IN TRIBUTE TO THE REMARKABLE LEGACY OF COMRADE ALI CHIROMA, AN EMBLEMATIC AND ILLUSTRIOUS FIGURE IN THE ANNALS OF TRADE UNION LEADERSHIP IN NIGERIA.


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Comrade Ali Chiroma

Comrade Ali Chiroma epitomized the spirit of destiny’s call when he rose to prominence as a beacon of hope for Nigeria’s working class. His journey began auspiciously at the Presidential Hotel in Enugu in 1984, where fate tapped him for a pivotal role as a delegate of the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria at the Qua-drennial Delegates Conference of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).

The NLC to our utmost dismay was served with a Court injunction restraining Late John Dubre from contesting for the post of President.  In the tradition of election in NLC, line up was almost made openly by the block contesting.  At that period, there was two tendencies in the Labour Movement based on ideological leanings. They were the Progressives and the Democrats. Progressives were to the Left and Democrats to the Right. NLC being a respecter of the Rule of Law obeyed and honoured the restraining order and immediately went in search of a replacement. The Democrats were excited with the restraining order, believing that the progressives were in disarray and will be unable to resolve the imbroglio. Veteran Unionist in the person of Comrade W. O. Goodluck were on ground.   Late Comrades Alajo and Uba who were the General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary respectively of MHWUN swung into action.  They mobilized Comrade S.O.Z. Ejiofor who after due consultation with colleagues and Comrades rose in unison, produced and presented Comrade Ali Chiroma.  Before you could say, Jack Robinson, chant of Ali Chiroma filled the air. His name blazed like a wild fire in the harmattan. Voting came and Ali Chiroma had a resounding victory. He was declared the winner and he took the Oath of Office with others.

In his acceptance speech, he rhetorically asked “How many workers are from Borno State here?” That he was overwhelmingly elected showed how detribalized or religiously unbiased the NLC/Working Class are. He pledged commitment and loyalty to promote and defend the interest and welfare of workers irrespective of their tribe and religion.  Comrade (Rev) Olu Aderibigbe emotionally and simultaneously raised a song that rented the air “Baba ti ba wa she,,” meaning the Lord has done it again.  The atmosphere was electrifying and there was celebration galore throughout the night. The next morning, President Ali Chiroma sent for me, being the Head of Administration while thanking the Secretariat staff for the way and manner the Conference was held, reassuring us of maximum cooperation and loyalty to the working class.  In turn, we pledge our unflinching support and loyalty to his leadership.

Fast forward, the World Bank/ International Monetary Fund (IMF)  came calling with their obnoxious conditionality under the leadership of Comrade Ali Chiroma.  The National Administrative Council (NAC) had extensive and exhaustive deliberations and saw the disaster the World Bank/IMF conditionality portend for the nation. The NAC resolved to be patriotic and mobilized every legitimate means within our reach to oppose the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) and President Ali Chiroma vowed to provide leadership. This move pitched the NLC against the military dictatorship of General Ibrahim Babangida (IBB).  NLC decided to mobilized the workers and working people against SAP.  Posters, handbills and public lectures were deployed across the nation.

However, the Government of IBB claimed we have crossed the red line when a poster was released with the picture of IBB in the wide mouth of a Crocodile! Comrade Ali Chiroma believed in collective leadership and said repeatedly that while he was away on official assignment out of the country, any decision provided by NAC had his blessing.

FIRST TEST CASE

President Ali Chiroma was at the International Labour Organization (ILO) Conference when the State Security Services (SSS) Officials came to ransacked NLC Secretariat and arrested some Principal Officers they could get hold of.  Chiroma did not wait for the next day, but took the next available flight to Lagos from Geneva. A vehicle was sent to pick him up from the Airport. As soon as he arrived at the National Secretariat, we requested him to come upstairs for briefing. He said he was not coming out of the vehicle, but rather to show up as he was on his way to their office at 15, Awolowo Road. Ikoyi. The Headquarters of the SSS as it was then.  Behold, they took him in and we went International calling for his release. 

