By Arthur Nwakanma
Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu, a Ghanaian born Nigerian trade Unionist and statesman from Oshogbo, Osun State,left his mark and footprints in the annals of the trade Union movement both in Nigeria and at the African continental levels. He was elected as the first president of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and subsequently as the Secretary General of the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) in Accra, Ghana.
Born on the 7th of January, 1941,of Osun parentage in Akim Eshien in the former Gold Coast (Ghana),his formal and primary school education commenced in Ghana and continued in Ansar Ud Deen Primary school, Oshogbo between 1948 &1950. He also attended All Saints’School, Oshogbo, and Oshogbo Grammar school in 1955. Shortly after secondary school,he joined the Federal Ministry of Works and Survey as a trainee Assistant Technical Officer.
A child of intellectual promise, in September 1961,the Ministry sent him to the foremost technological institute in Nigeria, Yaba Technical Institute, to study civil engineering. Having excelled in his studies, he was one of the few students admitted for the Higher National Diploma certificate of the institution. By that time, the school nomenclature had changed to Yaba College of Technology. A very strong member of the Muslim Students Society, in his final year, he was appointed the president of the Students Union government of YabaTech. Elected president of the National Association of Technological Students and later the second Vice president of the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) which was changed to National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) after a bitter struggle by NUNS with Conservative and retrogressive forces of the Nigeria state that led to the ban of the Students Union body. He graduated in 1967 from YabaTech as a civil engineer.
An indefatigable fighter for freedom,social justice, equity, fairness, and good conscience in public affairs, he horned and sharpened his progressive credentials and activist consciousness while at the College of Technology. After graduation and having been confirmed as a substantive Technical Officer by the Ministry, he became the Secretary General of the Association of Technical Officers in the ministry. He later became the second Assistant Secretary of the Wahab Goodluck led leftist Public Works Aerodrome Technical and General Workers Union (PWAT&GWU). He was elevated to the presidency of the Union in 1974.
With the formation of a central labour organisation,Nigeria Labour Congress, in 1978, he was easily elected the first president based on his antecedents,commitment, and dedication to duty in the Labour movement.
He proved his mettle,dedication, and principled stand for the working class and the masses of the country through his various achievements while in office. He led the struggle for a just and reasonable minimum wage and pension, which gave rise to the 1981 National minimum wage act. Under his presidency of the labour centre, the may day workers’ celebration was officially recognised and codified as a public holiday. He launched the Workers ‘Charter of Demands’ which serves as a road map/guide to successive NLC leadership. He led a general worker strike against the Shagari administration in pursuit of better welfare for the workers, which the government later acceded to. Just to mention a few.
The period Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu held sway was arguably the golden era of trade unionism in the country. He led the way, and others followed. Labour leaders were fiercely principled, altruistic, committed, shunned wealth and ostentatious living, and dedicated their lives to the struggle for the welfare and better working conditions and environment for the working class. Today, the labour unions have turned instruments for the advancement and enrichment of most of the labour leaders. The welfare of the workers are secondary and easily compromised for filthy lucre while the leadership hobnobs with the oppressive ruling elites for their own selfish end.
It’s apposite for current and aspiring trade Unionists to study this enigma and learn ennobling lessons.
In recognition and appreciation of the great labour leader’s distinguished service to the working class,his contributions to his alma matar and the Nation at large, the Academic Board of YabaTech on the 30th of October,2023 gave him the well deserved award of ‘COLLEGE FELLOW’ which conferment took place on the 35th Convocation of the institution that held on the 23rd of November, 2023. It is gratifying to note the inestimable initiative of The Rector, Yaba College of Technology, Dr Abdul Adedotun, in drawing the attention of the academic board of the institution to honour this national icon. Congratulations to the veteran trade Unionist and statesman. We wish him more accolades,awards, and celebrations in good health and longevity.
The octogenarian Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu is a devout Muslim. His marriage is blessed with children.