By Salihu Mohammed Lukman
The Faculty of Arts and Social Science (FASS) at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria was a beehive of intellectualism in the 1980s. Around that period, relatively young academics like Raufu Mustapha who died recently, Prof Jibrin Ibrahim, Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, Alkassum Abba, Salihu Bappa, etc, were part of generation of scholars that shaped and are still shaping the lives of many of us. By the time I got into ABU to read Economics in 1986, Raufu and Jibrin were already on study leave for their postgraduate studies in the UK and France respectively. Raufu was a household name.
For those of us that were privileged to be members of the Marxist organization, Movement for Progressive Nigeria (MPN), we were oriented to understand that Raufu and his generation of cadres left a legacy of service and commitment to the student movement that translated into academic excellence. In all our cell meetings, we were reminded that membership of the movement imposed the burden of aspiring to excel. The names of Raufu and Jibrin were constantly mentioned. Similarly, the names of victimized student leaders such as late Abdulrahaman Black, Lamis Shehu Dikko, late Jibril Bala Mohammed, Issa Aremu, etc who were on the path of academic excellence were constant references.
Ending up with a Third Class, I always look back with a deep sense of disappointment. Of course, I could give excuses of distractions arising from having to discharge my responsibility as NANS President which involved travelling almost every week and the eventual arrest on the eve of my final exams as justification. However, if the truth is to be told, the result of the final year is only a part of the aggregate. A small consolation is that at least, one was able to graduate unlike many other student leaders with potential for academic excellence who had their academic life truncated with rustication.
The big consolation is that although not quite academically successful, I was a very privileged student leader whose tenure witnessed landmark protests including the 1989 anti-SAP protest. Partly on account of some of these privileges, one was able to enjoy some good recognition from many respected Nigerian intellectuals. These achievements must have made some people like Raufu feel proud of some of us. This is my narrative of my first encounter with him immediately after my National Youth Service sometime around May 1991. Returning to Zaria from Maiduguri, Borno State, where I served, I visited ABU. Getting to FASS, there was Raufu in the company of late Prof. Akin Fadahunsi. I was very familiar with late Prof. Akin Fadahunsi who introduced me to Raufu who had, at that time, completed his postgraduate programme and returned to ABU. The short conversation we had on that eventful day to a large extent opened the opportunity that defined what followed in terms of my work trajectory.
In a profound way, both Raufu and late Prof. Akin expressed the view that finding employment will be tough for me as a marked former NANS President. They jointly came to the conclusion that with Comrade Issa Aremu on study leave for his postgraduate programme at the International Institute for Social Studies (ISS) in Netherlands, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the then General Secretary of National Union of Textiles would be in need of an economist. It was a moment of self-restoration. The mere reference to one as an economist meant a lot to me at that time partly because with a third class certificate, I was troubled with a complex. So, finding two intellectually accomplished giants referring to me as economist with the full knowledge of my third class certificate was it. There and then, Raufu invited me to follow him to his house for lunch so that he could give me a note to Comrade Oshiomhole. And there was Kate who was sincerely very amiable.
The meal that followed was unforgettable – simple, delicious and African – boiled yams with efor soup. May be now one can confess! The sight and taste of that meal raised my curiosity as to whether our comrade had committed what would have been called class suicide by employing cooks. This arose from the fact that Raufu and myself were just arriving the house and I didn’t believe that Kate, a foreigner to Nigeria, cooked the food. Our puritanical ideological orientation made us to believe that comrades shouldn’t be associated with exploitative practices. At our ideological level, hiring cooks wasn’t considered the ‘correct’ way of life. Unfortunately, I couldn’t muster the courage to ask Raufu. Instead, I just kept trying to look out for confirmation which I never got. Only my subsequent visits confirmed that Kate and Raufu cooked all their meals and Kate is more African than many of us in that respect.
I left Raufu’s house that very first time with a note to Comrade Oshiomhole. The next day I went to Kaduna and presented the note to Comrade Oshiomhole who then asked me to exercise patience and wait for the return of Comrade Issa Aremu who was scheduled to complete his postgraduate programme at the end of the year (1991). I must say I was disappointed at that point and decided to move to Lagos and try my luck. In Lagos, comrades in NLC and the human rights community were just amazing. Thanks to Salisu Muhammed, Chom Bagu, John Odah and Chris Uyot, opportunity was provided for me to serve in NLC education endowment committee. It was not a regular employment, lasting just about two months. From August 1991, I was appointed National Administrative Secretary of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) led by late Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti. I served in that capacity up to February 1992.
