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LAGOS. NIGERIA.     Thursday, November 07 2002






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Looking back: 25 years ago
By Edwin Madunagu

IT is now 25 years since I relocated to Calabar as a permanent resident. Reflecting on the circumstances of this event and the periods immediately before and after it, I thought I had something to share with the public, especially the younger generations. At the end of June 1976, a group of young Nigerian socialists - male and female - gathered at some location in the rural part of what is now Osun State. At the end of the all-night discussion the group decided it was time to extend their conscientisation from Nigerian cities to the rural population at whose core is the peasantry.

In the sense it was understood then, and even now, to conscientise is to lead the masses, through dialogue, to perceive the roots and nature of social contradictions and their exploitative and oppressive elements. What the masses do with this new perspective and consciousness is left to them. It was also decided that to make this conscientisation credible, and to earn the trust of the rural population, the headquarters of this revolutionary enterprise must be located in a rural area and that most of the young idealists must relocate to the headquarters immediately and reside there permanently. And, in order to maintain existing links with the urban masses, especially workers and students, it was decided that some members of the group would remain in the cities but regard their city enterprises as secondary to the rural project.

The rural conscientisation enterprise was engaged vigorously and seriously. The language of discourse was, of course, the local language not English. Vigorous efforts were made to translate difficult concepts into the local language and find local illustrations. World history, including its revolutionary segments, was rendered in the local language. The group lived the way their hosts lived: they rebuilt their acquired house and fences with no external labour; they farmed and reared animals for food; they cooked their food themselves; they sourced for water in various ways, including the creation of a new branch for a nearby stream; they organised and executed their security needs. Male and female members were equal, fiercely so.

To underline this fact, a baby girl delivered by a female member just before the group came into being was taken care of, in turns, by members of the group - male and female. Thus, the mother was free to undertake her revolutionary duties like the other members. A male member of the group (am I the one?) would later recall, with pride and joy, that he learnt to baby-sit, feed and change nappies not with his own child (since he had none then), not as a house boy, but as a member of the group. That baby girl is now a graduate, working in Nigeria. One day the history and experiences of that group will be published for the benefit of the younger generation and in honour of the host peasant communities.

I was a member of that group, and had resigned from the University of Lagos. After an 11-month sojourn in the rural location I arrived in Calabar in May. 1977. Since the rural enterprise, by mutual agreement, was "closed" to the outside world, one can understand why there is a one-year gap in my curriculum vitae. As I was moving to Calabar to join my wife who had been there for about 12 months, several Nigerian radical socialists, labour leaders and Marxists were also moving in the same direction - as if by arrangement. They included Eskor Toyo who was moving from the University of Maiduguri to the University of Calabar, Bassey Ekpo Bassey, a radical journalist, who was moving from Lagos to join The Chronicle a Cross River State-owned newspaper; Eboney Okpa, Ita Henshaw and Iwok Udo-Unam (radical trade unionists); Assim Ita and Udo Atat (revolutionaries-at-large); and Ernest Etim-Bassey, a rugged son-of-the-soil revolutionary fighter. Foreign radical lecturers, including Ingrid Essien-Obot (German), were also moving to the University of Calabar. Most of us met for the first time at the All-Nigeria Socialist Conference which took place in Zaria at the end of July, 1977.

The All-Nigerian Socialist Conference was my first public outing in more than a year. Many comrades and friends were shocked to see those of us who had "disappeared". But the older ones who were familiar with cases of "disappearance" and "reappearance" of revolutionaries were not so surprised. In fact one of them commented that they had not missed us and would, in fact, by happy if we returned to where we had been - along with our anarchism, voluntarism, petty-bourgeois romanticism and disrespect for elders and experience. The three-day conference can be described as the largest gathering of Nigerian Marxists, socialists and revolutionary democrats - at least since the end of the Civil War. It was the first encounter between the older generation of socialists (those who operated before and during the Civil War) and the new generation (those like myself who joined the movement after the war). The movement which was already in serious crisis before the Civil War had split into two main geopolitical and ideological factions during the War: one in Nigeria, the other in Biafra. And within each faction sub-factions (often in hostile relationships), inevitably developed. All these factions, and the new generation, were present at the Zaria Conference.

It was a turbulent conference. Physical combats were frequently threatened, and occasionally given effect. At a stage, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and his boys and girls held us hostage for upwards of one hour to press for a resolution of a question they posed. I clashed with Bassey Ekpo Bassey as soon as we were introduced. He regarded me, even before seeing me, as a Trotskyite anarchist. But we reconciled before the end of the 3-day conference and, together, we travelled in his beetle car from Zaria to Onitsha. Eventually, a general agreement was reached by the Conference: Nigerian socialists should start work on the formation of a party which could, if it was possible, take part in General Olusegun Obasanjo's transition programme (1976-1979) but which must not be tailored to suit the dictates and rules of that transition.

The Zaria Conference inspired the formation of the Calabar Group of Socialists in August 1977. It also led to the consolidation and expansion of the Movement for Progressive Nigeria (MPN), a student group which had been established at the University of Calabar shortly before the Conference. We went immediately to work among workers, students, peasants and the "wrecked of the earth". Although the formation of the Calabar Group of Socialists was a revolutionary leap, it carried potential contradictions - since founding members came from different backgrounds and experiences. Within four months of its formation, the contradictions came to a head and the group literally split into two. But the last attempt to prevent the split, made at the end of November 1977, is of great personal significance to me. I may end this narration with it.

I had received a telegram while teaching a Mathematics class in the University of Calabar where I was employed after the Zaria Conference. The message in the telegram was that my mother had died in Lagos in November 15, 1977. I was the last of her three surviving children - all male. Her corpse was to be taken from Lagos to Nnobi in Idemmili Local Governent Area of Anambra State for burial. I sent back a message asking that I be informed of the date of the burial. Meanwhile we had fixed the date for the Calabar Group's crucial meeting. Then a message came from Nnobi, notifying me of the date of my mother's burial. It was the same as the date for the Calabar group meeting! The question of a shift of our Calabar meeting did not arise. For not only did I consider it a very decisive meeting which only physical paralysis could serve as excuse for absence, I was also the host and convener. I took a decision: I would try to attend the two events (Nnobi and Calabar) but if I could not combine the two, then the Nnobi event would be sacrificed! And I loved my mother so dearly. But I also had a revolutionary duty to perform. My mother loved me absolutely, believed in me absolutely, and trusted me absolutely. During my last meeting with her she had advised me: "Please, be kind to women; I suffered a lot to get you". I have lived by that advise.

The burial was fixed for 2.00pm in Nnobi and the group meeting for 8.00pm in Calabar. As soon as I had performed the mandatory ritual of "dust to dust" at the graveside, I withdrew and whispered to a favourite step-sister of mine that I was off to Calabar. "Ikechukwu, you must be mad!", she shouted. "No, I am not mad, I shall explain later", I replied. I entered my beetle car and headed for Calabar. My car was manouvred into it. (The Calabar-Itu road was still to be completed). I got to the house as the first set of comrades was arriving for the meeting. But I stepped into the house before them. The Calabar Group of Socialists split into two factions at that meeting.


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