Nigeria: Death of a dream

Or call it the death of illusion! The sordid and dastardly events of the past few days brought my days as an undergrad at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) flooding through my mind. We bristled with ideologies and were called “ideologues” or “Socialists” by our ideologically-empty, naive or outright reactionary opponents on campus. Yes, we were proud Socialists, mainly of the Marxist-Leninist hue but we also broke into Leninists, Trotskyites, Kautskyites, Stalinists; Mao-ists; and there were those who idolised Che and Fidel.

I remember Femi Falana, Shenge Rahman (Akanbi), Akin Akingbulu, Mallam Olapeju, Femi Adewunmi (of blessed memory), Femi  Fatonade, Owei Lakemfa, Wale Olajire (Ajao), Wale Adekunle, Dapo Olorunyomi, Tai Abiodun, Gbolahan Gbadamosi (GG), Remi Elumoye, to mention but a few. Our staff advisers and older Comrades on the teaching staff include Dr. Segun Osoba, Dr. Dipo Fashina (aka Jingo), Professor Toye Olorode, Professor. Idowu Awopetu, Professor. Biodun Jeyifo, and the young, effervescent Mallam Femi Taiwo. Our organisations were the Alliance of Progressive Students (ALPS) and the Movement for National Advancement (MONA).

We breathed radicalism. “Struggle” was the blood that flowed in our veins – Aluta! We devoted much – if not more – attention to Marxist literature as we did our course work. We were on fire on Marxist ideologies and tactics of the revolution. We took turns to prepare seminar papers on topics that broadened our knowledge of the theory as well as praxis of struggle and debated all night. In those days, the Left was a potent force in campus politics, fielding or supporting candidates for elective offices. I contested as chairman of the Adekunle Fajuyi Hall in my final year (1981/82) and won. In that capacity I was also a member of the Students’ Representative Council. We took the campus by storm on sensitive national and local issues. It was the Leftists or Socialists versus the rest of them.

Our heroes were Karl Marx, Engels, Lenin, Chairman Mao, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, Joe Slovo, Ruth First, Walter Rodney, Paulo Freire; to mention but a few. Revolutionary quotes filled our brains and the rhetoric of struggle danced menacingly on our lips. We were simply unstoppable! The rallying cry of Karl Marx’s Communist manifesto: “Workers of all countries, Unite!” was also our battle cry. We were internationalists, seeing beyond Fela who was quoted as saying “I see no country, I see no barrier, I see Africa!” We were not Africanists but citizens of the world promoting the formation of a world government led by workers as vanguard of the revolution and allowing no room for divisive, sectional, and sectarian sentiments such as blood relationships, ethnicity, and religion. The world was our stage!

Forty years down the road, the narrative has changed! I am certain many of us still carry the ideas in our head and the ideals still burn brightly in our heart but many have become lost in the labyrinth of their actualisation. Now as a professing Christian, I have never failed to appreciate the correctness of the Marxist interpretation of the forces at play in social relations and the production process. The Marxist postulation of “from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs” appears to me the most rational solution to the problem of “resource control” – but for man’s (innate?) greed. Unbridled capitalism is oppressive; it breeds inequality and spurns violence. Unjust production relations breed unjust social and political relations.

The shortcomings in such a system are the absence of justice, fair play, and equity. A tiny minority acquires all powers and privileges – social, political, and economic – while the vast majority wallow at the receiving end of deprivation, want, lack, poverty, and oppression. Accentuating the system widens the gap between rich and poor, and between haves and have not. Such disequilibrium breeds strife and antagonism between social, political, and economic forces or classes, resulting in unending class struggle. Who says class division says class struggle!

Critics accuse Marxism of stifling enterprise and holding down the strong for the weak or slothful. All through history, it would appear that the human mind lacks the capacity to actualize or attain the utopia envisaged in the highest stage of Communism. Scripture records that the Church fathers started well in Acts 4:32 when “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul” and where no one of them laid any claim to what was theirs “but they had all things common”. In demonstration of this, a certain Jones Barnabas, “having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” That was communal-ism (or Communism?) at work. Sadly, that was how far the success story went. The next chapter tells the story of husband and wife, Ananias and Sapphira, who also sold land but “brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” but lied that they had yielded everything. Greed and dishonesty!

