By Owei Lakemfa
THE name, Asuquo Ita may not ring a bell in the country. But, Eskor Toyo does amongst intellectuals, academics, economists, trade unionists, human rights activists, leftists and in university campuses across the country. However, both names refer to the same person. The real name of this revolutionary professor of Economics and moral leader of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is the former, while Eskor Toyo was his nom de plume which stuck and under which he became a professor.
In colonial and immediate post-colonial Nigeria, it was a crime to be a socialist, read leftist literature or travel to a socialist country. Nationalist, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, mother of the famous Kuti brothers; Olikoye, Fela and Beko, was denied renewal of her passport by the Tafawa-Balewa government because she travelled to a socialist country. A young, Lasisi Osunde, later, an economist and lecturer like Eskor, and former General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress, was tried by the British colonialists for treason because as a postal worker, he let socialist literature into the country.
Given the level of persecution of socialists in the 1940s to early 60s, some socialists used aliases to beat security and escape persecution. For example, in the early 80s, I read polemical works by two authors, Baba Omojola, and Baba Oluwide not realising that it was one and the same person. And after I linked both names, I was to be shocked in later years to learn that both were aliases as Baba’s real name was Babarinde Adewole Ajibola.
Such was the level of commitment and sacrifice of Nigerian socialist leaders of old; they were ready, like Comrade Ola Oni – whose real surname was Oniororo – to sacrifice family, name, leisure, career and life for the liberation of Nigeria from poverty, backwardness and underdevelopment.
Eskor was a teacher who taught the famous Peoples Advocate, Chief Gani Fawenhinmi at Victory College, Ikare and was a Personnel Manager at Lever Brothers/UAC before plunging into full revolutionary work, especially in the trade unions where he was a consummate organiser along with people like Michael Imoudu, Wahab Goodluck, M.E. Kolagbodi and Baba Omojola.
He went for further studies in Eastern Europe and returned home with a doctorate. While being an academic and revolutionary, Eskor participated in partisan national politics, joining the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) in the Second Republic in what was called ‘Entrism.’ This was the term used for revolutionaries who while advocating that the ‘decadent capitalist system should be overthrown’ enter or join liberal or ‘bourgoise’ non revolutionary parties. It was in the heat of the debates in the Labour Movement over the appropriateness of ‘Entrism’ that Eskor in dismissing the arguments of his opponents, was quoted as uttering his popular remark “Eskor shall not pontificate; Eskor shall polemicise!” This was seen as an attempt to dispel an assumed Eskor trait; the tendency to pontificate and make declarations rather than make arguments. But this was not true of Eskor as he was wont to make painstaking arguments and go to great lengths to convince.
One point I noted about him was that in his forceful way of speaking with a ring in his voice, he was less lucid and understood than when he wrote. His disdain for the dishonest, the opportunist and labour bureaucracy made him seem intolerant. But it was his nature to be unable to disguise his dislike for people on the Left and the labour leaders who betray the working people.
He worked for the formation of a number of leftist groups and pro-workers parties like the Labour Party, but he was disillusioned by the high level of opportunism in many of these organisations. In my analysis, it was in ASUU he seemed most comfortable; experiencing few disappointments and finding people he could argue and work with. It was mainly, amongst the committed intellectuals he found people he could trust.
To him, ASUU was like a baby to be protected and guided to make contributions for the sustainable political and intellectual development of Nigeria. He did not like ASUU funds being spent except on things that are absolutely essential. This was to the extent that even while on official assignments for the union, he would prefer to travel by road rather than air in order to save money for the union. Dr. Dipo Fashina, a former ASUU President described Eskor as “the ideological, moral and patriotic conscience of ASUU.”
Eskor, after one of his extensive road journeys that took him to different parts of the country, suffered a stroke. ASUU decided to take care of the needs of a man who had helped to nurture it into maturity and guide it through rough and difficult times, especially during the long years of military rule when the union was repeatedly banned .
Eskor set out early in his youth to contribute to an independent, prosperous Nigeria based on egalitarianism and social justice. He struggled for a country that will be a leading light for the rest of Africa. A Nigeria where nobody will go to bed hungry; where every child will have a right to education and every citizen, the right to basic needs including a roof over their heads.
His dream of a prosperous Nigeria and Africa were not fulfilled before he passed away on December 7, 2015 at 86. But his life is an example of exemplary dedication and patriotism. Those who may snigger that the ideology he dedicated his life to, is outdated which was why the Socialist bloc collapsed, are mistaken. The fractious, confused, unequal and dangerous world we live in today cannot be the alternative. Humanity will need to rise above the prevailing ideas which have produced chaos, terrorism, mass misery, cyclic global financial problems and unimaginable refugee crises, to build an egalitarian world based on freedom, peace and social justice. These are precisely the principles Eskor Toyo lived and died for. These are the reasons why selfless people like him will not die in our hearts.