Comrade Oniha Erazua ODIGIE is not new to issue that has to do with activisim or unionism as the case maybe. And like Brian Tracy, he know from the beginning that he was born to be an activist and he started early in life. He was focus and flexible about his goal in life.
In this interview with the Editor of News Emperor, Ambrose Okehi, the eloquent unionist spoke of his early days of activisim in the University and noted that activisim and unionism are two words that works paripasuits.
Q: Tell us about your background?
And: My left leg is from Cross Rivers State and my right leg is from Edo State.
Q: Are by that saying that your parents are from both States?
Ans: Yes, my mother is from Cross Rivers State and my father is from Edo State. I had my primary and education here in Lagos State and secondary education in Ekpoma, Benin, Edo State. My degrees is in Zoology and Masters degree in phychology and environmental Biology. I based in Ibadan. All my through school days, I have always believed that the truth should be told as it should be. And because of that I have always been involved in activism and even in school when I was in my first degree, I ended up being the President of Zoological Students Association of Nigeria. Haven left school and while I was in the University of Ibadan, I was and authored member of Nigerian Association of Autors. I am also a member of the Pen and Writers. I am also member of Keep the Earth Green Movement. I have been with a lot of prominent Nigerians who are basically in activisim. Because we don’t take it lightly tramping upon the rights of others. So all my life, all my life, all my life even up till now, my job has been basically activism. So it was a natural calling when I graduated from the University of Ibadan after my Masters degree to apply… In fact, I was actually recommended by the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC through my late friend Comrade Olayiton Oyirinde of the blessed memory, who we worked together with at the Centre of …Workers’ Right before he became the Deputy General Secretary for Indigenous Ship Owners Association of Nigeria, ISAN. Later to Senior Staff Association from where he moved on and the rest is history. He later joined NLC and later moved on with Adams Ohoshomole and became his Chief Press Secretary, CPS. But unfortunately, he was killed, I think. He was the one that recommended me then to the then President of the then MWUN, Comrade Peters Onikolase Irabo. And that was how life began and since then I have been with the MWUN, thank you.
Q: Yes, Haven told who you are and how you started and even ventured into activisim, how would you describe activisim?
Ans: Activisim is life… It is live and let live. To me, activism is go ing to every individual not about a community. At the family level, it is almost impossible to divide everything equally or equitably.
The four proms of activisim are Justice, Equity, Fairness and Truth, that is truthfulness.
So, once these four prongs are within the certain process and fairly enough things are fairly and equitably distributed and people tend to have a sense of balance, a sense of belonging, a sense of want of fulfilment of needs. So activisim for me is not just a calling, but a need to defend what is right, what is just and what is equitable.
Q: Looking at activisim and unionism, what would you say is their relationship in terms of their relationship with management and staff welfare?
Ans: Well, you cannot really cut out activisim from Unionism. They are intertwined. They go paripasuit. It is a tin line that separate s it, either from the point of law or from the point of practice. But for me, both are intertwined, because they both come out to fight for the same thing. It would not be surprise if I say Unionism is a management tricks and tactis. No management plays with this. Every manager controls capital and wants to control capital. So his interest basically is in the control of capital and to maximize profit. And to maximize profit. He brings all kinds of methods to under mind the rights of the workers and the equity of his employees. He will cut all kinds of corners. So they see the union or workers representatives as antagonistic to their desire to maximize profits. But fortunately they don’t understand that as unionist, we are interested in that, that as capital provider, you make profit. But while making your profit you should not undermined the welfare and rights of your workers and employees. Do there have to be an equiable balance.
Q: If you are in the position to advise management in terms of employees welfare, maximizing profits and bringing balance both, what would be your advice?
Ans: Ah! Social dialogue. We call it social dialogue. Social dialogue is not just open ended affairs. They are partners in moving this industries forward. Whether it is maritime, whether it construction, whether it is aviation. All the subsectors and f of the economy where we have union movement. They partner with whosoever controls capital in those subsectors. Because if you do not partner and there is a total breakdown of laws and order, there is on one person you can talk to, there is no Workers’ representative you can talk to. That is why we welcome the intervention of government in 1978 when there was so many fragmented unions in Nigeria and centres were different … And at a point government discovered that they were talking to multiple forms. And no particular person to hold on to and say, okay, you control this sector. So my advice to managements is that they should partner with the unions. They should not see unions as enemies, no. They are partners in progress. The instrument we use is strike when we have recansitrant, obsenate managers. But we have managers that are workers friendly, they have fairness, they have Justice. We meet at the table, because we have an instrument they call collective bargaining. It is a give and take issue. No unionist wants his members’ company to die, no unionist wants his members’ company to die. It is our interest that the company makes gain and the workers make a living. No unionist will want to run his employee’s company aground. And that was why when the need for redundancy comes up, we negotiate redundancy agreement with the company or management depending on our understanding with who is on ground as at the time of negotiation. My advice is, for us to move together, move profitably and for our mutual benefits, management will always engage the union.
