In the evening of Nigeria’s historic general elections of March 28, 2015, I got a call from Comrade Issa Aremu, General Secretary of National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGWN) and, until lately, one of four Vice Presidents of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). After a brief exchange of pleasantries and talk around how the elections went in our areas, Aremu went straight to the real issue which I was sure prompted his call, and that was the opinion article entitled: “Comrades Ajaero, Aremu and their ‘NLC’. I had forwarded the article Newsdiaryonline, Sunday Trust and Blueprint but at that point it had been published by only Newsdiaryonline. Aremu said he read my piece and wondered if it was written by “their Onah or our Onah that I know”, a phrase I instinctively interpreted to mean whether I was sponsored to write the article or genuinely expressing my views. I laughed and responded that it was written by “our Onah.”
There was generally no open bitterness in the dialogue that followed even as my friend did not give me space to end sentences I had started. As I listened, I was able to note a few points from the monologue which include; one, that ‘acceptance’ of nominations on the floor of the 11th Delegates’ Conference was an abuse of NLC’s electoral process, two; that he, Aremu, does not belong to, let alone believe in, the name and slogan of “Restoration” being the campaign theme of Comrade Ajaero’s camp, three; that the argument by Ajaero that the Presidency of NLC was zoned to the private sector was unconstitutional as far as the NLC was concerned, and four; that there was no need for us to be quarrelling on the pages of newspaper as that will not strengthen the labour movement, that we need to work together to strengthen and reclaim the movement (from whom he did not say). He concluded that whenever he comes to Abuja, he will reach out to me for us to discuss.
It is disheartening that despite Aremu’s fervent plea that “we shouldn’t be quarrelling on the pages of newspapers,” he still went ahead to call me names in a rejoinder published in Newsdiaryonline of April 03, 2015 and Sunday Trust of April 5, 2015, in which he further displayed his mischief and exposed some degree of ignorance and pettiness when he stated: “Onah’s 1000 plus repetitive misinformation was an unnecessary “busybody” friendly-fire. He is neither a candidate, nor a delegate. He cannot be holier than the Pope. He is not an appointtee [sic] nor elected officer either [sic]. He is not even electable in NLC! His write-up is divisive at the time comrades seek for some windows of reconccilliation [sic] in line with the mood of the nation. My friend cannot act another hired agent provocateur. NLC does not need “a Fani-Kayode”, certainly not after the Fani-Kayodes have since reconciled with the new political reality of cooperation.”
I find it difficult to connect how not being an “elected officer” or “not even electable in NLC”, whatever Aremu wanted to convey here, to an intervention that sought to expose the perfidy of a propagandist in an issue that is in public domain. Is my friend so methodically disoriented and contextually illogical as to disdainfully expressed the above sentiment in the same article that he openly made reference to right to expression of “dissent” and “organising alternative opinions”? And to have denied setting up “their NLC” when he had that proclaimed in his columns and introduced himself as “a chieftain of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)” in his Sunday Trust version of the rejoinder is a mark of his disingenuousness. Haba! Aremu, you should be above impersonation and playing the ostrich!
Although I had heard of my friend’s duplicity as a staff of NLC and particularly experienced it when I served as Secretary to the Motions Committee of the 2011 Delegates’ Conference to which he was chairman, it never occurred to me that he has become so irretrievably unconscionable as to be unable to honour his own words.
Despite his unhidden pretence to intellectualism, it is amusing seeing Aremu in perpetual struggle to conceptualise issues. It is baffling seeing the same Aremu who called to plead that as comrades we do not need to be quarrelling on the pages of newspapers, in less than a week after, responding to the same opinion in a sneering language but completely avoiding the core moral issues about his mischief, falsehood and propaganda. Ironically, my friend who has almost completely dedicated his column, and unethically publishing joint press statements without acknowledgement, is making dubious reference to the scholarly views of a true working class intellectual, Bjorn Beckman, to justify his obfuscation and propaganda when he quoted Beckman’s views thus: “expressing dissent, organising alternative opinions, challenging those in power, and contesting for office are all central features of a democratic process.”
