Emma Ezeazu: Tribute To An Outstanding Patriot, By Ayuba Wabba

The Nigeria Labour Congress joins millions of Nigerians in mourning the untimely demise of Comrade Emma Ezeazu, whose death occurred on 18th May 2015 at an unripe age of 52.

Comrade Ezeazu, who shot into national limelight in 1986 when he became President of the National Association of Nigeria Students (NANS), was an unrepentant and unapologetic ally of Nigerian workers till he took his last breath on earth.

His leadership of Nigerian students brought life into the historic alliance the NLC and NANS signed earlier in 1984, during the Lanre Arogundade Presidency of the Students body. Our alliance with NANS was called to action when Ezeazu’s leadership (of NANS) mobilised and closed down virtually all tertiary institutions in the country in solidarity with students of Ahmadu Bello University killed by the police during a students protest in May 1986. In response to this national tragedy, the NLC under Comrade Ali Chiroma decided to organise a national day of protest in solidarity with Nigerian students on June 4, 1986. On the eve of the day of protest, the then military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida cracked down on the leadership of NLC, detained Comrades Ali Chiroma, Lasisi Osunde and other leaders of Congress and took over the offices of the NLC in Lagos and across the country. The Congress leadership were infamously accused by the IBB regime of attempting to organise a Jerry Rawlings type of revolution on June 4 in Nigeria, hence the land, air and sea siege on NLC across the country.

In January 1988, the NANS under Ezeazu’s leadership actively participated in the anti-Thatcher protests the NLC organised in Lagos against the then British Prime Minister’s support for the apartheid minority government in South Africa, when she came to Nigeria on an official visit.

As Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Comrade Ezeazu continued to collaborate with the NLC and industrial unions under it. During his leadership and Ayo Obe, CLO’s President, when NLC, NUPENG and PENGASAN were proscribed and put under sole administrators by General Abacha, being fallout of the annulment of June 12, 1993 Presidential Election, the CLO sent its officers to the International Labour Organisation and other international bodies to campaign against the violations of workers rights, and for independent trade unionism to be allowed in Nigeria.

Internally, the CLO worked with the underground labour unions to sustain the spirit of independent unionism in the country. The trade unions’ closer working relationship with the civil society organisations after the NLC’s leadership reconstitution in 1999, and the subsequent establishment of Labour-Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) later on, had their foundational origin in the shared trenches facilitated by Ezeasu and his colleagues in the CLO in the mid ‘90s.

When Ezeazu left CLO to establish (along with other comrades), the Community Action for Popular Participation (CAPP) to mobilise communities for popular participation on governance, environmental and other community issues, it was to our 2nd President, Comrade Ali Chiroma, they turned to, to serve as the pioneer chairman of the Governing Body.

About five years ago, the NLC again collaborated with Comrade Ezeazu, when he floated the Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE). The Congress was one of the main organisations that teamed up with Ezeazu in this organisation, where he served as General Secretary till his demise.

Ezeazu’s passion for electoral reforms and for credible elections were very formidable. He believed that the absence of accountability and good governance on the part of actors in our political class were traceable to the impunity with which our elections were rigged. When the Justice Muhammed Uwais Electoral Reform Committee was set up, he worked with us in the NLC to convene the Bauchi meeting of NLC and civil society organisations to prepare the eventual presentation the NLC did to the Electoral Reform Committee. Out of the realisation that we needed a strong body and mass mobilisation to put electoral reforms on the front burner, came the birth of Alliance for Credible Elections.

Comrade Ezeazu was similarly a towering stalwart in the pro-democracy struggle for the initiation of democracy in the 1990s. apart from the pioneering work for civil society which the Civil Liberties Organisation, which he was one of its early leaders, was a pathfinder of, he was in the thick of the struggles of the Campaign for Democracy’s (CD) efforts to force the de-annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election. When a split occurred after the Ibadan meeting of the CD over differences in strategy of actualising June 12, 1993 de-annulment of the Presidential Election, Ezeazu was part of the Comrades who went on to form the United Action for Democracy (UAD). He participated in writing the programme of the new pro-democacy organisation and actually gave the name – United Action for Democracy – to the organisation.

On behalf of the leadership and membership of the NLC, we condole with the aged mother, his siblings and other members of the Ezeazu extended family. The NLC will work with other members of the Ezeazu’s struggle family in any plan that may be afoot to immortalise this shining example of commitment to a progressive Nigeria, an outstanding patriot and one of the finest Nigerians of his Generation whose life death so painfully cut short.

Adieu Emma!

Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni


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