The Nigerian Left hardly roll out the drums to celebrate its own even when these individuals are of the stature of image breakers. This must have been so as not to be perceived as sharing and demonstrating the same vulgar values as their bourgeois counterparts. It is, however, possible that the digital gaze is also eating into Left self-representation in Nigeria, this time by seizing and building around one of its signifiers the subject of a radical alternative. And hence it came to pass on Thursday, April 29,2021 that the Nigerian Left, pro-democracy and a critical segment of Nigeria’s labour movement gathered in Abuja to celebrate one of its, Professor Omotoye Olorode, who turned eighty on April 1, 2021.
Olorode, a retired Professor of Botany from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria earned his place in the radical imagination by the prices he has had to pay for commitment to national liberation, particularly the articulation of the agenda of the ordinary people. His intolerance and trenchant condemnation of the irresponsibility of the ruling elite earned him and other colleagues a nasty detention experience and the sack from their jobs under the Babangida dictatorship in 1990. The regime tried to link them with the Orkar coup although everyone knew that Olorode did not speak the language of coup making but of radical remaking.
It must have been a refreshing angle to embarrassing the past by bringing members of the Olorode family from Ogbomoso in Oyo State, including the four children of the Professor to the occasion. There must be something of a statement to the tormentors of radical activists in that: we survived you all. But Olorode is unlikely to ever make such statement, being used to subduing everything to the struggle to the point of depersonalization, a trait common to nearly all members of that generation, even in the age of Facebook vulgarity.
But, beyond the silent statement to past tormentors of the Olorodes of this world, what again came out of the event? The answer will vary but it is unlikely that anyone was not struck by the guest lecturer’s stance on AFRICOM. A day or so before the event, the Nigerian president was reportedly asking the United States to reconsider relocating the operational base of the command from Stuttgart in Germany where it currently is. It was presented as a plausible answer to the crisis of generalised insecurity across the Sahel, particularly Nigeria. It must have caught Nigerians unaware and confused, coming from the same Nigeria that nailed the coffin of the agenda of locating the command on African soil in 2007. Could this be an elite consensus within Nigeria or a case study in regime desperation?
Presenting an occasion where the guest lecturer could articulate his stand, the earliest of such, is most likely to pass as the most important outcome. Now, nobody can say there are no alternative positions on the issue, including a concrete suggestion on how to handle the insecurity crisis that might explain the Buhari push for ‘boots on the ground’ after all.
Nothing in the foregone diminishes the pot shots directed at the labour movement or the current leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress, (NLC), if you like, for its inability to mobilize Nigerians against the Buhari government whose policies and lop-sided appointments may lead to the dissolution of the country. According to Femi Falana, the trade union movement after the Pascal Bafyayu Presidency has not been active in defence of the Nigerian people. He called on the current leadership of the NLC to champion the struggle for the reclamation of Nigeria before it becomes too late.
There was an agreement amongst most of the speakers including Prof Attahiru Jega, the former INEC Chairman, Prof Jibrin Ibrahim, Dr Abubakar Sokoto and many other labour, pro-democracy activists and academics who graced the occasion on the need for change agents to close ranks before the current political leaders destroy the country.
The speakers also spoke strongly on the need for Labour veterans to take over the Labour Party which had been turned to a vehicle for the electoral ambition of all sorts of characters. The participants were all in agreement that labour remained the only political force with the capacity to mobilize Nigerians to take power and safeguard the people from the jackals who have held sway by taking over power since the country’s flag independence.
Of course, the event coincided with Nigeria being at another crossroad again, one which has put even the socialists and radicals in difficult position. Bandits, kidnappers and sundry agents of violence have taken over the country. The Nigerian State which should lead the discussion on how to handle this started and insists that the ‘herdsmen’ are of foreign stock. Agents and spokesmen of the same Nigerian State turn round to say it is ethnic profiling when the popular press calls the terrorists by their ethnic identity of the ‘herdsmen’ which they share with indigenous Fulanis in Nigeria. Meanwhile, the state has no capacity to route the mercenaries. To make matters worse, the most significant voices in the articulation of the ‘Fulanisation’ theory are peers or seniors of President Buhari in the military. How are people supposed to make sense of the maze of conflicting signals?
Of course, there can be no defence of radical activists who swing between being intellectuals of ethnic armies and being socialists or radicals at the same time but this is probably what happens when a huge country such as Nigeria ends up without a party of the Left for such a long time. It is probably a miracle that Left voices and activities are still observable in Nigeria without such a party, considering the degree of internal and external challenges to the very idea of radical transformation, specifically socialist. In smaller African countries, things have since turned into Ake’s socialism or barbarism, with horrible outcomes. Preventing that in Nigeria is a task that must be done. To that extent, any activities suggesting seizing the high ground in articulatory politics such as the Olorode birthday politics is a meaningful move, provided it is not contradicted the next day with unhelpful insistence on essentialism and orthodoxy that leaves the buccaneers effectively in charge.
This report has several contributors