Rem­i­nis­cences with Com­rade Ali Chi­roma

Com­rade Ali Chi­roma led the Nige­ria Labour Congress (NLC) at a very try­ing pe­riod in Nige­ria’s his­tory when the mil­i­tary was in power. He re­calls his ear­lier con­fronta­tions with those in gov­ern­ment at the time, the per­sonal in­con­ve­niences he suf­fered as a

Sunday Trust - - FRONT PAGE - From An­drew Agbese, Maryam Ah­maduSuka & Haf­sat Mustapha, Kaduna

The his­tory of labour union in Nige­ria will not be com­plete with­out your name, how did you get into union­ism?

I will say partly by ac­ci­dent; when I left school and ap­plied to go for train­ing in the med­i­cal field, the school was in Makurdi, Benue State. So when I went there I met three of my mates in the Mid­dle School.

We used to be to­gether and one evening, they said they were go­ing for a meet­ing and I asked for the na­ture of the meet­ing and they said some­thing like a union. In my for­mer school we didn’t know much about union but I in­sisted to know what union is and they told me that it was our se­niors who were in the field that formed it for the work­ers. That it was the branch of that union that was in the school. Later I heard them com­plain­ing about the meet­ing so I asked them why were they com­plain­ing about some­thing they joined vol­un­tar­ily.

So, I asked if they will take me with them and they said, ‘no prob­lem’. I went with them to the meet­ing and saw how they were con­duct­ing them­selves. I im­me­di­ately de­vel­oped in­ter­est in be­long­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tion and I was en­listed in 1950.

How then did you get to be­come the NLC pres­i­dent?

That is a long story be­cause though I started union­ism in 1950, I be­came the NLC pres­i­dent only in 1984, about 34 years af­ter. So, it’s been long.

In 1977 or so, when Obasanjo was the mil­i­tary head of state, he re­al­ized there were over 1000 house and trade unions in the coun­try, be­cause any or­ga­ni­za­tion with 20 staff and above could form a union.

There were also about more than four labour cen­ters. So Obasanjo, in his wis­dom at that time, felt there were too many small unions all over the place and we were not ef­fec­tively serv­ing the in­ter­est of Nige­rian work­ers. That was what he said he felt and so he de­cided to dis­solve all the 1000 unions and four labour cen­ters and ap­point a com­mit­tee to re­struc­ture the trade union move­ment.

That com­mit­tee came out with its rec­om­men­da­tion, re­duc­ing the num­ber of unions to 42 in­dus­trial unions, such that unions were based on in­dus­tries, health, ed­u­ca­tion and so on. But for­merly, unions were based on just em­ploy­ees. Also, the com­mit­tee rec­om­mended that there should be em­ploy­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tions and there were about 19 se­nior staff as­so­ci­a­tions, though this was a contradiction be­cause in in­dus­trial union you find both se­nior and ju­nior Staff in one union.

But some­how in the pri­vate sec­tor, they sep­a­rated the ju­nior from the se­nior work­ers. Then, about 11 unions from my group were joined to­gether to make one Med­i­cal and Health Work­ers Union.

Med­i­cal and Health Work­ers Union was one of the first 42 in­dus­trial unions and at the same time all th­ese in­dus­trial unions were united to form one labour cen­tre which was the Nige­ria Labour Congress .

Af­ter get­ting the 42 in­dus­trial unions, they went round the states to form state coun­cils of the NLC.

They came to Maiduguri and formed one and I be­came the first chair­man of the NLC in Borno in the North-East. That was how I first joined the lead­er­ship of NLC and con­tin­ued as the chair­man of the state coun­cil till 1981 congress in Kano when I was elected first deputy pres­i­dent of the now na­tional NLC in the cen­tre.

I was there till an­other con­fer­ence came in 1984 be­cause congress was af­ter 3 years at that time, so we met in Enugu where about three of us con­tested for the Na­tional Pres­i­dent of NLC and I won the elec­tion. That was how I be­came the NLC pres­i­dent.

You led a protest over the killing of some stu­dents of the ABU when you were the NLC pres­i­dent. What ac­tu­ally hap­pened?

What ac­tu­ally hap­pened then was that there was a se­ri­ous demon­stra­tion at the ABU and se­cu­rity agen­cies were called in and they went and shot some stu­dents, about seven of them.

