He took his bow at a time Nigeria is loudly silent enough to take note of his exit. The country is not going through any of its usual controversies by November 30th to December 1st, 2018 when Fasheun passed on even as Nigeria’s current silence is comparable to that of the graveyard. His was the passage of an enigma: the pioneer and the last National Chairman of the Labour Party formed in 1989 and which is the closest to a nationwide Socialist party in Nigeria but he is also the pioneer in forming an ethnic militia in Nigeria if one excludes Adaka Boro in the Niger Delta even before the Nigerian Civil War and the Biafran efforts in that wise. Although there has been a re-narrativisation of ethnicity as a site from where to pick one or two things for the struggle for emancipation, there are no Left tendencies that favour a Socialist project built on ethnic essentialism. It is to that extent that Fasheun will remain intriguing to many Left politicians in Nigeria for forming the OPC which subsequently fragmented into factions. How might one explain the extremes in Fasheun’s politics?
Comrade Salisu Mohammed who was quite influential in labour politics at some point in the 1980s and worked very closely with the late Dr Fasheun would not want to be drawn into discussing that aspect of the departed. His argument is that he never sat down to interrogate Fasheun on that issue while he was alive and would not like to go into conjectural analysis now that Fasheun is dead. Comrade Mohammed is only very clear that Fasheun was very committed to the cause of Labour, putting his hospital at the service of the Nigeria Labour Congress, (NLC) many of whose staff did not have the money to pay for much of their health challenges. He recalls Fasheun personally performing a major operation on the late Paschal Bafyau at absolutely no cost to the NLC which Bafyau was heading then. This point was corroborated by no less than two other NLC operatives of those years with whom Intervention also spoke on the issue.
What Mohammed called the divergence between his types and Fasheun was when Fasheun went into forming an ethnic army – the Odua People’s Congress, (OPC). What might have happened to a Socialist leader going to form an ethnic militia for a cause which is not national liberation in the classical sense but in pursuit of a clumsily conceptualized Yoruba autonomy?
This is a question only one person out of so many is volunteering a standpoint yet. Salisu Mohammed only made reference to that period being one of so much pressure and to which Fasheun might have fallen one way or the other. Comrade John Odah who was deputy to Mohammed before he eventually became NLC General Secretary in 1999 told Intervention that the question would remain a contested legacy for some time. But he too spoke of Fasheun being a great medical doctor. He recalls Fasheun being one of the many key ideologues of Left politics at the two day- long meeting of the Left in Calabar which decided on a radical platform ready to do electoral politics in the Babangida transition in 1989 and how Dr. Fasheun emerged as the pioneer Chairman.
Of course, the party died in one of IBB’s many tinkering with the convoluted transition he was superintending even though the INEC of that time had deemed the labour party qualified to be registered along with five others. Thereafter, Fasheun and even Paschal Bafyau who was President of the NLC drifted into the Social Democratic Party, (SDP) and from there to him forming an ethnic militia.
For Comrade Abiodun Aremu of the Amilcar Cabral Ideological Institute, Lagos, Dr. Fasheun had a generally progressive view and built what was then a very successful hospital in Lagos. He also remembers him as having worked with the defunct Campaign for Democracy, (CD) along with the late Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti. He equally recalls Dr Fasheun organizing around what was called the Movement for Socio-Economic Justice which preceded the CD. But Aremu insists on a distinction between Dr. Fasheun and the legendary Alao Aka-Bashorun in terms of ideological temperament.
Comrade Chom Bagu who was also at the NLC at the time proved more forthcoming on the puzzle of the late Dr. Fasheun’s turn from Socialist politics to the Agbekoya tradition of a basically peasant uprising as guarantor of Yoruba autonomy. Chom’s analysis is that Fasheun must have read betrayal to the refusal of labour leaders to support his presidential ambition in the wake of the two parties imposed by IBB – the National Republican Convention, (NRC) which was ideologically to the right and the Social Democratic Party, (SDP) which was ideologically to the left. “I think he was touched by the fact that he was mobilized to become Chairman of the Labour Party but was denied support when IBB killed the Labour Party and he, (Dr Fasheun) then sought to contest for the presidential office on the platform of the SDP. I am sure he discovered it was his money people were coming for and contemplated the contingency of something he understood better – the Abekoya tradition”. Chom’s account is that Fasheun had been the one giving money to bring the Agbekoyas for previous street struggles anyway.
On his radical roots, Chom says it was in his provision of medical services to labour elements but on broad humane or compassionate grounds, not on the basis of any ideological orientation with Socialist politics. It was the relatively vast resources he spent on that basis of compassion and his being a promising progressive politician that earned him the primary position as pioneer Chairman of the labour party in 1989. According to John Odah who also spoke on this, the Calabar meeting where the idea of the party was consolidated was attended by who was who in Left politics in Nigeria at the time – Eskor Toyo, Nkenna Nzimiro, Festus Iyayi, Bola Ige, Omotayo Olorode, Ola Oni, Alao Aka-Bashorun and so many others. And they all found Fasheun acceptable.
It was not surprising that his turn to ethnic army alienated him from the broad Left in Nigeria. Chom describes it as a tragedy because, according to him, he was very acceptable to a lot of people coming in from Yola, Kano, Sokoto at his Century Hotel in Lagos. That is aside from someone who was brought to the limelight by labour but now leading an ethnic militia.