Last Thursday, precisely on the 13th February 2014 at the Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, hundreds of veteran activists against apartheid in racist South Africa organised a day manifestation in memory of the life and times of Nelson Mandela. True to expectation Mandela memorial has become a metaphor for a nostalgia for the best of human solidarity against racism and injustice the defeated system of apartheid represented. My friend and Comrade John Ejoha Odah who spoke on behalf of Abuja Collective which comendably put up the memorial remarked that the date also marked the anniversary of the 1976 assassination of General Murtala Mohammed whose short reign as Nigeria’s Head of State was of special importance in the liberation of the Southern African sub-region citing Murtala famous “Africa Has Come of Age” speech at the OAU Summit on Angola which categorically mobilised African Heads of State for the recognition of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola
(MPLA) as the authentic government of the Angolan people., contrary to the preference of United States of America and the West in general. Indeed Mrs Aisha on behalf of the Murtala Mohammed Foundation delivered a fraternal address which extolled the virtues of courage, pan Africanism and commitment that distinguished great African leaders like Murtala Muhammed, Kwame Nkrumah and Amilcal Cabral. The occasion paraded notable African anti-apartheid activists like Comrade Jay Naidoo, the founding General Secretary of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Comrade Ali Chiroma, former President of Nigeria Labour Congress, Dr Yima Zen among others.
The messages of Professor BY Prof Ben Turok Member of Parliament (ANC) South Africa entitled “Commemoration of the Life and Times of Nelson Mandela” and that of Dr Patrick Wilmot on the YUSSA, the Youth Solidarity on Southern Africa were read on their behalf. One of the reflections, namely that of Ali Chiroma former President of NLC captured my imagination and refreshes the memory about the historic fact that the Nigerian labour movement and civil society in general have rich heritage of solidarity. Witness Ali Chiroma;
“By the time COSATU was formed in 1985, it was only the very brave and courageous that accepts the huge responsibility to lead mass organisations like trade unions, as they were targets of assassination attempts by the dirty tricks unit of the rampaging apartheid regime. For us in the Nigeria Labour Congress, when we reorganised in 1978, we realised that part of our solidarity responsibilities to the South African workers was to strengthen our ties with the anti-apartheid groups, as well as the predecessor to COSATU, which was South Africa Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). When I became President of NLC in 1984, and later became a member of the steering committee of the Commonwealth Trade Union Council (CTUC), we made sure that we were a leading voice on the issue of the apartheid regime in
South Africa. At Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings, either in Vancouver, Canada or Nassau, Bahamas, at a time when Margret Thatcher held sway as British Prime Minister, and main supporter of the apartheid regime in South Africa, we took the lead among trade union colleagues at international fora in denouncing the self serving argument she and other like her were banding around that sanctions would hurt the South African workers and poor people much more than it would hurt the racist government.
At the NLC, we used to mobilise for material support for our counterparts in their very difficult task of organising under vicious apartheid laws. I was privileged to play host at the Olajuwon Street Lagos headquarters of the NLC to many ANC and other anti-apartheid leaders of the South African people. One such visit I have vivid recollection was the visit of Oliver Tambo, then ANC President in 1986.
Since the Federal Government of Nigeria established the National Committee Against Apartheid (NACAP), the NLC President was one of the institutional members. While I was President, Comrade Salisu Mohammed, and later, Comrade John Odah, the convener of this programme, used to represent the Congress if I wasn’t attending. By the time Mandela visited Nigeria in May 1990, three months after his release from his 27 years in prison, my successor, Comrade Paschal Bafyau, served on the National Organising Committee of the visit.
Perhaps I should conclude my reflection with regard to the anti-Thatcher protest in 1988. The NLC just before we went for the 1988 Delegates’ Conference specifically on 7th January 1988, led Nigerian people in Lagos and Kano in a huge demonstration against Margret Thatcher, when she visited Nigeria that year, to demonstrate the revulsion of Nigerian people against her wrongheaded support and backing for the apartheid regime. After the servile courtesy she got when she visited Kenya, under Arap Moi, where she was given 40 gun salutes instead of the customary 21, she was told in clear terms that she, as a friend of the apartheid regime, was our enemy and therefore not wanted in this country.
It is our hope that the ANC government in South Africa would uphold the legacy of Nelson Mandela and do all in its power to curb corruption and bad governance which is the bane of most post independent African countries.”
ISSA AREMU mni