Posted by By Francis Awowole-Browne, Abuja on
With less than seven months to the end of the tenure of the incumbent President Of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, various union leaders are already warming up to take over.....
With less than seven months to the end of the tenure of the incumbent President Of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, various union leaders are already warming up to take over.
Though still keeping their aspiration under wraps, here we examine the candidates and the factors that may come into play in choosing who succeeds Oshiomhole, who equally is warming up to fight for the gubernatorial election in his home state, Edo.
As the tenure of the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Oshiomhole gradually winds up in February 2007, the issue within the congress is who succeeds the people’s general as he is fondly referred to by fellow comrades.
Unarguably, Oshimhole’s leadership has taken labour to an unprecedented height, a level where an average unionist will be lost in confusion. Given the unenviable state of the congress when he took over the leadership, an era when even union leaders could not pride themselves as part and parcel of the congress but had to seek police protection from aggression by fellow comrades who felt disenchanted with manner of leadership provided by the then congress leadership, nobody, including his enemies, would disagree that the miniature congress president has done a yeoman’s job in repositioning the labour movement.
Not now when the congress has been taken to a respected level that at mere mention of the name NLC, doors will open, government will adjust and employers will concur. It is believed that Oshiomhole will be leaving a big shoe which size though will be too big but must be worn by equally capable labour leader if the congress is to continue to maintain its relevance.
In the last seven years, since the diminutive tailor has been calling the shots at the labour house, government and employers, have had to think of Oshiomhole’s aluta when making their decisions and policies. And truly, even though you disagree with his methods with which he has been prosecuting many of his "wars", one can hardly fault his logic. At the level of international community, Oshimhole’s NLC is making waves, for the second term running he has been elected a member of the governing council of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a privileged position that has made him to meet several world leaders to canvass the Congress’ beliefs on various issues.
It would seem that what Oshiomhole lost in height, he effectively gained in his power of oration and logic of argument. When it comes to defending positions during opposition to government policies, surely Oshiomhole is usually a nightmare to government officials who are saddled with the task of canvassing the usually hard to swallow government policies.
Rivers State Governor, Dr. Peter Odili, made allusion to this dilemma in which many government officials who have had to confront Oshimhole have found themselves, when he said in his address at the opening ceremony of one of the meetings of the Congress’ National Executive Council in Port-Harcourt, that "it looks a misfortune for one to be unlucky to speak after the Adams Oshiomhole has spoken, you can’t match him and once he speaks on any issue whatever any other person says is uninteresting."
All these constitute a big challenge to whoever may be taking over from him. Thus the ability bordering on meeting the challenges and even surpassing it becomes the main criteria for the election of the next NLC president the next.
Observers are of the view that the next delegate conference of the Congress may not be colourful as some affiliate unions are in crisis. This has consumed major players whose participation in the conference election would have added more colour to the event. For instance, the proverbial Joseph Akinlaja, who prides himself as a big elephant, was removed last year as the general-secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) in circumstances that he is yet to come to term with, while the youthful duo of Messrs Moses Gbadebo and Emmanuel Ugboaja, ex-president and general-secretary of the National Chemical Workers Union seen to be good materials for NLC executive positions unexpectedly lost out in a palace coup.
Also, ageless General Secretary of National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Mr.Salaam Abdulsalaam, undoubtedly a powerful member of the mafia in the Congress, has kissed the dust. He was given the boot in an intra-union dispute with Dr. Akinwalere, the then president of the union. The interpretation of these is that their successors are not likely to aspire for any position at the conference due to their being relatively new in the power game.
As at now, it is difficult to say the numbers of those having their eyes at the NLC presidency, as most of them are still feeling the pulse of their respective union members. Even, at that, some of them have left no one in doubt as to their desire to occupy the exalted office of the central labour organization. They are: Mr. Fidelis Edeh, President of the Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU) and one of the four incumbent Vice Presidents of the Congress, Chief John Ogoemeka Onyenemere, President of National Union of Food Beverages and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE), who is a former treasurer of the Congress and Mr. Ivor Takor, President of Non Academic Staff Union (ASUU) and the incumbent Treasurer of the NLC.
The Takor likely candidacy is still shrouded in confusion as feelers indicated that his union’s flamboyant General Secretary, Chief Peter Adeyemi, is actually preparing for the job. Another union leader said to be undecided whether or not to give the Presidency a shot is the Maritime Workers Union President , Mr. Irabor Onikolease, a Vice President of the Congress. In this category is unassuming President of National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Mr. Peter Akpatason, his union members are practically dragging him into the race, but he has confided in associates that he is yet to think about it .
