Embattled leader, Oyelekan, seeks illegal tenure extension after 12 years in office –Onoja, factional NUFBTE president


Factional President, National Union of Food, Beverage, and Tobacco Employees and a former National Signing Trustee, Peter Onoja, gives an insight into the crisis in the union in this interview with ADELANI ADEPEGBA

What led to the crisis in the National Union of Food, Beverage, and Tobacco Employees?

It is about our constitution which did not spell out term limits. Our constitution is silent on that but it makes it mandatory that at every four years, we must have an election. And this is our election year and Mr Lateef Oyelekan, our past president, wants to elongate his tenure by calling for an emergency delegates’ conference and the only agenda is to extend his tenure for two years, not the election.

Some of us feel it is not right as it is a violation of the constitution. Since the constitution says there must be an election, then hold elections. Why do you want to get two years’ extension through the back door when you can get four years through the front door? He claims he has the majority of members with him; let him conduct an election. If he wins, we will support him. But he is seeking an extension after spending 12 years in office. Since last year, he has been manipulating all rules and regulations.

Why do you think he feels he has earned the right to have a third term in office?

Are we saying the President, Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in 2023 could say because the railway project is not completed, he needs an extension? The answer definitely would be no. We asked him to contest and if he wins, we will support him but anything outside that is not possible. We went to court, secured an interlocutory injunction stopping the emergency delegates’ conference and they went ahead to hold the conference at 12am.

After the conference, they said they had suspended certain persons. In the first place, the conference was illegal because the court had already stopped it. Then, (the executives of) about 35 branches met and said we couldn’t continue like this; they passed a vote of no confidence on him. They selected some of us to direct the affairs of the union, while we look forward to the conclusion of the case after which a delegates’ conference would hold in which everybody would participate. If he wins at the conference, we will support him.

Is there any move to hold him responsible for violating the court order?

Yes, of course. The court is on vacation, but our lawyer has filed for contempt of court. The person he (Oyelekan) chose as his secretary was saying they had the support of the Nigeria Labour Congress, but the NLC is not bigger than the court. The court has given an order and even the president should not violate it.

Why would NLC support his move to circumvent the union’s constitution?

Two reasons; he is currently the NLC Vice President and maybe, they don’t want him to be disgraced. Secondly, during the election of the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, we had a faction –we had the United Labour Congress and NLC. Presently, in our union too, we have two presidents. Even in his own union, Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria, there are two factions.

 How many state chapters of NUFBTE are supporting Oyelekan?

We have over 35 branches and it is hard to know this. Until they declare their position, we can’t know.

Before you took the matter to court, what steps did you take to address the crisis?

We had written series of letters to the NLC and the Ministry of Labour and Employment. There is no way you can have a conference and not have representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Employment at the conference. But they didn’t attend the delegates’ conference because there was a court case. They didn’t send a single representative to cover it. The implication of this is that whatever they did there was a nullity, as far as we are concerned. They should come back to join us. If they call for an election today, we will join them in following the due process.

What are your plans and programmes for the future of the union?

We are saying many chapters have not got allocations from January; companies are paying to the national account and they are not remitting the monies. They are killing the branches at the state level. Everyone is a stakeholder; every member of the union is levied N7,000 and today, only his (Oyelekan’s) brothers and friends are working in Food Union Hotel and Suites that belongs to the NUFBTE located along Akute Road, Ogun. The hotel has been operating for eight years; ask him (Oyelekan) about the profit we have made from that place. We have written so many petitions against him and I believe very soon, the relevant authorities will address the issues. We have facts and we are going to take him up when we are called to testify. I took over in December 2015 as National Signing Trustee and from December 2015 to August 2017, I did not sign a single cheque, yet money was being withdrawn from the union’s bank accounts. The law says that immediately you take over as signing trustee, the signatory to the bank account should be changed, but this wasn’t done.

Are you saying some people have appropriated the venture for themselves?

Yes, of course and none of us knows how the hotel is being run. We have never met the board members of the hotel.

We have a state treasurer, Mr Abiodun, who was sacked because he didn’t support Oyelekan. If it wasn’t that the management of Seven-Up Bottling Company Plc didn’t buy into the idea, they wanted to have me sacked by my employers.

What allegations did he raise against you?

What he normally does is to bring an issue to your company management and they would sacrifice you in order to negotiate that issue.

Are you satisfied with the roles being played by the Ministry of Labour and Employment in resolving the crisis?

To be fair to them, they have not done badly. They didn’t attend the delegates’ conference in obedience to the court order. We have met with them and they have advised us. We will continue to talk until the whole world hears us; Nigerians will hear us. It is not about us, it is about the constitution and the country.

Can this issue be resolved outside the court?

Yes, if the right thing is done; if the constitution is followed. Nobody is saying that we must be there and I didn’t say Oyelekan didn’t do well. He has done well, but he should obey the constitution that brought him to power. We had a similar issue in 2005/06 when the then president wanted to elongate his tenure. The likes of Oyelekan stood against it and mobilised people to kick against it. We had two presidents like we have today. Oyelekan was running the union from the Singapore Hotel at Ogba, Lagos, while Chief John Onyenemere was running the union from the secretariat with the then General Secretary, Otunba Kazeem, before the former NLC President, Abdulwaheed Omar, warned them and fixed a date for election in Nasarawa State. That was where Oyelekan emerged as president. So, he cannot run away from the process that brought him into power. When they say power intoxicates; this is it because this is not the Oyelekan we used to know.

Will you be making moves to amend the constitution in order to address the term limit issue?

Yes, of course; we agreed that it should be two terms. It wasn’t the term that was causing issues. If he (Oyelekan) contests election today and wins, nobody will complain, but he is saying no election. You can’t say there will be no election and that you just want tenure extension. Our constitution does not recognise that; it says you must hold an election every four years. If he claims to have the majority of members on his side, why is he afraid to run for election?


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