Grave Concerns: Tribute to AA AbdulSalam ( 1954- 2020), By Issa Aremu



 

At times like these when the world some 2 millions COVID: 19 fatalities-victims, with almost 1500 from Nigeria, funeral tolling is no more news worthy. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is the singular classic by the great novelist, Ernest Hemingway. The primary theme of the novel is death. The point cannot be overstated that we are living in the age of “death expectancy” as distinct from “life expectancy”. Certainly not all deaths are COVID related.

 

However what is not in doubt is the fact that the Virus has increased the noise level of the inevitability of death. Death combs us all, hopefully not with the same indiscriminate opportunistic Virus comb. Comrades and Compatriots who died recently in quick successions include : AA Abdulsalam, Professor Femi Odekunle ( renown African Criminologist) Professor Dotun Phillips ( Nigeria’s Development Economist) and during the week, my friend and comrade Comrade Didi Adodo, General Secretary, Iron and Steel Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ISSSAN),. and the two portfolio Commissioner under former Edo State Governor, Mr Adams Oshiomhole. May their souls Rest In Peace.

 

It is bad enough to write on the demise of anybody, but more painful to reflect on the eternal exit of your close comrades with whom you have bonded in principles of building a new world of justice and fairness to all.

 

 

It was with heavy heart, I received on the eve of the new year, precisely, Tuesday 29th December 2020, the sudden death of the National Chairman of Labour Party Alh A Abdulsalam ( BARADEN PAIKO). “Sudden” because, I had a date with him on the same day.

 

I spoke with Barde Paiko on Saturday, 26th of December which turned to be a warm, albeit our last conversation. He was as usual upbeat and excited. I suggested to him we reflect on the state of Labour Party in the new year. I was therefore doubly excited when a call came from Mr Julius Abure the Party’s National Secretary around 10 am on the faithful Tuesday.

I took the call as a timely reminder of my appointment with the Chairman only to be informed point blank that Alhaji Salam died around 8am same day and his remains set to be buried in Minna, Niger State.

 

Again here “Death kept no calendar”. It just struck. Alhaji A A Salam was a tested trade unionist and an astute labour politician who kept faith with the LABOUR PARTY from its formation in 2001 to the time death came calling. Recalling times and working life of AA Salam raise the nostalgia of the turbulent days of the struggles of trade unionists under IBB/ Abacha military dictatorships .

 

Alhaji Abdulkadir Abdulsalam was born on the 5th of February 1954 at Paiko. He was a graduate of Ahmadu Bello University ( ABU) where he bagged Bachelor of Education/ Social Studies in 1982. He belonged to the earlier generation of university graduates to work full time as unionists. He was the second Secretary General of National Union of Local Government Employees ( NULGE), one of the founding 42 affiliate unions of NLC after trade union restructuring in 1978 . He served the union creditably as General Secretary between 1986 and 2005 during which he was also National Executive Member of the NLC.

 

I joined the Nigeria Labour Congress ( NLC) in April 1987 as the Head of Research and Economics Department. I bear witness that AA was a prominent labour leader during the contrived crisis that led to the military dissolution of the NLC led by Ali Chiroma in 1988. NLC NEC led by late Pascha Bafyau of Nigeria union of Railway men was again dissolved in 1994/1995 by Sanni Abacha military dictatorship.

 

The most divisive and notorious Honourable Labour and Productivity Minister was the late Alhaji Uba Ahmed. He invented, as it was typical of him, the notorious Decree No. 4 of 1996 which provided “legal backing” for the restructuring of the hitherto 41 into 29 industrial unions as well as redefining union membership through exclusion of what he called “non-card-carrying members”.

 

The law erected artificial Berlin Wall between full time officers ( who he dubbed “mere employees” and part- time union officials who are also workers in their respective work places but who the Minister claimed are “ true owners” of the unions. The strategy was divide-and -control of the labour movement and enthrone sweet heart vulnerable weak leaders. The decree aimed at excluding strong full time unionists like Adams Oshiomhole, S.OZ Ijorfor and yours comradely from contesting for the leadership of NLC thus denying the movement the benefits of strong and independent unionists. AA Salam stood firmly with progressive unionists to resist Abacha dictatorship and cynical regional antics to undermine the emergence of Adams Oshiomole in particular as the President of the NLC in 1998. AA Salam and others led the campaigns to International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva pointed out that the decree lacked the benefit of necessary quality control which relevant labour agencies such as the Labour Advisory Council (LAC) could offer on such an important legal instrument. Indeed the tripartite labour advisory council made up of employers, ministry officials and labour unions was never consulted on the decree.

There were also scandalous factual and historical inaccuracies in the Decree’s preamble. Dates were not only mixed up but drafters did not get right the numbers of restructured unions in a decree with such national and international significance. The former adviser to the Minister of Labour, Salisu Mohammed, had to resign in protest, describing the decree as ‘mediocre’ and even alleged a calculated move to deliberately mislead the Head of State Sanni Abacha into signing it. But the strong imprint of AA Salam was political as much as industrial. He like other trade unionists long realized the limitations of trade union economic struggles.

The best of collective bargaining outcomes such as minimum wages can be undermined by policies like devaluation and privatization which in turn would erode wage incomes and job creation. Hence trade unionists must also be politically involved like businesses, organized private sector and even military had been to promote their class interests. AA Salam together with SOZ Ijefor were the prominent members of NLC political committee during the IBB military’s protracted political transition programme. Both of them represented the NLC in the defunct official parties: SDP and NRC. After the return to democratic process in 1999, NLC promoted the Party for Social Democracy ( PSD) which later transformed into Labour Party. AA Salam was the founding Secretary of the LP with Sylvester Ejorfor as the founding Chairman. The new Labour Party held its inaugural convention in the Women Development Centre, Abuja, on 28 February 200 at “ an impressive occasion with over 1 000 accredited delegates from the 36 states of Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory.

The National Executive Committee (Nec) of the Nlc held in Bauchi in 2002 decided on the party formation. A committee was elected, chaired by SOZ Ejiofor, the general secretary of the old union ‘Amalgamated’ Civil Service Technical Union and the secretary was AA Salam. He later became the founding Secretary of the party and ended as the Chairman of the party. To his credit he together with Dan Iwayawun the as Chairman flagged off the governorship campaign of Adams Oshiomhole in Edo state in 2007.

 

The alliance between the LP and the then ACN led to the victory of Comrade Adams in 2008. LP also repeated same feat in Ondo state where Olusegun Mimiko won twice as LP governor in the state. LP remains one of the leading parties in Nigeria always on the ballot papers, thanks to Sallam’ s perseverance and commitment. He inspired and promoted my contest as LP Candidate in 2019 election Kwara state as the national Chairman of the Party . He organized the primaries and campaigned selflessly. Sallam would definitely be missed in Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) where he was a leading member and the labour movement where he left bold imprints. May his soul rest in eternal rest!

Issa Aremu mni

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