The former Secretary-General of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr John Odah, reacts to an earlier interview granted the NLC President, Mr Abdul-Waheed Omar, saying most of the president’s claims were not the truth.
IN the course of my two-year battle to invalidate my removal as General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), I was able to unmask a vicious trait in the character of Comrade Abdulwahed Omar, President of the NLC that I and many comrades were never aware of. Apart from this viciousness, the NLC crisis also unveiled an Omar who has no respect for truth.
Though Omar’s package of lies in an interview he granted the Nigerian Tribune of Monday, November 25, 2013 demanded my immediate response, this could not be because the interview coincided with the sad period the labour movement was mourning the tragic death of one of its most outstanding and profound minds, Comrade Festus Iyayi, who was killed in an auto accident on November 12, 2013. Now that Iyayi has been laid to rest, it is only proper for me to prove how Omar’s claims in that interview are absolute lies. This is a duty that I owe not only myself but even more the NLC in particular and the labour movement in general so as to deconstruct Omar and his misplaced perspectives that have the capacity to cause irredeemable damage to our cherished cause, rather than my person.
For many who had followed closely the crisis that has rocked the NLC since its 10th Delegates’ Conference of March 2011, Omar’s efforts in the four-page interview, rather than exonerate himself of blackmail and injustice against me and the principle we hold dear, confirm all I had said in the course of the past three years when my persecution began.
In the interview, Omar was specific on three core issues which he spoke on at length. He talked on the politics of production of the ballot papers for the election during the Delegates’ Conference and voting system, the trip to China and agreement signing for the procurement of buses from Yutong Motors by NLC, and why I was asked to go on ‘accumulated unspent’ leave.
Since the 10th Delegates’ Conference when the NLC crisis began, Omar is for the first time coming out with a new allegation against me – that I “secretly produced ballot papers” for the conference. He claimed that he aborted my effort by directing “Chris [Uyot], who was the secretary of the Credentials’ Committee” to take charge and instead brief me on the activities of the committee. This is a complete fabrication by Omar. First, Comrade Uyot was neither a member of the Credential’s Committee nor its secretary.
The truth, however, is this. The only member of the NLC secretariat who was a member of the Credentials’ Committee is Comrade Segun Rotimi, the Head of NLC’s Department of Finance. He was also the committee’s secretary. His choice, approved by NEC of Congress, was based on the fact that he had done this job excellently in both the 2003 and 2007 delegates’ conferences of the NLC. Half way through its work, Omar, against all past conventions and practices of NLC, unilaterally imposed on the committee, Emma Ugboaja, as its secretary with Rotimi still remaining as an ordinary member. Other members of the committee were drawn from amongst presidents and general secretaries of industrial unions. The president of NASU (and NLC vice president), Comrade Ladi Iliya, was chairperson of the Credentials Committee.
While the motive for the imposition of Emma Ugboaja on the committee was initially not known, it soon became clear in the course of preparations for the conference. Omar and his group, who were interested parties in the election, against the norm, conspired and imposed a new ballot paper format for the conference and gave Ugboaja the responsibility to produce them.
This episode was captured in the minutes of the National Administrative Council (NAC) meeting of 27th February 2011. At that meeting, I had specifically complained that some members of the Secretariat, especially Emma Ugboaja and Owei Lakemfa, were not working with me for the success of the conference. I told NAC that I found it necessary to raise the alarm because I was expected as head of the Secretariat to take responsibility for the success or failure of arrangements for the conference. My concerns were documented on page 8 of the minutes of that meeting.
Secondly, the minutes of that same NAC meeting on page 8 also recorded Comrade Iliya, as chairperson of the committee, expressing her “displeasure at the presentation of samples of ballot papers to NAC without her knowledge, especially as she is the chairperson of the conference Credential’s Committee.” After Comrade Iliya’s revelation, the then Deputy President of NLC (and General Secretary of NASU), Comrade Peters Adeyemi, also made observations on what he said were strange happenings around the preparations for the conference. He said it was unusual for Omar to impose Emma Ugboaja as secretary of the Credentials’ Committee, while he (Ugboaja) was also serving as secretary of the Constitution Review Committee. Adeyemi specifically wanted to know how the ballot papers for the 2007 conference were produced. To all these questions, Omar had no answers.
