2023: Remembering Lagos’ Late Labour Leader

By Suyi Ayodeji

On his death bed in 2009, when Bola Ahmed Tinubu visited him, the late human rights activist and lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, pleaded with Tinubu to “forgive” Ayodele Akele and “assist” him by talking to his liegeman, who was the governor of Lagos State then, Raji Fashola, to pay Akele his entitlements. That plea of a dying man was rebuffed. Akele died on June 23, 2020, a poor man. In 2002, Akele led the workers in the employ of the Lagos State Government to protest the refusal of the Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration to pay the minimum wage of N7,500 recommended by the Federal Government. Tinubu would not have any of that. Without warning, in an executive tyranny couched in the euphemistic phrase, “workforce rationalisation”, Tinubu sacked over 1,000 workers. Akele was one of them. After many entreaties, Tinubu had a change of mind and recalled some of the workers. But Akele and some other leaders were not called back. His entitlements were never paid.

On Monday, December 19, 2022, Tinubu met with the Nigerian labour leaders at Chida Hotel Conference Centre in Abuja, where he told the Organised Labour that he is one of them in the fight for good governance. Labour leaders from the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress led by Ayuba Wabba, and Festus Osifo, respectfully, attended the Townhall meeting. Tinubu spoke about his love for the Nigerian workers at the meeting and Wabba, and Osifo clapped. I shook my head. You clap only when you approve of a thing. Clapping for Tinubu, when he claimed to be on the same page with the Nigerian workers in their struggle for good governance, means that Wabba and Osifo believed and still believe that Tinubu is a true lover of the Nigerian workers. Yet our elders say two people do not lose out in a game of lies. How come that reverse is the case here? Among other things, Tinubu told the leadership of the Nigerian workers that he would make fiscal monetary policies work for the workers and the two Labour leaders beamed with joy. Ha! The APC presidential candidate said: “My Action Plan for a Better Nigeria sets out a vision of opportunity, social justice and prosperity for all. I seek a Nigeria where sufficient jobs with decent wages give people the chance to live better lives”, and nobody contradicted him among the “Comrades”, who listened to him talk.

All Akele’s labour of life was withheld. How many times has Tinubu spoken for the Nigerian workers since the beginning of the Muhammadu Buhari administration in 2015? What has he said about the unpaid, but earned, eight-month salaries of university teachers? Or, in the reckoning of Wabba and Osifo, are members of ASUU not Nigerian workers?

The wise woman of Pakude, an ancient, but extinct town, says a woman can only be deceived once to go for a romp in a cocoyam barn because it was described to her as a mansion. On a second trip, if she fails to recognise the landmarks on the way leading to the barn, then she should be regarded as not only adulterous, but equally foolish. The All Progressive Congress has succeeded in taking the Nigerian masses twice to its cocoyam barn. The worst hit are the Nigerian workers, whose take home pays cannot take them home. Another season of amorous relationships is in the offing. Now the party and its presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, are back at their trade again. APC, through Tinubu, is singing new lyrics of love songs to the Nigerian workers again. Will Nigerian workers dance to the love song and allow thunder to strike them on the same spot for the third time? The answer is theirs to provide.

Every work of art, written or oral, mirrors life. A good work of art, literary critics say, must imbibe the principle of verisimilitude (a true to life scenario). Writers, from ages immemorial, try to ensure that what they produce is something that creates a déjà vu feeling in the reader, and, or audience, as the case may be. Nigeria is at another political crossroads as the 2023 general elections get closer. The scenes being played to us by those angling to be our ruler come May 2023 give us a feeling that we have seen it before. Nothing new; nothing has changed and more importantly, nothing will ever change. Dark Rum, a spirit drink introduced to the Nigerian market early this millennium, has its creative line as: “Seen 99, Not afraid of 100”. That is exactly our situation. If Nigeria were to be a work of literature, the character that best describes our present situation is Bathsheba Everdene, the heroine fictional character in “Far From the Madding Crowd”, the 1874 pastoral novel by Thomas Hardy. Bathsheba, a farm owner and beautiful lady ripe for marriage, is caught in the love webs of three suitors, namely: Gabriel Oak (a hilarious and generous herder), Sergeant Francis Troy (a young, but abusive and egotistical soldier) and William Boldwood (who owns the next farm to Bathsheba’s). The three suitors are a combination of honest, unscrupulous and manipulative love, thus leaving Bathsheba in a fix. Eventually, the female farmer marries the abusive Sergeant Troy, whom, Hardy, introduces to us in chapter 25 (page 130) thus: “IDIOSYNCRASY and vicissitude had combined to stamp Sergeant Troy as an exceptional being. He was a man to whom memories were an incumbrance, and anticipations a superfluity”.

