The choice of Comrade Hassan Sunmonu as Chairman of the Committee of Government and Labour to oversee the allocation of Osun state’s revenues towards prompt payment of salaries as well as adequate running of government is quite symbolic of a worker-friendly government. This appointment did not come to many as a surprise, going by Sunmonu’s antecedents. Surprisingly, if there is any, may be, is probably due to the fact that the much maligned head of government of the state, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, was bold enough to go for a no-nonsense labour leader in the mould of the Comrade. Why? If truly the government was guilty of the sometimes alleged nonchalant attitude towards Osun workers, he most certainly wouldn’t want such a calibre of person near his administration. So far, so good, transparency runs in Osun finances and the workers are most satisfied. The sacrifices by Osun workers cannot but be commended.
Comrade Hassan Sunmonu was born in the village of Akim-Eshiem, in Ghana to Nigerian parents. He has an identical twin brother named Hussein, both of whom worked with the Federal Ministry of Works in the 1960s. Sunmonu briefly attended a primary education in Ghana before following his paternal grandmother and mother back to Nigeria where they settled at Osogbo, present day State of Osun, Southwest Nigeria. In Osogbo, he attended Ansar Ud Deen between 1948 and 1950, All Saints School, Osogbo and then Osogbo Grammar School in 1955. As a young student, he and his twin met Alake Ladapo Ademola who was then in exile in Osogbo. Ademola later sponsored his trip to Ghana after he quit school due to lack of support in paying the school fees. Sunmonu stayed in Ghana till 1956 before moving back to Nigeria a year later. In 1957, he gained admission into a technical school in Yaba where he earned a certificate in 1961. Sunmonu completed his education with a diploma in civil engineering from Yaba College of Technology. During his final year at Yaba College, he was president of the college’s student union, an executive member of the National Union of Nigerian Students and member of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria.
Sunmonu joined the civil service in 1961 working for the Federal Ministry of Works and Surveys as a technical officer. His first assignment was working on the Zaria-Kano road. Sunmonu later became the General Secretary of the Association of Technical Officers within the Ministry.
In 1969, he became the Second Assistant Secretary of the Wahab Goodluck led Public Works Aerodrome Technical and General Works’ Union. In 1974, he became the union’s president.
Sunmonu was elected president of the newly formed Nigerian Labour Congress in 1978. Prior to the union’s formation, the Obasanjo-led federal military government had disbanded four national labour centres, including the moderate United Labour Congress led by Haroun Adebola and the more radical Nigeria Trade Union Congress. As a labour leader, Sunmonu’s NLC presented a Charter of Demands that among other things sought the institutionalisation of a national minimum wage and minimum pension scheme. To press the government to approve its demand, NLC embarked on a nationwide strike in May 1981.The Shehu Shagari’s administration subsequently reached a compromise with the union.
So popular was this famed fiery labour leader that Fuji lovers of the early 80s will not forget easily Kollington Ayinla’s vinyl “Sunmonu n so fun ‘Joba p’ogorun meta lawon le-gba…” (Sunmonu is telling government that Labour won’t accept anything less than N300 as minimum wage….”). Labour and government later settled for about N100 minimum wage. Today, the sing-song is N56,000! But sweet as a raised minimum wage could be in the short run, has this ever solved workers’ problem or added to it, even quadrupled? It is high time we put on a thinking cap on best ways to remunerate workers other than raising of salaries which later create galloping inflations and quadruples workers’ sorrow instead of abating it. This has put question marks on the desirability of raising minimum wage arbitrarily. But this is a story for another day.
Today, Ayekooto celebrates this labour icon, father of workers, friend of government, untainted, and trusted by both government and people of the state of Osun to create a win-win atmosphere in the equitable sharing of scarce state resources.