The NLC felt very bad and is­sued a state­ment con­demn­ing what hap­pened. Un­for­tu­nately, the min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion, while re­spond­ing, said only four stu­dents were killed. That com­ment fur­ther in­fu­ri­ated the work­ers.

So, at an emer­gency cen­tral com­mit­tee meet­ing of the NLC, I was at Geneva at­tend­ing the an­nual ILO con­fer­ence, our cen­tral work­ing com­mit­tee de­cided to demon­strate by march­ing from the NLC sec­re­tariat to Do­dan Bar­racks in La­gos.

I was con­tacted im­me­di­ately the de­ci­sion was taken and that there was go­ing to be a demon­stra­tion for four days. I took an ex­cuse from the ILO and re­turned home to lead the protest.

On the eve of the protest the gov­ern­ment and the se­cu­rity agen­cies kept call­ing me to stop the demon­stra­tion, I said ‘no be­cause the cen­tral work­ing com­mit­tee took the de­ci­sion and I can’t uni­lat­er­ally stop it, it must go on’.

When the se­cu­rity peo­ple found out we were not go­ing to pull out from the protest, at mid­night they be­gan go­ing from house to house pick­ing labour lead­ers.

They picked about 11 of us. That was how that demon­stra­tion was aborted. We were held for some weeks be­fore we were re­leased.

I think it was in 1987 dur­ing Gen­eral Ba­bangida’s regime.

You led an­other protest when the IBB ad­min­is­tra­tion tried to re­move sub­sidy on petroleum prod­ucts….

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion was not good at the time. I was not told un­til I re­turned to La­gos. At the air­port, my driver told me that the com­rades have been picked by the SSS. I asked when and they said about two days ago. We came back home and I kept my lug­gage and ar­ranged an­other one. I took my driver down to the SSS of­fice

Yes, about a year later again there was an­other in­ci­dent about this IMF thing which asked our gov­ern­ment to de­value the naira. Apart from that, there was also the is­sue of sub­sidy with­drawal. The gov­ern­ment said they were sub­si­diz­ing petrol and Pres­i­dent Ba­bangida in­creased the prices of petrol.

That one too work­ers felt it was go­ing to af­fect their well-be­ing be­cause they had to go to their work places by trans­port, es­pe­cially La­gos State work­ers who were far away from their work places.

Trans­port is very es­sen­tial so labour felt we will not al­low that petrol price in­crease. So we started sen­si­tiz­ing Nige­ri­ans on the dan­gers of al­low­ing the petroleum price in­crease.

We in­tro­duced some hand­bills and posters to sen­si­tize Nige­ri­ans. Some of those posters the gov­ern­ment felt were with a of­fen­sive, es­pe­cially the one a snake putting on a mil­i­tary cap and with some­body close by hold­ing a stick, say­ing ‘kill him, he is dan­ger­ous!’

Then I was in Maiduguri for a week­end and they went to the (NLC) sec­re­tariat and picked Dr. Osunde who was my Gen­eral Sec­re­tary and my Trea­surer and the act­ing Gen­eral Sec­re­tary.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion was not good at the time. I was not told un­til I re­turned to La­gos. At the air­port, my driver told me that the com­rades have been picked by the SSS.

I asked when and they said about two days ago. We came back home and I kept my lug­gage and ar­ranged an­other one. I took my driver down to the SSS of­fice.

At the re­cep­tion, I told them three of my com­rades were ar­rested and I would like to see them. They asked me to sit and went in­side to in­form the di­rec­tor. They came back and in­vited me in­side. They took me to an of­fice and kept me there. There was no­body in the room. Later some of them came and said they wanted to take my state­ment.

I asked which state­ment be­cause as far as I was con­cerned I didn’t do any­thing. I told them I needed to know my charges be­fore I could write a state­ment.

The usual thing when they de­tain you is they will want a state­ment by giv­ing you a form to fill. So that was what they wanted to do. So I said, ‘no I’m not go­ing to write any state­ment un­til you al­low me to call my lawyer’.

They did all they could to make me agree but I re­fused. So they left. We did that for about two to three days and I kept telling them I would not speak un­til I get a lawyer. They left me alone by not tak­ing me to where my three col­leagues were. My col­leagues were held in dif­fer­ent sec­tion.

