AS the Mobutu Sese Seko of the Nigeria Labour Movement, Comrade Idowu Oyelekan, prepares for a dubious exit through the forthcoming kangaroo quadrennial delegates conference, it is necessary that we review his stewardship of 18 years – four years as deputy to the late Comrade John Onyenemere and 14 years as fulltime president.
The book of Proverbs, Chapter 29: 2 states that “When the wicked is on the throne, the people suffer.” For members of the Food Union, it has been 14 years of suffering and mourning; hence it is necessary to review Oyelekan’s stewardship of agony.
It is a known fact that when wicked, greedy and insensitive leadership meet ignorant and malignant followership, catastrophic stupidity will become the order of the day. Oyelekan’s wickedness survived fourteen solid years because it found comfort and accommodation in the congregation of the weak, lily-livered and ignorant. The past fourteen years witnessed a traumatic sojourn of the Food Union in the leprous hands of Comrade Idowu Oyelekan.
It has been 14 years of deceit, manipulation, corruption and destruction of trade union values, widespread administrative and financial recklessness, flagrant violations of extant rules, and disregard of due process. Within the comity of unions, Food Union is known as the ‘National Union of Fools’.
As Coca-Cola branch chairman of National Union of Foods Beverages and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE), Comrade Oyelekan will visit Council 1 in those days, and be complaining bitterly on behalf of the secretariat staff that the union was punishing paid staff of the union. He perpetually complained about poor remuneration and welfare packages for staff.
Sometimes, he drops a bag of rice for the secretariat staff to share. He is a master bait setter. Before long, most secretariat staff began to think that having him at the helm of affairs will spell good for them. Little did they know that he was laying baits, and with his gang of selfish and mercantile trade unionists, he subtly engineered the crisis of 2006.
Seeing Comrade Oyelekan in those days, one will swear that his trousers were not more than two. He was always dressed like a beggar, perpetually looking unkempt. Many confused his disposition as an act of humility. But he bared his fangs the moment he raised insurrection against his boss and mentor, Comrade John Onyenemere of blessed memory, on the ground of third term tenure.
Oyelekan preached and swore to all that he will not do more than two terms of four years each. His election on 11th January, 2008 marked the beginning of darkness in NUFBTE.
Immediately after his election, Oyelekan came out in his true chameleonic colours. From 2008 to 2020, Oyelekan did not do anything to improve the welfare of secretariat staff that he used to climb to the top. He denied ever forming a parallel government while Onyenemere was still in power. Most people who assisted him in that parallel government are still alive, and some of them have been disgraced out of the system by Oyelekan.
Oyelekan, like Mobutu Sese Seko, is richer than NUFBTE today. He is a trade union merchant, who believes that the only way for him to be rich is to trade with the destiny of food sector workers. He has completely commercialised the Food Union and sold it to employers. With several properties spread around Lagos and Abeokuta, it is common knowledge in the union that the assets he acquired in the past 18 years of his reign in the union are more than that of the union he claimed to serve. The truth is that NUFBTE served Oyelekan for 18 years.
At the of height Mobutu’s inglorious years in Zaire, now DR Congo, the dictator was richer than his country and was helping the state financially. That is the situation Food Union today finds itself. Even if people refuse to ask questions, because they are afraid, but they are aware, that a junior staff of Coca-Cola Nigeria does earn so much as to own choice properties everywhere.
Comrade Oyelekan in his first tenure came up with an idea of building a hotel. Workers in the Food Union were levied seven thousand naira each. Money running into billions was realised. How he was able to get a justification for the levy from the Ministry of Labour still remains a mystery to all reasonable minds.
The Food Union being one of the richest unions in the country does not need to levy its members for any project. The union gets over a hundred million in monthly dues from its members’ check-off dues. Salaries and other expenses are less than twenty million monthly. The rest are squandered on women, alcohol, personal projects and outright embezzlement. This is possible because all organs of the union have been collapsed into one man – Comrade Oyelekan.
The President is the General Secretary; he is NEC; he is NAC; he is branch chairmen. The General Secretary, who is supposed to be the Chief Executive of the union, has been reduced to an errand boy.
Oyelekan is currently using the 6th General Secretary in a space of 14 years. Our counterpart, the senior staff association of food sector workers (FOBTOB) under the leadership of Comrade Quadri Olaleye built hostels in many tertiary institutions in this country without levying its members. The junior staff union that is three times richer than the senior staff union got approval from the Ministry of Labour to levy suffering junior workers.
The welfare of workers has never been Oyelekan’s concern. The real essence of unionism is to mobilise ordinary workers, harness their capacities and empower them so that people who as individuals couldn’t act as part of a collective, can now build up some force which they deploy to protect, and bargain for their interest. This idea is already lost on Comrade Oyelekan because of filthy lucre.
All the union’s businesses that he claimed to have started are run by either his family members or people he personally handpicked. The finances and administration of these businesses are never vetted by any organ of the Food Union and none has declared profit for once. The salaries of workers in these business ventures are paid from the monthly check-off dues paid by workers.
Oyelekan has learnt from the Nigeria state that the best and quickest way to wealth is through phoney projects. Another hotel project is ongoing in a squalid and decrepit area of Ibadan that will only attract patronage of urchins. Yet hundreds of millions are being wasted there.
Stewardship of the wicked profits no one except the wicked. Our leaders are a bunch of wicked people who do not care about the people they are supposed to be leading. All they care about is themselves and their generations yet unborn; how to steal enough and store up for them while the masses are dying for lack of basic things they need to survive.
Amechi is a pro-democracy activist and member of NUFBTE’s Redemption group. He writes from Lagos.