The apparent season of remapping of signifiers of radical activism shifted on Tusday, May 18th, 2021 to the late Emma Ezeazu, a former president of the National Association of Nigerian Students, (NANS). The new fad of picking on one comrade activist or another from a certain entry point started with Prof Toye Olorode at 80 last April, shifted to Eddie Madunagu at 75 mid May and arrived at Emma Ezeazu by May 18th, 2021. Who next is a matter of speculation at the moment.
According to John Odah who delivered the welcome address as the Chairperson of the Board of the Emma Ezeazu Centre, the late Comrade Ezeazu had stamped his footprints on the consciousness of Nigeria as one of its finest advocate for the enthronement of a just and egalitarian Nigerian Society. By Odah’s account, Ezeazu came into national limelight in 1986 in the aftermath of his election as president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), followed a few months afterwards with leading a nation-wide boycott of class in tertiary institutions throughout the country in the wake of crisis at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria during which at least four students were killed when the police invaded the Samaru campus of the university.
Still by Odah’s account, Ezeazu left the university to become National Secretary of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), joining forces with others “to lay the foundations of the pro-democracy struggles against the continuing military dictatorship in our country”. Then came the departure from the CLO to establish the Community Action for Popular Participation (CAPP) in the FCT, from where it expanded to many states in the country. Again and together with other comrades in 2006, he led the way to establishing the Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE), serving as its founding General Secretary. This was where death came calling exactly six years ago at his 53rd birthday.
By January 2020, the Board of ACE under the leadership of Innocent Chukwuma (who died last April, 2021) decided to relaunch the organization and refocus its mission and vision. That was where the decision was taken to honour Ezeazu’s contributions to the pro-democracy movement during his life time by naming the new organization, the Emma Ezeazu Centre for Good Governance and Accountability, aka EE Centre.
The masterminds also decided that a major focus of the Centre would be the development of the civil society sector in Nigeria. “It will work to expand the civic space and, therefore, put the sector in better state to demand accountability and good governance from our government and governance structures at all levels”. What that means is that the centre would be research and documentation minded on key areas of governance as well as the civil society itself, aiming at producing quality research reports that can drive advocacy for good governance and accountability in Nigeria.
This brings to three, attempts at remembering Ezeazu, the third being the institutional outing in 2012. The first was the June 29th, 2015 colloquium in his honour ahead of his burial while the second was the August 30th, 2016 maiden version of the Emma Ezeazu Memorial lecture in Abuja. It was delivered by Prof Abubakar Momoh who is also now late.
Described as certainly the longest, the largest, the most volatile, most diverse and most productive in the series of activities leading up to the burial of the many sided Comrade Emma Ezeazu who died on May 18th, 2015, Intervention had reported the event as having “brought back on the table the story of the epic struggle for power between radical student nationalism and military dictatorship in the mid eighties, a struggle in which Ezeazu was one of the heroes”. The session, according to the Online platform, “did not lack the funny and the solemn, the mellowed and the defiant, the lamentation and the celebrative, the fundamental and the trivia. Or regrets, confessions, reprimands, calls for renewal, challenge throwing and lesson learning as activists straddling the NGOs, academia, business, politics, labour, the professions and what have you came to reflect on “Emma Ezeazu: Students and Popular Democratic Struggle in Nigeria” at the Auditorium of the Nigeria Labour Congress, (NLC), Abuja”
The highlight would, arguably, be Asisi Asobie, Professor of Political Science and one of the ‘radicals teaching what they were not paid to teach’ at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, (UNN) in those days narrated as chairperson of the occasion. As reported, again, by Intervention, Asobie recalled how Ezeazu, along with Chima Ubani, then president of the UNN Students Union masterfully rubbished a traitor’s account to the Abisoye Panel in 1986. The traitor who was claiming the authority of the insider, had falsely testified to the panel how Ezeazu and Ubani planned to burn the Police post at UNN. The duo, however, turned the table against him in a counter-narrative which Asobie believes redefined the UNN in line with what he said another student, Olu Oguibe, had inaugurated years earlier.