Ordinarily, production of ballot papers had never been a point of any controversy in the history of NLC elections because it was understood that this was part of the routine work of the Secretariat under the General Secretary. So these dramas orchestrated by Omar were rather very unusual especially as they were taking place with just a day before the commencement of the conference. I was even more disturbed as I had earlier discussed with Omar plans to produce the ballot papers and tags for the conference. He never mentioned that he had alternate plans. Neither was the plan discussed at any meeting of the Credentials’ Committee presided over by Comrade Iliya.
Related to the above is the issue of pattern of voting. Omar, with the support of his group, also waited till this period, a day to the conference, to again force a new voting pattern for the conference. Since the inception of the NLC in February 1978, in all the conferences where elections held – nine previous conferences, the NLC had used the equivalent of first-past-the-post system. This meant that if you had 1000 delegates voting for two deputy or vice president positions where there are three or more contestants, the first two with the top two highest votes from the 1000 votes of delegates would emerge as deputy or vice presidents. This is even if the difference in the votes cast between the winner(s) and loser(s) is one vote.
At the 27th February 2011 NAC meeting, without any previous discussion at either the Credentials’ Committee meeting or any other organ of Congress, Omar, with the support of his group imposed a completely new pattern of multiple voting, a system that can easily be manipulated. As it eventually became obvious, this was a devious and clandestine plot to rig out some candidates. The pattern of voting that Omar discarded had been used at the 1978, 1981 and 1984 conferences of NLC. This was before I joined the NLC in 1987. It was subsequently in use in all other elections till the 2011 election.
As Omar schemed to manipulate the process, I was apprehensive and feared for the unity of the NLC. As his plots unfolded, I knew what Omar and co were plotting to achieve and in my attempt to impress it on him the dangerous dynamics of such actions, I was seen as working against him. The consequences of forcing his pattern of voting through in March 2011 is now clear for all to see. I am surprised that Omar is still able to gloat about this the way he did in the interview. I should add that neither the NUT, Omar’s primary union nor any of the NLC affiliates had used Omar’s imposed new voting pattern, in their own delegates’ conferences before or after the 10th Delegates’ Conference of the NLC.
I would not have bothered to make any further clarification on Omar’s narrative of the transaction between the NLC and Yutong Motors of China since there exist living personalities and documentations to corroborate what really transpired, but I have to do so in order to lucidly highlight Omar’s irredeemable duplicity.
Asked if there was a fraud involved in the Yutong Motors transaction, Omar responded: “No. I tell you, to the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t anything like fraud.” Asked whether the transaction was renegotiated, again Omar’s response was: “It is not a question of renegotiation; the negotiation had taken place; the prices and everything. What our members were contending that time, maybe due to misunderstanding, was that they felt the way the trip to China was organised was highly secretive and because of that, tongues were wagging.” He went on to state that he was not involved in the nitty-gritty of the agreement. This, he said, was handled by me, and that he was quite annoyed when I told him at the airport before leaving for China that we were going to sign an agreement. What a fraudulent statement! In other words, Omar is saying that he didn’t know why he had to apply for and be granted a Chinese visa as well as book a return flight to China? Or did I also handle all those aspects without his knowledge and smuggled them to him at the airport? If he at all sounded believable to himself, couldn’t he have paused to ask himself how ridiculous it would sound to a reasonable audience and to a reputable newspaper like the Nigerian Tribune?
Essentially, Omar made open admission of the following: one; that there was no fraud. Two; that there was no problem with the pricing and therefore the current leadership of the NLC under him didn’t need to do any renegotiation. Three; that he already knew the prices of the buses but went on to say that “the prices were not in the agreement.”
