Comrade Martin Bolum Nwachukwu in this interview with journalists speaks on the leadership crisis that once bedeviled the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, Delta State Branch, and expressed confidence in the latest efforts of the national secretariat to restore peace in the Association. Excerpts
What is the current situation in the ASCSN, Delta State Branch?
It’s not good. There is a complete political induced, unwarranted crises salvo by few elements to incapacitate and undermine the leadership of the Association both at the national and state level. The crisis now in ASCSN Delta State is simply orchestrated by a group led by Charles Isiayi who wants to forcefully enthrone his cronies on the association as the branch Chairman through peddling of false rumours, legalistic tricks, brigandage and all sorts of antics you find in the larger political field which he has imported into ASCSN out of sheer desperation.
ASCSN had been peaceful though with the usual low scale politicking and maneuvering for offices over the years developing incrementally and solidifying until the bitter contest in 2021.
The best way to describe it is to go back to last year when the 5th Quadrial Delegate Conference held on 12th October 2021, when I emerged at the substantive chairman of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria.
A particular candidate became obsessed about my emergence and made it his only campaign agenda and worked out desperately employing campaign of calumny, wide-scale bribery of delegates, importation of thugs to our 5th Quadrial Delegate Conference and election and eventually disrupted the election in the State Secretariat when he saw that he was not going to win. The national leadership of the Association was attacked at the venue which forced them to move the election to a safer venue where all delegates were accredited and election was held peacefully and I emerged as the chairman. And Comrade Aweka Avwenaghagha as elected as Vice Chairman, Comrade Mafiana Patricia as Vice Chairman, Comrade Egwrisase Akpos as the Treasurer, Comrade Orugboh Arubi, Internal Auditor, Comrade Igho Julius as Ex-officio member, Comrade Ukey Efetobo, Ex-officio member; Comrade Churchill Egbregba, Ex-officio member; Comrade Diden Ereomola, Ex-officio member; and Comrade Kebodi Scholastica, Ex-officio member.
They imported thugs, non-members and went against all conventions for the conduct of election. They saw clearly that they would not win the election and they adopted the tactic of the Nigerian politician: any election you feel you cannot win, disrupt it if you can so you can have another chance at the poll. In a desperate determination to hijack the leadership of the association by any unwarrantable means necessary, after the disruption of the election by the agents of the desperate candidate, they seized the union secretariat and within the period of their illegal occupation, they defaced the entire secretariat and loot a lot of the Association’s properties.
That got us to the point we are now; they are dissatisfied with my emergence as the Chairman, instead of following the due process for lodge of election complains, they became agitated and combative. My emergence gave rise to a period of optimism but, since then, the trivial faction has managed to claw back everything about the Association at the State level, in particular by fighting to illegally take control over the affairs of the Union and followed up with the seizure of the State secretariat. They’ve managed to have their own way, and having their own way means of course launching all kinds of arsenal to destroy the Association in Delta State. They have instituted several court cases against me, the Head of Service in the Officer of the Delta State Governor, the Nigeria Police and the National president of the Association.
Prior before now, I have convened stakeholders meetings to discuss the matter so as to yield to their demand with hope to get things sorted amicably through negotiation. Apart from the meetings with the State Government, there was another meeting with the Commissioner of Police and security agencies. Yet, they refused giving up. They went about with all sorts of unfounded allegations against my executive council of trying to impose ourselves on the Association, doctoring the union’s documents and blackmail against the National Leadership that they must not preside over the elections, which has been our tradition, because they said the national is not fair to them.
But we were told you sought to impose yourself as the branch chairman to cover up some illegalities. How true is this?
That statement is most untrue. I had served for 4 years as Vice Chairman from 2016-2021 and gave a comprehensive account of my stewardship in the office. No illegalities were raised and pointed out about me all through those 4 years I gave an account of my service in which these characters making such claims now were present.
So, how come those illegalities were not pointed out even at the Conference but suddenly surfaced in the aftermath of a disrupted election? It is trite in ASCSN history to read any untoward meaning into a Vice Chairman becoming Chairman. I was Vice Chairman before becoming the Chairman. So, what is the big deal if a Vice Chairman aspired and got elected as Chairman?Are ASCSN members blind not to know the right person to vote for? I have answered your question on purported illegalities. My records in office are well documented for anyone to read and verify. Let any illegality I have committed be pointed out. I do not need anyone to cover anything for me.
There are claims the conflict is all about who controls the vast properties owned by ASCSN and possible take home the proceeds or even sale off?
The allegation is utterly false. No leadership of ASCSN over the years converted proceeds of the union into personal use. No executive has had any control or documents and the power to sell any part of the land to anyone or convert the proceeds of rents. I do not have any legal titles or deeds to the land in my custody so with which documents would I and my executive have to sell any land?