I was there for an­other two weeks or so and on their own they de­cided to re­lease us. That was my sec­ond de­ten­tion.

Were you tor­tured dur­ing your de­ten­tion?

No I was not, ex­cept maybe psy­cho­log­i­cally; I was held in­com­mu­ni­cado; I was not get­ting news­pa­pers, didn’t have ra­dio and tele­vi­sion and was also not fed well.

I must be frank with you that I was not

fed well be­cause when I came, a lady caterer came and said I should tell her what­ever food I wanted to eat. I de­clined and told her: ‘I’m in de­ten­tion so I will not tell you what to eat be­cause the place is not my house, just pro­vide any­thing and I will eat’.

They were buy­ing food from the road­side and giv­ing me. Hon­estly, it was not a good food but it doesn’t bother me that much. Ex­cept for that there was no tor­ture.

How did your fam­ily take your be­ing in de­ten­tion, were they wor­ried?

My fam­ily was in Maiduguri all th­ese while. But the sec­ond time I was de­tained my first wife came to visit me… (Sobs for min­utes) I was in de­ten­tion when I was told that some­body wanted to see me so when I came out I was sur­prised to see her. I asked her not to come; I told her it was none of her busi­ness so I went back in­side. Af­ter I went back the peo­ple came to talk to me to go and talk to my wife. That it was not like she came to beg them. She was very stub­born, just like me. She was strong. She kept telling them that I am not a sabo­teur; she said rather it was the peo­ple in gov­ern­ment that were saboteurs. But my fam­ily was in Maiduguri all the while.

You tried to re-con­test for a sec­ond term and the mil­i­tary al­legedly stopped you. Why?

Yes it is usual in the NLC, peo­ple al­ways con­test. Shar­man, the pres­i­dent of elec­tric­ity work­ers wanted to con­test but by that time we were sharply di­vided into ‘The Pro­gres­sives’ and ‘The Democrats.’ But some­how we were al­ways in the ma­jor­ity. Be­fore we went to the con­fer­ence, Shar­man came and said he was go­ing to con­test, he is­sued his nom­i­na­tion, but the rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the NLC con­fer­ence de­pends on the pay­ments. Unions are given del­e­ga­tion ac­cord­ing to their pay­ments such that the more you pay to the NLC, the more you get del­e­gates. But they were not pay­ing, so the gov­ern­ment gave them money to come and pay en bloc, so that the num­ber of their del­e­gates would rise. It wasn’t enough and it was late.

So they said what else could they do. Ini­tially they de­cided to boy­cott the con­fer­ence but later they de­cided against it and said they would con­tinue with their busi­ness. So they de­cided to go and hold a par­al­lel meet­ing in Benin a day or two be­fore our own. They elected Shar­man as the pres­i­dent of the NLC and other of­fi­cers. We came to Benin a day af­ter and to hold a con­fer­ence. So on the morn­ing of the con­fer­ence, be­fore I came out, the gov­er­nor sent a mes­sage that he wanted to see me. I came to the gov­ern­ment house and met the gov­er­nor with some of his cab­i­net mem­bers, the At­tor­ney–Gen­eral and the Min­is­ter of Labour at that time, Abubakar Umar.

I asked what was hap­pen­ing and he said, ‘Chi­roma, the court has given an in­junc­tion that you should not hold the con­fer­ence.’ I told them no court had given such an or­der, but the court had given an in­junc­tion, ask­ing me not to bar the state chair­man. The state chair­man of the congress in Benin was also in the other group, so the court gave an or­der not to stop him. They turned to the state chair­man and said, ‘is that what you asked from the court’? They started ar­gu­ing with him but I said, ‘when I leave you can do what­ever you want but for now it’s too late he has al­ready sought for that’. They said, that in view of the divi­sion, I should not hold the con­fer­ence.

I said, ‘This is not your job Mr. Min­is­ter of La­bor, it’s my con­fer­ence, it’s my unions con­fer­ence’. They were just wast­ing my time go­ing back and forth. I said, ‘you can do any­thing Mr. Min­is­ter but I am go­ing to the con­fer­ence’. We did our open­ing cer­e­mony at the sta­dium, then moved to the con­fer­ence cen­ter where we did ev­ery­thing, peo­ple reg­is­tered, we counted and formed a quo­rum and con­tin­ued with the con­fer­ence busi­ness and I was re-elected the pres­i­dent. That was in Fe­bru­ary 1988.