Deriving from the above, it would be right to say that Omar himself was the source of the so-called “tongues” that were “wagging.” Secondly, it is not true that the prices of the buses were not in the agreement as he claimed in the interview. What Omar’s interviewer did not know is that there is no way an agreement of that nature would not include the prices of the products. The breakdown of the prices of the three types of buses we signed the agreement to buy was reflected in the agreement – totalling $18.5 million for 300 buses, which was inclusive of the spare parts. If, as he claimed, the prices were not in the agreement, from where and how did Omar get them?
This is the genesis of the Yutong story; the entire deal began as early as October 2007 when he led a 6-person delegation of his new leadership to visit our counterpart in China, about eight months after he became President of NLC. The NLC began making arrangements to procure these buses effectively from January 2008 when we reported to the NEC meeting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State that we plan to liaise with our Chinese counterparts – the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) to buy buses for our LCTS, from China.
In February 2008, I was mandated to visit two bus manufacturing companies in China, namely, Yutong and Kinglong. I came back and wrote a report following which we opted for Yutong Motors. Thereafter, Omar went with me and the then NLC Auditor, Comrade Hakeem Bashorun, to visit the Yutong Motors factory in 2009, before we went again with him as the head in September 2010. By the time the board of LCTS was reconstituted in July 2010 in Akure with Comrade Adeyemi as chairman, Comrade Omar was fully aware of every minute detail of what we planned to do with Yutong Motors. This was why he (Omar) granted interview to the Vanguard newspaper on September 2nd, 2010 and Daily Independent newspaper on September 3rd, 2010 just before we left for China, that we were going to China to procure buses to revive the LCTS.
When the delegation Omar led to China for the signing of the agreement got back and Omar decided to distance himself from the agreement claiming that it was the handiwork of myself and his deputy, Comrade Adeyemi, NAC met both at executive and full sessions and it was resolved that the agreement should be referred to the newly created Finance Committee to review. This was at the 25th October, 2010 NAC meeting. This was endorsed by the two higher organs of the NLC – Central Working Committee (CWC) and National Executive Council (NEC).
The Finance Committee, chaired by Omar met a couple of times. At the NAC meeting of 2nd February, 2011, Omar unexpectedly asked Comrade Ayuba Wabba, NLC’s Treasurer (and member of the Finance Committee) to present the highlights of the committee’s report. According to the highlights of the report, as recorded in the NAC minutes of that day, the following points against the Yutong agreement were made: one, that the pricing process for the buses was not made open; two, that the vehicles of Yutong Motors are not the most suitable for our environment; three, that the durability of the Yutong vehicles is in doubt; and four, that adequate technical experience was not deployed before the agreement with Yutong Motors was struck. Others include that on ideological basis, the mass transit deal is bait to Congress since it appears to be fallout of the struggle against deregulation and that Congress should consult a legal firm on the implication of the signed agreement.
As a member of the Finance Committee who participated in those discussions, I raised a number of objections to the presentation which were captured in the same minutes. I had told the NAC that the committee had not prepared a report as what was read was at best “an excerpt of an unadopted minutes; that substantial issues including the submission of the management of Urban Development Bank (UDBN), the project advisers on the transaction, among others, had been omitted. On the basis of my objection vis-à-vis the so-called report, Omar’s attempt to deceive the NAC was aborted. NAC subsequently instructed that a detailed formal report should be submitted at a subsequent NAC meeting. This was the situation before we went into the 10th Delegates’ Conference at the beginning of March 2011, and the crisis that engulfed Congress thereafter.
From the above, it can be seen that for Comrade Omar, truth can be stretched very elastically indeed! With myself and Comrade Adeyemi forced out of the way, all the reasons Omar and his collaborators tried to use to scuttle the transaction disappeared, they no longer mattered!
If indeed Omar, Adeyemi and I were truly the “inner caucus” to which he referred to in the interview, why then did he not ask for a time out, while in China, at the point he felt that some things were not right, to express his so-called reservations about the agreement if he had any? This would have been most logical since a fourth member of the NLC delegation on the agreement signing trip to China, Comrade Benson Upah, then the Ag. MD of LCTS and a principal officer of NLC, was there to serve as a witness to Omar’s expressed reservations.
