UFOMBA UZUEGBU, Asst News Editor
It was a gathering of dignitaries from all walks of life, especially those from the labour and civil society groups.
They had converged on Sasun Hotel, Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital on Thursday, July 21, to celebrate one of their own, a cerebral trade unionist and astute labour leader, Comrade Hyginus Chika Onuegbu, who bowed out as Chairman of Rivers State Council of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) after serving two terms.
The occasion was the 5th Triennial Delegates Conference of the State Council which had as its theme: “Democracy, Development and Social Inclusion in Nigeria”. It also featured the election of new executive members that will pilot the affairs of the Council for the next three years.
Various speakers on the occasion extolled Onuegbu’s visionary leadership and sterling qualities, which had enabled the state Council of TUC to grow from a relatively obscure state congress to a vibrant and resilient brand.
In his key note address, the state Governor Nyesom Wike commended Comrade Onuegbu’s exemplary leadership of the state Council of the Congress which had ensured stable, peaceful and harmonious industrial relations with the state government. Represented by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Comrade Kenneth Kobani, the Governor said: “Rivers State government is committed to supporting Labour in the state. We are a worker –friendly government. Your (Onuegbu’s) leadership has succeeded in working together with government. And we will continue to tap from your fountain of knowledge , even though you are leaving office at a time our government is assuming governance of the state”
Governor Wike also assured that workers’ welfare would always receive priority attention, as part of efforts to enhance the efficiency and productivity of civil servants in the state. He promised the state civil servants that he would always pay their salaries promptly, reiterating that the state remains one of the states of the country that has paid monthly salaries up to June 2016, despite dwindling funds from different sources.
The President of TUC, Comrade Bobboi Bala Kaigama, in his speech, said : “It is elating to observe that the present Comrade Chika Onuegbu administration of TUC in Rivers State is finishing its course with distinct success while establishing notable landmarks of grand achievements.” Kaigama, who was represented on the occasion by the Acting Secretary-General of the Congress, Comrade Simeso Amachree, also said: “We applaud the fact that they were able to forge a strong bond and spirit of camaraderie among affiliate unions in the state, while at the same time constructing bridges of friendship with public and private employers of labour, the print and electronic media, as well as civil society and other relevant non-governmental organisations, and all these on labour-friendly terms”.
He charged the incoming State Administrative Committee (SAC) to take the Council to the next level, stressing that the vision of where the Council should be in the next three years was one that should be very clear to all would-be members of the Committee.
“The new SAC must remain the vanguard not just for workers’ interests but also for the people’s rights, and the pillar for the down-trodden. As a strong labour centre, we no longer wish to agonize our plight. Rather, and true to 21stcentury labour orientation, we have taken our destiny in our own hands by organizing our members into a formidable force to compel positive change for the benefit of ours and future generations.
“We must deepen the culture of internal democracy and encourage more women to participate at all levels in the movement. Without doubt, women face far more-daunting challenges than most men ever imagine. And if we must change society, we must change the lot of women as well as men. The best way to do that is afford both genders equitable representation in decision-making fora”, Kaigama said.
In her remarks, Rivers State zonal coordinator in the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mrs Udeme Akpan, who chaired the occasion, noted that the state Council of TUC, under Comrade Onuegbu had been very vocal on national issues affecting workers. She praised him for his uncommon courage and visionary leadership, even as she charged members to elect officers with proven integrity and who would consolidate on the gains of the immediate past.
Welcoming guests to the occasion, Onuegbu said;”It is no longer in contention that TUC Rivers State of today is undoubtedly one of the best organized State Councils of the TUC in Nigeria. What may be in doubt is whether the congress will be able to continue to maintain that enviable position in the Nigerian Labour Movement in the future. I am convinced, however, that we will continue to maintain that position against all odds, if we allow God to continue to lead us.”
He expressed delight that the specific promises he made in 2009 and 2013, respectively, as part of the electioneering process, namely to improve visibility of TUC in Rivers State and its relationship with the state government and people, among others, were fulfilled during his tenure. He noted that unity and peaceful coexistence of Nigerians were essential ingredients for the nation’s sustainable development.
“Each day, the actions of our leaders, chiefs, elders and youths continue to scare investors away. Already, many multinational companies, including those in the oil and gas sector have divested their assets in Rivers State, relocated their offices to Lagos or Abuja or scaled down their operations in Rivers State .Even many of our Rivers’ elite do not have their major investments in Rivers State
“It is disheartening to note that Rivers State is no longer the preferred investors’ destination in Nigeria in the oil and gas sector. The performance of Rivers State on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business report is very abysmal. All these, may have been complicated by the recent imposition of new taxes on the struggling businesses and residents of the Rivers State by the state Government”, he said.
Continuing, he said: “Lessons from across the world and over the years, show that it is only the people that can rapidly bring the desired changes to governance in their country, notwithstanding the system of government. If we expect any government to, on their own, transform the country under the current conditions of weak political and institutional structures as we have in Nigeria, we are in for shocking surprises!
“It has, therefore, become imperative that we urge every Nigerian worker and indeed every Nigerian to organise and build solidarities across the entire spectrum. Here lies our strength as a people and as workers that are genuinely committed to building a truly inclusive and egalitarian Nigeria. We must, therefore, be vigilant and not fail in our duties as citizens, civil society and trade unions.
“The truth is that democracy, without the vigilance by the ordinary people especially where the institutions of governance are weak as we have in Nigeria, can quickly transform into a government by a gang of friends for themselves and themselves alone”.
The high point of the event was the unveiling of a book written by Mr. Ignatius Chukwu (Regional Editor/General Manager, BusinessDay and Former West Africa Bureau Editor of NewsAfrica, London) titled “The Courage to Stand: The Story of Comrade Chika Onuegbu” . The book’s Foreword is written by Ibim Semenitari, Acting Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), while the book was reviewed by Dr. Louis Brown Ogbeifun (President, Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators of Nigeria (ICMC); Former National President of PENGASSAN and former Manager, Employee Relations at Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
As part of the conference , the state council had invited a respected human rights activist, who is alo the author of the book “Human Rights: An Umbilical Cord of Participatory Democracy”and Chairman of the Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition, Barrister Anyakwee Nsirimovu, who shared thoughts with guests on the topic: “Democracy, Development and Social Inclusion in Nigeria”.
There is no doubting the fact that when the history of trade unionism in Rivers State is written, Onuegbu’s name would certainly be etched in gold on account of his landmark achievements and forays as a distinguished trade unionist. He not only refined trade unionism in Rivers State, but truly elevated it to a competitive brand. Its internal administration showed unique excellence when it signed Collective Bargaining Agreement for the secretariat staff. The office accommodation has receptive and befitting ambience showcasing a high sense of responsiveness. Accounting details and record keeping are orders that are routinely kept.
In response to the dearth of revenue to sustain the smooth running of the Congress, affiliate members agreed on monthly dues fashioned according to various affiliate strength. This inward engineering was fashioned to boost the revenue of the Congress, enhance self-reliance and to prevent undue external influence.