As the best graduating student of the university in the year UNN clocked 25 years, Oguibe was to perform one of the rituals – deliver a valediction at an anniversary IBB was attending as the Head of State. Fearful of students, the Registrar asked for and got an advance copy of the valediction text from Oguibe to make sure its content suited power and authority. Then Oguibe executed a one man coup – he brought out a different script from his pocket when the time came. Stung by the drama unfolding before his eyes and ears, the Registrar got up from his seat in an attempt to stop Oguibe. It was a mission impossible. The crowd roared in anger. He retreated. Oguibe continued and finished reading his speech. To make it impossible for security agents to grab him, the students instantly formed a human shield around him and escorted him to safety.
Of course, the university was queried for embarrassing the Head of State, a query the university council took too seriously until Abba Dabo, a member of the council from Kano wondered why that should be so. If there had been no Oguibe, he told the council, it would have been difficult to believe that UNN was celebrating 25 years of existence. It was then everyone regained their breadth and relaxed. What Asobie did not add is that Abba Dabo had been the president of the Ahmadu Bello Student Union government several years back and government appointment had not estranged him from that universe of reasoning.
Intervention’s coverage of the Memorial lecture in 2016 is reproduced in extensor below in honour of both Ezeazu and Abubakar Momoh. According to Prof Momoh, the Structural Adjustment Programme, (SAP) which has served as the business model for Nigeria in one form or the other since 1982 is the worst and the most vicious form of economic exploitation in the history of Nigeria. It has not only led to de-industrialisation but also enthroned accumulation by speculation in which everything about accumulation “depends on how smart you are”.
Momoh who was then serving as the Director-General of the Electoral Institute, the think tank of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) pointed out how it was the period during which Nigeria was under SAP that many of the countries which just entered the great power club such as Brazil and its Asian counterparts laid the foundations of their status today. All other continents left Africa behind, he said, adding that there has never been any recovery from that. Citing some of the consequences as de-industrialisation and corruption, Prof Momoh concluded how all of that left the country as one of traders and front men feasting on oil rents instead of manufacturing which would have linked agriculture and industry.
The outcome, among others, he said, is the death of the visioning process, saying that if the truth must be told, the elite in Nigeria today lacks the values, mannerisms, interest and behavioural patterns that define the national elite as a society’s visioners. Questioning its claim to that status at the lecture, Professor Momoh expressed doubt that the Nigerian elite is ahead of the rest of the society in terms of the values national elite hold as sacrosanct and binding. Without such sense of constitutive interest, they are neither capable of consensus and the discipline to sustain it, he said. Basing his argument on certain behaviour pattern that emanate from the elite, Prof Momoh said such indicated an elite that has not come to terms with its location in society. They do not have values that make it a political class, he said, adding that an elite is supposed to be ahead of the crowd. But, for him, the elite disaster is not about bad morality of the individual members of the elite but something that must be understood within the logic of the prevailing political economy which he dubbed as perverted and contractocracy in nature rather than production.
He argued for return to basics in governance, insisting on the impossibility of governance without values or an ideological framework, irrespective of whether the ideology is radical or conservative. It doesn’t make sense to talk about change, emphasising loot recovery but without challenging the mechanism by which corruption is reproduced, said Momoh who warned of the danger of governance that is not visionary and developmental. “Governance must be developmental or you are not going anywhere”, asserted the lecturer who based his claim on indicators such as 73 million unemployed youths aside from about 1.2 million graduates from over one hundred universities now and then. Government is, in his view, over subscribed to the point that Nigeria is now borrowing to pay salaries. “How sustainable is that?”, queried he.
Remedial measures or palliatives are good, he declared but a developmental agenda is needed because the manifestations of insecurity in kidnapping, assassination and similar forms of violence must be understood as products of frustration, anger and rebellion. The question as he posed it is how Nigeria can turn from a reformist state to a developmental state based on equity and access.