Bafyau: Remembering a Quintessential Labour Leader

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Pascal Pafyau

By Salisu Nuhu Muhammad

Eight years ago, on May 15th, 2012, exactly two weeks after he actively and fully participated in that year’s well organized and colorful May Day celebration, in Abuja, the cruel hands of death, sadly, but swiftly, snatched away the indefatigable workers’ leader, the Adamawa born, Comrade Paschal Myeleri Bafyau, OFR, mni.

As one of Nigeria’s foremost, illustrious and renowned statesmen of his generation, a labour leader of legendary austere profile and indomitable repute, the late Comrade Paschal Bafyau (of blessed memory), was from all fair and objective accounts, a hugely talented, highly respected and beloved president of the most formidable labour Centre in Africa, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).

Any keen observer of what was then going on in the sphere of labour unionism in the country, throughout those truly eventful years, would readily concede, that, mother fortune had smiled on the deeply bruised Nigeria’s highly organized trade unions and their traumatized national umbrella, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), when Comrade Paschal Bafyau, popularly emerged, as the undisputed leader of the Nigerian workers in the year of our Lord, 1988.

Indeed, for record purposes, we may still find it necessary at this stage, to refresh our good memory with the fact, that, this historic labour breakthrough actually came about at the end of the well negotiated, win-win and crisis- free, pan Nigeria Delegates’ Conference of the workers, which was held at the National Arts Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos.

It was not long after this memorable, resoundingly successful and indisputably wise conclusions unanimously arrived at during this openly democratic parley of workers, that the long standing endless ideological skirmishes that had persistently created very sharp divisions, bitter antagonisms and seemingly irreconcilable differences, which from all estimations had defiantly lingered since the inception of Congress, notably between those trade unions who called themselves “progressives”, otherwise widely known as (“marxists”), and the others christened the “democrats”, that, for the first time in the checkered history of labour, workers could be seen openly expressing true feelings of happiness everywhere, that indeed, a lasting solution to these daunting problems, had finally been found.

Consistent with this celebratory nationwide euphoria, within a short moment of his mounting the labour saddle, he quickly enthroned a result- oriented but collectivist leadership style that meticulously, methodically and expeditiously saw all these intractable problems which hitherto defied solution, deftly and ingeniously brought to a complete halt. All these could be silently achieved, thanks largely to the consultative approach of those people who easily identified with the leadership acumen of the ever tireless, but amiable comrade Paschal Myeleri Bafyau.

It took a visionary leader with an abundance of heart, and also one well experienced in the Solomonic art of peacemaking, who equally manifestly had been divinely

endowed with Jobian patience, like Comrade Paschal Bafyau, to skillfully navigate and wisely manage, the discordantly rambunctious diversity that characterized the entire fabric of Nigerian labour movement, prior to the dawn of his rare type of astute leadership.

With the trust, confidence and respect of labour leaders and their teeming members firmly secured, the hitherto dormant decision making organs of the Congress, that is, the National Administrative Council (NAC), the Central Working Committee (CWC) and the National Executive Council (NEC), all of them democratic sources of political authority, caught the late Comrade Paschal Bafyau ‘s full attention, and in no time, they all simultaneously got galvanized and thus, speedily and enthusiastically became catalyzed and activated back into full proletarian animation.

Perhaps in full appreciation of the precarious nature of our immediate past coupled with the trepidation it emblazoned in the aching hearts of all genuine lovers of the working class and their numerous allies in our country, it became obvious, that action advised caution in the urgent imperative of holistically maintaining a delicate balance in weaving the new composition of these decision making bodies into a united fighting entity.

The animating debates and productive discussions that started coming out from these revitalized organs, following the inculcation of the spirit of unity and labour solidarity under the able leadership of Comrade Paschal Bafyau, were indeed, to this day, a true treasure to behold.

What I am getting at, is that, it would appear at that moment in time, that Comrade Paschal Bafyau saw well ahead, and understood perhaps far better than many of his contemporary trade unionists, that, the tangible presence and prevalence of purposeful unity in a working class organization, was uniquely and really of indispensable significance.

Seeing their heads bubbling with ideas, having been confronted with a new global paradigm shift, in which the capitalist order was petulantly waxing exuberant, as it had compelled the then existing international anti capitalist social forces to beat a hasty retreat in nearly all fighting fronts, but undoubtedly inspired by the incandescent vision of Comrade Paschal Bafyau, the labour leaders, all of them working together, saw themselves effortlessly and easily, churning out viable projects and programs aimed at laying a strong foundation towards actualizing the short, medium and long term dreams and aspirations of Nigerian workers.

