Remembering Teslim “Samore” Oyekanmi (17/11/69-2/10/11) – Brain Behind the Police Rank-and-File strike (2002)

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It’s now a decade since we lost Samore. He was a fearless revolutionary, versatile unionist, brilliant activist and unrepentant Mayost who lived life to the fullest.

But alas, sickness took him away from us at his prime. And this was barely two years after we lost his partner Zainab, a revolutionary Mayist in her own right.

Teslim was Secretary General of the LASU students union towards the end of the last century. Zainab would later serve as Vice President and then Ag. President of the same union in the following session.

I met Tes in the run up to the election where he emerged as SG of LASUSU. Whilst I’d started full time work in the trade union movement, I kept close in contact with the students movement, spending many an evening on campuses like LASU.

He was recruited into the May 31st Movement (M31M, the precursor of today’s SWL) when he was a LASU union leader. And he remained a lifelong member of the movement. He was quite critical of a number of things bearing on internal democracy. Some of these became clearer only after his death. We have however learned our lessons from them.

On graduating with a BA in History and International Relations, he started working as a journalist with Alao Arisekola’s paper. I think it was called ‘The Monitor.’

He wrote an exposé on KWAM1, the popular pro-establishment fuji crooner. Not surprisingly, Wasiu (KWAM) had ties with Arisekola.

The paper’s publisher put pressure on Samore to retract the story and/or identify his source. He refused to do either of these. He stood by his story & dared KWAM to go to court. Tes was then summarily sacked.

Before this, he had taken his first steps into the trade union movement. He had been elected as Chair of the Lagos State Correspondents Association (LASCA) Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists.

His open, generous and vibrant approach to life, work, and politics had endeared him to many. It also incurred not a few enemies.

Anyway, he got to work as a correspondent with The Punch newspapers. This led to his making what might be one of the most important, but unsung steps in the country’s revolutionary history – organizing the short-lived Nigeria Union of Police which led the police wo/men’s strike in February 2002.

The opening chapter of this historic development was written at a bar in the ancient city of Benin. Whilst having a drink and inviting persons in the bar to join him, amidst his witty thrust of conversation, he met with some junior ranks in the Edo State Police Command.

They complained of how they were suffering (while the top ranks were enjoying life). Most of them had not received promotions in years. Salaries were also irregular and they had to sew their uniforms at their own costs.

Samore told them that this was because they didn’t have a union. The police officers first laughed at his suggestion that they should be unionized. Police wo/men, they said, are law enforcement officers, so they could not be unionists.

Samore debunked this argument. He gave several examples of countries where police unions existed. Where he won them to his line of thinking was when he gave the example of POPCRU in South Africa.

This was not some distant, Western country. If there could be a union in another African country, why couldn’t there be one in the so-called giant of Africa?

Not all the officers were convinced though. And amongst those convinced morale initially went down after they discussed with other officers. Those ones pointed out that they were playing with fire which could cost them their lives.

Samore was however someone that would not let an idea die out once he had sowed it in people’s minds.

He informed and inspired them with histories of trade unions emerging as clandestine societies even in countries now considered the gold standard of (liberal) democracy.

Gradually but surely, he won over and established a core group. For the (to start as a clandestine) union envisaged to be national, they had to seek out like minds and build structures across the country.

It was at this point that he came to brief me at Akure where I was working as Ondo State Secretary of MHWUN. For three days, we reflected for hours through the night with quite a few emptied bottles of squadron and cigarette butts in the background.

He knew that he was putting his life on the line. If things went wrong, the state would definitely act nasty. But he felt this was an opening that we were duty-bound to seize.

Realizing the perilous path we were taking, we decided to restrict information on what was happening within the movement. This was to protect the effort, our organization, and its cadre. For accountability, only one other leading comrade was informed until much later.

Teslim assumed the nommé de guerre of “Monday Sule” becoming secretary of the underground NUP. He and a select few from the Edo State Police Command toured strategic centres in the country where they found support.

