The Memoirs of a Labour Leader

Book Review

Title: The Memoirs of a Labour Leader
Author: Comrade Elijah Okougbo


Review By Alfred Ilenre

A number of books have been written by labour leaders touching on the intricacies of labour management in Nigeria under a socio-economic process in transition, but none is yet to match the kind of a theory base for practical labour management revealed in the Memoirs of a Labour Leader by Comrade Elijah Okougbo, Secretary-General (Emeritus) of the National Union of Petroleum and Gas Workers (NUPENG).

Comrade Okougbo has produced a book that will for a long time serve as a manual for labour management in both government and the industrial sectors of the economy. It is a practical work document on how to make leaders in business, corporations, government, employers, employees and other stake holders in the labour world have the correct information and knowledge before making decisions.

The book is made up of experiences and reflections, comprising the author’s articles and features in the media, lectures, seminar papers, excursions, pictorial events, May day testimonies, goodwill messages, letters to management and government agencies, communiqués and resumes at various workers negotiation meetings, stretching over his 33 years trade union career.

It is a book whose contents remind the readers that mankind today lives in an era where changes in government and the industrial sectors have continued to be rapid. The desire for changes without the capacity to execute work programme necessitated by the forces of change, the book inferred is just a futile dream.

In the age of the computer and the internet, many labour problems which had never been anticipated are surfacing daily and they require the act of individual and group thinking to resolve them.

The age in the industrial sector when problems are allowed to accumulate before trying to solve them is gone. The management and workers in an establishment must always anticipate that there would be problems in order to adopt mechanisms on how to resolve them before they occur.

The author went into philosophy to cite the different kinds and patterns of leadership settings including charismatic, traditional, bureaucracy, theological, revolutionary, intellectual and labour movement leadership among others. In each case, it is the view of the author that the acquisition of knowledge and information is a vital instrument for the attainment of true justice in order to ensure even development in a participatory democracy.

The lectures, correspondences and papers delivered at different occasions at the local, national, regional and international levels by the author as relayed in the book are all sources of learning materials for the present and future generations of trade union activists, bureaucrats, leaders and academics.

In a paper presented at a conference on the world press freedom day celebration held at the United Nations Headquarters, New York in 2009, the author touched briefly on the events that led to the struggle for the actualization of the 1993 presidental election won by the late M.K.O Abiola in which the NUPENG led by the then Secretary-General, Comrade Frank Ovie Kokori played a frontline role in collaboration with the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) and other pro-democracy organizations, in bringing an end to military rule in Nigeria.

Going through the Memoirs of a Labour Leader reminds readers of the bare fact that the world is neck deep in the technological age where mankind has to do more re-appraisals and re-thinking in order to be able to withstand the vagaries of the computer era. Only countries and communities that invest in information and knowledge acquisition through individual and group training of their citizens have the chance of sustainable development and survival in the new age.

The book enumerates so many of the conflict breeders and labour induced problems in the oil industry, at both the onshore and downstream sectors which will always demand the thinking ability of the ablest men and women to resolve. The author continued to stress and laid emphasis on sustained training for both the management, senior and junior staff in the oil industry and other organizations.

The author showed that it was not all toil, tension, stress and no leisure throughout his trade union work life, a journey started at the Nigeria Airways in 1979, from where he switched over to NUPENG as Organizing Secretary and rose through the ranks to Deputy Secretary-General (operation) and later as the substantive Secretary-General before his well earned retirement in 2012.

The various positions he held gave him the opportunity to meet with many of the world’s prominent leaders, inside and outside the labour movement circle. He traveled wide to so many exotic countries in the different continents of the world; visiting oil installations and seeing workers at work for comparative analysis back home in Nigeria. The author’s excursions to Houston in the United State and Dubai in the Middle East had a particularly self rewarding and informative experience on him.

At the launch of the Memoirs of a Labour Leader on November 22, 2013 at the National Theatre Iganmu, Lagos, the author called for the establishment of a Labour College by the industrial unions under the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC).He advised that the labour building inherited by the NLC from the late Wahab Goodluck led Nigerian Trade Union Congress(NTUC) be converted to a workers training institute as the government owned Labour College in Ilorin, was not in position to train the professional trade union cadres in the rudiments of trade union activism.

In a grand ceremony in the theatre hall filled by trade union activists, oil workers, a large section of the civil society organizations, market women and human rights activists, it was quite odd that officials of the Ministry of Labour, and Productivity as well as the Petroleum ministry were conspicuously absent. Such a gathering of labour intellectuals and activists would have been a great opportunity for state officials to enunciate on government policies relating to the current labour matters in the country including the Petroleum Industry Bill, government and the university teachers face off and other labour issues of national interest.

The Memoirs of a Labour Leader is a book rich in detail with a worthy theory base for practical work. It addresses so efficiently, the most important problems facing the Nigerian labour movement in the area of skill and knowledge acquisition.

The author proved the point that there are more salient issues of conflict besetting the Nigerian oil industry, which often demand shrewd management and the use of conflict prevention mechanisms beyond what is published in the mass media, due to their confidentiality and security implications.

The book is a ground work of long years of research and experiences garnered on the job which government officials, management, employees, scholars and teachers of contemporary labour politics must read.

By Alfred Ilenre.
Secretary-General, Ethnic Minority and Indigenous Rights Organization of Africa(EMIROAF).