Sunmonu and Dangote: Honour As a Metaphor

Guest Columnist: ISSA AREMU


Understandably, all stakeholders in the education sector in particular and nation building in general, hail the weekend conferment of Honorary Doctorate Degrees of Letters on both the founding President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Hassan Adebayo Sunmonu, and foremost African Industrialist, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, by the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria as part of the 41st Convocation Ceremony of the University in Samaru, Zaria.

The news had captured public imagination when the Registrar of the university, Ahmed Abdullahi Kundila, in a statement said Aliko Dangote and Comrade Sunmonu were to be honoured for their immense contribution to the economic and human development of the nation. It is worthy of note that ABU rarely dispenses Honourary degrees. In its 60 years of history, just about some 103 had been so honoured.

I congratulate both Aliko and Sunmonu to be enlisted on the ranks of deserved eminent previous awardees. They include notable global citizens like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigerian, D.Litt, (1973,) Prof. W.R.F. Collis, Irish, D.Sc. (1973), Chief U.O. Udoji, LL.D. (1975, ), Chief Obafemi Awolowo, LL.D. (1975,) Alhaji Shehu Shagari, LL.D (1976), Prof. Adebayo Adedeji, D.Litt (1976), President Samora M. Machel, Mozambique, LL.D (1977,) Comrade Sam Nujoma, Namibia, (1982,) Mr. Nelson Mandela, LL.D. (1985,) Mr Jimmy Carter, American, (1992), Alh. (Chief) Wahab Folawiyo, (1992,) Alh. Maitama Sule, (1992), Alh. Abdullahi Dan-Buram Jada, (1998,) Alh. M.T. Usman, 1998, Dr. Kofi Annan, Ghanaian, (1998) and Mr. Cha Chi Ming, MFR, China, (2006) (founder of UNTL, biggest textile mill!) in Africa among others.

Yours comradely is proudly involved with the duo albeit without class contradiction. Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu (or HA as comrades fondly call him), is a “renowned socialist” (Dangote’s description!) and my mentor in the labour movement! HA’s educational grounding shows that contrary to the false class assumption, the labour movement has always been knowledge-led. One essential imprint of HA is cultivating a knowledge-based movement. As the founding President of the NLC he consciously attracted first class graduate activists to NLC as full time officers. I am a living testimony. On graduating in the late 80s, he single handedly pulled me out of the then prestigious Concord press (where I did my NYSC and was retained!) to the NLC to swell the ranks of the NLC Secretariat ably led by the late Dr Lasisi Osunde (an economist), supported by tested comrades like Lawson Osagie, Dr Yahaya Hashim, Salisu Muhammed, Femi Aborishade, John Odah, Chom Bagu and a number of other comrades.

Dangote, leading capitalist and investor in many sectors including textiles and sack factories (which my union organises) is my friend and (I dare say!) Comrade in the campaign for re-industrialisation of Africa. I bear witness to the shared class collective glory (not class struggle!) at the weekend in Samaru, Zaria.
It was a paradoxical nostalgia for me returning to the university where I was baptized to the great battle of ideas between socialism and capitalism in the 1970s and 1980s.

I commend the University Governing Council under the chancellorship of His Highness, Nnaemeka Alfred Ugochukwu Achebe, CFR, mni, the Obi of Onitsha, and Professor Ibrahim Garba, the Vice Chancellor, for the joint recognition of two African iconic symbols of enterprise and dignity of labour in Nigeria.
Inadvertently ABU had made a significant statement of inclusion according to which labour and capital as critical factors of growth and development and social justice in Africa must be accorded equal recognition: the return on investment is as important as the long service award for the working man and woman!
Without saying so, the ABU honour has become a worthy metaphor for class collaboration between labour and capital for national development.

American political theorist Francis Fakuyama, at the turn of the century, predicted “The End of History,” as the title of his famous book suggests. He triumphantly, in a rather exuberant way celebrated the “triumph’ of Capitalism, over socialism following the ‘collapse’ of Soviet Russia in 1990s. ABU through this conferment shows that the task of nation building (though is as ideological as it is pragmatic,) goes beyond an ideological triumphalism. The critical issue is the practical impact of all actors on wealth generation and poverty eradication. Other universities must learn from ABU in this regard. What were celebrated last weekend were the passion, energy and commitment the two brought to bear in the long road to serve humanity.

The recognition of Comrade Sunmonu raises the nostalgia of his outstanding leadership as the founding President of the NLC from 1978 to 1984. NLC under his leadership fought and won the battle to make May 1 a public holiday, fought and won the struggle for a new minimum wage of N125 ($240) in 1981 under President Shehu Shagari’s administration. Notwithstanding the divisive strategy of the second Republic politicians aimed at splitting the labour movement into “democrats” and “Marxists” Sunmonu commendably sustained the unity of the trade union movement through all inclusive ideologically driven movement; a lesson for the current leadership of NLC to learn in how to overcome the ruptures of 2015! As Secretary General of the Organisation of Africa Trade Unions Unity (OATUU) he ensured that the voice of Africa workers was heard and respected in the global arena. Very few unionists courageously talked straight to power. The historic Charter of Demands under Comrade HA’s leadership remains the first agenda-setting document for decent work by the Nigeria’s working class.