Sometime in February, I had some disagreement with Dr. Beko. If you ask me, it wasn’t any fundamental disagreement but I felt very strongly about my objection to Dr. Beko’s position and Dr. Beko simply told me that it is either I accepted his position or leave. As it turned out, I chose the later and tendered my resignation which he accepted. That very day, I went to NLC. Coincidentally, I met Comrade Issa Aremu who enquired where I have been and that Comrade Oshiomhole had been looking for me.
The next day, I went to Textile Labour House at Acme Road in Ikeja to meet Comrade Oshiomhole. As luck would have it, I met him at the entrance and he immediately recognized me and held my hand through the staircase to his office on the 4th floor of the building. There were many people at the reception to his office and inside his office, we met at least four other people. He introduced me to them and it turned out it was actually an interview panel and the people outside were candidates to be interviewed. I was full of confidence and relaxed without knowing that I was being interviewed. I thought it was just some conversation because Comrade Oshiomhole was interested in some quasi-academic and ideological conversation.
I only became conscious that it was an interview session when a member of the panel who turned out to be the Senior Deputy General Secretary of the union, Alh. Shittu, asked me how much I would want to earn if I were to be given an offer to work for the union. At that point, I remembered making the point that since I had not applied for the job, I would take anything the union offered. Comrade Oshiomhole flatly told me that the union would not make any offer to me without a demand. I then told the panel about what I was earning in CDHR (N1,200) without informing them that I no longer worked there and told them that N1 addition would be fine. The session ended on that note. A week after at Acme Road Textile Labour House, I luckily met Comrade Oshiomhole who gave me a letter of offer of employment to resume in the headquarters of the Union in Kaduna with a monthly pay of N1,500. Two days after, I resumed at Textile Union in Kaduna. Raufu and Fadahunsi had struck by making a worker out of me.
The rest, as it is said, is now history. Thanks to that May 1991 meeting with Raufu and the recommendation note I got from him to Comrade Oshiomhole, I had the opportunity to serve the National Union of Textiles for eight (8) years (1992 – 2000), served as a Project Manager of European Union funded, two-year project on Rebuilding the Nigerian Trade Unions (2000 – 2002) and finally as Assistant General Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress (2002 – 2006). Delete that first meeting with Raufu, my career trajectory would have been different.
While in Lagos, I was very much involved with the management of activities of Campaign for Democracy (CD). The critical issue at that point was the campaign against military rule. This was accentuated with annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections. By the time I moved to Textile Union in Kaduna I was still serving as the Deputy General Secretary of CD. Being located in the North, I was given the responsibility of coordinating mobilization in the entire North. By the time I moved to Textile Union in Kaduna I was still serving as the Deputy General Secretary of CD. Being located in the North, I was given the responsibility of coordinating mobilization in the entire North. There were few Comrades in the North that were part of that coordinating team. Notably Chom Bagu, Y. Z. Ya’u, Daniel Ishaya, Edward Daudu, late Thompson Adanbara, late Anselm Akele, among few others. One must admit that it was almost an impossible task. I cannot remember how Raufu and Jibrin became major pillars of support for the discharge of that responsibility as a result of which we were constantly meeting in Kaduna and Zaria to review national development and come up with some plans of action. In the face of big frustrations and constant and sometimes inconsiderate attacks from our comrades in Lagos, Raufu was constantly optimistic and self-assured.
It was a stormy period full of suspicion. As a result, comrades easily got branded and written off. Jibrin had a fair share of that with his History As Iconoclast: Left Stardom and the Debate on Democracy piece in 1993. At the heart of that piece was the declaration of supremacy of liberal democracy over Marxism. He basically bullied his way through that period and at every opportunity unapologetically re-affirmed his views. The combined intellectual energies of Raufu and Jibrin in those trying periods between 1993 and 1996 were in every respect the motivating factor that strengthens the few of us located in the Northern parts of the country to, as late MKO would put it, Keep Hope Alive in the struggle to nationalize the campaign against June 12 annulment. The vibrancy with which they engaged issues presents them as the true organic intellectuals combining theory with praxis. We held endless night meetings, travelling across the country. In those stormy meetings, trying times and sharp disagreements, Raufu and Jibrin were always there to mentor some of us, inexperienced and younger activists. Raufu always had inspiring words to re-ignite our belief and commitment.
Academically, I consider myself a disappointment to Raufu’s generation of organic working class intellectuals. I will remain indebted to him and many in his generation for overlooking my academic shortcomings and putting me on a career path that till today continue to challenge my commitment to the struggles of the working class and their allies. Thank you so very much Raufu. May Allah (SWT) reward you with Jannatul Firdaus, bless your family and comfort Kate, Asma’u and Seyi. Amin!
Mallam Lukman, a former President of NANS, is a party intellectual