The Late Mike Okhai Akhigbe ; In Praise of a Labour Friendly Statesman,By Issa Aremu

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AkhigbeVice Admiral Mike Okhai Akhigbe mni recently died in the United States of America (USA) after almost half a decade lost battle with cancer. May his soul rest in peace. Given his nationally acknowledged accomplishments and value additions, recent death of former Chief of General Staff (CGS) is a great loss to Nigeria and indeed the continent of Africa, a continent begging for critical human capital and leadership for development. His accomplishments are indeed globally competitive and significantly remarkable. It is current a passing fad for few without respect for memory to negatively doubt the viability of Nigeria as nation building project. Mike Okhai Akhigbe’ s life and times remarkably show how Nigeria with all its challenges has made global citizens out of us all, despite our lowly
and local origin. Witness the profile of the late former Chief of Naval Staff (read; Vice President under General Abdulsalam as Head of State). He was born on September 29, 1946, in Fugar, Etsako Central Local Government Area of present day Edo State. He attended Afenmai Anglican Grammar School, Igarra from 1961-65 and proceeded to join the Nigerian Navy in 1967. No wonder the Senate President, David Mark, on Akhigbe’s death announced “a huge personal loss”. They were members of Course 3 at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) from 1967-69. In 1974, Akhigbe was at the Royal Naval School of Maritime Operations, Dryad, Southwick, United Kingdom, had a Diploma in French Studies, 1979, and Postgraduate Diploma in International Relations and Diplomacy, 1980. He became “the Principal Welfare Officer, NNS Aradu, 1980-82; Staff and Command College, Jaji, 1982-83; Director of Personnel, Naval Headquarters, 1983-85; Commanding Officer, NNS Obuma, February-August 1985; Military Governor, Ondo State, 1985-86; Lagos State, 1986-88
and Commander of Naval College, 1988-89. He was at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, 1989 and University of Poitiers, Rouan, France. Until his death, he was a member of the Board of Patrons of Alumni Association of the National Institute, Kuru Jos, of which yours sincerely is a Secetary General. The late Akhigbe eventually became Director, Naval Plans, Naval Headquarters, Lagos, 1988-89; Flag Officer Commanding, Eastern Naval Command,Calabar, 1993-94; Chief of Naval Staff, 1994-98; and Chief of General Staff, 1998-99. He retired from the Nigerian Navy in 1999 after the historic return of
Nigeria to civil rule, the great transition of which he was a key driver as acknowleged by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. The speaker said it all when he described Akhigbe as a gentleman whose contributions towards the restoration of democracy in 1999 would remain indelible in the annals of Nigerian history.

Even more active in retirement the late Admiral having read law, was called to the Nigerian Bar practising property and maritime law. I agree with President Goodluck Jonathan that the departed was “a very courageous officer who patriotically served his nation to the best of his God-given abilities throughout a most distinguished career in the Nigerian Armed Forces.”

Of even special interest is his contribution to the democratisation of the labour movement. Late Vice Admiral Akhigbe was a disciplined Military officer and seasoned statesman. He was labour friendly at time it was the norm to trample on trade union rights.

We recall with nostalgia, that as Chief of General Staff, 1998-99, together with the former Head of State, General Abdulsalam Abubakar in 1998 he spearheaded the democratization of labour movement after almost a decade long military intervention in trade union administration. Abdulsalam regime with Admiral Akhigbe as the second in command, commendably took the bold steps that led to the eventual release of detained unionists, namely Frank Kokori and Milton Dabibi and historic repeal of dissolution decrees 9, 1 0 and 24 (as they related to NLC, NUPENG, PEGASSAN, ASSU and NASU). The regime commendably handed over the Congress’ administration to a committee of labour unionists, which in turn democratically reconstituted the NLC executive in Febuary 1999 after repealing
some obnoxious labour laws which restricted trade union rights. Nigeria labour movement and indeed international labour movement would miss the late Admiral as a facilitator of democratisation of NLC at a timely period.

Of the 10th Delegates’ conferences of the Nigeria Labour Congress, three were special confabs. ‘Special’ to the extent that, they were fall-outs of military disruption of independent and autonomous democratic union process; 1977/78 (Murtala/Obasanjo military regime), 1988 (IBB regime) and 1999 (AbdulSalami regime), following Abacha’s dissolution of the NLC executive in 1994. NLC more than under any other military regime suffocated under Abacha dictatorship with the like of late Uba Ahmed (Abacha’s Labour Minister) and professor Auwwalu Yadudu, Legal point man to former Head of State, rationalising obnoxious labour decrees not known to international labour conventions, Nigeria’s constitution and labour laws. It was remarkable that General Abdulsalami Abubakar and the late Mike Akhigbe stood for indepedence of trade union and it’s redemocratisation. In his
July 20th maiden broadcast in 1988, Abdulsalam served the notice of unions’ democratisation during the ‘life of this administration’. The regime boldly released detained unionists, namely Frank Kokori and Milton Dabibi, repealed the dissolution decrees 9, 1 0 and 24 (as they related to NLC, NUPENG, PEGASSAN, ASSU and NASU almost in that order) and handed the Congress’ administration to a committee of labour unionists. Labor’s democratisation led to the emergence of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole (whose name was almost inserted in the decrees 9 and 10 to deny him the right to contest ) as the NLC president. We commiserate with the family of the deceased in particular, the government and good people of Edo State and the nation as a whole on the irreparable loss. May Allah forgive his sins and give the nation the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.
Issa Aremu mni ([email protected])

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