When we fin­ished we came back to La­gos, but be­fore we ar­rived the gov­ern­ment had al­ready brought po­lice and taken over the NLC sec­re­tariat. When we saw our of­fices taken over by the po­lice we asked, ‘what is hap­pen­ing?’ They said they were or­dered, so I went back to my rest house. Later, I was called by the Gen­eral Sec­tary and told that the gov­ern­ment was go­ing to an­nounce a de­cree ban­ning the NLC be­cause the union which was sup­posed to be help­ing work­ers was di­vided into two ide­o­log­i­cal blocks: one

At that time the per­cep­tion was that the union was a sell­out. I con­sulted with some vet­er­ans some agreed, some dis­agreed. In fact the vet­er­ans were say­ing in­stead of al­low­ing a gov­ern­ment man to be run­ning the union, you bet­ter take it. So that was how I de­cided to ac­cept to be the union’s sole ad­min­is­tra­tor for NUPENG and I went to Uba Ahmed and told him

call­ing them­selves ‘com­mu­nists’ and the other ‘democrats’ and for this rea­son the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment of Ba­bangida had de­creed there should be no NLC.

I didn’t be­lieve, I said, ‘is Ba­bangida that cal­lous? What has he has to do with this union?’ But it turned out to be true as the min­is­ter came and an­nounced that night that the NLC had been dis­solved. That was how the NLC was dis­solved and that was how I was re­moved. The gov­ern­ment ap­pointed an ad­min­is­tra­tor and ran the union like a gov­ern­ment paras­tatal. They did that for about one year. But be­fore then, Ba­bangida was work­ing un­der­ground with the other fac­tion. He was against us, he in­fil­trated my camp and then con­vinced them that if they wanted the NLC back, they should for­get about me, that they should leave me alone and should elect Pas­cal (Bafyau) as their leader. I think Pas­cal was the only con­tes­tant in the con­fer­ence. So that marked my leav­ing the NLC but be­fore then I was in the gov­ern­ing body of the ILO. The gov­ern­ing body is like an ex­ec­u­tive arm of the ILO su­per­vis­ing and look­ing af­ter and ap­prov­ing bud­get be­fore it gets to the Na­tional Assem­bly. About 190 coun­tries are rep­re­sented, so I was in the gov­ern­ing body. I was elected for three years and then re­elected for an­other three years. So l went to the ILO, they said they had no busi­ness with gov­ern­ment and no gov­ern­ment had the right to dis­solve the union or de­clare some­body not a union mem­ber. They asked me to con­tinue with the lead­er­ship of the gov­ern­ing body. The NLC in Nige­ria elected Pas­cal and the trade union at that time was do­ing busi­ness with Ba­bangida. Ba­bangida was bankrolling them. In fact when they got the land where they built the NLC sec­re­tariat in Abuja, the Labour House, Ba­bangida gave them N50 mil­lion to start do­ing some­thing at the place. So the Labour Congress be­came like a gov­ern­ment ally. That was the be­gin­ning of the prob­lem of trade union up till now.

IBB is al­leged to have a way of in­flu­enc­ing those that did not agree with him. Did he ever ap­proach you with an of­fer?

Never ever! Be­cause they knew it couldn’t work with me, they knew me.

When the mil­i­tary ap­pointed a sole ad­min­is­tra­tor for the Nige­ria Labour Congress, what ac­tion did you take, did you go to court?

No, I didn’t go to court my­self, but the union did. We had a meet­ing on the day they dis­solved the union on the way for­ward. I told the mem­bers that this mat­ter is just like some­body who chases your wife; there is noth­ing you can do ex­cept to go and chase his wife too. That is how to bal­ance it. If Ba­bangida dis­solved the NLC, the NLC should show him that work­ers will down tools. Un­for­tu­nately my mem­bers chick­ened out. They said, ‘we can’t go on strike; we have no prob­lem with our em­ploy­ers and we didn’t give them two weeks no­tice’. I said that Ba­bangida didn’t give any­body 2 weeks’ no­tice be­fore tak­ing that ac­tion. I in­sisted we go and do it, just go on strike; no Nige­rian worker should work un­til the NLC is left alone; un­til Chi­roma is left alone. But my peo­ple didn’t ac­cept that, they sug­gested that we should go to court. But I said no we should not go to court be­cause it’s not a court mat­ter. If some­body chases your wife, what are you go­ing to court to do? Be­cause ev­ery­body knows that if the mil­i­tary makes a de­cree there is no court in Nige­ria that will en­ter­tain a case against it. Even the court will tell you, ‘we have no ju­ris­dic­tion, this is a mil­i­tary de­cree’’. We all knew this but they just wanted to pre­tend that we were in court. So I said, ‘I am not go­ing to de­ceive any­body’. So Falana said that we should go but I said, ‘no, don’t go and waste your time’’. They in­sisted they would go, I said, ‘you go ahead but I’m not go­ing’. They went to court and the court told them: ‘we can’t lis­ten to a de­cree.’ That was how it was dis­missed.