Aremu failed to show at least a single linkage between Beckman’s scholarly opinion with the grievances of the renegade group of impersonators bent on fragmenting the NLC on the altar of personal ambition. Instead, he embarked on a narrative, like the Ancient Mariner, of his version of how NLC’s 11th Delegates’ Conference was conducted. Like I said in my opinion to which Aremu responded, the issues surrounding the NLC crisis is far from being the simplistic narrative that Aremu is dishing out and thinks that people are so gullible as to swallow hook, line and sinker without due interrogation.
The current crisis is rooted in the deep-seated injustice that Aremu, Ajaero, Achese and others who tagged along with the Abdulwahed Omar leadership helped sowed in the course of the 10th Delegates’ Conference of NLC in 2011. Backed and prompted by these elements, Omar became an imperial President and undermined the office of the General Secretary as the superintending officer of the activities of delegates’ conference by using subordinate officers to produce ballot papers and other basic facilities for election. With the support of the Aremus, Omar changed the foolproof voting pattern that the NLC had used since its formation in 1978. They were so reckless in the plot to eliminate a few comrades they dined and wined with that they became completely unmindful of the wellbeing and future of the labour movement. That was why I had stated that what is happening to Aremu and his co-rebels is the inevitable call of nemesis. Unfortunately for Achese, Ajaero and Aremu in all their remonstrations to the public, they hid the fact that they were accomplices of Omar in the desecration and deactivation of the once vibrant NLC under whose leadership they served as National Trustee, Deputy President and Vice President respectively.
Over and above that are the gaps in Aremu’s tales as to the reason why some nominations had to be reopened on the floor of the conference and the decision put to democratic vote. As Editor of The Worker magazine, I have a copy of the petition of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in which they highlighted the flaws in the disqualification of its nominee for the position of Deputy President as a result of a mix-up. The Union noted that: “Nowhere in the article of the NLC constitution dealing with nominations for election of national officers of the Congress – in the four (4) subsections of the article – was the Credentials’ Committee empowered to disqualify any contestant.”
That the nomination issues were deferred to the Delegates’ Conference to be resolved was in clear recognition of its supreme powers to decide on any issue including the dissolution of the NLC itself. This is spelt out in Article 6, Section 2, sub-section (i), which states that: “The Congress-in-Session shall have supreme authority over all matters concerning the Labour Movement.” According to sub-section (iii) of the same Article 6, Congress-in-Session: “…shall interpret the provisions of the Constitution and its interpretation on any issue whatsoever shall be final.” It is on record that the nomination issue was raised, discussed and democratically voted on. It is surprising that Aremu still found this process flawed even when the 23 delegates of his union (out of a total of 3, 119 delegates) participated in the voting that took place to decide the issue. What I agree with Aremu as abnormal was the acceptance of the nomination of Achese for Deputy President’s position after he withdrew from contesting for the position of President but I want to believe that Congress-in-Session, in its wisdom and in line with its powers, allowed it to pass more in the interest of peace.
My candid advice to my friend is to stop further humiliation of himself and sit up to his huge responsibilities as General Secretary of the Textile Union. From the state of his union, it is clear that he has been unable to sustain the union’s historic legacy. He failed to demonstrate that he is a worthy occupant of that office by his lack of capacity to ensure that employers effectively utilised the N100 billion intervention fund which the Yar’adua administration provided them to reinvigorate the textile sector and as a result, the sector and the union are in limbo. The positive about this crisis, as unfortunate as it really is, is that as events unfold, many of our comrades will unravel with it and the working people will get to know who their real enemies are.
Iduh, who was NLC’s Acting Head of Information between 2009 and 2011, is editor of The Worker magazine, Abuja.No tags for this post.