Soon enough, the hard lesson was beginning to surface and settle into the restless minds of the labour leaders, that, a united trades union movement, was not only manifestly powerful and impregnable, but in reality, it was also an unstoppable rugged machine in the long journey of the Nigerian working class and their allies towards achieving social justice and freedom.

The unity achieved by the unions instantly conferred enormous power on them, but also made them to be highly respected. They were feared equally by their adversaries, because the unity made them indivisible. In addition, the cherished unity oiled the workers machine’s fighting capacity and sooner than later, tangible results percolated ubiquitously.

Permit me at this stage to proceed and briefly enumerate some of these Comrade Paschal Bafyau’s notable and epochal labour achievements.

For convenience of exposition, these are:

* Raising the National Minimum Wage for the Nigerian workers by 100%.

* Elongation of Salary Scale for all categories of workers.

* 50% Salary Increase across board.

* Successfully negotiated the revision of gratuity qualifying period from 10 to 5 years; pension from 15 to 10 years. More importantly, gratuity and pension to be calculated on the basis of total emoluments instead of on the basis of basic salary of workers as was the common practice hitherto.

* Introduction of Transport Allowance, Meal Subsidy, House Rent, Leave Grant to all categories of workers.

* Revision of Nigerian Workers Compensation Act.

* Abolition of National Provident Fund (NPF) and the introduction of National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), whose benefits encompassed the private sector workers.

* He also established the now defunct LACON Bank for labour.

* He spearheaded the formation of the second Labour Party in 1989, as a popular party of the workers, sponsored by the workers and established for the workers.

* He founded the Labour Mirror Publishing Company, publishers of The Weekly Labour Champion Newspaper, in Lagos.

• He successfully launched the workers Education Endowment Fund (EEF) so as to continually support the education and training of workers in the rubrics of trade unionism and labour enlightenment, generally.

* Using his Board membership of the newly incorporated Urban Development Bank of Nigeria to the full advantage of the workers, he agitated and eventually triumphed in establishing a successful NLC’s wholly owned Transport Company- The Labour Transport Services Ltd, for the Nigerian workers.

* He crowned his legacy by building a 12-storey edifice as labour secretariat in Abuja, that today houses the NLC, which also subsequently was posthumously but rightly renamed Comrade Paschal Bafyau’s House, by the popular decision of Nigerian workers.

For a national leader with such a remarkable labour pedigree, it is inexplicable to comprehend the fact that he lived and died without building or owning any house for himself. The small family he left behind, are today living in a very modest rented house in Abuja, where they now continue to draw inexhaustible inspiration from the good name and exemplary life he happily and contentedly chose to live.

In this wise, he simply followed the well known labour tradition.

Indeed, during one of the many private discussions this writer was privileged to have with him, he, as if in a premonition, dwelt at length on this seemingly innocuous issue.

Throughout our memorable discussion, he categorically held the firm view, that, any labour leader that had served Nigerian workers meritoriously, upon his/her demise, the workers shall unfailingly in turn, appreciate, reward and shower such a leader and his/her families with basic necessities of life, including provisions of decent accommodation, where the need for such arises. To buttress his strongly held position on this, he quickly went down memory lane to narrate the well known case of Comrade Michael Imoudu, the intrepid Nigeria’s labour leader number one, whose house was built by the Railways workers union in full appreciation of his selfless service to the beloved nation.

It was not only in the sphere of trade unionism, important as that one really is, that Comrade Paschal Bafyau had stamped his indelible imprimatur. In the domain of labour and politics, Comrade Paschal was a giant in the mould of a colossus.

Although from its humble beginnings a decade earlier, the NLC had always operated on a clear and laid down leftwing leaning policies and principles, it became quite obvious, that the main preoccupation of its pioneering president, the highly respected charismatic Comrade Hassan Adebayo Sunmonu and his ebullient team, was justifiably evident in their undivided and focused concentration on laying the young, dynamic but delicate workers’ organization on a very strong, solid and democratic foundation.

Comrade Paschal himself never merely happened upon leadership role. He was cut out for it, because very early in life, he sought education to build his capacity. And so, from 1954 to 1965, the young Paschal completed his primary and post-primary schooling. For his professional grounding both in Nigeria and abroad, that took him to the Netherlands, US, Germany, China, Britain, Belgium, etc., with an array of certificates and diplomas to show for.

The essential foundational commitment to remake the labour movement clearly came from this deep background. And he therefore, resolutely upheld it all through his time in the movement. But Comrade Sunmonu as noted above had earlier laid the solid ground to build upon throughout his tenure and it cascaded down to Comrade Ali Chiroma, the soft spoken but none nonsense labour leader of impeccable integrity and fertile felicity, who took over from Comrade H. A. Sunmonu as president of the NLC in 1984.