Given this back­ground, were you sur­prised at the role the NLC played when

the June 12 elec­tion was an­nulled?

Dur­ing the an­nul­ment, the NLC did not take any ac­tion against the gov­ern­ment. It was NUPENG be­cause of Kokori who was in the party with Abi­ola that acted. He was the one who made his union NUPENG and then PENGASSAN to take ac­tion. Th­ese were the only two staff unions that took ac­tion in sup­port of NADECO against both Ba­bangida and Abacha, but Pas­cal did not par­tic­i­pate. But when Abacha later came to dis­solve the NLC, Pas­cal was say­ing: ‘but I have not done any­thing.’ NUPENG and PENGASSAN were dis­solved along with the NLC. That was how Pas­cal left and also lost his of­fice with all the co­op­er­a­tion he had given the gov­ern­ment all along.

Your con­tri­bu­tion to the strug­gle has al­ways been com­mended but when­ever it comes to where you ac­cepted to serve as the sole ad­min­is­tra­tor of NUPENG, many felt you did not do the right thing. Why did you ac­cept to take up ap­point­ment as a sole ad­min­is­tra­tor of NUPENG?

My col­leagues were just be­ing hyp­ocrites and it is very un­for­tu­nate. I told them so. My point was: ‘when NUPENG and PENGASSAN went on strike why didn’t you go on strike and now you are telling me I should not ac­cept?’ So I said, ‘no, I will go and sal­vage the NUPENG if the gov­ern­ment was look­ing for a soft land­ing’. Later, when Mr. Uba Ahmed was made the min­is­ter of la­bor, he ap­proached me af­ter about two years that he wanted me to take over from Jalingo as sole ad­min­is­tra­tor of NUPENG. I said let me con­sult. At that time the per­cep­tion was that the union was a sell­out. I con­sulted with some vet­er­ans some agreed, some dis­agreed. In fact the vet­er­ans were say­ing in­stead of al­low­ing a gov­ern­ment man to be run­ning the union, you bet­ter take it. So that was how I de­cided to ac­cept to be the union’s sole ad­min­is­tra­tor for NUPENG and I went to Uba Ahmed and told him. And as we agreed he was not in­ter­fer­ing, the gov­ern­ment was not in­ter­fer­ing, they al­lowed me to or­ga­nize NUPENG, make its branches to func­tion, re­store re­mit­ting of check off dues be­cause they were tak­ing it from the work­ers but were not giv­ing to NUPENG. I came and reg­u­lar­ized all th­ese things and NUPENG started func­tion­ing.

I sta­bi­lized ev­ery­thing and NUPENG was bet­ter for it. We paid ev­ery­one, we paid all over our debts, we had over N20 mil­lion in the bank be­fore I left. This is be­cause when Abubakar Ab­dul­salam took over af­ter Abacha died sud­denly; Mike Akhigbe was his sec­ond in com­mand. Mike and Adams Osh­iomole were from the same place. From the in­flu­ence of Mike, Abubakar was made to have sym­pa­thy for NUPENG. They lifted the ban on NUPENG and PENGASSAN, re­leased Kokori who was in prison all those years be­cause I was ne­go­ti­at­ing to get Kokori re­leased be­fore this time. He was re­leased, I was asked to hand over the union back to NUPENG of­fi­cials. But it was the NUPENG peo­ple that said I should stay and or­ga­nize a con­fer­ence for them where they elected their of­fi­cials. Then Kokori also re­sumed his of­fice be­fore I left. I thought about this thing but I was not happy with the trade union at that time for tak­ing ap­point­ments with the gov­ern­ment and how they were run­ning the unions like gov­ern­ment parastal­tals. So why are they now com­ing to say I have taken ap­point­ment? I’m not a hyp­ocrite. So you don’t re­gret your ac­tion? I don’t re­gret my ac­tions. Up till now NUPENG mem­bers re­spect me. One day they met me at the air­port and brought N5,000 and said ‘please Baba take.’ So they still re­spect me.

