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Damachi: Big game player

By Ray Ekpu
15 February 2022   |   3:23 am
Professor Ukandi Damachi, a brilliant scholar who had 25 books to his name and many journal articles is dead.

Professor Ukandi Damachi, a brilliant scholar who had 25 books to his name and many journal articles is dead.

He died a few weeks ago a few months short of 80 years in Geneva, Switzerland. He will be sorely missed not only by his family and friends but also by the academia, the labour universe and the power elite.

Damachi was born on November 17, 1942 in Obudu, that exotic ranch city where flora and fauna meet and merge to provide a kaleidoscope of eye-popping entertainment to visitors and tourists. Obudu, best known for its cattle ranch, which has been transformed into a tourist’s delight, has attracted the attention of the world to its lovely national architecture of exceptional beauty.

Damachi went to some of the best schools in the world: He got his bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology from the National University of Ireland, his masters and Ph.D in Industrial Relations and Sociology from the Ivy League University, Punceton, in the United States. He held teaching appointments in Geneva, United States and Nigeria where he was Dean of the Business Administration Faculty at the University of Lagos. His forte is labour studies and industrial relations. He was an executive member of the International Industrial Relations Association (IIRA), President of the Nigeria Industrial Relations Association (NIRA), Chairman of Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies at Ilorin, Consultant to the Federal Ministry of Labour, Adviser to the Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Adviser to the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) as well as Consultant to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

In 1991, he was appointed Chairman of the National Minimum Wage Board, a position of grave sensitivity because of the predictable politics surrounding minimum wage. The last minimum wage committee recommended the sum of N30, 000, which was grudgingly accepted by the NLC. Up till today, more than one year after the decision, seven of the 36 states have failed or refused to implement the minimum wage approved by the Federal Government. The issue remains unsettled whether or not it is fair for all states, which have varying financial strengths to pay an equal rate as minimum wage. That issue is hanging fire and will remain alive until the next round of minimum wage negotiations.

In Nigeria industrial relations between the government and the trade unions have been undulating. In the last few years, ASUU has been at war with the Federal Government over housekeeping issues. After a long strike and a series of negotiations, there are still intermittent threats of another bout of strikes. The doctors, too, dropped their stethoscopes for several weeks and no one knows how many people died as a result of that strike. Now, the National Assembly is considering legislation that could prohibit workers on essential services from going on strike. Before that kind of legislation can be effective there must be, on ground, other dispute resolution avenues that can assuage the feelings of workers who feel done in by their employers.

Apart from publishing academic books, Professor Damachi tried his hands on commercial publishing. He published a magazine called Development Outlook, which was a hard-facts, development-oriented magazine with emphasis on development economics and environment. He also published a newspaper called Independent. Both the magazine and newspaper were deprived by the economics of publishing of longevity. It is obvious that by foraying into publishing he wanted to put his voice in the market place of ideas. That voice was drowned out by competing voices in the competitive Nigerian publishing firmament.

Damachi was a multi-dimensional man. His business interests included brewing. (He was the Chairman of Cross River Breweries); Insurance (He was Chairman of Nigeria Reinsurance Corporation); pharmaceuticals (He was Chairman of Achita Pharmaceuticals Limited) and Real Estate (He was Chairman of Cross River Estates Limited).

As an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lincoln University, Pennsylvania in the United States he was familiar with the desire of Lincoln to project successful African leaders to the world. Two of those leading Africans that Lincoln honoured were Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria and Dr Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. In later years, Lincoln decided to go beyond the anti-colonialism leaders and look out for emerging Africans of their liberated countries. Damachi was a good source because of his extensive travel in and knowledge of Africa. I was co-opted to join in the search. Two Nigerians that Lincoln found worthy to be honoured were Dr Peter Odili, then Governor of Rivers State and President Olusegun Obasanjo. Lincoln is still interested in honouring more African leaders of great quality. This is Lincoln’s contribution to the improvement of quality leadership in Africa as Africa struggles for global relevance in a fiercely competitive world.

Damachi was a member of Vision 2010 which was supposed to be Nigeria’s think tank that was to generate ideas in all facets of our national life towards the upliftment of Nigeria into a first world country. The 2010 documents never got implemented. Everything just ended on the refuse heap. The problem with Nigeria has never been the shortage of ideas. Ideas abound everywhere. Reports upon reports have been written based on a multiplicity of conferences held but those seminal ideas never get translated into actions that can transform the country. The 2014 national conference reviewed all the reports of past conferences, distilled the recommendations and together with the new recommendations it generated, compiled more than 600 recommendations for implementation. Were those recommendations implemented? No. Are they being implemented now? No. What a country?

Damachi was not one to talk carelessly about his contributions to the policy construction and implementation of the various Nigerian governments, military and civilian. But he was an unseen hand in several spheres, advising, recommending, prescribing and advocating what he considered good for the country. Only people close to him knew the roles that he played. He did this because he loved Nigeria and always wished that Nigeria could get better, much better, than it is now, with all its immense potentials in materials and manpower.

Even when he was on his sick bed in Geneva, Switzerland I called him many times. Each time we spoke he never ceased to pose the question “How is our country?” He always wanted to know something about the insecurity, the economy, the politics etc. I often gave him a fairly optimistic picture and urged him to take care of his health because I was sure Nigeria was capable of taking care of its problems. Even though he bore his ailment bravely and with great fortitude he still wanted to be a part, even a small part, of the smell and drama that was unfolding daily in Nigeria. There can be no more eloquent tribute to the surviving power of his reputation than the fact that he truly loved Nigeria even in the worst of times for him and the country.

Damachi was a brilliant strategist who had wit, intelligence and directness. For him, there was no monkeying about on any issue. He was direct, always direct. He was a clear-headed thinker, whose answers to questions were always direct and spontaneous. He had a good memory and a head for figures. He had no mobile phone. He never carried one. His Personal Assistant always carried the phone he used. He never had a phone book, whether electronic or manual. His nimble brain was his phone book in which he stored the phone numbers, local and international, of his family members, friends and associates. All their phone numbers were lodged in his head, and anytime he wanted to speak to someone he simply reeled out the numbers to his personal assistant. An amazing act of recall!

I wish his luck had held a little longer so that the world would benefit further from the ideas of and interaction with this phenomenal human being who seemed to have a solution for every problem. The only problem in the recent past that he had no solution to was his health challenge which had lingered for several months even though he received expert attention in Geneva. My heart goes out to his wife Franka, his children and other members of the Damachi clan. May his soul rest in peace. Amen