ADIEU! BILLY BRIGHT ANOKWURU
ADIEU! BILLY BRIGHT ANOKWURU
A GENUINE AND CONSISTENT TRADE UNION LEADER
Billy Bright Anokwuru died on July 20, 2010. Before his death, he was the former National President of the National Union of Shop and Distributive Employees (NUSDE) and Vice Chairman of the Labour Party in Lagos State. In this interview, Comrade Rufus Olusesan (Vice President of NUSDE and Chairman of the CDWR) pointed out Late Anokwuru’s working class attributes and why the labour movement will miss him.
S.D: How long have you known Late Billy Bright Anokwuru as a trade unionist?
Rufus Olusesan: I got to know Comrade Anokwuru intimately around 2004 when myself and about 4000 other workers with SEWUN were fighting for a union that would be less pro-management and more pro-members.
In fact for myself and about 4,000 workers that moved from SEWUN to NUSDE, we mourn Comrade Anokwuru more than any other person. This was because of the commendable roles he played in getting us unionised. During the struggle in 2004 to 2005 when we had major disagreement with the leadership of SEWUN, we had the choice of joining any union by virtue of the provision of the Trade Union Amendment Act 2005. We set up a committee to move around and see any veritable and dynamic industrial union we could join. We met the leadership of some trade unions but they all rejected us with the excuse that they did not want SEWUN’s problem to spread to their own unions. But when we got to NUSDE leadership of Comrade Anokwuru (he was then the National President), we were accepted with open arms. Anokwuru was especially moved by our perspective of a fighting union that can protect the interests of its members. We joined the union with over 4,000 workers, and this was celebrated in the labour movement. It stands to be contested that no other group of workers as of today has been able to join any union of their choice despite existence of an enabling law to that effect. So it was only Anokwuru and other leaders of NUSDE that ever made use of this law to unionize workers. This is why we shall miss greatly Anokwuru’s contribution towards the sustenance of NUSDE.
S.D: Unlike most labour leaders, Late Bright Anokwuru was particularly active in the Labour Party. We will like to know, what was his contribution to the building of the party and what were his perspective on the Labour Party and the campaign (CMBLP) formed by some trade union activists and socialists, including DSM members, for the opening up the Party to the working class?
Rufus Olusesan: 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 criticised the gloomy situation of things in the Party especially in Lagos State. However, he did not just criticise, 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, and was at the forefront of many of the agitations against anti-working class conducts and activities of the Party leadership.
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.
Anokwuru was not known to have had a rounded socialist ideology or to have supported the cause for a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. He however recognised the need to build the Labour Party as an alternative party of Nigerian workers and poor masses.
S.D: Apart from his activities in NUSDE, what role did late Bright Anokwuru play in the larger labour movement particularly the numerous strikes and protest actions under the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO)?
Rufus Olusesan: Anokwuru was a former Internal Auditor of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and also Chairman of the Anti-Casualization Committee of the NLC under which platform he played a key role in the struggle to unionize several companies and unorganised workers
He also distinguished himself as a consistent trade unionist and working class fighter by his role in LASCO. There was hardly any important meeting of LASCO that he did not attend. He also played prominent roles in most of the strikes and protest actions called by LASCO. Even at the age of 62, you see him participating in protest matches and demonstrations. Conclusively, one key feature of Late Anokwuru which clearly distinguished him as a consistent working class fighter was his preference to work and build the labour party at a time when most labour leaders including Adams Oshiomhole (immediate past NLC President and current Governor of Edo State) chose to join bourgeois political parties to achieve their political ambitions. This was in spite of the several offers he had from many of these bourgeois parties. Late Anokwuru was not interested in material wealth in his entire life. He was a very upright, consistent and uncompromising fighter of our time. Unlike other labour leaders who abandoned the struggle halfway, Anokwuru stood firm. He always said: “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. This was partly why he stood tall above his contemporaries.