Ideas and ideals are one thing; implementation in the face of practical realities is another. Most of the radical thoughts, ideas, and ideals that we carried in our hearts as budding Marxists on campus we have found impossible to stamp on our society. Many older Comrades suffered depression and died of frustration. Many expressed regrets about the lines of action they trod. There have been revisions and rationalisations. And there have been outright abandonment or renunciation of struggle as we knew it. The result is that the Nigerian Left today is a far cry from what it used to be. Many of its leading lights who are still active have been sucked into the vortex of what we used to derisively refer to as bourgeois (party) politics! Many have even become “ethnic jingoists” or champions of the politics of the “National Question” or “resource control”.

I doubt if many of the younger generations, otherwise called the Twitter or digital age generation, ever heard or read Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth” but their affirmative END SARS NOW action can be taken as a direct response to Fanon’s prodding when he said: “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it”. The youths’ action shook the country to its very foundations and portrayed the ruthless APC/Muhammadu Buhari civilian junta as more clueless and ineffective than the PDP/Goodluck Jonathan government it replaced. Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, spoke of “the wasted generation”. It was under the very nose of my own generation that the middle class was viciously and maliciously wiped out by a combination of capricious military adventurers and malevolent, fawning, East-wind politicians that succeeded them.

Seeing these and not satisfied, our youths decided to chart a new course for themselves; they picked up the gauntlet and seized the bull by the horns. They took everyone by storm and left their imprints before those described as “wanton troopers” in Mogwugo Okoye’s “Storms on the Niger: A story of Nigeria’s struggle” were unleashed on them last Tuesday. The youths proclaimed their Nigerian-ness, they held the national flag aloft, they sang and danced to the national anthem, they thought they shared the same patriotic sentiments with our leaders, and trusted that the same people who swore on oath to protect them would never contemplate mowing them down. How mistaken! But our youths are not to blame for their misplaced confidence in a leadership not deserving of it. This shame will forever be that of leaders not deserving of the trust and confidence of those the age of their children and grandchildren.

But for the youths, this disappointment teaches important lessons. It signals the death of illusion. Answering a question, Zik once quipped “Why die for Nigeria when you can live for it?” Simply put, Zik was saying Nigeria is not worth dying for! This is not America or any such saner climes! The youths also have another lesson to learn from the older generations who invested their talents and life-long struggles into the service of Nigeria but died forlorn of hope; died heart-broken; died frustrated; and died unfulfilled. Obafemi Awolowo, Anthony Enahoro, Aminu Kano, Ayodele Awojobi, Tai Solarin, Gani Fawehinmi, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Kaduna Nzeogwu – the list is endless. Another lesson that must not be ignored is the difficulties that come with Nigeria being a conglomeration of nations.

The humanity of the many nations making up this country differs. Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan said his ambition was not worth the blood of a single Nigerian but some other folk instigated the slaughtering of hundreds of his fellow human beings in 2011 because of his failed political ambition. Some folks value cows than they do human beings. They kill, main, rape, and dispossess at will without batting an eyelid. Some folks are blood-thirsty hounds; they act truculently at no provocation, always seeking whom to devour. Some folks see nothing wrong in engaging in bare-face cheating and robbery of others. They shamelessly appropriate what belongs to others but what is theirs they wouldn›t share with others. When they come to the Common Pool, it is to take what belongs to others without wanting to bring anything to the pool.

Grandma told me: Ajoje o dun bi enikan o ni. It is understandable if one person does not have and those who have share with him. It is something else, however, when the one who does not have presides over the sharing, ties the hands of the owners, allocates the lion share to himself, and threatens the owners with death if they dare protest! That has been the sordid tale and sad story of Nigeria, accentuated beyond belief by the APC/Buhari administration. My Mama warned that it is bad manners when someone invites you to eat and you remove the same person’s hand from the pot.

The root cause of what the youths protested against – and for which they were so callously mowed down – is caused by the unequal relationship between the disparate nations making up this country. Restructuring or outright dissolution of Nigeria will be an easier problem to solve than coming to terms with the realization that the same destructive mentality that runs in Boko Haram; that runs in murderous Fulani herdsmen; that runs in bandits now dominates the inner sanctuary of political power in Nigeria.

Unfortunately, the political leadership of the South-west cannot be exonerated from culpability in the carnage of last Tuesday. In the alarmist statements they issued hours before Calamity Day on Tuesday alleging that hoodlums had hijacked the youths’ protests; and in the curfew they hurriedly imposed, they prepared the ground for the military to move in for the kill. Our leaders invited the executioners and, then, ran! If I may ask, where was Amotekun? Is this not one of the reasons why we clamoured for a security outfit of our own and under our own control?

 

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