This story will be withdrawn and reposted as soon as Intervention is able to get a good picture of the late Nelson Ananze.
Radical activists in Nigeria are mourning their own share of the spate of deaths that has heralded the year 2022 in the country. A few prominent Nigerians have so far passed on in the New Year, stretching from Alhaji Bashir Tofa, one of the two presidential candidates in the annulled June 12th, 1993 presidential election in Nigeria; Chief Ernest Shonekan, the business mogul who headed the Interim Government that followed the June 1993 crisis; Otunba Chris Alao-Akala, a former Governor of Oyo State and Prof Chu Okongwu, a former Minister of Finance under the Babangida regime.
Mr Nelson Ananze who died Wednesday, January 13th, 2022 is a product of a different tradition of politics in Nigeria. He was a radical activist. He was not the hot headed and over-confident activist. Auwal Musa Ibrahim aka Rafsanjani who worked closely with him at the old NUJ Secretariat where the Community Action for Popular Participation, (CAPP) first berthed in Abuja in 1995 speaks of him as a very peaceful actor, never arrogant or difficult and a perfect team player. Under him, said Rafsanjani, there were none of the quarrels among staff. And he remained above ever falling back on primordial mobilization.
He was one activist who called to ask others how things were going, to solidarise or empathise. At a more grand level, said Rafsanjani, Ananze spent a lot of time with ordinary people, meaning a capacity for community mobilization which CAPP is/was all about.
His death was the predictable outcome of kidney related crisis, making his a commentary on the overall quality of life of the average Nigerian as well as on the Community Action for Popular Participation, (CAPP), arguably Nigeria’s most well thought out NGO and its most promising but which had not expanded as to be able to provide medical attention to its executive director outside the country, for instance, when the need arose.
CAPP would be regarded as the most well thought out NGO because it anticipated and sought to transcend what Robert Cox calls problem-solving approach. Cox was not against problem solving but, as he said in his highly regarded 1981 essay that went on to form the referential work in Critical Theory, problem solving calls attention to manifestations of crisis such as mass ordeal, hunger, forced migration but without similar attention to how the problems might have arisen. The humanism of the approach, therefore, tends to be tied to conservatism or the status quo.
Some critics might say that Cox did not anticipate the value added to radicalism by the anti-globalisation/Occupy Movement but the fact that Cox’s essays is just beginning to wax even stronger must be evidence that he struck the cord in his attack on problem solving approach. Although CAPP planners were not aware of Cox’s essay in the 1990s, they were thinking along Cox in the same direction by opting for a mode of work that could eventually put the people as a force or factor in the negotiation of power.
On the field, CAPP went on to do profound mobilisational works on crucial issue areas such as exclusionary gender politics and the damning impact of dams on host communities. As in the theory or choice of the spirit of work, CAPP got it right again in the field of practice, given the primacy of anti-dam politics of the global civil society in the past three decades.
It is surprising that its signature publications such Figures of Marginalisation (which exposed gender inequality in a selected space) and Damned by the Dams are nowhere on the internet today or the subject of performances, comics or similar forms of articulation. Rather than soaring, CAPP started sinking, so much so that, at the point Mr Ananze took over as Executive Director, it was basically as a receiver. As determined as he was to return CAPP to mainstream NGO politics by talking to stakeholders and friends of the organisation, it had become a case of all the king’s men and king’s horses struggling in vain to bring Humpty-Dumpty back.
His coming in as Executive Director the date of which Intervention could not establish was the other big paradox. He hadn’t much to do with CAPP, organically. He was part of the squad that Mallam Sani Zorro had assembled to run the National Secretariat of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, (NUJ) in the mid-1990s. These turned out to have been some of the best-heeled activists such as Chom Bagu, Tom Adanbara, Bayo Bodunrin and Nelson Amanze, amongst others.
When the late Emma Ezeazu relocated from Lagos to Abuja as pioneer Executive Director of CAPP, it was with Nelson he found a living space. And as also a member of other popular democratic fora such as Women in Nigeria, (WIN) and the Democratic Alternative, (DA), Nelson also began to fit into CAPP flow. So, he came to know CAPP fairly well over time as for CAPP to become his next workplace once the Sani Zorro NUJ experiment started fading. By the time CAPP’s crisis reached its peak, it was Nelson, not any of the seed activists who was available to take over.
Among the seed activists were Naseer Kura who had moved to the Civil Liberties Organisation, (CLO) and which subsequently entered crisis too; Comrade Joseph Mamman who rose to become the Executive Director of CAPP briefly before his death; Dr. Hussini Abdu who went to lecture at the Nigerian Defence Academy before turning up as practitioner of the ‘third sector’; Auwal Ibrahim Musa aka Rafsanjani who went to one or two other NGOs before founding CISLAC; Adagbo Onoja who went back to return to journalism and later in government; Mr. Reuben Ziri who served as Director of Research before departing the organisation and Mallam Nuhu Muazu, aka “the people’s commandante’.
Was this a case of a bad successor generation or manifestation of deeper crisis? It is a question with many answers. While the pioneers of radical nationalism would say yes, the members of the successor generation would say that CAPP and other similar platforms might have soared if the high priests reframed from the path of binary differentiation, denouncing insider accounts/alternative views and labeling same, all of which were worsened by rigid hook-up to unproductive conceptual and methodological categories in a rapidly changing world.
Of course, it cannot be glossed over that the Nigerian State was at work, feeling ontologically insecure at the sight of activism and doing its best to undercut radical opposition. In the students sector, for example, it was to be later discovered that many activists were simply government plants, financed and groomed by state security organs. And then the collapse of the universities and the crisis of clarity, making critical analysis a risk to those who insist on such approach to crisis management.
The funding phenomenon also powered a shift in attitudes among radical activists, wetted appetite for behaviour patterns considered strange before. Without a stronger counter-current, it was not long before an organisation such as CAPP could not survive, much less grow. But both deaths – of Nelson and of CAPP – constitute interrogation of radical politics. If much less clear elements are running viable organisations, why shouldn’t the most clear and the hardest working breeds, or the activists?