For Edeh, who survived an insurgency from a faction of his union from the South-west, he is seen by a section of public sector union leaders as well placed to succeed Oshiomhole. This is more apt when viewed against the background of clamour from a section of the labour movement that it’s the turn of the public sector to produce the next Congress president since the incumbent is from textile industry, a private sector of the economy. However, it has been argued that if the NLC presidency would have to go to public sector, then Takor, also a public sector union leader, will be preferred to Edeh. Reason for this, they said, is the NCSU leader’s arrogance tendency.
Takor, some of the unionists claimed, is cool headed and has listening capacity unlike Edeh, whom they see as a rough unionist, who always play to the gallery.
Findings within the NLC even revealed that a group has sworn to do all within its power to ensure Edeh presidency did not succeed.
Already, a machinery is said to have been in motion to sell Takor candidacy to the labour leaders, but there is a suspicion in labour circle that Takor would prefer his union general-secretary, Mr.Adeyemi, to give the NLC presidency a shot. Adeyemi is a sound labour leader, outspoken but never given to rocking the boat.
He would not say precisely whether or not he is interested in vying for any position. When confronted during the last May Day in Abuja, he pleaded to be given time to make his position known.
Another candidate, who has not hidden his ambition, is the NUFBTE President, Chief Onyenemere.He is said to have been eyeing the NLC topmost position for a long time. He has been holding elective position in his union for over two decades and had hoped to use his second term in office as the treasurer of the Congress to launch himself until his ambition was cut short by his union whose national administrative committee stopped his return to office, thus paving the way for Takor. Just after this, Onyenemere contested his union presidency for the third time. It was a tug of war between him and the scribe of the union, Otunba Kazeem Adebayo, who felt Onyenemere has had enough and should give others chance. Though, Onyenemere won the election in Kaduna but the ghost of the rancour created by the conflicting interest has continued to hunt the union till today. It is yet to know peace over two years ago when the election brought the elected officers into factions.
As in partisan politics, money will play a prominent factor in who becomes the next NLC president, but the candidates are not by any means paupers. They are rich and can face one another money for money. What, however, will go a long way in helping the candidates is the camp they belong to. Without doubt, The incumbent president, Oshiomhole will, to some extent, have a say in who becomes what, if only to ensure that a team that will come after him will be able to sustain the tempo of the leading roles played by labour in the socio-economic and political events in the country.
Another labour leader, whose opinion matters and whose support is deemed crucial, is S.O.Z Ejiofor, the General Secretary of Amalgamated Union. Ejiofor, an articulate unionist, has been a union leader for decades and is well versed in union politics. The larger than life image created by the astute unionist is dreaded by his colleagues especially newly elected ones who, on account of this, fall head over heels to have Ejiofor’s endorsement in whatevger they are doing. Ejiofor is perceived to have assisted to upstage union leaders, therefore, the fear of Ejiofor is the beginning of wisdom for "the eaglet union leaders."
It is even said that some union leaders have to pay homage to Ejiofor to express their loyalty so as to last in office. Usually, he is said to share the same interest with Oshiomhole, therefore, where Oshiomhole is, there he is.
Meanwhile, in the whole arrangement, there is the secretariat factor, that is the NLC secretariat will also have a say in who gets what since whoever is elected will have to work with the secretariat staff.
Perhaps to underline this, on the issue of private and public sector rotation in producing the president for the congress, the NLC scribe, Mr. John Odah, argued that the position is a presumptious. "It is not carved in stone, president of the NLC can come from either of the sector, depending on who the contestant is and the prevailing circumstances. The race is open to all and there is no inhibition whether pertaining to tribe, ethnic or sector.", he stressed.
As expected, Oshiomhole is yet to give his blessing to any candidate though they all have intimated him of their desires as Daily Sun gathered, but what can not be ignored is the fact that his interest will be the ultimate decider of his successor, having worked with candidates and known their strengths and weaknesses.
The aspiring union leaders told the Daily Sun their respective position on the issue. Here are their views on the NLC presidency:
Though the NCSU president has left no one in doubt as to his intention to occupy the number one position, even as some of his colleagues expressed their misgivings over how he has been going about it. Edeh, however, described their feelings as a non-issue to him, and that once his conscience judges him right, he is satisfied.
