June 3, 2016. The night was bound to glitter; and it did not disappoint. It was full honour, glitz and glamour. At least, for a moment, joy invaded not a few hearts; and laughter put a shine on many lips; in spite of the obvious strangulating economic hardship in the country. Friends met friends and laughter took centre-stage.
It was the night of Gala and Excellence organised by the Trade Union Congress to honour people identified to have either contributed to the growth of labour movements in Nigeria; or have been a part of the struggle from the inside. It was not an occasion to plan a strike action. It was a night to celebrate friendship and partnership.
The awardees, dressed in their Sunday best were professionals, entrepreneurs, politicians and veteran labour leaders. While some appeared in person; others were represented. Most of them were predictable honourees while others were great surprises. These were people appreciated for quietly operating in the background without much media attention.
When he was introduced and his profile read to the distinguished crowd, Barrister Enobong Etteh, 51, attracted quite some attention; not because of his well-trimmed goatee that sparkled with dotted white hairs, but because of where he comes from and why he chose to practice law in Lagos. A native of Upenekang, the oil rich community of Ibeno in Akwa Ibom State where Exxonmobil has its operational base, Ette’s clientele is everything but the oil industry.
In the Nigerian political scene, his name does not ring a bell. However, in the legal arena, not many people can feign ignorance of his consistently rising profile. He was introduced as a specialist in labour and employment. They went ahead to enumerate his indelible contributions to the development of labour law in Nigeria. As he stood there savouring the glory of the moment, his wife Catherine kept beaming smiles of satisfaction. Etteh is the Nigerian Bar Association’s pioneer chairman of the Employment and Labour Committee of the Section on Legal Practice and publisher of Nigeria Labour Law Report. He was honoured with the award of Outstanding Labour Friendly Legal Luminary.
From the political terrain came the Governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; who graciously appeared in person. Someone promptly observed that next time the organised labour has any issue to settle with Amosun, members will surely remember that he was the only state governor to honour their invitation that night. With his trademark Amosun Cap rising heaven-ward, he walked into the event centre at Sheraton Hotel amidst applause and a lot of attention. He was honoured for Excellence in Good Service in Leadership.
It is still not clear why Adams Oshiomhole, the Comrade Governor of Edo State was absent. Though he sent a representative, nothing could be good as having the veteran labour leader in person at such a night. He was honoured, even in absentia, with Excellence Award in Meritorious Leadership; an award received on his behalf by one of his aides, Patrick Obahiagbon; better known as the man who speaks English Language with the crashing impact of a bomb blast. He did not speak that night despite every effort to get him near the microphone.
Also honoured was the charming Governor of Sokoto, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, a lawyer and former Speaker of the House of Representatives. He was introduced as the Obong Ufan of Akwa Ibom State; and the Udonyi Oro of Oron Local Government Area. He could however not make it to the event but was represented; and was honoured for Excellence in Outstanding Leadership.
The Labour Friendly Governor’s Award went to absentee Lawrence Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the Governor of Enugu State; also called Gburugburu. The boyish-looking Cross River State Governor, Senator Ben Ayade, a professor of environmental microbiology, sent a representative. So was the Governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo. A celebrated accountant and former Accountant General of the Federation, he is the only PDP Governor that smoothly survived the APC storm in the north without much struggle. He was absent at the event but was represented.
It was not clear why these state governors became so busy that they could not attend the beautiful event. If only they knew how those who attended were celebrated. Governor of Nasarawa State Governor, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, was one of the state governors honoured that night by the TUC. It was announced that he could not make the trip to the venue and was politely represented.
Africa’s richest man and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Aliko Dangote, led the pack of businessmen honoured at the event that night. He bagged the esteemed Excellence Award in Major Employment. The foremost businessman though absent, sent one of his executive directors to stand in for him. For someone who is constantly on the move visiting his global business outfits, it was only hoped that he would make it. There was no assurance.
Other business moguls honoured were Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija of Famfaa Oil, a multi-talented professional described as “a fashion icon with infallible sense of style, a loving wife, a caring mother and dotting grandmother, and a friend indeed.” Alakija, a former national president of Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria, is a known born again Christian and has a passion for empowering widows and orphans through her educational programmes and scholarships. She has five honourary academic degrees from within and outside Nigeria. Always glittering like a star, she was crowned with Excellent Creative Executive of the Year 2016.
Some other outstanding Nigerian women also received awards for their roles in making Nigeria great and remaining committed to the welfare of Nigerian workers. There was Senator Oluremi Tinubu, the former First Lady of Lagos State; described as an author and a philanthropist. Currently the chairman of the Senate Committee on Women Affairs, the happy-looking senator was honoured with Excellent Female Legislative Public Servant award. Also in the pack was the smiling Princess Stella Ada Oduah, a senator and Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Women Affairs and Police Affairs.
Another woman of unquestionable substance, pretty and simple-looking Mrs Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, the director general of the Pension Commission, bagged the award for Excellent Visionary and Emphatic Leader. Trained at the London School of Economics, with stints at Harvard, Columbia and Pennsylvania, Anohu-Amazu was described as a “part of a new generation of leaders in Nigeria, skilled technocrats determined to modernise and diversify the economy and society.” She is the first woman to head PENCOM. Honoured alongside was Mama TUC, Nkiru Peace Obiajulu, a nurse and labour leader extraordinary. Hers was more than an honour. It was a celebration of virtue.
Uchechukwu Sampson Ogah of Masters Energy was honoured with award in Excellent Investment, Strategist and Youth Developer. One of Nigeria’s foremost business icon and multiple business award winner, Chief Michael Ade-Ojo of Elizade Group was decorated with Excellent & Outstanding Achiever in Entrepreneurship. He was described as “an incurable lover of his people…a patriot and a lover of culture.” Alexander Chika Okafor of Chikason Group was given Excellence Award on Absolute Visionary.
From the banking sector came the Chairman of Jaiz Bank, Dr Umaru Abdul Mutallab, a quintessential banker and businessman who bagged the Excellence Award in Outstanding Leadership Skill. Mutallab, born in 1939, is currently the chairman of the Vision 20:2020 Committee in Nigeria. He is an accountant and was described as “one of the richest men in Africa.” The posthumous award for Excellent Exemplary Service in the Promotion of Human Development and Entrepreneurship went to the founder of Dantata Group, the late Abdulkadir Dantata. The Lifetime Legacy Award was posthumously given to the founder of Setraco Company, the late Inu Umoru.
With good entertainment and short beautiful speeches by resource persons, the event of the night was completely people-centred. Veteran Labour leader and lawyer, Femi Aborishade received the prestigious Excellent Labour Activist Award while the award of Remarkable Pacesetter went to the former fire-spiting National President of TUC, Comrade Peter Esele. He was cheered and celebrated non-stop. It was taken for granted that NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, a public health specialist, would be honoured; and he was. Also honoured was veteran TUC leader, John Kolawole and Nigeria’s former ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, Musa John.
Standing tall in accolades was the founder of Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria, Allen Onyema, a lawyer, an entrepreneur and a reckless optimist in the Nigerian project. He is the founder and managing director of Air Peace, his latest business brainchild. His involvement in the successful demobilisation and rehabilitation of former Niger Delta Militants must have qualified him for the award as Icon of Peace.
As the beautiful, star-loaded night drew to a close, notice was taken of emerging Nigerian leaders yet to be announced but whose presence at that event confirmed that we as a nation are loaded with potentials yet untapped. These three: Anohu-Amazu, Enobong Etteh and Allen Onyeama are emerging citizens of great value. Their stories will be told one day in the superlatives.
– Akpe is an Abuja-based media practitioner