Bimbola Oyesola, Geneva, Switzerland
Friday, July 19, 2019, would be remembered for a long time by the members of organised labour, family and friends of the late President of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Comrade Olabode Johnson. It was the day that the late President was finally interred having breathed his last on that fateful Friday, May 31, 2019.
As early as 8 a.m, members of the labour movement had started trooping into his residence in Efab Metropolis Estate in Kasana area of Abuja, for the lying-in-state. When his remains were brought into the hall for the event, many could not hold their tears for a man who left the stage at 59, right in the middle of service to humanity.
The death of the late president of PENGASSAN, who was also the third deputy president of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) had come like a rude shock to the labour movement and the Petroleum sector, which is his primary constituency.
Since his death encomiums and tributes have been pouring in, including from the President Muhammadu Buhari.
The event was brief and solemn to ensure that the burial programme holding at the International Conference Centre held as scheduled.
The conference centre was filled to capacity as members of the labour movement, family and friends turned out in ‘ankara’ uniform to honour the labour leader whose life had in one way or the other touched them.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) president, Ayuba Wabba, Trade Union Congress (TUC) president, Quadri Olaleye, past presidents of PENGASSAN, presidents of affiliates of NLC and TUC, CEOs and members of the international community all registered their presence at the burial ceremony.
In his tribute, the NLC president, who could not hold back his tears, described the late Olabode Johnson as a man of peace and detribalised unionist.
He said, “The morning that F.O.J. departed these shores would remain one of the darkest in the annals of trade unionism in Nigeria as we lost one of our finest. Comrade Francis Olabode Johnson was not just a loving husband and father to his wife and children, he was also a father figure to his union, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN).
“From his first election as the president of PENGASSAN in 2014 to his re-election in 2017, FOJ as he was fondly called, was an inspiration to many and a model in leadership, administration, and show of the milk of human kindness and humility.”
According to Wabba, the late Johnson personified trade union unity and solidarity as he always went beyond the call of duty to ensure that the wheels of trade unionism in Nigeria remained uncluttered with pettiness and narrow-mindedness.
He said, “I particularly call to mind the contributions of FOJ during the recent struggle for a new minimum wage. He did not only bring his wealth of experience at the tripartite committee level to ensure wage justice for Nigerian workers, he was visible in the street struggle and long nights of negotiation at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, all as a testament of his unalloyed commitment to promoting and defending the interest of Nigerian workers.”
Former president of the TUC and PENGASSAN, Comrade Peter Esele, also described Johnson as a detribalised and humble family man who most often stretched himself to make others happy and comfortable.
He, however, noted that though the late president was the second to die while in office as president of the union, it has no negative or spiritual connection as only God can determine human destiny.
Esele also said that the union would support the family and ensure that the vacuum left behind by the breadwinner was filled.
“PENGASSAN will be there for the family. We are setting up a trust fund for the family to support the children’s education. The union will support the family and see to it that they will not walk alone,” he said.
The union also has promised to immortalise the late president by completing the e-learning and event centre project he initiated in Port Harcourt and name it after him.
The PENGASSAN president did not only touch lives in the labour movement, but in the church as well, as Pastor Biola Egbeyemi, coordinating pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, New Life Assembly, attested.
Egbeyemi said the late Johnson had a tremendous positive influence in the lives of members of the church: “I have been encouraged and challenged by your humility, generosity, benevolence, dedication, commitment to the things of God and friendship to both small and great.
“You never saw anything as an obstacle to spend and be spent for God’s cause. Like Aaron and Hur, you made the work of the Ministry easy, sweet and pleasant.
“You were a classic child of God, your approach to the things of God was classic. You were of the belief that one cannot teach the Bible truth without touching lives in other ways. Hence, you became the first welfare coordinator of RCCG, New Life Assembly. Your humble and Godly lifestyle could challenge anyone.”
Johnson’s wife, Adesewa, daughter, Damilola, and son, Gbenga, took turns to pour encomiums on their late family head whom they said left a great legacy for them all.