By Abiodun Aremu
Abu & Funmi are two comrades of a kind one shared friendship, comradeship and intellectual engagements with, in labour and in popular struggle. Although, with Abu, it goes deeper on the ideological plane, because he is a teacher, mentor, supporter and active collaborator in the Amilcar Cabral Ideological School (ACIS). Much of our encounters will be revealed in separate tributes, soonest.
This is just a reflection of the last moments together. With Abu, the last time was Thursday, May 18th, and with Funmi, it was at the Book Presentation/ Birthday Celebration of Comrade Dr. Oladipo Fashina on May 30th at OAU, Ile-Ife. It was quite an irony and agonizing experience to me because I saw Abu last on May 18th and by May 29th, he was gone. And for Funmi, our last time was May 30th and he departed on June 13th.
Few labour intellectuals exist in the Nigeria labour movement ever since the1940s. Losing two of them within a space of two weeks must be the most devastating to the growth and development of the movement, more so at a period in which public intellectualism has become less attractive to the successive generations of students and academics.
Both Abu and Funmi were intellectual giants in the labour movement. Both were invaluable assets in the defence of workers and pensioners in the electricity unions in 2011 against the imposed privatisation and liquidation of the PHCN. Both are ideologues of working class interest and struggle, and above all, passionate about workers’ education from the working class perspective. They were my comrades at the Kolagbodi Foundation and, at different times, were Guest Speakers at the Annual Kolagbodi Memorial Lecture. Our paths have also crossed at several gatherings of the Left from the late 80s to their demise.
The last meeting with Funmi had us mourning the demise of Abu that was just a day old then. There was nothing suggestive that the Funmi I shook hands with, hugged warmly and agreed with, to keep in touch on Abu’s memorial, was also on the physical way out from our rank.
Abu’s transition invoked in me the exit of Anselem Akele – one of the brightest cadres to come out of the students’ movement and who was, at the time of death in 1996, the Northwest Coordinator of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO). As Abu struggled for strength to find his bearing in the morning of May 18th, when Comrade Bashir Kurfi conducted us round his over 10years investment in an inspiring Resource Centre built with the local creativities of young talents, (who needed not the World Bank’s paradigm of teaching entrepreneurship in the universities), memory of the last moment of Comrade Anselem flashed into me. As I looked at Abu struggling for strength to go further and keep up the pace, the Anselem imagination came back to me but I wished it away that similar fate could befall Abu. We had to go but here was a physically weakened Abu, strong at heart and in spirit. What could I do? I tried to open the car door for him to enter, he sharply protested: “Aremson, it’s not that bad, I will manage”. I retorted that he needed to rest and take care of himself.
Bashir Kurfi drove us back to the hotel and went to a pharmacy to get Abu the necessary things for ORT and get him rested. After about 20mins, he said he was OK and that we could go. And so started our last journey together which was Zaria-Abuja. By the time we were half way the journey, he actually felt better and when we arrived Abuja, we went to the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), just for me to drop off. And we had our firm comradely handshake, with him raising the hope of our seeing in Lagos in a matter of a week. That was the last.
Two days before, May 16th, I had arrived Zaria about 11pm to the comradely embrace of Abu and Bashir. They had been worried I was still on the road and refused to eat until I arrived and we all ate together in Bashir’s place, after which he drove us to the hotel.
The following day, May 17th, we were at the ASUU Branch Leadership Training Seminar in ABU Zaria, as resource persons. My presentation was the first, as I began to inspire the participants with solidarity songs, Abu who was then resting his head on the table, suddenly interjected: “Aremson, you’ve to be time conscious, you are not on the field. You can go on and on now with your Aluta if we don’t caution you”. That was Abu for you!
Then, when it came to Abu’s turn to make his presentation, he rose from his seat and walked slowly to pick the microphone, and solemnly said; “I am not well but I have to do this presentation and return to Abuja immediately”. And suddenly, emerged his high voice of articulation: “I must commend Comrade Aliyu Rafindadi for his commitment and sacrifices to the organization. It is such commitment that marked ASUU out because while we were all worried last night about Aremson, Comrade Rafindadi braved the heavy rain to wait for hours under the Zaria Bye-pass bridge to get Aremson. If you know that place, it is very dangerous to be at that hours but Comrade Rafindadi was there”.
Abu now turned to me: “Aremson, stop all these your guerrilla movements at nights to anywhere, if you want to kill yourself, no problem, but don’t continue to endanger the lives of other comrades …” I smiled inwardly because it is Abu’s way of teasing at comrades. How can Abu who volunteered and drove me on a distance of 55km at night in Abuja a month before the Zaria’s late arrival say this!
A month before April 22nd, he had driven me himself from the ASUU Secretariat permanent site Abuja around 10pm to where I passed the night in the Garki area. That evening, as he drove, we exchanged teases, we discussed the unfinished project in the Cabral School. He had reminded me to work on a “simplified short notes” on African Heroes and struggles for the Beginners’ Class and he volunteered to play his part. In ACIS, he had developed for us a Draft Introductory Notes on Marxist Political Economy – a speciality he taught at the 1st ACIS’ Retreat in a Farm in Itoikin, Epe LGA, Lagos in August 2011.
As I recall the last time with Abu and Funmi, my concern is who will groom more labour intellectuals (not industrial relations’ intellectuals)? Labour intellectuals before Abu and Funmi were Mayirue Kolagbodi, Ola Oni, Bade Onimode, Baba Omojola, Eskor Toyo, Omafume Onoge, Lasisi Osunde, Festus Iyayi, Bamidele Aturu, Laitan Oyerinde, Henry Odugala, etc.
Aging labour intellectuals include Segun Osoba, Toye Olorode, SOZ Ejiofor, Dafe Otobo, Idowu Awopetu, Laoye Sanda, Oladipo Fashina, Attahiru Jega, Hassan Sunmonu, Peter Ozo-esan, Yahaya Hasim, among others. Not too old yet are Owei Lakemfa, Femi Aborisade, Issa Aremu, Femi Falana, Baba Aye, John Odah, Pam Sha, Didi Adodo, Funmi Komolafe, Hauwa Mustapha, Gbenga Komolafe.
Abiodun Aremu aka Aremson is of the Amilcar Cabral Ideological School, Lagos