On Thursday 4th of April 2013 two-term globally acclaimed former President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Comrade Governor of Edo state, Adams Oshiomhole marks his 60th birthday anniversary. At its maiden Merit Award edition recently in Lagos, the Labour Writers Association of Nigeria (LAWAN), among others honoured the Comrade Governor for being a Pride Of Modern Trade Unionism. It was instructive that Labour writers singled out a second-term governor for a Pride of Modern Unionism merit award. Indeed the significant part of the citation on the comrade Governor was devoted to his almost four decades-long trade union carrier (1971-2007). Undoubtedly the essential and perhaps most critical attributes of Adams Oshiomhole is trade unionism. LAWAN certainly got it right; Life and times of comrade Adams show that his main streneous preoccupations have been with the improvement in the working and living conditions of the working men and women. Not surprising that Adams the unionist, advocate, negotiator, the striker and mass organizer anyday captures public imagination rather than Oshiomhole, twice democractically elected Governor, (the latest in which he won in all the eighteen local givernments, being the land-mark 18/18), the statesman, the humorist, peace-maker, pace-setter, the dancer, friend, father and grandfather.
A decade, well before Comrade Adams started his working carrier in Arewa Textile mill in Kaduna in 1971, Nelson Mandela (precisely in 1961!) had said `Struggle is my life’. Looking at the well documented activities of the Labour leader in the last four decades one can convenently conclude that `Struggle is his (Adams’) life’.
As his assistant as well as deputy for years and eventual successor as the General Secretary of the National Union of Textile and Garment Workers’ Union of Nigeria (NUTGWN), I bear witness that thousands of national and local collective agreements on wages, allowances, gratuities, hours of work, etc bear the bold signature imprint of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole in the textile industry. The union years of Adams were in a developmentist industrialising Nigeria. In the 70s and 80s, in Kaduna town alone, there were over 10 large integrated textile mills that employed on the average 2,500 workers. United Textile Nigeria alone employed about 5000 workers. The latter group that extended as Funtua and Gusau in Katsina and Zamfara state respectively had combined 10,000 workforce. Indeed nationally there were as many as 200 textile mills with as many as 150,000 workers. Textile industry was the largest employer of labour followed by government. The labour market challenge was not unemployment but ensuring the work was decent in terms of pay, hours of work and security of work. This was where Comrade Adams and his colleagues audaciously made a difference. They courageously and selflessly checked the authoritarian labour regimes of mainly Asian employers from China and India. Instead, Textile union under the stewardship of Adams and scores of organizers that included late Muhammed Bello, Alhaji L A Shittu, Alhaji Umoru Muhammed, late Emmanueal Amadi, Andrew Asagbohi enthrowned what the Sweedish political economists, professors Bjorn Beckman and Gunilla Andrae called Union Power in Nigeran Textile industry(1999) ( the only sector to be so studied).
This singular all-time record achievement in Textile union eminently qualified Adams, deputy Presdient of NLC to become the 4th President of NLC where his impact was even more globally felt in areas of improved minimum wage, serial resistance against persistent fuel price increases and bold engagement with private sector employers against casualization of labour force.
A look at the issues that preoccupied Adams and his comrades show that what labour unions do are as all-inclusive as they are diverse; wage increase, decent jobs (anti-Casualisation), petroleum pricing and deregulation, privatisation, education (ASUU/Government conflicts), democracy (electoral bill, probity among politicians), anti-corruption, nationalism (Bakassi) national unity, organizational building and capacity building. Significantly forms of struggle employed by Adams were knowledge-driven. Indeed it was the quality of knowledge that Adams brought into the struggle that marked him out among other NLC leaders after Hassan Sunmonu and Ali Chiroma, (the first and second Presidents of NLC respectively).
Interestingly, Adams the unionist was not as politically partisan. Indeed compared to unionists like Frank Kokori of NUPENG and Pascal Bafyau late former President of NLC,(the most partisan unionist) Adams was political party-shy even as he ideologically insisted that unionists cannot be apolitical. Today it is a great paradox that Comrade Adams remains the most successful politically exposed trade unionist, winning two keenly contested elections including land mark judgement that validated his first victory. The spontaneity, passion and mass enthusiasm that trailed Adams’ political datelines from his dramatic declaration of gubernatorial interest in Edo on the platform of Labour Party (LP) in 2007 to court verdict electoral victory in 2008 as well as electoral triumph in 2012 has commendably rekindled the nostalgia of the wonderful political tradition of popular leaders like Zik, Aminu Kano, Abubakar Rimi, Balarabe Musa as well Awo at their respective political rallies. Late Chief Gani Fahemihin SAN did a ” friendly fire” raised a fraternal objection to Oshiomhole’s governorship aspiration on the account that his pan-Nigerian credentials eminently qualified him for the presidency.
As Edo State Governor, even his political opponents bear witness to his unprecedented transformation in primary healthcare facilities and the building of new hospitals across the three senatorial districts and the 18 local governments. Unprecedented improved Education infrastructure witnessed mass renovation of public schools, provision of learning aids and instruction materials, adequate deployment of teachers, model schools.
He also improves on job creation first through public works with thousands of youths employed and secondly through industrial development as witnessed by the recent monumental investment of over $2billion by Alhaji Aliko Dangote in the fertilizer plant at Agenebode. Adams has shown that comrades could be effective state actors just as well as they are effective non- state actors.
His greatest strength is even on the soft issue; he has demonstrated that being in public office does not necessarily change one’s loud advocacy for good governance. On the contrary, Adams has been as much loud in demanding for accountability and transparency in governance just as when he was a labour leader. As regular interventionist in national discourse, he is never on the fence. He had at several times interrogated the assumptions of neo- liberalism ,insisting that contrary to the received wisdom, government has business in business and that governance cannot and should not be left to Market forces. Some of his interventions made a positive difference such as his decisive mediation in ASSU/Federal government protracted industrial crisis of 2010! Some interventions were understandably controversial such as his moderated position on fuel subsidy issue in 2011. In all, his voice was loudly counted! The Essential Oshiomhole is commitment to what you believe in. A participant of Course 9 in 1988, he is a member of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS). Happy birthday comrade governor!
ISSA AREMU mni,
Secretary General, Alumni Association of the National Institute (AANI)
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