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20 July 2017

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IN MEMORY OF BILLY BRIGHT ANOKWURU (1948 – 2010)

"Every man's life ends the same way. It's only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another"– Ernest Hemingway.

By Rufus Olusesan
National Chairman,
Campaign For Democratic and Workers' Rights (CDWR)

Like a thief in the night, like a candle in the wind, like a bad nightmare, death could knock at any time and take away the beloved ones, leaving wailing, grief and sadness behind. Though, death is inevitable, the exit of a revolutionary, Bright Billy Anokwuru, former President of National Union of Shop and Distributive Employees (NUSDE), is one death that left pain in our heart. It is difficult to believe that a man whose life was full of selfless service to humanity could pass on just like that. Though, he passed on to the great beyond seven years ago, precisely, Tuesday, 20th July , 2010, his foot print both in Joint Action Front (JAF) and Labour Movement will remain ever green in our memory and will be difficult to erase. The happenings in the Labour movement today remind one of his uprightness, doggedness, amiable disposition to labour issues which was second to none; as we all know that the awful inactivity of the living make one remembers the dead.

Anokwuru was a former Auditor, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) between 1999 and 2007 under Adams Oshiomhole's era of the labour movement in Nigeria. He served as Chairman, Anti-casualization Committee of the NLC , which of course, reshaped the NLC's struggle against the menace of second slavery in disguise called casualization, contract staffing, out sourcing etc. in the work places which subject workers to inhuman and deplorable working conditions. He and Oshiomhole were always in the forefront to lead the campaign. On several occasions Anokwuru was dehumanized, assaulted and even detained by the State security agents but he was undaunted to pursue with vigor his believe in the emancipation of workers from the shackles of the vicious capitalist class. In continuation of his selfless service to Nigerian workers, he was also appointed as chairman, Labour Transport City with a clear mandate of resuscitating the moribund Labour Transport sector while Owei Lakemfa served as secretary. It is on record that within a short period, he was able to turn around the fortunes of the transport sector by purchasing new twelve (12) Tata buses at once admiration of the staff.

In spite of the degeneration in the contemporary Labour Movement leadership, he stood clear and can be counted as a principled and dogged trade unionist and consistent fighter of the working class. An example of his commitment to workers welfare and unionism was the role he played in 2004 in the struggle of 4,000 SEWUN workers to defend their rights to join a union of their choice. Anokwuru played an important role in ensuring that these workers who were disenchanted by the pro-management orientation of the leadership of their former union – SEWUN – were able to join NUSDE in the first ever attempt to take advantage of the Trade Union Amendment Act 2005. Though the action of the affected workers was reversed by a court order, it remains one of the reasons we shall miss greatly Anokwuru's contribution towards building of a fighting labour movement.

Upon his retirement in Wayne West Africa, while his contemporaries joined bourgeois political parties to fulfill their narrow political agenda, he remained a leading light of the left in Labour movement and active in Joint Action Front (JAF) and Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) till his demise.

Before his death, Anokwuru was the Vice Chairman of the Labour Party in Lagos State. Unlike most labour leaders, he was known to have publicly criticized the gloomy situation of things in the Party especially in Lagos State. However, he did not just criticize; he took practical steps towards a positive change in the Party. Particularly, he supported the agitations of the Campaign for Mass-Based Labour Party (CMBLP) for the opening up of the Party and building it as a conscious working class political platform instead of the dumping ground of failed bourgeois politicians the party leaders have now turned the platform into.

Therefore, were Anokwuru to be alive today, he might have been opposed to the actions of the Labour Party's support for President Jonathan in the 2015 general election as well as the rotten alliance between the party and the Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) for the July 22 local government elections in Lagos state. Such was Anokwuru's clear commitment to building the party as a platform to fight for political power in the interest of the working and oppressed people. For instance before he died, he had practically started the process of building the party at the grassroots, particularly in Oshodi Isolo Local Government in Lagos where he was popularly known as "Baba Labour". This clearly distinguished him from many party leaders and labour activists who talk glowingly about the need for an alternative political party of the working class but never participate in any practical activity towards this direction.

Sunshine fades and shadows fall but sweet memory of his struggles outlasts our bleeding. I pause to honour him and what he stood for, fame fades with time, wisdom diminishes as folly increases but a man's good name is engraved forever. Time may heal the broken heart , time may make the wound of his untimely exit less sore but time can never stop the longing he left behind .We shall continue to miss his invaluable contribution to the course of mankind. As painful as his exit may be, we are consoled by the enduring legacy he left behind.

Adieu, our friend and a class fighter.