The period of prolonged interlude which followed the cruel termination of Comrade Ali Chiroma’s turbulent tenure, in Benin City in 1988, by the highly detested Babangida military junta, was actually a rare opportunity and good time for sober and deep reflections by all true labour leaders and Nigerian activists of democratic and civil society persuasions.

Upon coming to power as the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress after due reflections on the historical vicissitudes that engulfed the trade union movement, Comrade Paschal Bafyau confided in those close to him that the three identified endemic weaknesses bedeviling the labour movement must be comprehensively and speedily tackled. He quickly beckoned on his trusted lieutenants to roll up their sleeves and selflessly devote their talents, energy and resources to transform the NLC from its decrepit condition into a financially buoyant, politically powerful and organizationally strong working class popular democratic platform.

To bring the point home to his colleagues, Comrade Paschal Bafyau adumbrated by citing the example of the protracted labour strikes carried out by the Miners Unions, who were ably led by the legendary Labour leader, Arthur Scargil, in the U.K. under the conservative and notoriously anti labour, Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady.

He highlighted the financial strength of the Miners Union in the U.K., which could afford to pay all its striking members some reasonable allowances to motivate them to stay resolute and implacably sustain the very difficult and yet consciously embarked upon industrial actions for a long duration, if needs be. This of course, was in contradistinction with the real and commonly known financial insolvency in which the Nigerian trade unions and their umbrella organization the NLC, have regrettably been condemned to wallow in, for a long time.

To overcome this predicament, Comrade Paschal became an open advocate of diversification of sources of unions income and prudent investments of workers’ funds, with a view to readily and quickly achieving the long term dreams and cherished goals of financial solvency and independence, for the benefit of the entire labour movement.

It could be seen from the foregoing, that, for the majority of the labour leaders, the time they devoted in tossing ideas on the way forward for the trade unions and other social groups in society, was lastly beginning to bear sweet fruits.

As the molten magma of the workers opposition to prevailing military dictatorship was about to ignite chains of popular nationwide protests demanding for a return to democratic rule, the trade union organizations took advantage of the incipient transitional mood in the country to become overly restive, their political voice which used to be muted now became louder and their class interests more stridently articulated, fearlessly and courageously defended.

The grounds had therefore been well set for the national labour leadership to up its game in the nation’s roaring industrial and power politics.

In footing the bills for this type of historic challenge, Comrade Paschal Bafayau, a politician to the marrow, spontaneously swung into action and motivated the trade unions and their leaders, to quickly embark on a nationwide workers mass mobilization in furtherance of the long awaited collective aspirations of Nigerian workers, towards establishing a strong and formidable political Party of their own.

The palpable political willpower exhibited by the labour leaders and their teeming members, under the able leadership of Comrade Paschal Bafyau, was such that, this obviously hard and seemingly insurmountable political problem, became so easy, and was equally rendered so simple, for them to proudly accomplish and overcome.

In no time, the structures of the newly created workers party sprouted and blossomed with branches opened in the nooks and crannies of our nation.

Union leaders persuaded their members to join the party in great numbers, urged them to register and regularly pay their membership fees and tirelessly contribute generously to enrich the lean coffers of the Party.

The phenomenal growth and sudden rise of the Party was as sensational as it was a national spectacle. Without receiving any financial support from our government, powerful rich individuals, or foreign interests, the determined workers guided by their class instincts and the experience acquired over the years in relentless struggles showed the whole wide world, what could be achieved, when all are for one, and when one, is for all.

The Labour Party that comrade Paschal Bafyau had helped to lay a granite foundation for in 1989, was a workers’ Party full of purpose and intoxicating promises. Regrettably however, these were the two reasons which frightened the then ruling military junta into truncating the life of the Party at its most vibrant political infancy.

Unfortunately for our country, since this outrage and flagrant injustice perpetrated by the outgone military against the workers, all subsequent efforts at Party formation by Nigerian labour leaders and their unions, have been meekly, spinelessly and blindly pursued, totally barren of any purpose and equally contemptuous of all its captivating promises.

Today, it is a sad commentary for us to admit, that the Labour Party that parades itself as a workers Party, is not only a monumental embarrassment to the working class by the way it continues to denigrate the hard earned good image of labour, but it has also unconscionably turned itself into a malevolent political excrescence, which is now hell bent on suppressing this glorious history and moving on to also expunge and erase labour’s unblemished national record of bravado, courage and gallantry.

Comrade Paschal Bafyau, who passed on peacefully at the age of 65, is survived by his loving wife, Mrs. Jessica Paschal Bafyau and four beautiful daughters. May his gentle soul Rest In Peace.

*Comrade Salisu Nuhu Muhammad (salisu_50@yahoo.com) is a former Acting General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).