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Ojetunji Aboyade and Philip Asiodu: Voices from an epoch of optimism

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
World-historical men-the heroes of an epoch-must be recognized as its clear-sighted ones; their deeds and their words are the best of their time” –Friedrich Hegel, quoted in Dr. TunjiOlaopa’s “Tribute: Aboyade and the burden of national progress” (SUNDAY TRUST, September 9, 2012).

I enjoyed reading two pieces on Sunday; first was a tribute to the much-lamented Professor OjetunjiAboyade, written by his biographer, Dr. TunjiOlaopa, Federal Permanent Secretary.

The 1997 book was titled,  “A Prophet is with Honour: The Life and Times of OjetunjiAboyade”; the piece was very timely at so many levels. On the one hand, is the shallow depth of economic thinking today in our country, in my view, and the near-total absence of a patriotic vision in the public space.

Ruling class intellectuals today are not driven with the passion and patriotism which drove Professor Aboyade’s generation; of course, the times are different.

The generation of intellectuals of those times were driven by the passion of the struggle for independence as well as the determination to succeed in nation building. They also had the vision of a developmental state as the instrument to wage the struggle against underdevelopment.

But as Dr. Olaopa noted, the developmental state also came into a crisis with the abandonment of the National Development Plans and then the paradigm shift which emerged in the mid-1980s with the introduction of SAP and the consolidation of a market fundamentalism regime since the emergence of PDP civilian regimes, since 1999.

The state has become progressive weakened and lost capacity to even regulate anything; it has been rolled over by corruption and has become an instrument of private accumulation by an increasing rapacious ruling class.

The consequence is the deepen violence in our country today. I thought it was most timely to re-examine the works of intellectuals like Professor Aboyade. I was quite delighted about the piece, that I contacted Dr. TunjiOlaopa, asking how I could get a copy of  the Aboyade biography.

I was equally delighted to read Chief Philip Asiodu’s interview with the SUNDAY SUN. He re-enforced, in my mind, the pioneering endeavours made to selflessly develop Nigeria, in those early years. Chief Asiodu told THE SUN that: “In 1960…our federal revenue was not more than 40 million pounds.

It was under Balewa and Okotie-Eboh that it reached 50 million pounds. Under General Yakubu Gowon, in his second year as Head of State, it reached 100million pounds and by then we were in a civil war, which we fought without borrowing money”.

Chief Asiodu was not  done; he said it was with “this little sum of money, all harbours…were built. The 4,000miles of railways…were built from the same little money. It was with this also that the country was criss-crossed along telegraph lines…”. But what followed? “The military destroyed the state. They then proceeded to remove 10,000 civil servants, the best among them.

They destroyed institutional memories, destroyed continuity, destroyed commitment to selfless service. Destroyed respect for public funds and public property. And having now got the civil service prostrate, stripped off check and balances, they then abandoned the 1975-1980 National Development Plan, which was to introduce the transformation of the economy radically.

They abandoned not only the plan but also the discipline of planning. And once you abandon the discipline of planning, all is lost”.

Those who cannot appreciate the profound interconnection between these decisions and the woes which face us today, then come out with simplistic assumptions about contradictions between the Nigerian people, located at ethno-religious planes.

Their simplistic understanding lead to equally simplistic attempts at finding solutions; the extremists call for the dismemberment of our country, just as the ethnic entrepreneurs posture threateningly against all of us.

Chief Asiodu pooh-poohed these ridiculous positions: “In a world in which North America is one market, Europe is one market, South America is united, you hear some Nigerians say: ‘Let’s break, let’s separate. Let’s stay apart’. And I ask: Break into what? Miserable, non-developing, non-civilized states?” He then challenged the young: “So as young people, you must strive to create the conditions for a better tomorrow”.

As I said earlier, I found the two pieces particularly delightful and a lift out of the gloom that envelopes us today. I am not deluded about the depth of the crises phenomena in Nigeria today. The majority of citizens live in despair and they see no way out of the tunnel.

The state has lost capacity; was deliberately destroyed as an instrument of service to the Nigerian people and has become a vehicle to rape the nation. In the hands of the ruling class, the Nigerian state has become a danger to the survival of the nation itself.

And a ruling class that has become increasingly illegitimate, despite the rituals of periodic elections, which are regularly rigged anyway, has dug itself into a situation whereby its greed has made life into a Hobbesian jungle for most of the people. Unfortunately for the Nigerian state, it has also lost the monopoly of violence; the expanding insurgency, especially but not exclusively, in Northern Nigeria, is a portent for the frightening realities ahead of us. The question is whether the ruling class can reign-in its crass irresponsibility and greed.