The NLC is cur­rently de­mand­ing a re­view of N18,000 min­i­mum wage, what do you think?

You know in Nige­ria our salary sys­tem is not com­men­su­rate with the cost of liv­ing all over the world. If you want to set ex­am­ple, pay a salary that is enough to main­tain min­i­mum

What is Face­book? (Laugh­ter) Ed­u­cate me. I don’t know how to ma­nip­u­late my hand set that is my prob­lem, oth­er­wise they say if you know how to use the in­ter­net or what­ever you will see all the news­pa­pers there. Even this one I can only call and re­ceive and if there’s a missed call I can’t re­call it. I can’t do more than about five things even with all I tried to know but I couldn’t fit in maybe be­cause I am ana­logue

stan­dard cost of liv­ing not a flam­boy­ant life­style. Salary should be enough to pay rent, pay chil­dren’s school fees, eat food, etc. But the salary sys­tem is never near a liv­ing wage. So with the min­i­mum of liv­ing wage of N18,000 what can it do for a per­son? It can’t even take you home. And the gov­ern­ment is pre­tend­ing to pay salary. More than half of the states have not im­ple­mented the N18,000, work­ers are still paid less. Now it is noth­ing. Now they want N56,000. I don’t know if this will be enough, es­pe­cially right now .You know naira is de­val­ued, each time you de­value naira you are killing mar­ket, you are killing peo­ple’s in­come. I used to tell my mem­bers that if the gov­ern­ment cuts your salary by half will you agree?

They said no we will fight, but I said in­fla­tion is do­ing the same thing or do­ing worse. If price is dou­bled to­day your salary is cut by half al­ready be­cause af­ter all we are tak­ing money to sus­tain our­selves not to keep in banks. Un­less we go back to the ba­sics, this de­val­u­a­tion must stop. We must re­vert back to our po­si­tion we could not do that be­cause gov­ern­ment has al­ready owed World Bank, IMF and Paris Club money and it’s be­cause of this money that we owe.

When Buhari came (in 1983) he was pay­ing off all our debts, that was why they re­moved him, the western coun­tries did not want any coun­try to be free es­pe­cially the de­vel­op­ing coun­tries from IMF en­tan­gle­ment be­cause it is with that, they con­trol us. They will tell you to go and de­value the naira which they can’t tell them­selves. They can’t tell Amer­ica to de­value the dol­lar and Amer­ica is ow­ing money more than any­one in the world to­day. But no­body will tell Amer­ica to de­value or Bri­tain to de­value pounds or France to de­value franc or Ger­many but they will tell Africans, es­pe­cially the col­o­nized coun­tries to de­value their money. They say stop sub­si­dies, pri­va­tize gov­ern­ment com­pa­nies be­cause they are not work­ing but we know they are not work­ing be­cause peo­ple are steal­ing money. Nige­ria Air­ways used to have 30 planes, it be­came 25 then 22 then 15 then 3, 1 then nil and they were all watch­ing and the were. If peo­ple tem­per with money, jail them but in Nige­ria to­day no­body has ever been jailed. Go to the prison only or­di­nary peo­ple are jailed for mi­nor crimes.

So would you rec­om­mend down­siz­ing in the present cir­cum­stances?

No. Work­ers should strug­gle to keep their jobs. Go to gov­ern­ment schools in any part of the coun­try no teach­ers, the same as gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tals, no work­ers; no­body is over blot­ted they are just be­ing cheats. Okay its true in some cases they have made some work­ers re­dun­dant and for­merly I was in charge of pub­lic health schools in Maiduguri, we were given al­lo­ca­tion to run the schools. Now since the civil­ian regime started the gov­ern­ment is in charge of all the money given. Bud­get is just fake be­cause you will never see that money. Gov­er­nors will con­trol all the money they give what­ever they want to whomever they wish. So the de­part­ment do not get al­lo­ca­tion. Ve­hi­cles are bro­ken down; no main­te­nance, vac­cines are fin­ished, gov­ern­ment is killing the jobs, they make work­ers re­dun­dant, at the end of the day no­body goes to work be­cause there is no means to work.

