Former Deputy President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Hon. (Comrade) Joseph Iranola Akinlaja, has lamented the death of his former boss, Comrade (Chief) Frank Ovie Kokori, saying his immense patriotism and sincere commitment to a better democratic Nigeria and robust trade unionism would be greatly missed.
Kokori, former General Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), died around 1am on his 80th birthday, December 7, 2023.
In a statement Akinlaja tagged “End Of An Era,” which he personally signed in Abuja at the weekend, he said he received with immense sadness, news of the passing of globally acclaimed unionist, writer, thinker, scholar, orator, tutor, organizer, administrator, cultural icon, nationalist and politician of the very first rank.
Akinlaja joined in condoling with the legendary unionist’s family, friends, colleagues, past and present General Secretaries and Presidents of NUPENG, admirers and all who have learnt indelible lessons of human existence from Kokori’s award winning works of labour activism in driving forward the reform of the trade union movement.
He added that he was consoled by the knowledge that Kokori would live forever in the hearts and minds of present and future generations through his great works, which brought him enduring international fame and countless honours.
The statement said, “I received with immense sadness, news of the passing away of global acclaimed unionist, writer, thinker, scholar, orator, tutor, organizer, administrator, cultural icon, nationalist and politician of the very first rank. His immense patriotism and sincere commitment to a better democratic Nigeria and robust trade unionism would be greatly missed.
“In retrospect, I met Chief Kokori in 1975, precisely 48 years ago. He was a good leader that any mentee can be proud of and to even emulate. His leadership skills were exceptional, and indeed, posterity would be kind to him and everything he left behind, including his legacies and family.
“During his last moment with me in Warri on his hospital bed, under severe pains and in an emotionally-laden voice, he said JOSEPH, as he usually called me, and said life was ebbing out of him, because the air-conditioner in the hospital had been switched off due to high cost of diesel.
“Tell them that I can pay any amount, or even ask you and others to pay for me, but let them switch on the AC for me because I’m dying.” Those were his words to me that day.
“He also told me if he ever come out alive in that hospital he will advise government to make the refineries work, he also decried why successive governments have failed to keep the refineries up on stream. Despite old age, the zest was still in him to challenge the status quo. Even when he was dying, he was still thinking about Nigeria and the pains of Nigerians. It was really heart-rending for me to see such a great icon melt away like a candle beside the fire.
“I remember vividly those glorious years when he handed over the mantle of administrative leadership of NUPENG to me as the General Secretary in year 2000, having served meritoriously for good 17 good years, he built NUPENG to the level that the junior oil workers’ Union became a beautiful bride of envy to everyone within and outside trade unionism, both in the formal and informal sectors.
“Nevertheless, I am consoled by the knowledge that Kokori would live forever in the hearts and minds of present and future generations through his great works which brought him enduring international fame and countless honours of a man of class, integrity and finesse.
“I strongly believe that Kokori’s frank, truthful and fearless interventions in national affairs especially during the June 12 struggle brought out the hero in him. He was dedicated, resilient, dogged and courageous, he confronted the military regime headlong in the face of barrel of the gun, he was locked up in a solitary desert prison in Bama, Borno State, for four years, yet he kept on the fighting spirit, until democracy was finally respected and restored in Nigeria. Kokori was not just Frank in name but also Frank in vision and in principles.
“All these he chronicled in his book, “Frank Kokori: The Struggle for June 12.”
“However, since Nigeria did not honour Kokori while alive, I think it is appropriate to honour him posthumously with the National award as one of the HEROES OF DEMOCRACY in Nigeria.”
Akinlaja prayed God to receive Chief Kokori’s “great soul and grant him eternal rest from his outstanding earthly labours.”