Q: Let’s talk the welfare of the workers (unionists). How do you see that when you talk about union and employees’ welfare?
Ans: The welfare of the employee (our members) is the major reason for existence of the union in the first place. For example, our union, MWUN supposed to be a federation not s union. I said it supposed to be a federation not a union because it is an umbrella body of four autonomous unions. We came together in sometime in 1996 to agree to amalgamate together.
Q: Who are those that made up the four unions?
And: The four autonomous unions are the Dockworkers Union of Nigeria, the Nigerian Ports Authority Workersy Union of Nigeria, the Seamen Transport Union Workers of Nigeria, and Shoppers and Clearing and Forwarders Workers’ Union of Nigeria. They have their presidents, they are there.
Q: What about the Senior Staff Association .. , Where did they fall in?
Ans: Sir, senior staff belongs to senior staff. You know in 1978 law, though we don’t agree with that to an extent, it segmented the workforce into senior staff and junior cadre, and that created a jurisdiction between the senior and junior staff. They are made up of top management staff, supervisors and other management staff. They use civil service factors or indices. From level seven to one is junior staff and from level eight upwards is senior staff. So it has always been there. But the welfare of our members is paramount. For example, I will talk about our Union, the MWUN. WE have what we call Stevedoring companies specifically for Dockworkers for example. And for the Stevedoring companies, we have ENL, PTNO, we have CTIT, we have Josedam, Pakarica, BUA etc. The are many providing Stevedoring services to shipping companies and the maritime can sector. So ENL’s style is different from Siffax style likewise others. So every management comes uniquely with its own character. So, it is our duty as workers representatives to adopt and involve these characters in accordance with what is on ground. So members welfare is paramount and core to us.
W: The maritime industry is said to be the gateway to the nation’s economy. How would you describe that and again, are we really maximizing the opportunities in this sector for the good of the Nigerian economy and it’s development as dupposex?
Ans: That is very obvious. E en statistics says it. Though we don’t have records and statistics. I don’t know how they are getting their own records but my own record. It on record that 98% of good that are imported into this country, comes through the season, I am being modest here. In those days of tallying. 98% of materials (goods) that come into this country, come through the sea. Please, don’t let’s forget that we run an export import based economy. Our economy is there in sliding, I am not going into that as a matter of fact. Leave that for experts I am not an expert. If we have an undusrialized economy and a government that listened to the thinking and yearnings of it’s populace, this matters will not arise. But back to the question that you have asked me, correctly and precisely described as the gateway to the nation’s economy. It is the slogan of the Nigerian Ports Authority and because we work in that sector, we know how important it is. During the Covid – 29, International Maritime Organization gave special recognition to the maritime sector because they rendere essential services. Because of the Covid – 19 we wouldn’t have access to the ports but because we play very important role in the world economy and this country and therefore the government should take us serious. Thank you.
Q: On the final note do you have anything you wants to say to our readers?
And: Our readers? Our readers I commend you for your support for News Emperor Magazine this long and your support for the maritime industry also continue to read and support the magazine. Reading is almost a dying culture in part of the world. Therefore, I reurged our readers to … the reading culture back into their lives. Social media, while Being very good is killing idea, concept and culture of reading pa say. And that concept of reading needs to be awaken. Readership and the reading public, I want to encourage you to read and read and read so as to get more enlightened, thank you.
Q: I over heard you mentioned that you were once or you are still a member of Pen Writers Association. Please can you expantiate on that sir? And again you are sound and prolific, have you any published book to your credit?
Ans: Yes, I am a published point. My first collection of peom, though not an anthology of myself alone, was published in 1988 and it was edited by Prof. Woke Soyinka. And other set of proms were edited by Prof. Nduka Otionu. All the likes of Obagaefe Udo and all my contemporaries then, we were all say together as members of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA. So, I am an author and a published point but unfortunately, activisim has taken over.
Q: Can’t you go back to writing?
Ans: I still write but not in that stage as I used to write before activisim took over or as I will describe myself as a writer. Thank you very much.