By Ajiri-Oghene Oreh
The decades of 1970s and 1980s saw Professor G.G. Darah and other radical lecturers of the universities of Ibadan and Ife teaching students “what they were not paid to teach”, that is, Marxism and socialism. By April 1978, the ebullient students of the nation’s universities revolted against the military fascist government of General Olusegun Matthew Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo (1976-1979) over hike in the cost of university education in Nigeria. The uprising against the government is known as “Ali Must Go”. The “Ali” is Colonel, later Senator Ahmadu Alli who was Obasanjo’s federal commissioner (minister) of Education and former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party. And General Olusegun Obasanjo, brutal and repressive, unleashed violence on the helpless and hapless innocent students. Deaths were recorded. At the University of Lagos and at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, over ten students were reportedly killed by Obasanjo’s men of guns and bombs.
And by August that same year of 1978, the radical university teachers and nonacademic staff of the Universities of Ibadan, Lagos, and Calabar were sacked for allegedly influencing the students to embark on the radical action of revolt. Maybe, we should give a roll call of the patriotic lecturers that were sacked. The casualty list of Marxist-lecturers included Ola Oni, Omafume Onoge, Jacob Ade-Ajayi, Akin Ojo, Bade Onimode, Ebenezer Babatope, Laoye Sanda, Edwin Madunagu, Ekpo Bassey Ekpo, Bene Madunagu. Also, the National Union of Nigerian Students led by the late radical Segun Okeowo was proscribed and the student-activists were banned and denied admission into any university in the country, Nigeria. This happened forty-two years ago! But before 1978, there were other students’ revolts of which the students got the backings of the Marxist-lecturers. Yes, there was the 1974 revolt by the students of the University of Ife led by their inspiring president, Comrade Ayo Olukotun who is now a professor of political science at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, issued a statement of threat to the military government on their plans to embark on what can be called the “great trek” from Ife to Lagos which was then the nation’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The Ife students’ unionism for many scholars has been fashionably called “From Great Trek to Great Ife”. Darah and Femi Taiwo a Professor of philosophy at the Cornell University in New York in their 1989 joint landmark essay on “students’ unionism” in Nigerian universities posited that, “By the second half of 1974, the fascist tendencies of the Gowon regime had reached a crescendo. Charges of corruption against government officials were rife. The government appeared morally disabled to take effective action against patently corrupt governors and commissioners who flaunted their wealth and power to the chagrin of the people. Courageous individuals and social reformers like Air Iyare of Benin and late Aper Aku were put in detention for exposing corruption and acts of repression. Amidst this, Gowon announced in October 1974 that the promise of return to civil rule in 1976 would no longer be kept. Responses to this development led to the arrest and detention of national figures such as Tai Solarin, Edwin Madunagu and other leaders of the Anti-Poverty Movement of Nigeria (APMON). With chains of authoritarian decrees around their necks, the labour Unions were unable to offer any coordinated response of [sic] these measures”.
They further avouched, “The campuses of higher institutions became the only vents for democratic dissent and opposition. The critical-radical moment of student consciousness surged to the fore. The [University of] Ife students made their most memorable intervention in national politics at this time. Under the leadership of Mr. Ayo Olukotun, the students issued an ultimatum to the government to release all detainees. This was accompanied by a ten-point memorandum and a threat to march to Dodan Barracks (seat of the Federal Government) in Lagos about 200 kilometers from Ife to dramatise their demands. Government’s reaction was swift and draconian. It dared the students at the pain of death to come to Lagos. On the night before the “Great Trek” was to commence, it was alleged that the Scripture Union (a Christian group on campus) frightened everyone with the news of a “vision” of bloodshed at the University gate. This caused a nocturnal exodus of students from the campus. Armed police ambushes were stationed on the Ife-Lagos highway. A combat-ready detachment was waiting on the outskirts of Lagos. All public transport vehicles on the Ife-Ibadan-Lagos route were halted and searched, and anyone suspected to be a student was arrested and sent to detention. The University of Ife as well as those of Ibadan and Lagos were subsequently shut for nine weeks… Although the march never took place, the conception and mobilisation for it as well as the extensive media coverage it received raised the name of Ife to the summit of students’ radicalism. From this event derived the militant sobriquet of “Great Ife” which has become a mobilisation slogan for students ever since then.”
As the title of this present enterprise suggests, the narrative is simply on Godini Gabriel Darah’s involvement in Nigerian partisan politics. The term, “radical politics” according Wikipedia, “denote the intent to transform or replace the fundamental principles of a society or political system, often through social change, structural change, revolution or radical reform”.
Nigerian Left, Marxist socialists of ASUU in their engagements and critical interventions have had cause to argue that the various types of government and party systems can’t necessary guarantee “democratic representation of the masses”. They are of the view that, ” in order to ensure a truly democratic system, popular and mass organisations (labour union, peasant association, youth and students organizations, women organizations, market women and traders association, professional bodies, the unemployed) should represent themselves directly in decision-making bodies and assemblies. This method of representation will be a new and better approach to politics in Nigeria, an approach which will eliminate professional politicians who practice politics as profit-making business. The system of direct representation can be best realised in a multi-federal structure “. This ASUU’s ideological view was contained in the communiqué, “Time for Government of Workers and Peasants” of March 28, 1986 on its national conference held at Kano State. The conference’s rapporteurs were Mahmud Tukur and Darah”.