Edeh told Daily Sun that he does not consider the NLC presidency as a do or die affair. "I believe that we need to consolidate on some of the achievements we have recorded so far as. No doubt, I have been part of a robust leadership team in the NLC that has achieve these. I am sure Oshiomhole will be in a dilemma over whether to just anoint another leader or to develop a team that will take over after him since one position cannot be occupied by two persons.
So, the issue is not about doing all to have to succeed him, I have paid my due. I remember when I was the chairman of my union in Enugu State, I was drafted to contest against the incumbent because of the qualities seen in me, I was not even a delegate, yet I won because of loyalty. In this present NLC team, I was invited to join the executive by the comrade president, I have always been careful about identifying myself with positions. If it is about ambition, every vice president will want to be president of the NLC. If I am offered the position of NLC president, I will thank my colleagues, because, we are all qualified.
Comrade Peter Adeyemi
The colourful General Secretary of the Non- Academic Staff Union is reputed to be one of the leading contender, but it still remains unclear who between him and his union President, Ivor Takor will eventually make the race. When cornered on May Day over his ambition to contest the NLC presidency, the flamboyant scribe will neither say yes or no. He likes to play low and is never known to rock the boat. Highly intelligent and articulate, Mr Adeyemi said he would be leaving the issue in the hands of God who is the ultimate decider of all human affairs. He promised to make a categorical statement on his decision when he returns from abroad.
Mr. Peter Babatunde Akpatason
The youthful President of NUPENG is known as a strategist. Currently, he is using the NLC slot as a student at the NIPSS, Kuru, near Jos. He is also an Edo man. His leadership of NUPENG in the last five years since he came on board has been applauded. His union members have vowed to do all to ensure that he contests the NLC presidency. When asked on this, Akpatason said he has not given it a thought, "but with the growing clamour from across the unions, he may want to reconsider his position. I am seriously thinking about it. Ordinarily, one would not have been bothered but the caliber of unionists we are hearing are warming up gives cause for concern, more so when my union members are bent on dragging me into it, we are watching the situation.
Mr. Irabor Onikolease
He is the President-General of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria. Irabor presided over one of the richest unions within the fold of NLC. Of recent, the union has been in disagreement with the Federal Government over the port reform in which over 12, 000 workers are said to be on their way out of job. The dockworkers are particularly aggrieved and bitter with their leaders that those of them to be retrenched are not going to be paid severance benefits. This is the issue Irabor’s detractors are cashing in on by alleging that any union leader that could not negotiate good pay for his members is not worth leading the NLC .
Irabor told Daily Sun that it was unfortunate that his colleagues are rubbishing his leadership over the port reform issue. "In which industry is government not reforming? How many workers have been sacked in many unions? Is it right to attribute it to the deficiency of the affected union leadership? Who even told them that I am keen on being the NLC President, Have I told any of them I am running or they are already jittery?
If my union wants me to contest, I will and I will be ready to face them squarely. NLC is not the birth right of any body. The other day, I heard they said because I am from Edo state I can’t contest, is NLC election a partisan politics that we have to rotate the leadership positions and not on ability to deliver? They are talking rubbish".
John Ogoemeka Onyenemere.
John is the longest serving among the present crop of elected union leaders. He is serving his third term as the president of National Union of Food Beverage and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE). He prides himself on the more than 19- year experience he has acquired as an executive member of his union. He was barely 30 when he became his union president. He is said to be rich when it comes to how much he could muster for the election, having been the treasurer of the NLC and at the same time a director of Investment of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund.
John told Daily Sun that he was ready to give the election all it will take. "What else do I need to be qualified? I have served in virtually all capacities within my union and in the NLC, no other person can boast of my experience and that is what is needed".
What observers argued may work against him is the internal squabble within his union.At present, the union is factionalized and this, to some extent, is a potential obstacle towards the realization of his aspiration. Onyenemere, however, said the crisis in his union was a stepping stone. It remains to be seen how this will be eventually.
As of now, every one of them is keeping his game plan to himself since the step Oshiomhole will take as regards his political aspiration is not yet clear. Some are of the view that he is likely to proceed on terminal leave, so as to have time for his political ambition and his ultimate exit, while others believe he may remain till the end of his tenure. However the case may be, it is certain that in the next few months, things will take shape and the aspirants will come out in full blast.
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