It is with great sadness but with gratitude for a long life well spent in the struggle for human emancipation and liberation in Africa, that we have learned of the death of Nigeria’s greatest labour leader. Pa Michael Imoudu died at his home in Edo State on 22 July, aged 102.
All the powers that be in Nigeria want to jump on the bandwagon and contribute to Pa Imoudu’s funeral. We condemn this hypocrisy. The state governors and cabinet ministers who impose genocidal neo-liberal economic measures on Nigerian workers now wish to bask in his glory.
It is said that if Jesus actually came again, he would still be crucified by the modern day equivalents of the Pharisees. Thus, if Pa Imoudu was still active, these same capitalist Pharisees would be persecuting him — as they do to all Nigerian workers.
Pa Imoudu was born in the early years of the last century when Nigeria was in the grip of British colonialism. He started his working career as a lineman in the department of posts and telecommunications, before moving on to the Nigeria Railway Corporation.
It was during his stint there that Imoudu developed a deep interest in trade unionism and politics. His was fired by the colonial dialectic that exploited African workers on the basis of their class and their race.
It was this heady and potent brew that fired Imoudu into action. He organised and became the first president of the Nigeria Union of Railwaymen in 1940, and his tenure in office was marked by unprecedented militancy.
He first came into the limelight when he led over 3,000 railway workers to Government House to put workers’ grievances to the colonial governor.
Harry Nwana, a colleague of Pa Imoudu’s, testifies to the measure of the man. On an occasion when Imoudu was meeting with Sir Ralph Emerson, chairman of the railway corporation, Emerson made the opening remarks and left his deputy — a gentleman with well known Negrophobic tendencies — to chair the meeting.
Imoudu immediately called the meeting to an end and demanded Emerson’s return to the meeting. On his return Emerson was subjected to a severe tongue lashing by Imoudu.
In 1945 Imoudu was one of the leaders of a general strike that was ostensibly over a cost of living allowance for workers, but was also about the continued existence of British colonial rule in Nigeria.
The strike was rock solid and lasted 44 days. It is said that this unprecedented strike demystified colonial rule and made independence for Nigeria inevitable.
Even though Imoudu resigned from active trade unionism in the early 1960s, he was still very active in workers’ struggles against the African elite that had assumed the position of the departing colonialists.
In 1962, aware that workers needed an independent voice, Imoudu and other like-minded patriots such as Eskor Toyo founded a short-lived Labour Party.
In the second civilian republic (1979-83), Imoudu joined Aminu Kano’s People’s Redemption Party (PRP), a populist party based on the struggling masses of the northern part of Nigeria.
When a group of PRP members broke away from the party, seeing the need for a more ideologically based struggle, Pa Imoudu was their rallying figure.
I remember meeting Pa Imoudu in the 1980s during the uprisings against the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in Nigeria, and at a conference called by the progressive forces at the Labour Congress headquarters in Lagos to determine an alternative to SAP.
On both occasions Pa Imoudu was dressed in his “struggle clothing” — native dress decorated with native charms stating that “workers are prepared to fight”.
Pa Imoudu’s life of struggle against oppressors, both black and white, leaves many valuable lessons for the younger generations of class fighters.
At time when Africa is being forced onto the precipice of a barbarism worse than colonialism, only the working class and other oppressed strata can maintain a consistent liberation struggle.
The greatest honour we can do Pa Imoudu is to cleanse Africa, nay, the world of all the oppression, filth and dirt of capitalism and bring into being a socialist society where the free development of one will be the free development of all — a society that will put people’s needs before profit, that will not tolerate the neo-liberal induced famine currently raging in Niger.
Pa Imoudu, rest in peace.