Some readers of Intervention have rejected the inference in the story announcing his death last Tuesday that the late professor’s seminal academic work is the 1985 paper titled “Critical Notes on the National Question: Practical Politics and the People’s Redemption Party”. Intervention had stated in the said report that it was that paper that could be said to have shot him to limelight perhaps because of the manner it captured the ideological contestations and tendency bickering about and around the then People’s Redemption Party, (PRP) in the Second Republic and the broad left in Nigeria among the radical academics at that time.
Although the bulk of the reporting has been commended, several actors particularly in the Kano – Zaria intellectual axis are up in arms, arguing to the contrary. While some are complaining that the entire report was too short and failed to connect the late Raufu to what they call the Zaria debates, others are complaining of failing to connect the many other actors in the process while three more charge Intervention with not specifying Raufu’s radicalism. Yet, others are specific on the suggestion about the status of that particular paper. At the heart of the matter might be this sentence from the leading protester’s whatsapp message to that effect: “His most original and seminal contribution to radical scholarship in Nigeria is “The Relevance of the NEPU/PRP Heritage to the Nigerian Revolution: A critique” delivered at the Karl Marx Centenary Conference, ABU Zaria, 1983”
Intervention takes all the criticisms to mean that some people have not been able to forget that aspect of Nigeria’s ideological past but it is a long time now and memories have faded. The 1980s when the debates in Zaria took place was not the age of internet and it is not easy accessing some of the materials again. As many of the key actors are no longer alive, it was also thought the report should just be content with reporting Prof Mustapha’s death, mentioning just one of his numerous publications in relation to radical scholarship. Most importantly, in an ideological void such as Nigeria of today, some of the concepts used in those debates in 1980 will make completely different meaning to today’s generation who only know ethnicity, religion and region. Be that as it may, below is a sketch of the context and content of the two papers in ‘contest’ in aid of answering which of the two papers can be considered the seminal contribution to radical scholarship.
The People’s Redemption Party, (PRP) was the party which attracted most radical intellectuals, academics and activists in the Second Republic in Nigeria. Highlights of that would range from the Wole Soyinkas, the Chinua Achebes, SG Ikoku, Uche Chukwumerije, (two of them went to Nkrumah’s Ideological School at Winneba in Ghana in the early 1960s), Eskor Toyo, Asikpo Essien Ibok, Bala Usman, Eno Edet Traore ( the unbeatable gem in party publicity), Haroun Adamu, Rufai Ibrahim and so on. This is not to talk of a flock of ideologically heady chaps located predominantly in the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria – Bayero University, Kano axis. In fact, in one of the seminars on progressive politics at the Government House in Kano, the late Professor Eskor Toyo declared that the PRP had the status of a vanguard party in the context of the Second Republic.
But within this large contingent of radicals, there emerged two antagonistic elements. On the one side were the PRP intellectuals made up of those generally called Bala Brought Ups, (BBU). Bala here refers to the late Historian, Bala Usman. The PRP intellectuals formed the ideological crew of the Kaduna State Government under Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa from 1979 to 1980. It is safe to say that Bala Usman was the leader of this crew although there was the equally late Bala Mohammed serving as the Political Adviser to the Rimi led PRP government in Kano who was emerging as a referent in himself.
On the other side of this group is what later came to be known as the Zaria Group who also accepted that the PRP was different from all the other political parties in the Second Republic but who had reservations about its essential ideological character and direction and said so openly. Not only did they say so, they stood fairly aloof from intimate involvement. They were many and had no clear leader as such but the most notable name included the late Raufu, Dr Sule Bello and the late Dr Sabo Bako. It was the ideological clash between these two groups that underpinned these two papers readers are rating.
In “The Relevance of the NEPU/PRP Heritage to the Nigerian Revolution: A critique” delivered at the Marx and Africa Conference ABU, Zaria in 1983, Raufu’s key contention is the notion that the conditions the PRP was fighting in the Second Republic were not the same as the conditions which its progenitor – the Northern Elements Progressive Union, (NEPU) fought. Such power resources as land, the local courts, the Native Authority Police and control of land had been taken away from the native authority controlled by the emirs. The PRP, he said, could not get it right by failing to locate its struggle in the dynamics of global capitalism or it would end up fetishising the northern oligarchy which he dismissed as a nebulous concept.
The “Critical Notes on the National Question: Practical Politics and the People’s Redemption Party” is, on the other hand, where the late Prof Raufu was responding to criticism of his presentation at the 1985 Annual Conference of the Nigerian Political Science Association on “The Military and the National Question”. The criticism was by Dr Alkasum Abba, a leading member of BBU. Alkasum charged Raufu with distorting others, weak theory and factual errors, among others, saying that it was a Eurocentric view to say as Raufu did that the national movement and modern nations were products of capitalism rather than capitalism serving as its economic foundation. He argued that the Egyptians, the Chinese and the Vietnamese nations had their origin contrary to Raufu’s analogy that the national idea started in Western Europe. He disagreed that the French revolution started the national idea beyond merely providing the most democratic solution of achieving transition from feudalism to capitalism. Raufu was accused of denying the existence of the ‘Northern Oligarchy’ and being too theoretical rather than practical about the radical cause. He went to show how the PRP, (ie the Imoudu faction after the split of the party into two camps) was the model of how to achieve national unity with Michael Imoudu galvanising wonderful crowds of followers across the north. This was early July 1985.
