From Noah Ebije, Kaduna
Former national chairman of All Progressive Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole at the weekend went down memory lane of his labour activism at Arewa Textiles, Kaduna where he served as a factory worker in the 1960s.
Oshiomhole said it was not his position as the APC national chairman or governor of Edo State that brought him to political limelight, but his background at the Textiles factory where he served as union Secretary and later became President, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
Speaking at the annual memorial lecture in honour of late Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello in Kaduna, Oshiomhole said even though APC kicked him out of office, he refused to fall.
The former Textiles union leader said the factories collapsed because of lack of regular supply of electricity.
“So if Ahmadu Bello did not set up these Textiles factories, me Adams Oshiomhole would not have gotten a job because it was Textiles job that attracted me to Kaduna at the age of16 or 17.
“And getting a factory job at a monthly salary of five shilling and three pence, and because of the way we were involved in management and mismanagement, I got involved in push me and I push you, and I ended up becoming Secretary General of Textiles Workers Union, and from there I became President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) which is the most important identity I have, not the governorship, not the APC Chairmanship. That was my foundation
“I was shocked, before I was kicked out as APC national chairman, I was kicked, but I refused to fall. We had kept the party money with some of the banks and we were getting some returns on fixed deposits that we did not need to spend and they came to me, probably they knew I was leaving, and they said they have one percent. Now as a worker, salary earner or permanent secretary, how can you pay the difference between what you earned and what you consumed. Bank gives you one percent, and you go to that bank if you want to buy television, you need N20,000.00 and you borrowed from a commercial bank at 20 percent interest.
“So I never understood those policy, whereas in US, Asia and Europe when the economy is in crisis, the interest rate drops. Why should I borrow at one percent and pay at 19 Percent. Why shouldn’t the fortunes of the bank be tied to the fortunes of the people they are serving. We need to be educated at another forum, am just sharing my ignorance in this regard.
“When I was in the Textiles industry, State government got its Internally generated revenue from 25,000 workers that were taxed, which was probably enough to pay salary of public civil servants as at when due. The State government at that times generated alot of taxes from these manufacturing companies which the government used in return to provide social amenities for the people.
“What do you tax when those companies have collapsed. You tax what is available and not what is not available.
“Lack of electricity supply was responsible for the collapse of Textiles industries in Kaduna. When I was in Kaduna and we were getting supply from Electricity Company of Nigeria (ECN) and later National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) there was always advance notice for supply cut to enable consumer get prepared.
“Today you cannot run manufacturing company without power. It is assumed that all the grammar that we spoke here we can run the economy without power. How do you preserve your farm produce without power.
“Working capital was the cause of the collapse of the Textiles industries, not the consequence because power, electricity was expensive.
“When privatisation was done by the previous government part of the argument was it should be handed over to those who have the money and the technical know-how. But government ended handing over DISCO to pharmacist, housewives, political friends contrary to the logic of private enterprise. The money pushed to PHCN is more than that of NEPA.
“The privatisation cannot be reformed, it is deformed and what we the APC inherited cannot be sustained.
“When we are reminded that we need to create agricultural value chain, I am sure myself that what led Ahmadu Bello to set up Kaduna Textiles was the fact that he recognised that Northern Nigeria had abundant cotton, huge production and he felt that these cotton should not be imported to Manchester in the United kingdom to be prepared, weaved, bleached and return it to Nigeria.
“Sir Ahmadu Bello said it did not make sense to export cotton to Manchester and import fabrics to Nigeria, and so he set up Kaduna Textiles. And then Arewa Textiles, United Textiles, Nortex and Norspin. We can go on and on.
“So that when you produced cotton in the North, you sent it to Kaduna, to Zaria where you have agricultural production of cotton, and then send it back to Kaduna by railway where all the Textiles factories are connected to railway stations for the raw materials.
“The finished products are evacuated up north and down south. So when we are talking about agricultural value chain, Ahmadu Bello led by example.
“What we inherited from Ahmadu Bello was a clear sense; if you don’t produce, you perished. We don’t need to copy Europe, let’s revert to Ahmadu Bello vision.
“And that is why I said that it shock me that what our leaders did in 1950 without rethorics and conferences we are here in 2021 reminding ourselves not to export agricultural produce, but we should have value addition.
“Ahmadu Bello taught us all that and he demonstrated it and I benefited. But I was shocked that all the speakers were misunderstood when one of them said don’t wait for federal government, he did not say don’t cooperate with the federal government.
“If the federal government can make certain fiscal policy, you don’t need to wait to start doing something in your State. I was a State governor, so I am speaking from experience. We were in Governors meeting during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, I said I am not a subordinate, I head a subnational government, I am not accountable to Abuja, I am accountable to Edo State and my policy are formulated on the basis of the peculiarity of the State I come from. But on a good day we are one country, one Federation and one economy. We need to coordinate and cooperative, and not one digging the other.
“There is nothing you cannot do without cooperation, but you don’t need to wait for the top before you do something for your State.
“And again, talking about technical education, I came to Kaduna in 1968, you have to do apprenticeship with the ministry of Labour either as a plumber, electrician, mechanic, name them, and then you go there and do certification on trade test grade one, two and three. People were issued certificates based on those grades and that is your point of entry into employment opportunity.
“There were unskilled, skilled, semi skilled, skilled and highly skilled before you talk of the graduates. Today half million students are doing public administration, and I ask, which public do you want to admin. We are the most travelled people, it is not the degrees because those who earn the highest pay in matured economy are not those with PhD. They are people with skills.
“Today I reside in Abuja not that I was expelled from Kaduna. I left Kaduna because of this law that says if you want to run for governorship of your State you must go back home and start from your ward, otherwise Kaduna is my home, but I come from time to time on holidays.
“Now if you see some vacancies, it is electrician is needed here. Also in our homes we built, the POP worker is from Ghana, the electrician is from Cotonou, the plumber is from Togo, some of our cooks are from Benin republic. These are jobs. But when you have PhD in public administration, you cannot connect electrical bulbs.
“The problem we are having is that we believe that to make it in life you must have a degree. The most successful nation’s are not led by professors. Leadership, courage and determination are not taught.
“There is no way we can bail Nigeria out of poverty without returning to manufacturing sector. The Textiles industries must come back.
“When I was in Kaduna in those years I did not know Sir Ibrahim Kashim House, the State seat of powers. And many big men that I know in this town did not know Commissioner of work or any other Commissioners. But they know the purchasing manager of Arewa Textiles, they know the supply manager of United Textiles, they know the purchasing manager of Chelco. These are the people that will give you LPO to supply XYZ. They make millions of naira selling Jerrican that was used to import chemicals. Those that sold pieces of yards. They were the big men because government is not known to buy or sell.
“I am a proud owner of a house in Kaduna even as a Textiles union leader. How did I do it. I went to the then Barclay bank (now Union bank) and I applied for housing loan in recognition of housing deficit. When I opened my savings bank account with my five shilling, three pence, I had to pay loan interest of three percent. I borrowed from Union bank, not Central Bank and I paid”. Oshiomhole stated.