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To Comrade Isa Aremu: A tribute

On Friday, January 8, 2021, Comrade Issa Obalowu Aremu turns 60. According to him, a month-long programme of events has been drawn to celebrate the diamond jubilee. Invitations are to a select few and I am counted worthy to be one of these “in profound appreciation of the shared values over the years”.

Indeed, Issa and I, just like many other Comrades, have come a long way, beginning with our student union activism in our campus days. Though distance stood between us in that we attended different universities – Issa at Port Harcourt and yours truly at Ife, true is the revolutionary saying of Fidel Castro that “when men carry the same ideals in their heart, nothing can isolate them – neither prison walls nor the sod of cemeteries.

For a single memory, a single spirit, a single idea, a single conscience, a single dignity will sustain them all.” So true! Decades after our undergraduate years and despite the vicissitudes of life, the same revolutionary spirit still connects and propels Comrades to act as kindred spirits.

In those days the Nigerian Youth Movement was a vibrant vehicle that kept the various cells in far-flung institutions of learning together; and comrades’ unbroken mobility from campus to campus kept the spirit of camaraderie burning.

We have come a long way! The Nigerian Left has had a chequered history and any comrade still standing on his feet deserves to celebrate. Like the proverbial lizard that fell from the top of an “iroko” tree, the few conscionable Nigerians like Comrade Issa Aremu who are still keeping their head higher than the country’s cesspool of corruption and the murky waters of its debased politicking deserve to celebrate.

What is more, to survive in Nigeria of today deserves a celebration. And to survive the COVID-19 pandemic no less! Especially under a wobbling and fumbling Muhammadu Buhari presidency, it is God that has been our shield and refuge. So, it is understandable that Issa’s “profound appreciation” for clocking 60 years “goes to God for good health, blessings and modest impact” that he has made in life; hence, the very apt Diamond Jubilee Celebration title of “Celebrating Life In A Pandemic” Issa is just being modest and humble when he describes the impact he has made as “modest”. By the time you peruse his CV, you will see what I mean.

I have always known Comrade Isa Aremu as someone who values friendship, especially right from our days at the NLC National Headquarters at Yaba, Lagos. Many Comrades from their university days had converged on the central Labour office daily along two distinct lines of assignment – some of them like Issa who worked as one of the staff of NLC. Others were Femi Aborishade, Chom Bagu, John Odah, etc. The others as newspaper hounds were the likes of Owei Lakemfa, Kayode Komolafe (KK), Funmi Jolaoso (now married to KK), and yours truly.

So, Isa was right to “recall with nostalgia, the times and ideas exchanged over the years… (and that) the consistent comradeship and brotherhood since then has been remarkable in upscaling my modest impact in life”! Activities of the Diamond Jubilee in-clude: Friday 8th January, 2021, Issa will team up with 25 cyclists-members of the Kwara State Cycling Association on a 5-kilometre nostalgia ride to his Alma Mater, Ilorin Grammar School (IGS); PTF COVID-19 guidelines will be observed.

The high point of the one-month Diamond Jubilee Celebration, however, would be the virtual/ physical presentation/launching of Issa’s memoir on 35 years of struggle in the labour movement and six other books/ media reflections on Labour and Trade Unions; Good Governance and Development, Industry and Economy; Media and Gender Issues; Africa and Global Affairs; and, Friends, Comrades and Heroes. (1986- 2020).

Venue is the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Center 1, Abuja on Thursday, 28th January, 2021. The event is expected to be graced virtually and physically by a critical mass of friends, comrades, and well-wishers cutting across the trade unions, industry, civil society, royal fathers, the International Labour Movement, federal and states governments as well as members of the diplomatic corps – all in compliance with the COVID-19 guidelines.

I cannot but recall an event that happened some years back in Osogbo, Osun State. The then governor, Rauf Aregbesola, had invited me for discussions. That was the second or so of such invitation. Aregbesola was fond of doing all the talking while you did all the listening. It was on a Friday and I had arrived at the Government House during the Jumaat prayers and was waiting at the reception lounge when Aregbe came in, with Comrade Issa Aremu in tow.