The issue of some desperate persons going about making baseless accusations against me and other past executives is sheer wickedness arising out of the angling for an office that seems to be eluding them. After the election, they forcefully took over the secretariat of the union, opened a bank account with Fidelity Bank, collected rents from the tenants within the Secretariat, those who couldn’t comply were chased away and their apartment taken and given to their cronies. They run the secretariat for their personal interest, erecting illegal structures within the premises were unwholesome drinks were sold and bought by passer-by. Their personal interest in trying to hijack the leadership of ASCSN is for self-aggrandizement not service to the association. Again, the period under their control at the Secretariat, the generator was vandalized and functional parts removed and sold. It is sad that all they want to see is the leadership of ASCSN abusing the State Government on the faces of the newspapers and electronic media all the time. The era of radicalism is long gone. What is in vogue now is dialogue with the government to achieve results.They also incurred bills from the Power Holding to the tune of half a million; salaries of employers in the secretariat were not paid within the months they were under control. All items within the secretariat were vandalized.
What is the way out of this seeming impasse?
The crisis was orchestrated by a desperate group and they have blacklisted all the parties from intervening. They have shown gross disrespect to all the State Civil Service and official organs of the Association. They claimed to have started a revolution in ASCSN and that they must lead or destroy the Association if not allowed to lead. They have rebuffed all the mediating roles of the State Government, the Police and others so ASCSN has to just simply allow the constitutional provisions to play out. They have challenged everything in court. They are being led by a lawyer so litigation is their forte and they think they could use the court to wrest power they could not get at the polls. Instead of waiting upon the court, they hurriedly wrote petition to Zone 5 alleging threat to life. I was arrested in Zone 5 Benin but the police found no threat to life from me. It was parts of the stunt threats designed to frighten me into handing over the Association leadership to them.
Unfortunately, police identified their allegation was false, but instead of making them face potential misdemeanor charges for spreading false information to the police, they were let go. Nevertheless, I went further to disclose to the police his video footage where he posited “we believe in action and by this our action must produce results. I told the national chairman that some of us are from the Niger Delta region. We threaten and we follow up. We started kidnapping……(inaudible).”
I also showed the police audio evidence where he personally claimed to have mobilized thugs to disrupt the election of the Association. In the audio he said, “As the youth leader, I also mobilized boys from the polytechnic in Ogwashi-Uku, Benin and from Anwai. I paid them and some other identified hostile Ijaw youths in Asaba; I equally brought them to the election venue to (inaudible). It’s proper I should say these things’’
So, on his continued threat to the life of the National President and other State Exco, the national Secretariat through the Association lawyer wrote petition to the Inspector General of Police to investigate for his alleged involvement in “starting kidnapping”, using thugs to invade the State secretariat and circulation of information intended to cause fear and panic.
It could mean nothing and it could mean a lot. It was a true threat. True threats encompass those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals. His threat is direct with the intent of placing me in fear of bodily harm or death. My life is in danger. I can’t move freely. The video and audio hostages of his violent threats are there.
Do you think that your direct opponent who contested the election is responsible for these ugly intrigue and subsequent re-displacement seen recently in your secretariat?
I don’t think that there is any doubt that they are responsible for some of the ugly development as you rightly pointed out. I wouldn’t say that he is responsible for the outbreak of the current crises but he is the root cause of it. He is jumping on any opportunity he can to slow down my leadership. People very close to him are stirring up trouble against the state and national secretariat.
Is it not a dangerous strategy? At some point it might be uncontrollable for the national secretariat.
Yes, it is administratively possible. However, the National Secretariat has the punitive instruments to keep members into line. As my comrades and personal friends, I slowed down the process for the sake of their careers.
So, an outbreak of power tussle was much unexpected and it indicates worryingly that activities of the association have been disrupted for the past seven months. For them, another month in power is a good thing and an opportunity to steal and accumulate more money. But at the moment, it is not about election matter but criminality.
Isn’t the association suffering from crises?
The State branch of the Association is fraying very badly but has not affected the statutory functions of the State exco. In the midst of this distraction by these miscreants, our exco was able to interface with the State Government towards releasing the funds to retirees for which N2 billion was made available. In addition, the State government proposed to release additional N2 billion to clear backlogs. In the same vain, workers who were exited from the government central payroll system for sundry reasons were reinstated. In collaboration with other sister unions, specifically NLC and TUC, we executed a successful 2022 May Day celebration with all labour demands met by the Government etc.
At the moment the sort of constellation of aggressive rivalries after the election is surprising, dangerous and extremely worrying. Whether or not there is outright open attack on myself and executive, or whether or not leadership of ASCSN has a very decisive period, whatever happens ‒ we must continue to make positive progress; I am still ready to get seated and discus with all aggrieved parties towards resolving the impasse amicably.
Nevertheless, they have to reorient themselves toward what I would call “damage limitation” and limit the damage that is currently being done to the Association by the impasse.
What is the way forward?
We are working to keep things going on the right track: find points of progress, support our members who are working in the right direction and try to make the ASCSN inevitably and irreversibly better and stronger. The second very important point is to fight in every way we can to keep the leadership space of the Association open so that every member will equal participate meaningfully.
I think people approach ASCSN with their own preconceptions and their own way of thinking about things and developing the Association. But we have to go beyond mediocrity, politics and radicalism; try to find a more healthy form of leadership for the Association, which is rooted on collective bargaining in line with Geneva Convention.