At this stage of the narrative it is imperative to state that, being a Marxist/socialist is a confirmation of one’s partisanship in politics. Marxists are passionately and ardently partisan on the side of the oppressed, exploited, dispossessed and neglected segments of society. They engage in struggles in order facilitate the suffering masses’ emancipation from poverty and degradation. They put their robust intellect in the service of the people by enlightening them on the need and importance to develop the consciousness to organise and free themselves from the shackles of socio-economic want and powerlessness. The supreme goal of Marxist leftists is to engage in revolutionary action to free the oppressed and establish a society where poverty and class disadvantages are abolished and replaced with egalitarian, democratic and humane systems.
The decade of 1930 saw what has been described as anti-colonial politics in Nigeria. This tendency developed when the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) formerly known as the Lagos Youth Movement (LYM) was founded in 1933. The leader of NYM was Ernest Okoli the first Nigerian editor of Daily Times newspaper. Other members included Professor Eyo Ita, Oba Samuel Akisanya, James Churchill Vaughan, and Hezekiah Oladipo Davies. They were the first radicals in Nigerian politics. By June 1945, there was a general and national strike that involved thousands of workers which began with the Railway Workers Union (RWU) which was formed in 1931 and other militant organizations. The national strike was led by radical Comrade Michael Athokhamien Imoudu (1902-2005). The unionists’ demands were economic but it later became a political one with the demand from the imperial Britain to handover power to native nationalists.
A year later, 1946, the Zikist Movement was formed. Kola Balogun, M.C.K. Ajuluchukwu, Raji Abdallah, Osita Agwuna, Nduka Eze, and Mokwugo Okoye were the notable radical leaders of the body. In their political engagement, they openly proclaimed socialism just as they played major roles in the movements of trade unions and the revolutionary decision that saw to the June 1946 nationwide strike and other protests including the one that was provoked by the killing of coal workers in Enugu by the Police in November 1949. Again, the Zikist Movement’s radical advocacy were on socialism, the nationalisation of economic resources and demand for independence. These demands didn’t go down well with the Britain. Next, members of the Zikist Movement were persecuted and the body was proscribed in 1951.
Suffice to say, that by 1960, radical lecturers of the University of Ibadan were involved in partisan politics. The decade of 1960s saw the likes of highly regarded leader of the Nigerian Left, Comrade Ola Oni, Dr. Mayirue Kolagbodi, Eskor Toyo, and Baba Oluwide becoming Comrade Imoudu’s secretaries working tirelessly at the research division of the Labour Union. Since the period when the Nigerian Youth Movement emerged in the 1930s, through the anti-colonial politics of the 1940s and 1950s, the Civil War (1967-1970) to the many revolts and uprisings against military dictatorship, it was the country’s socialists and leftists who have risked their lives and their diverse professional callings and endeavours that ensure Nigeria remained united.
When one belongs to an oppressed and colonised people, it is necessary for him or her to be a radical activist. It was the Indian professor Paul Baran who said that it was the duty of third world intellectuals to be radical and revolutionary. And as Frantz Fanon said in his classical book of radical thoughts,The Wretched of the Earth, each generation must discover its mission, fulfil or betray it. Quite early, Darah and other radicals resolved their choice by choosing the path of fulfilling the historic mission of their generation. And since his student days at the University of Ibadan in the 1970s Darah has been involved in struggles and he did so under the auspices of several radical organisations, including student Marxist groups such as the Young Socialist Movement (YSM), the Marxist Student Movement (MSM), the Patriotic Youth Movement (PYM) and other liberal groups like the Afro-Cultural Society, and Black Nationalist Movement (BNM). Comrade Darah was the pioneer editor of The Militant a campus newsletter of the Marxist socialists students at Ibadan.
Darah was also deeply involved as an active member of numerous socialist-worker organisations/parties, that include the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) which was the organizational platform the Marxists or leftists used in staging and waging popular struggles, and the university campuses of Ibadan, Ife, Lagos, Calabar and Kano were the primary theatres. The radical, Darah first functioned as Ife branch Secretary of ASUU (1982-1984) when Professor Adewuyi was chairman, and later Chairman (1984-1986). It should be noted that Darah was lecturer at the University of Ife now known as Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) for twelve (12) years (1978 to 1991). And he left the classroom as a Senior lecturer to the newsroom of Daily Times as a journalist and later editorial board of the newspaper.