Issa promptly saluted me “Comrade BB, bawo ni?” Aregbe snarled: “Who is comrade? He is not a comrade!” Issa could not hide his surprise. He fired a barrage of questions at Aregbe: “Where were you when Comrade BB and people like us were doing this or doing that…”

I watched the drama that unfolded for a few minutes. Finally, Aregbe bowed and said: “Well, if you say so, I agree he is a Comrade”! Comrade (Alhaji) Issa Obalowu Aremu, mni, NPOM was born on the 8th January, 1961 in Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria. He is at the moment the Vice-President (Africa), Industrial Global Union with over 50 million industrial workers-members from Africa, Europe, America and the Caribbean and Asia-Pacific; elected at the 2nd Congress, at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 3-7 October 2016.

Before then, he had weathered decades of struggle for improved working and living conditions of workers in the textile and clothing sectors as well as for the revival of industries for sustainable industrial development.

He started his working career as a journalist (Labour/Economics Correspondent), Triumph Newspapers, Kano, 1981 – 1985: and later as Labour/Economics Correspondent, Concord Newspapers, Lagos (NYSC) 1985 – 1986.

He was one of the first generation of university graduates/ student union activists to work as full-time trade unionists; pioneer Head, Economics/ Research Department of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Lagos (1987 – 1989); two-term Vice President, NLC (2007 – 2015); member, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos, Plateau State, Senior Executive Course 27 in 2005; two-term Secretary-General of the Alumni Association of the National Institute for Policy & Strategy Studies, AANI (2013 – 2017); Labour Delegate, 2014 National Conference and Deputy Chairman of the National Conference Committee on Civil Society, Labour, Youth and Sports.

Issa’s academic qualifications include: M.A. in Labour and Development (Distinctions) – 1991: Institute for Social Studies (ISS), The Hague, The Netherlands; BSc. (Hons.) in Economics (Second Class Upper) – 1985; University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State; Interim Joint Matriculation Board (IJMB) – 1977/ 1978, School of Basic Studies (SBS) Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria; West African School Certificate (WASC) – 1977; Ilorin Grammar School (IGS); Certificate of Participation in Industrial Relations and Labour and Work-life Programme – 2003; Certificate in Industrial Relations Partnership Initiative (George Meany Centre, Maryland, USA) – 2003; and Alumnus of George Meany Labour Centre, Maryland, Washington, USA (1987 and 2003). Issa’s experience in corporate and national governance is wide; including consistent advocacy for decent work for workers, industrialization and good governance in Africa.

On Tuesday, July 23, 2019, Aremu led union delegation and the Nigeria Textile Manufacturers Association (NTMA) on an historic courtesy visit to President Muhammadu Buhari, where the President unveiled the historic Cotton, Textile and Garment (CTG) policy.

He had also served as Labour Delegate on the Board of the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC); Member of the Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage, 2000 and 2009- 2010; Member, Board of Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies (MINILS), Ilorin, 2001 – 2004; Member, Board of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), 2004 – 2007; Member, Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Committee (PPPRC); 2003; and Member, National Labour Advisory Committee (NLAC). Issa has also dabbled into politics, believing that conscionable Nigerians must not abandon the field to so-called “professional politicians”.

Seeing politics as “a dirty game” is why it has been avoided like a plague by decent people and taken over by dirty players. Thus, Issa was Kwara State 2019 governorship candidate under the Labour Party. He has also been public affairs analyst, commentator on social, political, and economic affairs as well as newspaper columnist and contributor to raging national issues. He has been the recipient of many awards and recognitions nationally and internationally. We can only wish him more power and grace! More patriots and people of conscience like Issa Obalowu Aremu are needed if this country must be salvaged from the savage elements sucking its blood dry.

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