It seems that Omar’s bitterness, as he admitted in the interview, arose out of his feeling that as President of NLC, it was his prerogative to sign the agreement but not to serve as a witness. If he had some ‘complex’ problems, as his interview portrayed, and he didn’t so much as mention his unhappiness to anyone on the delegation, we couldn’t read his mind as we were not parapsychologists. As General Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the NLC, I didn’t have any difficulty in having Benson Upah, who is my subordinate at the Congress, signing the document above me, while like Omar, I signed underneath him as a witness, given the seal of authority of the NLC to the agreement!
There is of course a lot more to the unhappy story of NLC and Yutong Motors transaction. Omar volunteered in the interview that “...we accessed only one half of the loan and purchased the Hutong (sic) Motors which are still in Lagos.” What he failed to say was that from the original $18.5 million agreement which was going to fetch the LCTS 300 buses, the Omar leadership asked UDBN, now Infrastructural Bank, to divide the amount into two and use one half to order the 133 buses which the Congress eventually ordered from Yutong Motors without having to renegotiate the agreement. The remaining half, which came to N1.5 billion, Omar as President and Owei Lakemfa, before he was removed as Ag. General Secretary, had instructed the Infrastructural Bank to pay to Globe Motors to supply LCTS undisclosed number of buses. It took a committee of NAC of NLC to go on a fact finding visit to the Infrastructural Bank before the leadership pressurised the bank to halt the transaction and find a way of retrieving the money already paid to Globe Motors on the authorisation of Omar and Lakemfa.
What Omar also failed to disclose is that the 133 buses have been wasting away for the last 13 months in Lagos since they were shipped to Nigeria from China in December 2012.
To put it differently, “because of all the problems of logistics,” as Omar claimed in the interview, LCTS, which Omar inherited almost seven years ago when he became president of NLC, as a going concern is unable to put on any of the Nigerian township roads any of the 133 brand new buses for over 365 days since they arrived our shores. Yet this LCTS Company has on its pay roll about 60 staff that was last paid any salary 10 months ago.
The TUC, which didn’t have a transport company as of March 2011, used the agreement Omar is bitter about to order 150 buses from Yutong Motors by merely replacing the name of NLC and LCTS with TUC. For almost 15 months or more, these TUC buses have been plying the streets of Lagos and Abuja. This is apart from the fact that by September 2010, the UDBN had agreed to give NLC N4 billion out of the N5 billion for the resuscitation of LCTS and its fleet. Is it not a tragic fact that in November 2013, the NLC President is proudly admitting that this amount is now N3 billion and that of this amount, only N1.5 billion has been utilised to procure 133 buses that are rusting away somewhere?
Omar, of course spoke glowingly of himself and how I abused the “free-hand” he gave me as General Secretary to run the secretariat of NLC. While I would have loved to speak on this as well as the circumstances leading to my being asked to proceed on ‘accumulated unspent’ leave, there has been volumes of media reports of this in the course of my litigation against the NLC and my eventual victory that I need no further evidence to prove that Omar’s assertions in the interview are belatedly mere face-saving bravado.
My only response, however, is that in the labour movement that I know, having worked in it for 26 years, and which I have been associated with right from my days as a student union activist, leadership is a collective affair and not despotic as Omar has been made by his masters in some corridors of power to turn the NLC into. It is only in that context and against the backdrop of the unusually lethargic, cavalier and inactive organisation Omar has turned our beloved NLC into after the 2011 Delegates’ Conference that anyone will be able to truly comprehend Omar’s latest antics. One may ask, where has Omar been that nobody heard him speak on all these issues that have been in public domain since 2011? And why has he suddenly rediscovered the urgency to speak on them? Perhaps his puppeteers in positions of power have now whipped him out of his slumber. Or could that be Omar’s way of strategising to enter politics, as he revealed in the interview?