– Aj. Dagga Tolar

Frank Kokori passed on the very day of his 79th birthday. He was born on December 7, 1944. He carries with him the best legacy of the labour movement in the struggle to end military dictatorship. His role as General Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), alongside Milton Dabibi, the then General Secretary of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSEN), was pivotal in resisting the annulment of the June 12 election and advocating for an end to military dictatorship.

This was in the face of the open betrayal of the central labour union, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), then led by Pascal Bayfau, given its refusal to provide the necessary working-class leadership to the resistance of the working masses to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections, which automatically meant an extension of military dictatorship in the country. Pascal Bayfau had bidded and failed to be Vice President to M. K. O. Abiola, who was the Presidential flag bearer of the Social Democratic Party (SDP); it is not impossible that, like Musa Yar Adua too, he wrongfully saw the annulment of the election as offering another opportunity to bid for the presidency again.

But not so for the working masses, who trooped out in their millions under the directives of the civil society coalition Campaign for Democracy (CD) led by Dr Beko Ransome Kuti (which had Marxists organised under the Labour Miltant soon to become the DSM from whose shoot the MSA emerged from actively involved in organising). The Ibrahim Babangida-led military Junta drowned the protest in blood with the shoot-at-sight order from the military hierarchic under General Sani Abacha, who himself was to soon become the de facto head of the military Junta on November 17, 1993, as a result of the continued pressure from below that had left Babangida with no choice than to hand over power to an Interim government led by Ernest Shonekan, August 27, 1993.

With the military fully back in power, Abacha, the now defacto head of the Junta wielding all of the maximum power of the state and bent to wipe out all agitations against the annulment out of existence, soon had Abiola arrested and detained. The working masses could only but turn to the organised working class in the trade unions, and this was when the Bayfau-led NLC was to be found most wanting. According to Kokori, oil and gas were the key to the economy, and the Junta could be brought to her knees: “That was our strategy, and we controlled the rigs. Though I was a leader in the Nigeria Labour Congress then, the NLC betrayed us. So I had to use my industrial union, NUPENG, which trusted me, and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria… We had to mobilise because we controlled the whole system. The Nigerian refineries were working full-blown at that time. We controlled the terminals exporting oil, the refineries, tanker drivers, and everything downstream, upstream, and midstream. So, we shut down the country.” (

The strike lasted from July to September 1994, making it one of the most important political interventions of the working class against the annulment of the June 12 elections. More importantly, The working class by this very action announced its displeasure in any continuation of military dictatorship in the country(Aj. Dagga Tolar: Nigeria A Country at the Precipice, 2022, p.232).

Yet the working class’s intervention in politics should in no way be limited to bringing about a so-called bourgeois “democratic” capitalist order into being, when in reality, it iamounts to nothing more than the dictatorship of the civilian wing of the ruling class lording itself over the whole of society and appropriating the wealth of society for itself through the exploitation of workers and direct looting of the treasury. 

Involvement in a political movement for the working class should be explicitly framed in alignment with its class interests — advancing the working class, providing leadership for the whole of the working masses, better positioning itself to defend democratic rights and the freedom of the working masses’ struggling to win power ultimately under the banner of a socialist programme, and then setting about reorganising society and country to meet the needs of the working masses.

So when Kokori opines that: “I’m disillusion with the manner of democracy un Nigeria. I had expected that by now. Nigeria should have passed this era of corrupt politicians who don’t think about the masses, who think about their own pocket alone.” (Vanguard, June 12, 2019) Again, in another interview, he states, “The whole problem is corruption … Injustice that people like us were born to fight, you can see that there’s so much injustice and corruption in the country. You have the biggest billionaires in the world in Nigeria and the poorest people who can’t even earn one dollar a day in this country. So, this is the root of the whole thing.” (

Kokori correctly describes the very situation that capitalism brings about. A system that hands off the major sections of the economy to private profiteers, ensuring that the mass of the working people languishes in penury, he assumes wrongly that “corruption is the problem” is the root issue with the country when, in fact, it is capitalism that nurtures corruption. He invests hope in the coming of a so-called “good leader”, which he did in Buhari and was bountifully disappointed. This is the very shortcoming of the best of labour leaders like Kokori, who places their hope on the possibility of a morally upright member of the ruling class coming to power to govern on behalf of the working masses, not recognising that capitalism and its logic makes it impossible for this to happen. 

“You can’t have billionaires as good leaders, you can’t. I have nothing to hide, and that was why I was able to survive the June 12 struggle” (

The quest to accumulate capital and profits is the motive force of capitalist governance since it is the same resources that are needed to meet the needs of the working masses and develop the means of production. 

Frank Kokori will continue to be a reference point in any discussion around labour and politics. But rather than spending energy and time pursuing political ambition within the framework of parties organised to defend capitalist interests of Big Business and the members of the billionaire club, they ought to be at the forefront of organising the working class to independently bid for political power in its own name and platform so as to abolish capitalism.

While mourning the demise of Kokori, it is necessary to state on a very sad note that two months before his death, he had addressed the press from his hospital bed, complaining that he had been “abandoned” and he was dying from a kidney-related ailment in a hospital with the air conditioner not functioning. This speaks much to the terrible state of the health sector in the country and the state agony state that the working masses have to face, bringing home the point as to why the working class needs to act now to arrest the rot and continuous drift into anarchy by the Tinubu regime on account of its refusal to break with capitalism.

Whatever happens, the fact remains that in the anal of the labour movement in Nigeria, the name Frank Kokori will continue to be a point of reference to the fact that workers, with their might and sweat, are the basis of the functionality of the economy, without the work workers do, society comes to a halt. But this power of the working class to shut down society must necessarily also be harnessed to take on the ruling class not to appeal to it to carry out reforms but how this power of the working class can be employed as a unit and force with which to transform society.

Labour leaders and activists must recognise the class nature of society and understand that this is replicated in politics and economics. And so engaging in politics, as witnessed by individuals like Kokori, Oshiomhole, Mohammed Nasir Idris, etc., translates to nothing more than succumbing to the ruling class. Serving their interests, inadvertently reinforcing and perpetuating capitalism, which, in its relentless pursuit of excessive profits for the wealthy elite, leads to the impoverishment of the working masses.

The only course of action open to the working class, if it must attain its liberation and end capitalism’s domination and the continued imposition of misery on them, is to overthrow it. For this to be achieved, labour leaders, yes, like Kokori, must join politics, but with the sole intention of organising the working masses to join an independent political party that will conduct itself in an all-class manner to defend only the interests of the working masses.