This set the background for Raufu’s merciless, polemical but scholarly attack on PRP intellectuals in the paper on the national question, accusing them of infractions on principled practice of the national question. Replying, Raufu insisted that Alkasum’s level of analysis failed to distinguish between peoples, nationalities, nations and their relationship to capitalism. He said there were peoples, linguistic groups, states and nationalities before capitalism but never a nation state, pointing out that the nation state was a completely new development in human history, marking the total victory of the rising bourgeoisie, first in Europe before spreading to Asia. Alkasum, said Raufu, was in error for taking 1804 for start of the national movement in China instead of 1905, saying 1905 was the qualitative break and hence the expression “1905 sounded like a clap of thunder throughout Asia”
Taking the charge of denying the existence of the Northern Oligarchy which BBUs posted as the enemy of the revolution, Raufu argued that the concept of the oligarchy was no more than a projection of the politics of neo-feudal squabbles in families belonging to pre-colonial emirate aristocracy in northern Nigeria. An arrow obviously aimed at Bala Usman, Raufu asked how it could be possible for a Federal Permanent Secretary of northern origin in Lagos, (now Abuja) to oppress peasants in Musawa (Katsina) without doing so to the man in Mushin (Lagos) since the instrument of oppression would be the Permanent Secretary’s control of bureaucracy. Describing Northern Oligarchy theory as demagogy, he denied being antagonistic to the PRP, saying it was the best of the lot but was being destroyed by ‘Government House’ revolutionaries.
Stretching the argument further, he wondered how the concept found its way into the PRP since neither NEPU nor even the PRP used any such concept in the First and the Second republics respectively. Instead, NEPU, he said used “Emirate Autocracy” but that the emirate autocracy has since been disorganised by the emergent modernists in the north in a class struggle in which all power resources were taken away from the aristocracy – land, control of native police and courts (by the Obasanjo regime that had a lot of northern big wigs such as General Shehu Yar’Adua). He questioned the definition of the oligarchy, asking where in the world social mobility is not a product of birth, favour, patronage, privilege and background.
Finally, Raufu contested Alkasum’s claim that the PRP was a force for national unity, saying that since the national question in Nigeria could never be resolved outside of a radical approach, the methods of the PRP was not much different from the four responses already on the ground. He listed them as the position of southern chauvinists insisting that the answer to the national question is drive away Hausa-Fulani from power; the position of southern liberals which privileges meritocracy, the position of northern chauvinists which insists on Federal Character only on issues of jobs and contracts and finally the one he approved of which is the radical patriotic view.
Seen from the grounds covered and the issues in contest, “Critical Notes on the National Question: Practical Politics and the People’s Redemption Party” would seem more substantial than “The Relevance of the NEPU/PRP Heritage to the Nigerian Revolution: A critique” irrespective of who, between Alkasum and Raufu, one agreed with. In any case, there is almost nothing in “The Relevance of the NEPU/PRP Heritage to the Nigerian Revolution: A critique” that was not touched upon or repeated in “Critical Notes…”. The debates represented the ideological tension at that moment, a tension that PRP intellectuals/BBUs traced to the Northern Oligarchy especially after the FRCN Kaduna broadcast of ‘No Nation, No Destiny’, the reproduction and circulation of which earned a top PRP intellectual violent reprisals from agents suspected to be NPNish.
Opinion on which of the two papers is tougher will continue to vary but it is interesting some scholars are contesting the notion that nation state was a product of capitalism or was even born in 1648 at Westphalia. The claim which has books and scores of journal articles already since early 2000 which makes what ABU, Zaria had already scratched the surface even before the UK scholar who did a doctoral degree on it went to the university. Unfortunately in Nigeria, we don’t even look back at our own debates. It would be surprising to find copies of the papers that oiled the series of the debates that took place in those years of quality before the establishment got pissed off and decimated the university to where it is now ominously silent. And yet we want to develop, perhaps without the bitterness of ideas!
Perhaps, it is time somebody fishes out some of those hair raising papers that defined ABU, Zaria in those days and publish them unedited. Only such a compendium will bring together the Bala/Oyovbaire debate on the Responsibility of Political Science in Nigeria; Dr Sabo Bako’s Review of Bala Usman’s Manipulation of Religion in Nigeria; Professor Sule Bello’s “The Inherent Limitations of Petit-Bourgeois Political Analysis”; Bala/Bangura Debate on the Causes of Nigeria’s Economic Crisis and a host of them. All such issues that were in contention are back in Nigerian politics. If only intellectuals could speak the language of the commoners, these arguments and debates would have helped a lot. Unfortunately, it was between radical intellectuals who were discussing very relevant issues but in a language that they alone could access. Not only that, those who do not have the background of the debates would not make sense of them because everything today in Nigeria has been reduced to the simplicita of Christian/Muslim or North/South and nothing more.
The hint from the sharp reminders and criticism of Intervention’s inference is that those debates are still important to a section of the society and that those who participated in them may be dead, they made their own contribution to Nigeria.