NLC CRISIS: ODAH INSISTS ON FAIR HEARING
The last may not have been heard about the crisis which trailed the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Delegate Conference in March, as the embattled sacked General Secretary, Comrade John Odah, has insisted that he must be given fair hearing before accepting his termination.
Odah who was in Lagos recently to have a parley with journalists said he would have accepted the termination in good faith, but for the fact that due process was never followed by the National Administrative Council (NAC) of the congress who masterminded his termination.
The General Secretary who joined the NLC in 1987 believed that he would be setting a bad precedent as well as sending a conflicting signal on the position of labour as relates to employment if he fails to challenge the unfair treatment meted to him by the leadership of the congress.
In a memo which he wrote on his termination and addressed to the NLC National Executive Council (NEC) for redress, Comrade Odah dutifully chronicled the episodes that led to the final onslaught and termination with a view for the NEC to do the right thing.
'As a labour centre/movement whose primary job is defence of the rights of workers, we cannot be seen, whether privately or in the eyes of the public, to dispense so brazenly and crudely with the services of any officer of the NLC. This applies even more so when that officer is the General Secretary of the NLC.
'If your action which breaches the elementary rules of 'due process' and 'right to fair hearing' is sustained and allowed to stand, it will become impossible for the NLC, any workers' organisation, and indeed any worker in Nigeria to respond when our class opponents in the form of various employers - either private or public unilaterally and crudely dispense with the services of workers in their employment,' he said.
Odah who said he joined NLC as a fresh graduate with 2.1, explained that he took the NLC job not because there was no alternative judging by his result, but because he believed in the ideology of the trade union movement.
'I didn't come to the NLC to betray the organisation or make money, I came for a cause, to advance the ideals of the congress because I share in these idealism. My colleagues in the congress could attempt to ease me out of NLC, but they have no right without following due process,' he maintained.
In a letter he wrote the NLC president, Comrade Abdulwahed Omar, after his purported termination on May 24, had expressed how shocked and utterly dismayed he felt that the NEC of NLC could take a decision which totally undermines and violates everything that the NLC and indeed labour movement stand for.
He stated that in the struggle of the congress through the years as the defender of the rights and interests of workers, the NLC has consistently fought, especially in the case of unjust termination of workers, for the right of employees to fair hearing and due process.
In his words: 'The NLC has always presumed such workers innocent until proven guilty. The right to fair hearing as a cardinal principle of justice is now firmly established in the Nigerian Constitution. Our NLC has used this principle as a major point of advocacy in the struggle to defend the rights and interests of its members.
'It is therefore only in a world-turned-upside-down that the NLC can now proceed to deal summarily with its own employees in utter violation and disregard of the very principles that it has sought to apply and teach to employers of labour, including government in Nigeria.' The labour leader lamented further that his insistence on fair hearing was also borne on the fact that he was never accused of any misconduct for which his appointment was terminated, except for the leave saga, which had since been disposed of, and the NLC president insistence that his NAC could not work with him.
Comrade Odah added that even if it should have been assumed that any accusations were made, there was still need for him to give his defence in the spirit of fair hearing. Odah explained that it was a real painful decision and process for him to take up the battle of emancipation, but he stressed that he had no choice than to do it.
'Trade unionism is about fighting for the rights of workers. If I have spent 24 years of my life enforcing this, it will be difficult in future to explain to my children if I fail to fight this injustice. It will be a bad precedent,' he said. Maintaining that the termination was not only unjust and mean and most certainly violates all known norms of decency, justice and fairness, Odah implored the NLC NEC to address the injustice, promising that he would accept whatever verdict from NEC after fair hearing.
Though the General Secretary said he was still consulting on the option of seeking legal redress, this, he said, might be the last option as he was still optimistic that NLC NEC will revert the decision without recourse to court. Still on the damage the termination has done: 'It is aimed at destroying my career, destroying my record of great service to the workers and people of this country. It is also calculated to portray me in a very bad light before various publics, including international friends of the NLC with whom we have forged ever closer relationships over the years.'
The labour leader charged the NLC NEC to do what is right by reposing the confidence the Nigerian workers and publics have in the congress, vowing that he would not relent to champion the ideals that made the NLC the champion of the rights of workers and all oppressed people in Nigeria.