Death can be constructed. Or, death is constructed. Death that is not mourned may be real but still of no meaning or significance. So, mourning is death constructivism – making sense of a particular death in a particular manner. As meaning – making is always about ranking, death constructivism is political.
In this analysis lies the significance of the renewed mourning of recent deaths in radical politics in Nigeria. Authored by Salihu Lukman and published in Africa Update, the Quarterly newsletter of the African Studies program of the Central Connecticut State University, (CCSU), in the United States, the text gathers together key tributes to Dr. Yima Sen, Salihu Bappa and Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa. All of them died within the last few months.
Each of these gentlemen has been something of a signifier, both for radical politics and the Nigerian system. Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa remains unbeaten in terms of what it ought to mean to be a governor in Nigeria: political education, basic honesty or moral integrity, a programme and a team that could think on its feet.
For decades, Salihu Bappa was a dedicated ABU, Zaria academic, enacting horizontal inclusivity through the instrument of what Biodun Jeyifo has called ‘the truthful lie’. Call it Drama or even Theatre or performance if you do not like the phrase ‘truthful lie’.
Dr. Yima Sen was not only an activist, he was a creative Marxist who had the courage to experiment with dogma. He was latterly an academic.
But, left to some other tendencies, each of the three could have or could become something else. Any one of them could have been constructed as anything but the above identity.
Left to the National Party of Nigeria, (NPN)’s media of yore, Balarabe Musa could have been mediated as a politician who lacked tact and diplomacy and fell to “The Errors of Idealism” as Ray Ekpu, for instance, once wrote about him in his column in the Sunday Times in 1981. Subsequently, he was seen as someone who wrong headedly handed over his mandate to what another columnist, this time of the New Nigerian, once called young, inexperienced “educated know-all”. That was a reference to the intellectual squad led by the late Bala Usman that was powering the Balarabe Government.
So, it is no mean achievement that Balarabe Musa has the image he has in Nigerian politics today. The efforts that went into the construction and sustenance of that image should not be taken for granted but always reckoned with as one of the success stories of Left resistance.
The same story applies to Yima Sen and Salihu Bappa. Each of them could have gotten a different image. Of the two, Yima Sen was the more vulnerable because he had worked with the NPN. Such was not the accepted practice for a Marxist, especially then because it is not many people who will go beyond the grand narrative of a Marxist working in NPN government to also know that it was on that job and afterwards that he wrote some of his most imaginative stuff, one of them being “Journalism as Imperialism” in the defunct African Analyst where he classified then existing Nigerian newspapers according to his logic of inference called ghettoisation.
So, in this background lies the significance of this documentation titled “Tributes to Yima Sen, Salihu Bappa and Balarabe Musa: Nigerian Scholar Activists and Political Change Makers”. It is a recommended stuff for all. Aside from the Editorial, none of the materials is a new one. They have been published elsewhere before and massively read. But bringing them together in one text adds a difference and quality of newness to it all. Some new eye could come up with a completely new argument by reading the four or so essays as they are now.
The omission of Baze University, Abuja which was Yima Sen’s last address is about the only error of note in the packaging yet. Others might have noted other incompleteness here and there. As an electronic stuff, correction should not be a big deal. Otherwise, this is a good effort from Comrade Salihu Lukman who has, otherwise, not been a controversy free of late.
The text is accessible