Thursday, June 10, 2021 4:29 pm
By Tony Iyare
When I did the tribute on our two fallen activists, Yinka Odumakin and Innocent Nwankwo, titled, “My Prolonged Trance Over Yinka & Innocent,” little did I envisaged that it would stir the hornet nest and evoke so much controversy and brickbats particularly within the country’s radical revolutionary movement.
Almost everywhere I turned, someone was waiting to pick issues, throw some darts or simply upbraid me with the edge of their tongue. Whether on my facebook wall, deafening phone calls or via physical engagements, the debates over the piece have been heated with some impugning all manner of motives.
There were also those who rather than being locked in some doctrinaire positions, sided with my views that Marxist-Leninist theory is a tool for analysing, explaining and understanding our society and not a dogma. I should however be a little upbeat that at least many were indeed tickled by the 1,885 word tribute.
Confronted by the larger Nigerian crises, now snowballing into demands for independence by self determination groups, largely led by lumpen elements as armed Fulani groups ravage many Nigerian communities, I’ve been nudged into some rhetorical question on how plausible to seek for the resolution of both primary and secondary contradictions in one fell swoop in our dear country.
If some are offended that I lionised Yinka Odumakin for his effrontery to speak truth to power in a clime where many have mortgaged their voices, I really do not have any apologies to offer anyone. Are we pretending to be oblivious to the prevalence of varied strands within the Nigerian revolutionary movement posing different options for getting the country out of its mess? In what way has the presentation of some of the opposing strands as reflected below gone beyond the brink?
“While others of his ilk chose to romanticize class analysis and the primacy of primary contradictions in explaining the crisis of the Nigerian state, he long cast lot to stoutly defend the cause of the Yoruba in a multi-ethnic Nigeria enmeshed in its resolution of the national question.” I’m just wondering in what way does the above statement which some believe was directed at them, also excludes this writer?
Quite frankly, although I had also tangentially sought to whet the appetite of the left and compel some reflection on our praxis over the country’s raging national question, I was a bit taken aback by the responses of those who felt I had set out to undermine and make mincemeat of the epic revolutionary contributions of Eddie Madunagu, an acclaimed radical intellectual, writer and theoretician who recently marked his 75th birthday. Haba!
In their perception, I had committed what amounted to heresy by categorising him along with some highly respected and distinguished Comrades, Ola Oni, Baba Omojola and Godini Gabriel (GG) Darah whom they now demonise as “ethnic champions,” and berate at their Golgotha.
In a country where revolutionary ideas and praxis are not only in contention but still in flux, we must be careful in pushing our positions from the high horse. I’m really amazed to be accused of seeking to “defame” Madunagu.
In his “Madunagu on the National Question,” published in Premium Times of Saturday, May 15th 2021, Comrade Kayode Komolafe who almost came short of pronouncing a fatwa, accused me of “ideological violence”.
Hear him: “..it is a gross defamation of Madunagu’s ideological character for Iyare to include his name in this group. Nothing in the revolutionary politics of Madunagu in the last 45 years could warrant this ideological scandal. What Iyare has done is nothing short of ideological violence!”
I can hardly fathom the import of this charge. Can anyone really point to a golden book or bible of the Nigerian revolution? What then is the basis of KK’s magisterial assertion? Sometimes, I’m really worried about how we bandy words amid misconception and abstraction.
I’m miffed by the resort to very strong words in what ordinarily should be a healthy discourse. It only reminds me of the venom that laced Ishaq Modibbo Kawu’s response to Dare Babarinsa’s piece titled, “Ilorin and the crisis of identity,” published in The Guardian of March 25th, 2021.
I virtually got smothered struggling through Kawu’s piece titled, “Ilorin and Dare Babarinsa’s Crisis of Ignorance” that was full of bile. It appears the atmosphere of insecurity laden with guns that are now cheaper than bread on our streets, has reinforced a dialogue of the deaf which seems to have also permeated our discourse.
In abstracting and amplifying only two issues from my 1,885 word piece, Komolafe went on a voyage of Madunagu’s stance on the national question as if I had embarked on a repudiation of same.
My reference to Ola Oni, Baba Omojola, GG Darah and Edwin Madunagu was on account of the fact that they popularised the discourse on the national question which KK has not faulted. He only added a rider that Madunagu’s view is that the national question should be resolved within the context of the resolution of class contradiction.
Did any of the distinguished comrades ever oppose that? Are we being goaded on some revolutionary utopia that our intervention against all forms of oppression and injustice must only be within the context of the resolution of the class contradiction? If we heed this praxis, perhaps many countries that are now independent in Africa may still be waiting for Godot.
What really is the crime of Ola Oni, Baba Omojola and GG Darah, some of the country’s most accomplished humanists that Komolafe have opted to take them to Golgotha? So their gravitation towards mobilising their people was an offence? For our self styled purists, comrades need to radiate in their cocoon and distance themselves from the agitations of what has been condescendingly referred to as “ethnic struggle” to avoid being labelled “ethnic champions”.
Perhaps we need to be reminded that all the classical Marxist-Leninist works were either written in German or Russian. Why were they not written in Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa? Or what will be our verdict on acclaimed Kenyan Writer, Ngugi wa Thiongo who long ago opted to write mainly in his local language, Gikuyu spoken by 7 million (22%) of the country’s population?
Will I also be accused of irredentism by those who ascribe non engagement of one’s community as revolutionary purism for querying why Ambrose Alli University (AAU), Ekpoma, a 40 year old institution does not teach any Edo languages but instead teaches Modern European languages?
