Going through the tributes that the world poured on Cuba’s Fidel Castro at his death last Friday, November 25th, 2016 has a sensitising effect on the impression that a Castro is a minimum requirement for national independence in the ‘Third World’. Reading the tributes make attractive the temptation to think that a country such as Nigeria might have avoided the drawback of chaotic development if it had a Castro. So, why has a Castro eluded Nigeria? Or, could it be that Nigeria has had her own Castro? In other words, is this a case of nothing like a universal Castro but Castros and it is only a question of how we speak about it? This is the question to which Intervention sought responses from a random listing. Their responses form the content of this report. At the risk of pre-empting the reader, almost each of the respondents has a different claim, ranging from those who believe it is because the comrades self-destruct to those who emphasise motivation crisis to those who harp on a strategy crisis, then those who argue Nigeria’s complexity and those who point out the absence of the revolutionary tradition. So, we end up dealing with a question that has as many answers as the respondents. As hinted by some of the respondents, perhaps the way to go is to recast the question entirely. In the meantime, dig this!
Mma Odi, Acting General Secretary, Alliance for Credible Election, Abuja
Selfishness did not allow us produce a Castro in Nigeria even though we had great comrades in the beginning. Soon, we were crushed by post Cold War capitalism. I went to Comrade John Odah’s office and was reporting to him the good works that a comrade did and he said that was the case before. We always thought of others first, never our brothers or sisters. In the Women in Nigeria, (WIN), we never thought of our siblings. The late Emma Ezeazu had a brother who was living in a big house in Lagos but Ezeazu was squatting with John Odah. Just as Moses rejected the good life in Pharaoh’s palace in other to be with his people, there were many of our comrades who stayed away from their brothers so that their own character and their vision of Nigeria would not be polluted. When I finished NYSC, my senior sister asked where I wanted to work. I chose an activist engagement instead of her options. That means I opted for what she would describe as having no future. The same thing with Salihu Lukman and many of us. I think we experienced a case of stunted growth as comrades. It happened in such a way that the very people we were contemptuous of were the people we started copying. They became our standard for achievement. That was not the case because we used to put ourselves on a much higher moral pedestal and we were indeed higher in moral pedestal. But we couldn’t grow our own Castro. Soon, we started destroying ourselves. We had the consciousness. We cracked the walls. Perhaps, we need to rethink.
Malam Abdulkadir Isa, Abuja based Anti-Debt Campaigner
Castro may have eluded us for a number of reasons in spite of the abundance of the enabling circumstances for the emergence of a Castro in Nigeria such as the yearning of the exploited and disinherited for change. What makes the pseudo agents of change to be rallied around by that segment of the society if not a desire for change? What has obstructed the emergence of our own Castro can easily be located in the motivation. For instance, Castro believed posterity would absolve him but, in our circumstance, our change agents want historical acknowledgment and they insist that their own outlook must drive and guide the process, not collective resolve. Then we can point at lack of discipline and sincere commitment vis-à-vis the task of establishing appropriate platform as another snag. The absence of Castro is an indictment because it translates to an absence of the existence of an organisation which alone provides the barometer for reading the consciousness for change. Without it, there can be no advancement beyond interpretations. But the task is not just to interpret but to change. So, we haven’t had a Castro in Nigeria because a Castro is not a task for the self-opinionated.
Dr. Ike Okonta, Abuja based Journalist and Policy Analyst
One point to note in this question must be Nigeria’s composition. Nigeria is a large, complex, populous and multi-ethnic country. Before you can resolve the tension arising from its multi-everything nature, that is enough to pull down a potential Castro. Some people would say, what about China. China is a laudable example of beating populousness but China is not as complex as Nigeria. China is not as a multi-ethnic entity as Nigeria is. The Hans are about 90% of the population or something like that. It was thus much easier for Mao to organise. One factor that helped Mao and his colleagues must be the fact that China had been invaded by Japan. It was relatively easier to mobilise ordinary Chinese based on nationalist sentiments which they converted to communist ethics. So, China is not totally comparable to Nigeria.
Comrade Femi Aborishade, Ibadan based Legal Practitioner
I think that we have Castros in Nigeria. There is not a dearth of Fidel Castros in Nigeria. By this I mean there are committed change agents along Socialist line. What is lacking are people who are convinced that the Castro approach is the only or the best way to bring about change. For some of us, Castro represents an inspiration at a particular stage of consciousness. I think the world has lost one of the greatest revolutionaries it ever had but some of us believe in change through the consciousness of the oppressed rather than bringing it about on behalf of the people which may result in some form of dictatorship. For me, I would prefer to mobilise the masses so that the change is the initiative of the masses or we could end up replacing one dictatorship with another dictatorship. That is the fundamental difference which exists in the way you posed the question and the way we see Nigeria in reality in terms of the existence of change agents but not change as actualised by Castro and his comrades for whom I have the greatest respect.
Dr Obadiah Mailafia, Development expert and former Chief of Cabinet of the ACP Group, Brussels
What an interesting question! If we had had a Castro, would we even have been asking the question or speculating as to whether we had one in the first place? Can any nation have a Castro and not be sure of it?
Clearly, we have never had a Castro. The nearest thing to a Castro was late General Murtala Mohammed. But he had major intellectual and moral limitations which led to the abortion of the revolution he was launching. So, why do we not have a Castro in Nigeria?
There are several reasons: First, the sad truth is that we really do not have a revolutionary tradition. Fidel, Raul, Che and the whole Sierra Maestra revolutionaries were building on the revolutionary tradition laid down by Jose Marti, the great anti-colonial Cuban revolutionary nationalist.
Secondly, our social structure and ethno-sectarian fractures make it difficult for a nationalist revolution to be successful. We are, sadly, a divided people.
Thirdly, and linked to the above, we do not have a deep sense of nationhood with a feeling of collective destiny. If a revolutionary emerged today saying he is fighting for the future of Nigeria and is prepared to die for that vision, he or she would be laughed out of court as a madman or lunatic. People are prepared to die or kill for Biafra, Oduduwa or the Caliphate, but not for a nebulous entity called Nigeria.
Finally, world imperialism has got us firmly by the jugular. We are victims of a formidable informal empire that does not allow us to exercise our sovereign prerogatives as a nation, let alone embark on a revolution to change the order of things.
I would also add that we do not have the people, at least, not yet. Men like Fidel Castro appear once in a century. They are born, not made. He was the greatest moral force to have emerged out of the benighted Third World — a force of nature — a man of supreme courage, integrity and compassion. No, Fidel is not dead, long live Fidel!
Armstrong Adejo, Professor of History, Benue State University, Makurdi
We have not had a Castro in Nigeria because we cannot commit our energy to sustained ideological struggle and make sacrifices even at the pain of death.