Requiem for a Dying Year, By Owei LakemfaFeatured Contributors/Columnists, Latest News Tuesday, December 29th, 2015
In my November piece, The enemy within, I paid homage to Comrade Ibrahim Yusuf, the humble labour leader who introduced me to trade unionism. I was fresh from the university and held strongly to certain ideas. For instance, the State Security Services, then known as the Nigeria Security Organisation (NSO)were supposed to be kept at arms length and not allowed to know students, workers or union plans. For me, they were the enemy of the working people.
You can imagine my shock when I caught my teacher, Yussuf, giving out union documents to these agents of the State. Immediately they left, I went to challenge and accuse him of betraying workers. In his usual gentle manner, he took no offence. Rather, he asked me to sit down and lectured me. First, the trade unions are populated by millions of dues-paying workers who have a right to know. So union matters and documents like press statements and even financial records are not secret. Secondly he said, when unions have problems with government or employers, it is useful to let the secret agents covering the unions know; they are obliged to write reports and analyze situation before it degenerates to industrial or social unrest. Thirdly, he said, when the agents know that unions have nothing to hide, they will not go about sniffing for information. Lastly, he argued, by making information which is in any case public, available to the agents, they become grateful, and even relaxed enough to offer suggestions, and sometimes, volunteer information. Many things I learnt at his feet. I did not realize that as I wrote that piece, my trade union teacher had passed on the month before.
Mrs. Amoke Palmer was one of the first women I met in the Labour Movement. Back in the early 80s, she was a major leader amongst Civil Service Technical Workers in the country. Amongst women comrades she was a shinning star along with leaders like Rebecca Oliseh of the Shop and Distributive Employees and Cecil Olajumoke of the Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees.
Palmer worked in the Film Unit of the Lagos State Government, and one day when I visited her office as a leader of the Nigeria Union Of Journalists (NUJ) I asked her why she preferred the union of Technicians rather than the more prestigious NUJ, her conclusion was that journalists are not serious unionists. She retired and I lost all contacts for years. Then this May, while attending the Conference of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Senior Employees, I met Comrade Ola Oyegoke, Secreatry General of the Shop and Distributive Senior Staff Association who told me that he was her neigbour and that she speaks quite highly of me when discussing trade unionism in the country. He gave me her phone number but informed she was in the United States, visiting her children.
Some weeks later, my phone rang; it was Mrs. Palmer. We spoke for long with reminiscences of the old times. Her voice was same I had known over the years; quite vibrant and clear. We hung up with my promise to visit her in Ikorodu when next I am in Lagos. But we will never meet again, except perhaps in dreams, for in October, she passed away.
Hadjia Hamdalat Abiodun Aremu was the sister of my friend, Dr. Ayo Ajisegiri. Ayo and I had struck a friendship by 1980. Unlike many of us on campus, in Ife, he was a quiet gentleman. I visited his family house in Lagos a number of times and became acquainted with some members of his nuclei family. Issa Aremu with whom I struck friendship and comradeship about the same time, married Hadjia in 1990. So she was my sister, and “our wife” I saw her last year in Accra during the graduation ceremony of her two sons. For me, it was also, a sort of reunion with Ayo whom I had not seen for a number of years.
This month, she left her Kaduna home for Lagos to visit her extended family before proceeding to Ilorin for an annual family holiday. On December 16, Hadjia Aremu, full of life, vigour and love for her family, passed away in Lagos. How do you console a family whose life revolves around a mother so committed and protective?
How do you console families of gallant soldiers and security personnel who lost their lives defending the rest of us against marauding Boko Haram terrorists? What consolation for mothers torn away from their children, and families destroyed by the terrorists. How do you comfort children who may never see their loved ones again?
Doubtlessly, as a people, we need prayers. But we also need to make strong resolutions as 2016 makes its entry this Friday. We must resolve that no longer will our national currency be hawked on the streets like loaves of bread. That the Naira, buried in the collapsed rubbles of market forces, will rise like the South African rand is beginning to recover. We must resolve that it will not suffer the fate of the South Sudanese pound which lies buried in the rubble under an eighty four percent devaluation concrete. That petrol will leave the streets and return to the fuel stations; dispensed from the pumps by fuel attendants, and not sold in plastic containers by street urchins. That the Rivers of blood will stop flowing and violent communal conflicts and bloody protests will cease. That the heart of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) will be touched to reverse its astronomical tariff hike for electricity supplied with large doses of darkness.
Our God is a doer and finisher, not a god of unfinished projects; therefore, we must resolve that inconclusive elections will no longer be our portion. Happy New Year.
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