Are we saying it would have been fine for Ola Oni, who played a significant role in nurturing many radical movements across Nigeria to have shut himself away from the agitations of the Yoruba, a group which if massed in Europe with their kith and kin in Diaspora, will be that continent’s 6th most populous country?
Or it was wrong for Baba Omojola, who not only translated the Communist Manifesto into Yoruba by 1985 and had replicated the internationalist exploits of the Argentine Marxist revolutionary, Ernesto Che Guevara by playing a heroic role in revolutionary struggles from Algeria, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa, to have opted also to galvanize the Yoruba?
Those who have already set up a polit bureau to preside over our fate have also sentenced GG Darah for exploiting his intellectual eminence in folklore, dance, and literary scholarship to mobilise the Urhobo and many other Niger Delta groups battling the despoliation of their environment as a result of many years of oil exploitation.
The most uncharitable in KK’s attempt to present Ola Oni as an “ethnic champion” is his allusion to how he was buried as the Olori Apapo Egbe Omo Oodua by Yoruba self determination groups while comrades “watched passively” from the distance. While it is not completely true that comrades did not play a significant part in Ola Oni’s burial, we also need to appreciate that individual comrades are products of diverse social relationships which may play a part at their demise.
At the night of tributes for Comrade Chima Ubani, I recall then Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) President, Ayo Obe stressing the point that “Chima meant different things to different people,” which was a way of reminding comrades that other persons were also involved in mourning him.
Even with his towering status in the revolutionary movement, Ola Oni also meant different things to different people. If Ola Oni were a member of Ogboni or Pyrates Confraternity, how many comrades would have participated in his final rites? How does the mere symbolism of his burial affect his strong revolutionary convictions?
Same for Baba Omojola, who nurtured loads of children from different places in his home. In fact, it took several years before many of us knew Baba’s biological children. Or Festus Iyayi whose social ties to his school mates at Annunciation College, Irhua and Government College, Ughelli was almost as strong as his involvement in the radical movement and ASUU.
You may be chuckled to know how many people made the burial of Karl Marx who was flung from one apartment or the other in London on account of inability to pay his rents. Or the classical musical expert, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was too indebted when he died and had to be buried in a pauper’s grave.
Have we asked why one of the most accomplished founding fathers of the US, Thomas Jefferson, its third President and pioneer Secretary of State, opted for his servants to bear his casket in a simple burial ceremony rather than a glamorous state burial laced with gun salute and parades? Or why Charles de Gaulle, the renowned father of modern France chose a quiet burial in his village, Colombey rather than the glamour of the famous Paris Cathedral and the Pantheon?
Why did Winston Churchill, one of Britain’s most accomplished Prime Ministers and the Allied Commander, Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery shunned burial at the prestigious Westminster Abbey and opted to be laid quietly to rest in their respective villages of Bladon and Binsted?
We need to appreciate that sometimes these issues are not as simplistic and beyond what Guy Burger, a South African Communications scholar calls the bubble gum. The import of all these is that how Ola Oni or these eminent personalities were interred has little to do with their eminence.
We can sit down on hindsight to appraise the role of the students union in their hey days and also the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) but how many of us remember that the radical movement used to see these groups as “bourgeois” which its leading cadres must relate with a long spoon. To buttress this, I will end this piece with a recall of my birth into the revolutionary movement at Ife from an earlier tribute on Dapo Olorunyomi at 60 titled, Toast to Dapsy, Our Grandmaster @60 now published in a book titled, TESTIMONY TO COURAGE, ESSAYS IN HONOUR OF DAPO OLORUNYOMI, edited by Chido Onumah & Frederick Adetiba.
“The period of our enlistment coincided with a raging debate amongst members of the movement on whether its frontline cadres should actively intervene in the Students’ Union which many had hitherto considered “bourgeois”. There was also the fear of exposing the movement’s leading cadres to potential backlash that may ultimately ossify its growth.
“Incidentally the same debate was also taking place amongst members of the Ife Collective about this time on its relationship with the then newly formed Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) which was equally perceived as “bourgeois”. ASUU had arisen from the ashes of the National Association of University Teachers (NAUT) perceived as too conservative. Sometimes these debates and disagreements on theory and praxis become very heated leading to factional groupings.
“It’s the reason why the election of Biodun Jeyifo, now professor of African and African American Studies and Comparative Literature at Harvard University as ASUU President was not only regarded as a “non-event” but he had to wade through what amounted to a near guillotine before some of the comrades grudgingly opted to work with him.
“Recalling this episode in his tribute to Dipo Fashina at 70, Jeyifo narrates his predicament. “Back at Ife, the news of my election as ASUU president was received almost as an anti-climax or non-event, especially by many members of our group, the Socialist Forum Collective. There were three factions: one neutral or indifferent; one supportive but only mildly and cautiously so; one very vigorous in its opposition. This last group was numerically and vocally the most dominant”.
““Its leading proponent …..poured his scorn and disapprobation, not on me, but on the Union and its entire membership. Quite correctly at that time, he said that NAUT/ASUU was a union without backbone or spine, a union that had constantly betrayed its members in the past and would do so again, regardless of its leadership under me/us. Of me this comrade asked what had happened to our longstanding practice of maintaining a distance to conservative, bourgeois organisations that we knew we could never change from within. Why had I unilaterally departed from this practice and had gone and accepted to be ASUU’s national president?””