By Y. Z. Ya’u
MEMORIALS like this are important because they allow us to reflect and think about the future. Memory itself is an important resource. But often we tend to miss its significance.
While paradoxically, it is about the past being recalled in the present, its uses actually lie in the future. It is within this content that I want to situate our dear departed comrade, Yima Sen. In doing so, I would like to apologise to his family, both immediate and broader, for I will like to appropriate him for us.
The us here is a group of highly patriotic, detribalised Nigerians who dare to dream of an alternative, better Nigeria where justice would flourish. They dream of Nigeria as a peaceful country where exploitation of man by man would be history.
\And they see Nigeria as a country capable of harnessing its endowment, both natural and human, to meet the needs of every citizen, irrespective of sex, tongue, faith or territorial placement. Yima not only embodied the best of these ideas but also lived all his life struggling to see to the actualisation of this vision.
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When I first met Yima, I did not know his religion or tribe. I did not even know from which part of the country he was. I was not interested in these because in him a saw a trusted soul mate, someone whose ideas and mine matched and we had our eyes on the same direction.
He was just Comrade Yima. My first knowing of Yima Sen was on a platform for justice, to end apartheid in Southern Africa. He was not our age, having been born a little earlier than many of us who eventually became his friends but we were shaped by the same generation of ideas.
We had graduated from university and reflecting on our activism on campus as champions for the struggle against apartheid, we thought we should continue until it is completely dismantled. So, we formed the Nigeria ANC Friendship and Cultural Association, NAFCA. At the time Yima was working in Lagos and he became a key figure in the movement, arguing that injustice in any part of the world was injustice in Nigeria.
About the same time, a radical feminist movement had resulted from a conference organised at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria on Women in Nigeria. Taking the name of the theme of the conference, WIN posed fundamental questions about oppression and liberation of women in the country.
The obviousness of its central thesis was a Marxian credo of class oppression conterminous with gender oppression, resulting in the double oppression statement that women suffer double oppression, first as members of subordinate classes and second as members of subordinated gender.
For WIN and its members, therefore, ending class oppression would not automatically end gender oppression. As such a simultaneous struggle against both gender and class oppression was needed.
It, therefore, thought to mobilise the collective agency of both women and men against patriarchy. This was why WIN was both unique and experimental: a feminist organisation that had both sexes as members and both genders were eligible to play leadership role.
Yima and his wife were both members and played critical role in the movement which saw their house in Lagos as sort of secretariat for the organisation. WIN was not an easy conversation, given that it carried along a tension between these who saw class agency as primary and those who saw gender as the most urgent task. In the end, the organisation could run into a major ideological crisis from which it never recovered. But Yima remained faithful to the principles of the organisation and continued to be an exemplary feminist to the very last.
The mid-1980s were heady years. They were defined by a collective search for direction and meaning for the country following the failure of the second republic accompanied by two military coups. The government of IBB had against all popular opposition, imposed the structural adjustment progrmmes, SAP, cooked by IMF and World Bank, which only served to destabilise the country.
Millions of people lost their jobs; social services such as education and health suffered massive underfunding. The country’s currency was subjected to a free fall. The result was deindustrialisation and contraction of the economy, increased impoverishment of the population and high unemployment. These generated protests, especially led by students across the country that came to be known as the anti-SAP protests.
The authoritarian regime responded with a crackdown and massive arrest and detention of student leaders and labour activists as well as measure to destabilise unions.
While the government was, to a large extent, successful in crushing traditional mass movements such as the student and the Labour movements, there arose a new form of organisation, first using the instrumentality and language of human rights but focused on democracy and national liberation, resulting in the formation of pro-democracy movement like the National Front and eventually the Campaign for Democracy, CD.
The CD was like the absorption of all the energies in both NAFCA and WIN as well as the remnants of the student movement plus the left-wing constellation in the academia. Yima Sen was a central figure in this history and the struggles that unfolded.
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The central demand of CD was to end military rule and, therefore, also campaigned against the military planned and controlled political transition programme which seemed to be interminable as IBB kept extending the handing over, internally subverting his own process. This very basic demand of CD could later return to hunt as it, imploded in a crisis, like WIN, that it could not recover.
Consequently, IBB had no option but to finally allow elections to hold but at the last moment decided to cancel the result of the election, refusing to allow the winner of the presidential election to assume his mandate. This led to pro-democracy protests, led initially by CD and trade unions to be joined later by NADECO, which was a coalition of politicians who felt shortchanged by the military.
ideas is potential power, power not in the sense of an institutional repository of control but in a much more transformative sense, since power itself, that ability to transform society, is constituted by ideas. We have ideas; therefore, we have power to transform Nigeria to the ideals we imagine.
That requires the deliberate, tactical and strategic deployment of that power, which is the ideas we all have been articulating. Rest in peace Comrade Yima Sen, Sleep well.
Yau, a rights activist with CITAD, wrote from Kano