The faceless NUP issued demands to the IGP for improvement of rank and file welfare. This was dismissed as mere irritation by the top brass. Tes then convinced the NUP that they had to use the ultimate power of workers/unions: the mass strike.

In February 2002, after 9 months of building the NUP underground, the union called a strike. To say this was historic would be an understatement. President Obasanjo and the entire state machinery were thrown into a state of shock!

Indeed, the bourgeois class could not comprehend how such a thing could happen. I remember going to the First Atlantic bank branch I used at Akure at the time.

The manager took pains to explain to customers that they had to shut down from the following day when the strike would commence because they didn’t know how long it would last and they couldn’t guarantee security! I couldn’t hide my smirking.

Soldiers were drafted to take over policing functions and hundreds of rank-and-file police suspected of being members of NUP were silently rounded up.

All the police’s demands except for democratic involvement were implemented. But behind the curtains, dozens were tortured, with many of these executed.

According to Samore, probably as many as 37 persons were killed. Several of them knew Monday Sule. But they defended this knowledge with their very lives. NUP was snuffed out after this. Virtually all its leading lights in the force were amongst those executed.

In 2006 Samore applied to work with MHWUN as an organizing Secretary. He commenced work with the union a year and a half later. He served at different times as state secretary in Gombe, Bauchi and the FCT as well as in the National Secretariat.

The union leadership appreciated his skills as a writer and organizer. His frankness, fearlessness, and prioritizing rank-and-file’s roles in the union however saw to his having several head-on collisions with the state chairpersons in the councils he worked in.

This was one of the reasons why he was brought back to the national headquarters. Both Comrade Ayuba Wabba (National President) & Marcus Ighodalo Omokhuale (Secretary General) appreciated his talents as a unionist and mourned him on his death.

His move to the Hq came whilst I was studying in Germany & Brazil. On my return, we had time to bond again, for a while. Little did I know it would be for less than 2years.

He lived with me briefly at that point in time. As I write, I remember those nights we would come home pissing drunk, to the consternation of my wife.

He always stood by me. When my family was to be thrown out by the landlord whilst I was away, he was one of the persons I turned to for a loan. And when I returned and tried to pay the debt, he refused to collect it.

I also could never deny him anything within my reach. So, when he asked me to help get Che Oyinatumba (also a leading member of our tendency at the time) a job at the Labour Party, I had to.

I walked up to Dan Nwuanyanwu, the party chair, the following day to push for this. He promptly said yes. It was the first and last favor I ever asked for from him in the twelve years we were on the LP national leadership together.

Things started to go downhill in Tes life from 2009. Nine months after delivering their daughter (Agustina Neto, her elder brother is named Cabral) on May Day 2008, Zainab (Zee Mama), an activist, and lawyer who had been his soulmate from school died.

This hit Samore badly. I don’t think he ever recovered psychologically from that. The physiological blows came not much later. By the beginning of 2011 tuberculosis and diabetes had ravaged his body.

Unfortunately, he did not help matters. He kept drinking even if not as much as before. We would quarrel over this several times when we met. Esther, whom he’d started dating in 2010 would also call me on many occasions to ask me to tell my brother and comrade to leave the bottle.

Tes would promise to “try” each time we talked about it. But it would be the same story next time.

I remember the last time I saw him, which was a few months before his death. There was some drama to that meeting.

OSJ had informed me that Tes had been admitted at LUTH. I was in Lagos for a day’s assignment. But I sure as hell wasn’t going to leave without checking upon him.

So I called to let him know, but he wasn’t picking his calls. I then texted asking him to send details of his ward, which he did.

On getting to that men’s ward in LUTH, I couldn’t find him. I then called and he said he was there. Still confused I asked that we meet at the laundering section, got there, and called. He said he was there too.

It was at that point I asked him “which hospital are you actually now?” And it turned out it was LASUTH and not LUTH.

I headed straight to LASUTH and we had a good laugh over that comedy of errors. I never knew that that would be my last laughter with our Samore.

Rest in Power comrade. Like the rejuvenation of May, your name will be written with the spirit of spring, when our story is told.

by Baba AYE

2/10/2021

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