As a worker Comrade Hassan Sunmonu had added value to developmentalist Nigeria. An engineer with Federal Ministry of works, he worked on so many offices and roads project that included Zaria – Kano Road Reconstruction; Igolo – Porto Novo Road (Benin Republic); Dualisation of Denton Causeway (Oyingbo – Iddo, Lagos) by direct labour; the construction of the National Arts Theatre, Lagos; and Construction of the Third Mainland Bridge, Lagos, among others. A multi linguist; he is fluent in Yoruba, (with bagful of proverbs!), English, French, Italian and Twi (a Ghanaian language). Comrade HA has been honoured nationally and internationally. Recipient of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) on 18th December, 2001, he was also honoured with the National order of Burkina Faso in December, 2009. Born with his identical twin brother, Engr. Hussein Sunmonu, on 7th January, 1941 in Oshogbo, Osun State, the Sunmonus are the most spectacular identical twins to see any day! It seems age sharpens their similarities in mannerism and outlook.

In 2010, HA was honoured by Michael Imoudu Labour Institute, Ilorin. His twin brother Engr. Hussein Sunmonu represented him. As a privileged reciter of the profile of the recipient, only me and the then Director General of the Institute, John Olanrewaju knew it was Engr. Hussein Sunmonu who took the centre stage and NOT comrade HA! Many were in disbelief when Engr. Hussein Sunmonu disclosed he was receiving the award on behalf of his twin brother. The difference was not clear in their voices and jokes.
HA is a global citizen of profound integrity.

A product of the then functional missionary/public schools, attended o Yaba College of Technology between 1961 to 1964, obtained the Ordinary National Diploma (OND) in Civil Engineering, the Higher National Diploma (HND) in Civil Engineering. HA proceeded to Italy for a Post-Graduate Diploma Course in Highway Engineering. A witty wag and a “mobile library”, trade unionists and comrades alike globally cannot wait for his compelling memoir! As the President of the NLC, he was a resource fellow at the seminar series of Senior Executive course (SEC 2) of 1980. After the usual Q & A session, he selflessly demanded for the labour participants at the executive course initiated by Obasanjo military regime meant to build capacity for executives drawn from the tripod of government, business and labour communities with the objective of working towards a better society. Since then NLC/TUC had sent scores of participants who are now members of the National Institute (mnis). HA was almost an activist by birth. And he is still organising (as a trustee of ASUU!) not agonising as most young comrades do today! He still matches on the street for good governance and against corruption.

The honour for Dangote as a leading African investor and industrialist was well deserved given his globally acknowledged contribution to industrialisation and mass job creation in the continent of Africa. He is often defined to in terms of his riches: the richest man in Africa. But it is better that Dangote is profiled for what he is: the most passionate value-adding entrepreneur in Africa!
Dangote’s bold imprints in global corporate social responsibility are as remarkable as his investment drive. He manifested that again at the convocation with the commissioning of 10 blocks of student hostels consisting of 360 fully equipped rooms with capacity for housing 2,160 students built at a cost of N1.2 billion donated by the Aliko Dangote Foundation to Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU) Zaria!
The university orator, Prof. G.Y. Sadiq disclosed that Dangote “is credited with building edifices in many universities such as University of Ibadan, Bayero University, Kano, University of Maiduguri, Kano State University of Science and Technology, Federal University of Technology, Akure and very recently, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, adding that he has also supported generously Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in the North East and North Central geopolitical zones in addition to offering scholarships to a large number of indigent Nigerians from all walks of life.”

Dangote, just like Hassan Sunmonu, talks straight to power for development. He was at the 4th Kaduna Investment summit in April this year as a Keynote Speaker. He minced no words in damning underdevelopment in Nigeria and the north in particular. Hear him: “Nigeria as you all know is bedevilled with many developmental challenges despite its abundant human, mineral and agricultural resources. Our country’s human development indicators rank poorly when compared to peers as well as to global averages.
Nigeria is ranked at 157 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index. While the overall socio-economic condition in the country is a cause for concern, the regional disparities are in fact alarming. In the northwest and northeast, more than 60% of the population lives in extreme poverty. It is instructive to note that the 19 northern states, which account for over 54% of the country’s population and 70% of its land mass collectively generated only 21% of the total sub- national IGR in 2017. Northern Nigeria will continue to fall behind if respective state governments do not move to close the developmental gap”.

In the same breath Dangote remains an African optimist. He audaciously walks the optimism too. For him the cup is far from being full; but it’s neither empty either. In fact he more than others fills the African cup of growth and development. In Kaduna he singled out Governor el-Rufai of Kaduna State “as a shining example in the north, citing Kaduna’s dramatic growth of IGR, attraction of direct foreign investments and investment in public education.

Again that was vintage Dangote: ever measured and constructive in a country of wars of attrition. Dangote has also hugely shared in the ownership of Nigerian development challenges in a way many elected and appointed officers have not. He is lesson in investment patriotism. He virtually moved Nigeria from “being the world’s second largest importers of cement, to self-sufficiency, and then export (all within a decade).” Dangote group is also constructing “8-million-ton capacity cement export terminals” to make “cement Nigeria’s largest industrial export. Similar transformations are imminent in other sectors”. His on-going refinery “is the largest single unit refinery in the world and the associated petrochemical project will not only ensure self- sufficiency but also position Nigeria to be the largest exporter of petroleum products in Africa and the second largest exporter of petrochemicals”.

•Comrade Aremu is a member of the National Institute, Kuru, Jos and Vice President, Industrial Global Union, based in Geneva, Switzerland.