You did not join pol­i­tics de­spite your pop­u­lar­ity, why?

Where are the po­lit­i­cal par­ties? Where is the hon­esty? They are all liars. We don’t have po­lit­i­cal par­ties; we only have non­sense par­ties in Nige­ria. One man will be in the PDP to­day, the APC to­mor­row, and that is how all of them are. Is that the kind of pol­i­tics that I should join? Atiku is in the PDP to­day to­mor­row an­other party or Kwankwaso and the rest of them. That is not pol­i­tics. You know Buhari said he was not cut for Nige­rian pol­i­tics, but then some­how he came in. I was blam­ing Dr. (Aliyu) Tilde and the late Wada Nas. That was at the early stage. But God has some­thing for us that was why he brought Buhari. I am happy with his pol­i­tics but me I can’t join. But look what they are do­ing to him all those who are say­ing they want change they are just cor­rupt­ing his of­fice ev­ery­where. Peo­ple are still steal­ing. Buhari is the only one dif­fer­ent.

They are sab­o­tag­ing the war against cor­rup­tion. It is pa­thetic. They would take some­body to court on shoddy pros­e­cu­tion and they man will go free. They set­tle ev­ery­body that is why up till now no­body has been jailed ex­cept or­di­nary peo­ple. What­ever it is, may God give Buhari long life, and he should come and do his sec­ond term in good health. For me the only al­ter­na­tive to Buhari is back to Jonathan be­cause the PDP can­not bring any­body bet­ter. Even the APC it­self can­not bring any­body bet­ter. It is only Buhari.

Did any of your chil­dren join union­ism?

None of them but they are in unions in their de­part­ments. My first daugh­ter is deputy reg­is­trar in the Uni­ver­sity of Maiduguri. She be­longs to the union of the uni­ver­sity’s non aca­demic staff but she is not play­ing any role. So she didn’t take af­ter me. The sec­ond one is a di­rec­tor but he is not tak­ing over from me in union­ism. I have 15 chil­dren; my youngest one has fin­ished uni­ver­sity some six years ago. They are all grownups now. No­body is into union­ism

What is your fa­vorite food?

In fact I’m 84 years now go­ing to 85. I have lost all my ap­petite and don’t en­joy any food; I eat as if I’m be­ing forced to. You don’t en­joy food again at this age. Some peo­ple can still eat at 90 but I don’t en­joy any meal. The only meal I en­joy is burabusko din­ner and cous­cous and I eat it ev­ery night, but break­fast, it is as if I’m be­ing forced. When­ever I’m eat­ing lunch, I lose ap­petite, my stom­ach will not be happy but I say, ‘ok since I have to eat some­thing’. I’m tak­ing pap and Quaker Oats and I eat a lot of fruits. It was not like when I was younger, I don’t en­joy food any­more, only din­ner.

What about books?

I’m not read­ing any book but I read two news­pa­pers ev­ery day, Trust and one other and that is a daily af­fair. If I need to read a book I will only read re­li­gious books. But I don’t read western books.

Are you on Face­book, do you have a Twit­ter han­dle?

What is Face­book? (Laugh­ter) Ed­u­cate me. I don’t know how to ma­nip­u­late my hand set that is my prob­lem, oth­er­wise they say if you know how to use the in­ter­net or what­ever you will see all the news­pa­pers there. Even this one I can only call and re­ceive and if there’s a missed call I can’t re­call it. I can’t do more than about five things even with all I tried to know but I couldn’t fit in maybe be­cause I am ana­logue. This is my prob­lem. I bought the big­ger, one that you can type on and swipe, but my grand­chil­dren picked it be­cause I couldn’t op­er­ate it. I bought an iPad be­cause I ad­mire peo­ple who use them but I couldn’t op­er­ate any of them. Even if I am taught, I just can’t do it.

PHO­TOS: Shehu K. Goro

For­mer NLC Pres­i­dent Com­rade Ali Chi­roma

“Up till now, NUPENG mem­bers re­spect me,” says Com­rade Chi­roma

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