The remains of the 3rd elected President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Pascal Bafyau would be commuted to mother earth this weekend at his home stead, Larmurde, Adamawa state. Comrade Pascal died at the age of 65 years in Abuja on Tuesday may 15th 2012. Nigeria’s labour market actors; labour leaders, unionists in general, employers and government officials alike received the sad news of the sudden departure of Comrade Pascal Bafyau with shock. His death with deafening big bang is a big loss to the nation’s Labour Movement. The celebrated quotable quote of President Barack Obama during his historic visit to Ghana in 2008 still captures imagination; “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions”.
With struggles spanning over three decades in defence of working people, NLC has truly “come of age” as a pan African (and indeed global) strong institution. And that is in spite of the cowardly dissolutions of it’s duly democratically constituted organs by military regimes of Murtala/Obasanjo, (1975) Ibrahim Babangida (1988) and Sanni Abacha (1994) (in-that-order-of undemocratic meddlesomeness in labour affairs!). NLC interestingly has also been driven by elected men who in their respective rights at different historic contexts brought to bear their globally acknowledged energies to shape the movement on the path of service delivery to working women and men. The Presidents of NLC to date are comrades; Hassan Sunmonu (1979-1984), Ali Chiroma (1984-1988), Paschal Bafyau (1988-1994), Adams Oshiomhole (1999-2007) and Omar Abdul Waheed.
The history of NLC shows that strongmen (no less strong women) as well as strong institutions are far from being mutually exclusive. The perception of the labour movement as a product of straw men (often not women) is however hardly useful in understanding the complex reality of a democratic labour movement such as NLC. Undoubtedly, every serious labour leader brings to bear his determination, knowledge and courage. Yet leader-centred analysis says little about the logic of collective actions or inactions that characterise the daily struggles of ordinary men and women in the trade unions. The real challenge therefore lies in coming to terms with the labour movement at varying historic moments. Whether by divine accident or divine design, almost all the former Presidents attended the last 2012 May Day lecture.
With the benefit of post-humus insight, the real star of this year’s May Day “grounding” was comrade Paschal Bafyau. I could not recollect when last I saw Comrade Pascal at NLC May Day manifestations since his tenure was arbitrarily terminated by Abacha led military dictatorship in 1994. But there he did, without premonition it was a farewell May Day. It was an organisational loss to my union, which at its 10th Delegates Conference in Asaba, Delta state March this year honoured him with LABOUR SERVICE Award, in company of other past and current Presidents. He was enthusiastic to attend but for his failing health. Comrade Pascal Bafyau as General Secretary of Nigeria Union of Railwaymen (NUR) was elected President of NLC in 1988 after the exit of the military imposed Michael Abiodun. He was re-elected in 1992.
Just like his predecessor, (comrade Ali Chiroma), he presided over the NLC during serial undemocratic non-developmentalist military regimes that violated human and trade union rights with unprecedented impunity. His tenure was arbitrarily terminated by the Abacha military dictatorship when the regime dissolved the National Executive Councils (NECs) of the NLC, NUPENG and PENGASSAN in 1994 under the notorious Decrees 9 and 10.
Regardless of the controversies that trailed his stewardship at NLC, (notably in engagement with the military) comrade Pascal Bafyau left behind a united labour movement. His achievements have been well documented by the NLC. He came out as an institutional comrade that presided over the building of the 12-Storey Labour House in Abuja, restructured the unions through voluntary mergers, established of Labour Transport Service (now Labour City Transport), founded defunct Labour Bank (LACON), established labour Party in 1989 and united two factions of the NLC, the Democrats and Progressives. He held various positions in socially relevant institutions that added value to the promotion of the economic advancement of Nigerian people; Board Chairman of the National Mass Education Commission from 2009, Board member of the Urban Development Bank (UDBN), Nigeria Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA), Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) and initiated first Workers’’ education Endowment fund. His greatest legacy was the dismantling of the age long disconnect between economic struggles and political struggles of trade unions. Comrade Pascal Bafyau was among the first generation of politically conscious labour leaders daring all the risks associated with murky state/political/partisan terrains. He was a Member of the 1986 Political Bureau and the 1987 Constituent Assembly under the military regime. Pascal name possibly featured more in reports on state-labour relations than any comrade. He championed the formation and registration of the Labour party. The military regime through subterfuge deliberately raised the bar to exclude democratic forces such as the labour party from the political space. He offered to be late Chief Moshood Abiola;s running mate in the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). Interrogate the quality of Pascal’s politics, but everybody acknowledges that he was politically audacious and not partisanship shy.
With ease he traversed most contemporary political parties. His friendship was genuinely bipartisan and ideologically cross-cutting. The Labour movement truly lost a mobile political memory/library. He was a pioneer labour member of the prestigious National Institute, Kuru Jos Alumni of SEC 7/1985. Like his contemporaries such as SOZ Ejorfor, Frank Kokori, Ali Chiroma, Adams Oshiomhole, Yahaya Hashim, Lawson Osaigie, Salisu Muhammed, late Dr Lasisi Osunde, late Ogbonna, late Paul Ekpu and other notable labour leaders, he came through as a stateless, detribalized worthy global citizen. He was an internationalist well before globalization was hijacked by capital and capitalism and returned us back to our villages albeit as consumers. The sense of loss of yours comradely is more than partial; I was privileged to have him as the chairman of my wedding reception in Lagos in August 1990. He humorously presided over the cake-feeding, notwithstanding our ideological disagreement. Comrade Pascal undoubtedly struggled for good governance which sadly by and large eluded him (and indeed still eludes) Nigeria and Nigerians. South African poet B M Themba once observed that “Blessed are the dead, For they will; Never be suspected”. Blessed is comrade Pascal Bafyau; he will no longer be suspected of perennial electricity failure, water shortages, collapse of buildings, pension scam, mutually assured destructive serial bombings, petroleum subsidy serial mess and all that fill our over-flown bagful of bad-governance. May God make his grave spacious enough for eternal comfort!
ISSA AREMU mni
GENERAL SECRETARY, NATIONAL UNION OF TEXTILE AND GARMENT WORKERS (NUTGTWN) AND VICE PRESIDENT NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS (NLC)