My mind raced to Hardy and his description of Sergeant Troy as Wabba and Osifo clapped for Tinubu. I asked myself, is it a fact that “memories were an incumbrance”? When he was talking, where did Wabba and Osifo put the late  Akele, who died barely two and half years ago? I shook my head again.

The Socialist Labour, a pressure group with the nation’s Organised Labour, appears to understand Tinubu and his congenital hatred for the Nigerian workers more than the labour leaders, who were at the Abuja meeting with the APC presidential candidate. Almost immediately after the Abuja dadakuada (non-rhythmic dance), the group issued a statement, warning the Nigerian workers against supporting Tinubu’s presidential ambition. The group, in a statement endorsed by its National Secretary, Biodun Olamosu, said Tinubu had never been a friend of the workers. The statement mentioned how Tinubu sacked over 10,000 Lagos State workers over their protest against the refusal of the Tinubu-led administration to pay the N7, 500 minimum wage approved by the Federal Government in 2002. The group also recalled the ugly fate of the 300 out of 375 workers in Alpha Beta company, sacked because they opted to join the Association of Senior Staff of Bank and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI). It added that “Two years later, in June 2017, 145 staff were retrenched from TVC”. Then it concluded: “Handing Tinubu a copy of the NLC’s Charter of Workers Demands at a friendly meeting in the presence of Oshiomhole and other turncoats, is not going to change Tinubu’s habits spanning his adult life. The NLC and the TUC should be preparing to fight the next President, whoever they turn out to be, rather than cosying up to them”.

For those who may want to argue what is wrong, if indeed, workers were sacked in Alpha Beta and the TVC, I have this to say. For whatever reason, the Nigerian labour law is tilted towards the employer rather than the employee, especially in the private sector. Most Nigerian corporate bodies lack corporate governance. Big companies are run on the whims and caprices of their owners. The regulatory bodies too are either handicapped or heavily compromised. The axiom in that mad contraption called corporate employment remains largely: “You cannot force a willing slave on an unwilling master”. Too bad! But it is not so with the civil service. There are rules and regulations governing the civil service. The General Order is the Bible in that sector. Once engaged, it takes a lot to sack an ordinary gardener in the civil service. Only tyrants in Government House as governors wake up to off load over 10,000 workers because they asked to be paid a living wage.

President Buhari is getting away with his maltreatment of ASUU because we are largely docile as a people. It is sheer ignorance for either the president, or the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, or the two ministers in the Ministry of Labour and Employment; Chris Ngige and Festus Keyamo, to think that while on strike, academic staff in the universities don’t do anything. Such thinking is not only uneducated, largely, but equally silly and irrational. Nigeria has just postponed the evil days. My mind tells me that one day, monkey go go market and he no go return. Those withheld eight-month salaries will be paid! And this is why the Nigerian Organised Labour should be wary of who it flirts with among the hodgepodges jostling to lead us come 2023. While it is true, as we say in street lingo that “there is no good among piglets”, it is equally unwise to think that an old dog can be taught new tricks. Leopards, we are told, cannot change their spots. Tinubu’s new love for the workers is suspect as his antecedents in power do not tally with what he is proclaiming now. Believing him is tantamount to being led the third time to a cocoyam barn. But, in all, Hardy’s words remain evergreen: “Memories were an incumbrance, and anticipations a superfluity”. Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year.

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