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The travails of Ajaero

by N’allah Zagga 

JOE Ajaero is the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) who was elected into office on February 7, 2023. He is still the General Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and has made enormous sacrifices in the defense of the rights and privileges of workers in that sector and in Nigeria. In his verified WhatsApp account, he has a white lamb as his profile. I was initially intrigued by his choice of the white lamb but when I remember his journey from a journalist to becoming the president of the NLC, I immediately understood the powers and forces that have combined to propel him to where he has found himself today.

I was compelled to sum it all as the willingness of one to offer himself as a sacrifice for the emancipation of his society and also, wherever he finds himself. This is not just an ordinary sacrifice made anyhow but one made in purity and innocence. It is a true testament of his commitment and determination to ensure that he becomes what he wants others to be before he begins to embark on its advocacy. For me, this offers a crusader the moral high ground to seek a better society.

For me, it is this purity, this refusal to compromise, combined with the zeal to make lives better by creating better societies, that has become his motive force; his raison d’etre but has also surrounded the choice of others especially those in government of the tools with which they engage him and the NLC at this time.

This, to my mind, captures the dynamics that have encapsulated his travails as a man committed to changing not just the trade union movement but also changing the dictates of governance by using the platform which the trade union movement has offered him to hold the government accountable and make it more responsive to the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians. I still remember vividly his years in journalism specifically in the Vanguard newspapers where he served as the Labour correspondent and in which capacity our paths crossed since he was reporting events in our industry. He spent time trying to understand the nuances of the trade union movement that he was reporting. To this end, he became an active member of the union and served variously both as secretary and Chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalism (NUJ) and was also Elected into the National Leadership of the union in 1996 alongside individuals like Lanre Ogundipe and Smart Adeyemi.

He became one with all of our activities and was involved in the struggle of the trade unions to free Nigeria from the clutches of the jackboots of the military. He was an activist journalist without any other intention but the passion to make our nation better like most of us who were involved in the struggle at that time in our nation’s history.

The fire of the struggle for the return of the stolen mandate of M.K.O Abiola and for his release from captivity was fought with people like Ajaero and some of us as foot soldiers and ideologues. He therefore has a rich history of activism horned in the streets of Lagos and around the country devoid of any primordial preachments. He neither saw tribe, tongue nor religion in the struggle.

As a trained teacher, journalist, labour expert and now a lawyer, it will be foolhardy for anyone to consider him a pushover. What he lacks in physical appearance, he makes up with his inner resoluteness, discipline and intellectual vigour. I have been in many conferences where the Masters of Ceremony would normally introduce him as “the man with small body but big engine” Men and women who change their societies positively do not come packaged differently.

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