Comrade Wabba that seems to see the good in the unconstitutional and absolutely unlawful game that Comrade Oyelekan is playing. Perhaps, it may be that Wabba and Oyelekan are birds of the same plumage? While Wabba may have succeeded in his own tenure elongation, Oyelekan’s attempt, being aided and abetted by Comrade Wabba, has clearly disrupted our union.

It is pertinent to tell Comrade Wabba that the hotel built by Comrade Oyelekan has been in operation for eight years running and profit has not been declared for once. He is the sole manager of the hotel in all areas. Staff salaries are paid from the check off dues paid by members of the union, and proceeds from the hotel go to where? Only God knows!

When there’s quarrel in a house between two siblings, a morally upright father will never take sides. On this issue, some of our veterans tried to wade in; did their best and moved on without taking sides. We will respect and honour them anytime, any day.

Comrade Wabba, in a meeting on the 11th February, 2020 in Abuja, told us the story of a new sect called union busters in America. These groups, according to him, are hired by capitalist investors to burst trade unions, and he pleaded with us not to allow such situation get to Nigeria.  I have now realised that we may never need busters here, because the leadership of labour are already busting the unions for the capitalist.

It has never been this bad for labour, not even under the military regimes. Today, all struggles start and end on the pages of newspaper. Lions don’t only roar; they pursue their prey and often catch them! A shouting NLC must engage, confront and persevere.

Future elections into the office of Congress President should produce a person who is passionate about Nigerian situation and the plight of the working masses. It should not be about people who desired the office as a springboard to launch into elite club. There’s struggle in Nigeria to join the elite club because of the huge benefits. Nigerian elites are fed and sustained by the society, their actions represent the position of law not what the court says. They do more harm to the society than any group.

As a strong believer in our nation and a patriotic citizen, I have always been on the side of the common masses. I have seen the great conspiracy against the working people and the common masses. It is disheartening, but on the 19th August, 2020, Honourable Justice (Dr) I. J. Essien   rekindled my faith in our country. He proved to us members of NUFBTE that great Nigerians still exist.

Comrade Amechi, a member of NUFBTE, is deputy chairperson of Lagos-based Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR).

 

 

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Views expressed in published opinion articles are entirely the authors’ and do not represent the opinion or position of National Record.

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