At Ife, Darah was a member of the popular Socialist Collective of University lecturers that included Segun Osoba, Dipo Fashina, Biodun Jeyifo (who was ASUU National President), Femi Osofisan, Omotoye Olorode, Idowu Awopetu, Segun Adewoye, Bayo Ademodi, Seinde Arigbede, Kole Omotoso, Yemi Ogunbiyi, Ropo Sekoni, Yetunde Oladimeji which met weekly to review local, national, regional, continental and international issues and planned on ways to carry out interventions on behalf of the poor masses of Nigeria.
In his recollection of the Socialist Collective, Darah revealed that “Nothing of importance happened on campus without their involvement. If a student was victimised by a lecturer, the socialists would rally to his or her defence. If a staff, academic or non-academic, had issues with the university management, the socialists would show interest. If the Student Union clashed with the university management, the radical lecturers served as bulwark of support. Whenever the government attempted to stretch its leprous hands to the affairs of the university, the socialists would rise in unison to protect academic freedom and university autonomy. If any group of employees in Ife or the State or Nigeria in general initiated action to safeguard their proletarian interests, the Ife socialists got involved. In these ways, the campus socialists came to be identified with just about anything that had to do with popular struggles in Nigeria”.
With the doubling of tuition, feeding cost in students cafeterias in 1984, a nationwide strike was declared by the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) under the leadership of Comrade Lanre Arogundade as president, Yinka Odumakin as Public Relation Officer, and Pius Ewherido as adviser. The Ife Branch of ASUU under Darah as chairman arising from an emergency meeting decided to support the protesting students for the reversal of the high cost of education. The radical lecturers assisted NANS in coordinating the strike. And General Buhari’s administration soon responded by arresting the major actors including Darah through the secret police which was then as the National Security Organization (NSO).
The year 1978 had a lot of drama and poetry of landmark dates. For it was the year, in the opening paragraph students revolted against Obasanjo’s dictatorial government. It was the same year, that the Ibadan group of Marxist socialists in sequel to the radical resolution agreed upon at the All-Nigeria Socialist Conference held in Zaria in 1976 floated the Socialist Party of Workers, Farmers and Youths (SPWFY) with the intention to participate in the military-to-civilian electoral politics that started that year. New parties were expected to apply to the Obasanjo’s military government for recognition/registration. Comrade Oni signed as national Chairman and Comrade Darah signed as the National Secretary. The national secretariat of the proletarian party was in the family house of the Onis, that is, Number 6 Odeku Close, Bodija, Ibadan. Of course, the military did not register the party. But the party members continued their patriotic work since they were not interested in elections per se. Later, members unanimously agreed and changed the name the Socialist Party of Workers, Farmers and Youths to the Socialist Revolutionary Vanguard (SRV) that had veterans such as Comrades Yomi Fereira, Omafume Onoge, Baba Omojola, and Laoye Sanda. Comrade Darah edited the party’s Workers’ Vanguard newspaper.
With the return to democratic rule in 1999, Darah became an intellectual in the corridor of state powers as he was appointed first as Special Adviser on Public Communications in Delta State (2003-2005) and later as Chief of Staff to the State Government (2005-2007) during the administration of Chief James Onanefe Ibori as Governor. As Chief Ibori disclosed later in 2018, Darah was behind his success story as Governor of Delta State as a result of his radical academic thoughts, progressive ideas, the quality of government policies and framework for popular political activities that were geared towards giving the best services to Deltans and non-Deltans. Yes, Professor Darah was a member of the Delta State Think Tank committee (1999-2007) headed by the late boardroom guru Dr Gamaliel Onosode and inaugurated by Chief James Ibori. Members of the committee worked laboriously to produce the blueprint that saw the developmental strides recorded by the Ibori’s administration.
A chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) from Ughelli South Local Government Area, Darah, a master political strategist has also served as the director general of the Uduaghan-Utuama Rerun Campaign Organization in 2010, and at several occasions served as member of the party’s national committees inaugurated for conventions… Though he has not and never expressed a desire to stand for elections on the platform of any of the current political parties, Darah with large followers has been a critical stakeholder in Delta State political firmament. Presently, many of his former aides and loyalists are now holding political offices as Commissioner, member of the Delta State House of Assembly, senior legislative aides to ranking members of the nation’s national Assembly, and some are members of governing boards and councils. Early this year, the incumbent Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa appointed Darah as Executive Assistant on Niger Affairs. Darah is a member of the Governing Council of Western Delta University at Oghara that is chaired by his friend Obong Victor Attah former governor of Akwa Ibom state (1999-2007).
Again, since 2003 when he was appointed as Special adviser and as Chief of Staff in 2005, Darah combined routine administrative duties with ideological/media campaigns for resource control advocacy raging in the Niger Delta region. He has been deeply involved in this advocacy during his newspaper days in Lagos from 1990-2001 at both Daily Times and The Guardian. He is still engaged in these theatres as a lecturer and public intellectual. The political side of the resource control struggle is manifested in his participation in the 2014 National Conference at Abuja, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) of which he is a foundation member and presently holding sway as the Chairman of the Delta State’s chapter, and the politics of restructuring & Fiscal federalism.
*Oreh, a literary biographer, writes from Delta State