TEST CASE TWO

The State, seeing the unflinching support enjoyed by Ali Chiroma resolved or vowed not to allow him run for the 2nd term. As earlier indicated, the State found the Democrats handy for the dirty job ahead.  Delegates of NLC Convention are based on paid-up membership dues. The State found out that most the delinquent unions owing the NLC affiliation dues for an upward of 1 – 3 years were in the camp of the Democrats. The State resolved to pay for all the union under reference.  Africa Continental Bank (ACB) was the Bank of NLC. There was no internet Banking as at that time, so getting alert was unthinkable. Unfortunately, for the State, one of the Union, Coal Mining Workers Union based in Enugu was in the Camp of Democrats. When they receive the receipt of payment, they travelled to Lagos to find out how they can have a receipt for what they did not pay for. This ugly incident drew the attention of the Finance Department who went to ACB to collect Statement of Account. This was a bizarre and embarrassment to the State and of course, they denied it.  When this approach to oust Chiroma. Failed, they went for option B. 

NLC DELEGATES CONFERENCE SCHEDULED FOR BENIN CITY, TAGGED BENIN ‘88

The State vowed if it cannot have its way, they will create crisis that will enable it take over NLC. In keeping with the protocol or tradition of host government, the NLC decided to pay Courtesy call on Col. Iniegar, at the Governor’s Office. Unfortunately, the Bendel State Council of NLC, the host State was occupied by Unions in the camp of the Democrats. The Non-Academic Staff Union ( NASU ) and  Civil Service Union (CSU). They were duly informed that a President Chiroma would be in Benin City and they would accompanied him to see the Governor. On the very day Chiroma left for Benin City, the duo, the State Chairman and State Secretary left Benin for Lagos.  Citing them at the Secretariat, I express shock and surprise. I immediately sense that something was fishing.  Chiroma found his way to Government House to meet with the Governor. Citing Chiroma, the first question the Governor asked was where are your State Chairman and Secretary. Before Chiroma could speak, the Governor says it would be improper to discuss anything with him without the present of his two State Officials. The Governor further went to say that IBB will not come to Benin maybe to visit the King, and he would go and visit the King without his presence. Chiroma sensing intrigues sarcastically told the Governor, “I wish you goodluck.  We will go on with our Convention”.When Chiroma came back to Lagos, an emergency meeting of NAC  was called to view the totality of the evil machinations at play. NAC resolved to go ahead with the Convention.

THE LAST STRAW

A day before the official take-off of the Convention which would have seen Ali Chiroma overwhelmingly voted for, the Democrats held its own Convention signalling the break-up of NLC through the instrumentality of the State apparatchik. On the very day of the Convention, by protocol, the Government should come and declare the Conference open.

As a mark of respect, Ali Chiroma went to Government House to see the Governor with a view of accompanying him to Ogbe Stadium where multitude of Delegates were already assembled and waiting.  The Convention was slated to commenced at 10.00am, behold at 12 noon, Chiroma and the Governor were not in sight. Apprehension and speculation rented the airspace.   Comrade H.A. Sunmonu, the pioneer President of NLC, then Secretary General of Organisms of African Trade Unions (OATUU) was in attendance.  He addressed the multitude of Delegates saying that if Chiroma was detained, the Workers would be called out to down their tools.  This message was thunderously welcomed by the Delegates and it became Breaking News at all the Media Stations.  However, no sooner than later, President Chiroma appeared to another thunderous ovation and solidarity.  This did not go well with the Military Junta of IBB.  When Sunmonu was going back to Accra by road,  at the Seme Boarder, between the Benin Republic and Nigeria, the SSS seized the Diplomatic Passport of Comrade H.A. Sunmonu.  On the same day, the Democrats had seized the Headquarters of NLC at 29, Olajuwon Street, at Ojuelegba, Lagos. The Police at the pretext of maintaining law and order sealed the Headquarters.  Consequently, the Government approved a Sole Administrator on the person of Mr. Ogunkoya to administer the affairs of the NLC.

The above is the true pictures of the chronological sequence of how the Military junta of IBB with the help of fifth columnist within the Labour Movement helped to destroy the workers organization and its committed leader in the person of Comrade Ali Chiroma.   Today, Chiroma and his team are vindicated considering the untold hardship SAP had imposed on the good people of Nigeria.

In honoring the memory of Comrade Ali Chiroma, we pay homage to a true champion of the working class, whose indomitable spirit and unwavering resolve continue to inspire us to strive for a world where justice, equality, and dignity prevail for all.

Comrade Lawson E. Osagie, Esq. (Trade Union Veteran)


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