By Lanre Arogundade
The demise of Yinka and Innocent within twenty four hours of each other last weekend was a double blow for Nigeria’s radical movement. The more the reality of their exit registers, the more the pains and pangs torment.
If the passage of Gani Fawehinmi, Alao Aka-Bashorun, Arthur Nwankwo, etc, at advanced age caused considerable grief, that of Yinka and Innocent cannot but be evocative of the kind of deeper grief that greeted the exit of Chris Abashi, Chima Ubani, Bamidele Aturu, Remi Ogunlana, Rotimi Ewebiyi, Bala Muhammed, Emma Ezeazu, etc.
Even if the gods of revolution are equally in shock, we must ask them why significant numbers of the ‘younger’ generation of radicals and revolutionists are struggling to cross the sixty borderline to make a dash at the biblical three scores and one.
However, with streams of tribute turning into oceans of ovation in the immediate aftermath of their twin-transition,it is indeed true that life is not about how long you live but how impactful.
The roles Yinka played in the past couple of years in the agitation for genuine federalism and the right to self-determination, and that of Innocent in the quest for fundamental reforms of policing and prison system in Nigeria, are just the latest chapter in their life-long devotion to the struggle for the emancipation of the Nigerian masses.
The non-realisation of their dreams on these fronts only reinforces the need to revisit their roots in the socialist and Marxist movement whose postulation that the kind of reforms they seek cannot be realised (at least permanently) within the framework of capitalist exploitation and neo-liberal political economy continues to be borne out by events especially since the return of civil rule in 1999.
For example, President Buhari again spoke the mind of the extreme right-wing section of the ruling elite before travelling to UK for ‘health holiday’ while a Doctors’ strike loomed, when he said that Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable despite growing agitations for secession amidst troubling insurgency, banditry and out right terrorism. Without being at war, Nigeria now has a population of internally displaced persons larger than the population of some other countries. Life in IDP camps has become permanent for some of them.
Meanwhile, the thinking that democracy would work under the unitary system of government imposed by the military is fast turning into a wishful one. Insecurity persists as the number of federal, regional, state, local and community security outfits multiplies. Many things are falling apart and the centres cannot hold. Nepotism, do or die politics, divisive tendencies including religion, corruption, herders and other forms of terrorism are breaking the ties that should hold the nation together. And when the concerned like Rev. Fr. Hassan Mathew Kukah speak truth to power, they get hounded by the Alsatians of the regime.
Shouldn’t it be clearer that as long as Nigeria remains a contraption, undemocratically created through amalgamation by colonial Lord Lugard, without any form of consultation whatsoever with the would be constituents, there has to be democratic negotiation of the basis of her so-called unity? Shouldn’t it be clearer that we have to democratically agree on the kind of Nigeria we want and the type of political system that will satisfy the yearnings of the majority? Shouldn’t it be clear that without all the above happenings, there would be more threats of break-up or secession?
To repeat the term I often use, Nigeria remains on bended knees – either in terms of the unresolved national question, the economic dire straits or the weakened or ineffectual security architecture of the country, the policing aspect of which led to the #EndSars protests. It is all a tragedy amidst countless natural resources and human endowment.
Brilliant, perceptive, daring and committed, Yinka and Innocent were among the best of Nigeria’s human endowment for whom the task of ensuring that the so-called giant of Africa would not find herself on bended knees was a major preoccupation in the earlier days of their activism.
Yinka became a cast member of the theatre of struggle at Great Ife – the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). His inquisitiveness, restlessness and interest in students’ rights drove him into the radical wing of campus journalism, where his literary talent was soon evident in the Democrat and Petal magazines, and the leftist Society for Current Affair and Progress (SCAP) where he embraced Marxism. Both served as veritable platforms to launch him into mainstream students’ unionism as the Public Relations Officer during the period of Ibrahim Babangida’s brutal military rule. When that regime intensified the imposition of economic hardships on students and the people through the structural adjustment programme, the exco on which he served led students to protest the presence of the then Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Patrick Koshoni on the campus. The protest earned him and others expulsion until the Alao Aka-Bashorun chambers successfully fought for their reinstatement.
Innocent mounted the stage of the theatre of struggle as a Lion at the University of Nigeria Nsukka – UNN. His intellect, boldness, oratory, and commitment to the students’ cause took him to the ranks of the Marxist Youth Movement, which became the pedestal for him to rise to the position of Speaker of the Students’ Representative Council and later the Deputy Senate President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). In those capacities including membership of the Patriotic Youth Movement of Nigeria (PYMN), the then umbrella body for leftist, anti-apartheid and radical students groups to which Yinka also belonged, he led local and national struggles for the end to the commercialisation of education as dictated by the IMF and World Bank and end to military rule.
For Yinka and Innocent, aluta did not stop on campus. Both quickly rooted themselves in the mass and pro-democracy movement with Yinka doingas member of the Labour Militant, the precursor to today’s Democratic Socialist Movement and the National Conscience Party before moving on to engage in bourgeois politicking and nationality activism. Innocent on the other operated from the flank of the civil society movement as staff of the Civil Liberties Organisation from where he moved on to establish the CLEEN Foundation. Both were however foot soldiers and field commanders of the street battles to end military rule especially in the aftermath of the annulment of the June 12 elections. The role they played and the courage they displayed in the face of risks to their lives until the military were forced to exit in 1999 certainly qualify them as genuine heroes of Nigeria’s democracy.
Their death and the joint mourning it has provoked across boundaries should be a wake-up call to the need for rededication to the task of building a pan-Nigerian political alternative of the working masses and the youth to serve as a veritable front to continue to fight for a Nigeria where the peoples own and manage the economy for the betterment of all.
Like Fela once philosophised, Yinka and Innocent were destined for their path and may their inspiring souls rest in peace.