By Comrade Salisu Muhammad
Nearly three years ago, when the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Nigeria’s most preeminent labour centre, was celebrating the 40th anniversary of its founding, Comrade Steven Faulkner whose personality is at the heart of this brief write up, was indeed among the few illustrious labour leaders that the Congress found worthy of recognition. He was among those also conferred and decorated with the labour medals of honor for their outstanding sacrifices, dedication and selfless service to the total development, general growth and overall advancement of the trade union movement in Nigeria. That memorable occasion, was also a momentous opportunity for the rare but highly cherished reunion of the ever dwindling ranks of the labour veterans.
For some of us who today count ourselves as exceptionally privileged to be alive and who also enthusiastically participated in the historic activities marking the labour event, we instinctively and unhesitatingly always rated and readily considered the unfading reminiscence of the good times we had spent working together with the ever jovial and highly esteemed comrade Steven Faulkner, the then globetrotting and tireless overseas education officer of the London based Commonwealth Trades Union Council (CTUC). That is as intrinsically one of the most impactful and indeed truly unforgettable years of our active labour unionism. The umbilical cord of these quantum leaps in the NLC-CTUC relations which reached its zenith during the tenure of Comrade Steven Faulkner, is actually traceable to the well known visionary leadership of the former president of Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Ali Chiroma, who ably used the opportunity afforded him by his participation, about 35 years ago, in the Conference of the Commonwealth Heads of State, held in Canada, to loudly and passionately launch an appeal for assistance towards alleviating the then acute educational and training needs of the suffering Nigerian workers.
His powerful speech at this venerable platform was received with rapt attention. The sympathetic picture he painted about the lamentable conditions of workers in Nigeria, moved the entire Conference to unanimously endorse the genuine appeal placed before it. The rapid deployment of comrade Steven Faulkner to Nigeria by the CTUC shortly after the Conference closing was a tangible expression of the organization’s determination to give effect to this long standing workers’ aspirations.
It is the good fortune of the NLC, that, perhaps by sheer coincidence, comrade Steven Faulkner was both by nature and nurture a very amiable, easygoing but deadly efficient young officer. So, within a remarkably brief period of time, his overly humane disposition, comradely mien and businesslike orientation clearly endeared him to both the leadership, the rank and file members of the many industrial unions under the canopy of the Congress.
With his restless mind fully focused on urgently revitalizing the capabilities of the Congress, particularly in the realms of educational and training empowerment, Comrade Faulkner swung into palpable action with a very down to earth, realistic and highly generous assessments of the technical, human resource and financial grants that would be required in order to bring the already comatose Education Department of the NLC up to speed, even if it were only to meet the levels already attained by its contemporary African peers.
For some of us who witnessed it real time, it was a pleasant spectacle to behold at the national headquarters of the Congress the first batch of the technical support, made up of some assorted hardware, such as Dest top Computers, Printers, Intercoms, and other office gadgets, which were being swiftly dispatched from London by Comrade Steven Faulkner, on the day they arrived at the Olajuwon Secretariat of the NLC, in Lagos. On that day, the general atmosphere within the precinct of Yaba Quarters became instantly electrified by the jubilation that greeted the entry of the technical consignment into the famous building that housed IMOUDU Hall.
The timely retooling of the Education Department was made complete by the recruitment of Comrade John Ejoha Odah to the headship of that strategic department. Odah had, by all accounts, shown himself to be yet another brilliant young intellectual of good character and impeccable pedigree. The duo of comrades Steven Faulkner and John Odah commenced work and blended effortlessly. The two prodigious gentlemen working together, speedily and amazingly, produced a very tastefully relevant and comprehensive training manual which roundly enjoyed the stamping approval of the National Executive Committee (NEC), the highest decision making organ in between the Congress-in-Session.
The Dawn of “Active Learning Method”
From inception, it was made very clear that workers’ education must be anchored on the time tested philosophy of “to teach is to learn.” Against the background of acute shortage of manpower, more so in the area of train-the-trainer specialization, it became imperative to look inward with a view to assuaging this daunting challenge. The introduction of this seemingly new teaching method surprisingly didn’t encounter any serious resistance from workers and trade union leaders. On the contrary, the teaching novelty was welcomed and ecstatically embraced by a size able section of trainees and trainers alike.
In no time, therefore, a pool of precious manpower was raised in-house and soon enough, the newly revamped Education Department of Congress became a real beehive of learning activities organizing workers’ classes nationwide to the envy of some worker educators in the neighboring sister African nations. More pointedly, special efforts were consciously made to prioritize the training and mobilization of women workers in all the productive sectors of the nation’s fledgling economy through the activation of the moribund women’s wing of the Nigerian trade union Movement and all round cooperation with some notable pro-labour and gender based civil society organizations.
Today, as we join this wonderful celebrant in the colorful 70th jubilee anniversary, we would like to share with him and his good family, our deep sense of gratitude for the huge debts we owed them, which in all honesty, cannot be repaid even by the quantum of nostalgia we more often than not manifest in the phenomenal growth registered over the years by the affiliate industrial unions and also as evidenced in the astonishing number of the highly trained cadres of labour educators who are now spread widely all over the length and breadth of the entire Movement. We are also intimately aware that half of the 70 years which constitute your entire life, had already been selflessly devoted to promoting and achieving our collective labour ideals. But, we are only reassured by the strong bond of labour solidarity whose dimensions are boundless, whose kinetic energies are inexhaustible, whose powers are unassailable, whose magnetic spirit are irresistible that your examples shall continue to inspire present and future generations of trade unionists in Africa and the world over.
It remains for me at this stage to reaffirm my unflinching solidarity and also join the legion of your well wishers to convey my fervent prayers for good health, long life and labour victories in the years ahead. Happy birthday to you!
Comrade Mohammed, the author, was for years, the Head of Information and Public Relations of the NLC and he is accessible via firstname.lastname@example.org