Pa Michael Imoudu, a selfless labour leader
Michael Athokhamien Omnibus Imoudu, generally known as Pa Imoudu, was a labour union leader and activist. He encouraged workers in both the private and public sectors to form unions. During the colonial era, he used strike actions to seek better working conditions for Nigerian workers, as well as make the British change obnoxious laws that affected workers.
He later joined the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) and was one of the party’s delegates to London in protest of the 1946 Richards Constitution.
Born September 7, 1902, in Ukpafikan Quarters, Oke Ora near Sabongida Ora in Edo State, Imoudu attended Government School, Ora. At the death of his father, he accompanied his uncle to Sapele, later to Onitsha and finally to Agbor, where he completed his primary school education.
After his primary education, Imoudu moved to Lagos and worked with the Posts and Telegraphs Department as a linesman before moving to the Nigeria Railways.
While with the Railways, Imoudu became actively involved in the Railway Workers Union (RWU) and in 1939; he became president of the union. In the same year, the union was registered under the Trade Union Ordinance, which allowed it to seek collective bargaining with their employers. With Imoudu as head, the union renewed its demand for higher wages, de-casualization and improved working conditions.
Imoudu had constant clashes with European managers because of the preferential treatment given to European officials. Between 1941 and 1943, Imoudu was queried many times and dismissed in January 1943.
With the formation of the African Civil Servants Technical Workers Union in 1941 and Imoudu being the Vice President, he used the organisation to agitate for war bonus — Cost Of Living Allowance (COLA) — to cushion the effects of inflation caused by World War II (WW II). The government listened and made some COLA concession in 1942 under the leadership of Bernard Bourdillon.
In 1943, Imoudu was dismissed and detained, but his detention was later changed to restriction of movement. He was released on May 20, 1945, after the end of WW II.
In 1946, Imoudu identified with NCNC and was nominated to its executive council.
From 1947 to 1958, he led different trade unions, including the All Nigeria Trade Union Federation, which enjoyed initial success, incorporating 45 out of the 57 registered unions at the time.
Pa Imoudu did all this with no intention of enriching himself, but to improve the nation and create a better working environment for workers. He could not even build a house or buy a car for himself, despite his dealings with the government and captains of industry. He was focused on making Nigeria a better country than milking the people.
During the Second Republic, he joined the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) as its deputy National President.
In pursuit of his welfare ideologies, he awarded scholarships to youths from different backgrounds to study in the USSR, China, and East Germany.
In 1982, however, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo built a house and bought a car for him as gifts for his 80th birthday, while a labour institute, Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies (MINILS), was established and named after him in 1986. He died on June 22, 2005.
• Compiled by Omiko Awa