By Owei Lakemfa
Many in my generation first encountered the name Eddie Madunagu when we started actively reading newspapers. He was a passionate Nigerian the Gowon regime threw into jail from January to May 1975 for fighting to end military rule and injustice and enthroning a Nigeria free of exploitation, poverty and want. In fact, I was to learn in later years that a major left political organisation he established with some other radicals at this period was called the Anti-Poverty Movement of Nigeria, APMON. This organisation carried out vigorous mobilisation amongst farmers and the urban poor and was active in the trade unions.
Having known him on the pages of newspapers I cannot recall when I first met him, but before then, I had a chance encounter in 1979 with another quite passionate and committed revolutionary, Tony Engurube, who had been in APMON. He came to the then University of Ife (Now, OAU) in 1979 to mobilise Niger Delta students to take a stand against the naked exploitation of the region’s oil resources, the endless pollution and gas flaring and its complete underdevelopment. Engurube took me to a lecturer on campus, Dr. Biodun Jeyifo, BJ. In their long conversation, Madunagu’s name cropped up a number of times.
I was to realise in later years that in the revolutionary movement, BJ and Madunagu were like a snail and its shell. While BJ and a movement of fine Nigerian intellectuals, like Dr. Segun Osoba, mobilised youths and people mainly around the West while reaching out across the country, Madunagu and his comrade-wife, the inimitable Professor Bene, with other comrades like Eskor Toyo, were churning out patriotic, radical youths in the South-South area with Calabar as base.
When the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, at birth in 1980 suffered serious complications from the state leading to its 1981 factionalisation into five groups, two of the students who stepped out to lead others in reclaiming and reuniting it were the Madunagu ‘boys’: Chris Mammah and Eddie Igharo. They became NANS President and Secretary General, respectively. It was that leadership that consolidated the NANS, produced the insightful and historically-grounded ‘Nigeria Students Charter of Demands’ and placed it on the path of radicalisation and national redemption. The NANS went on to play decisive roles in the country’s history, especially in confronting and assisting in conquering the monster that was military rule.
Since the mid-1970s, there has hardly been any major initiative of the Nigerian left Madunagu and Bene had not been part. I was to know the international reach of Madunagu during the Rawlings regime in Ghana in the mid-1980s. Kojo Tshikata was that regime’s Head of National Security and Foreign Affairs and known as the powerful man behind the throne. Kayode Komolafe, one of Madunagu’s mentees and close associates and I travelled to Accra.
Komo, as we called Kayode in those days, sent the word out to Tshikata that there was a message from Madunagu. We had expected Tshikata to send someone for the message or ask us to come see him. But Tshikata’s response was if Madunagu had sent him a message, he should not only receive immediately, but in person. So, he asked us for our hotel and room number. Soon, we had in our room, the then most powerful person in Ghana, apart from Rawlings, and certainly the most feared. As Kayode and I saw Tshikata off, the noisy reception and hall of the then Tulip Hotel, went silent.
A very brilliant Mathematician with a Ph.D. Madunagu was ready to sacrifice all, including his life for the emancipation of the Nigerian people from political brigandage, military misrule and imperialist enslavement. At some point in 1976 and 1977, he left his career to work full time for a radical change in the country which required him to work and live with rural farmers far from the city lights and its comfort.
One of the most prolific writers and authors of his generation, when he wrote or maintained his columns in the Guardian Newspapers in Nigeria, his brilliance shone like the sun; they reflect a sharp, logical mind that is not afraid of the logical conclusions of his thought process.
Once Madunagu knows you as a comrade, he gives you unrestricted access. He treats you as an equal irrespective of your age and you were free to stay with him any time without notice. In the days I was active in journalism and the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, whenever I was in Calabar, I simply found my way to his home and was assured of a bed and meals. It did not matter whether he was in town or not as Comrade Bene ensured all comrades were comfortable. Bene was like a doting mother hen; she would take me round places I wanted to visit even when she had no car! Never have I come across such a couple dedicated to a cause and their comrades. The only comparison I recall in history is Vladimir Illich Lenin and Comrade Kruskaya.
When Bene turned 70 on March 21, 2017, the highly cerebral and programmatic Madunagu in situating this relationship within historical, political and ideological context wrote: “Three integral attributes of the relationship between Bene and myself: compatibility, complementarity and love. The first two attributes are necessary – and, indeed, irreducible – for a cell in a revolutionary movement. But a revolutionary cell which, in addition, is endowed with internal love has an added advantage of high degree. Bene and I have constituted such a cell in the Nigerian Left since 1975.”
Madunagu has been the most interrogative, resourceful and prolific comrade on the Nigerian Left, its trajectory and history. He lays bare issues, dissects them and presents his suggested solutions without being declarative or romantic as is common with a lot on the left.
Life for Madunagu has been one of endless sacrifice and selfless service to the poor, the powerless, the marginalised, country and humanity. He has sowed seeds and also acted as a wind dispersal of revolutionary seeds across Africa. Given the current situation in Africa, particularly Nigeria, many are sceptical that anything good can come out of these shores. But those who think the work by comrades like Madunagu have come to nought, do not understand what grows below the surface.
Some of these will germinate, and when the history of human progress is written in our country and continent, the names of Eddie and Bene Madunagu will occupy a pride of place. My salute to Comrade Edwin Ikechukwu Madunagu who turned 75 on Saturday May 15, 2021. May the successor generations be your worthy heirs in the struggle for the emancipation of humanity to which you have dedicated your life. Aluta!