When nations face serious crises phenomena, it is imperative for the ruling classes to either re-invent their hegemony through historical acts of sacrifices which gives more to the oppressed classes.

This was the basis of the welfare state in post-Second World War Europe. If this historical step is not taken, then the entire ruling class hegemony is endangered, with the possibility of the emergence, consolidation and likely overthrow of the ruling class hegemony.

Unfortunately in Nigeria, we have not created a counter-hegemony within the working people and the poor, able to posit that alternative, counter-hegemonic vision. As a result, the landscape is littered with anarchic acts of ethno-religious origins; they can deepen the crisis which the ruling class faces but they can never be platforms of national liberation.

And since nature abhors a vacuum, where we have refused to posit a National Agenda of National Liberation, it is no surprise that what we see are reactionary platforms like ‘Yoruba Agenda’, the Boko Haram insurgency, ‘Biafra’ resurgence or ‘Niger Delta autonomy’.

These different ethno-religious platforms are reactionary and they are not the route for the liberation of our country.

Reading those pieces about Professor OjetunjiAboyade and the Philip Asiodu interview, this weekend, just re-inforced my incurable optimism, that despite the gloom today, our country possesses tremendous possibilities for change and liberation. The forces of its liberation have to discover the métier to fight for that liberation, because there is no other way!

Godson Offoaro: A remembrance of times past

It was from reading VANGUARD’s columnist, Pini Jason, last Tuesday that I learnt of Godson Offoaro’s death. Steve Nwosu confirmed it on Friday, in DAILY SUN. I called Nwosu to rejoice with him about his lucky escape from robbers that shot him in the head and his survival of the ordeal.

I also insisted that he sent new yams from Imo State for ‘daring’ to share my birthday, September 5th, and the mischievous guy, who grew up in Kwara State, said he would rather we ate wara(cheese), the FulBe contribution to the culinary makeup of Kwara State! I also commiserated with him on the passing of Godson.

I contacted Godson sometime last year and we re-collected times back at the University of Lagos; we promised to find time to link up. Unfortunately we never got to meet till his death a few days ago.

The last time I saw Godson was in 1981; we were neighbours at the El-KanemiHall. I was the President of UNILAG’s Marxist League and he held stridently, right-wing, anti-communist views, but we endlessly debated issues of national development.

Those were truly liberating moments in African history! My generation of activists had produced the famous NANS “Nigerian Students’ Charter of Demands”.

The Nigeria labour movement under the progressive leadership of Hassan Sumonu was consolidating the place of the working people in our national life just as the alliance of workers, students and patriotic intellectuals was burning a radical imprint on Nigerian life.

We were also within the democratic ambience of the Second Republic, despite its imperfections. In 1980, Godson decided to run for General Secretary of the Students Union Government, SUG.

He was intensely passionate about his candidacy and would accost students on the long stretch from El-Kanemi Hall to the academic area. He had a very musical approach to his campaign; he gestured animatedly, telling whoever cared to listen: “Offoaro is for you”; “I’m at your service”; “Vote for me”, etc.

Godson faced a formidable opponent in a beautiful lady, ImaNsa, who was rumoured to have connections at the highest political levels of Nigeria’s Second Republic. She ran a campaign that was in tune with those times in our national life; she brought in local musicians who followed her everywhere around the campus and her slogan was beaten out repeatedly on the talking drums: “ImaNsa is the answer”! No one really bothered to ask what the question was that Ima was answer for; and boy, could Ima dance!

It was a contest between erotic emotions and the cerebral posturing of Godson; there was no contest, because in the long run, the students went for emotions and Godson lost that election!

I read somewhere that he tried to enter politics again on his return from abroad, but he did not seem to be cut for the cloak-and-dagger world of Nigerian politics.

I found that his convictions remained consistent; he was a defender of the Igbo and an advocate for his rightful place within the context of the inter-elite struggle for advantage in Nigeria’s political life. From that perspective, he was unsparing in his attacks on the elite of Northern Nigeria, who he saw as the ‘problem’ or in more extreme circumstances, the ‘enemy’. Yet he remained for me that intellectual sparing partner from UNILAG’s EI-Kanemi Hall.

Looking back now, those were some of the best phases of our national life but we thought the ruling class was irresponsible and as young people we wanted a much better country; who would have reckoned then that we will arrive at the tragic pass of contemporary Nigeria? May Godson Offoaro’s soul rest in peace.


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