By Ajiri-Oghene Oreh
Etymologically, Leftist derives from the arrangement of parliament during the 1789 French Revolution. Those who opposed the position of the King or Crown occupied the benches/seats to the left of the Monarch while those in support occupied seats to his right. Thus emerged the two categories of Leftists and Rightists. The Leftists were the radicals (socialists) while the Rightists (bourgeoisie) were the conservatives. However, Karl Marx (1818-1883) and his collaborator Frederich Engels (1820-1895) used the term “radical” to designate a view or idea that arises from a thorough and deep examination of the roots of a problem and therefore resulted in a solution that was scientific, comprehensive and therefore useful to society in general, not partial or one-sided. For the revolutionary thinkers, Marx and Engels, a radical position was more all-embracing and correct as it arises from a scientific not superficial view of things. By year 2000, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) proclaimed Karl Marx as the “Man of the Millennium” because his profound ideas were the most influential in human history spanning over one thousand (1000) years. The global award and recognition was given to Marx and his fellow Engels 117 and 105 years respectively after their demise. It is significant to mention that, Ola Oni Nigeria’s most eminent Marxist and socialist-scholar died in 1999, and was buried in January, 2000.
As explained in the foregoing, the origin of “Left” is traced to the French revolution of 1789. In radical politics “Left” embraces all those who are opposed to the centrist, bourgeois capitalist policies of the government. All leftists may not subscribe to the idea of replacing the bourgeois system with one that is dominated and run by workers and mass movements. But a core socialist is someone who believes in the ideology of Marxism and the termination of the capitalist system. The recent newspaper essays of Professor Biodun Jeyifo and Dr Edwin Madunagu are a rich source of revelations about the Nigerian Leftists, their fellow travellers and dreams of Utopia differed or abandoned. Yes, the Marxist market is a large one with plural tendencies and shopping malls. Jeyifo hinted at Olu’s reformist retreat in the concluding part of his tribute, “In the shade of pragmatic, Fabian socialism: for Olu Obafemi @70”. And as shown in Madunagu’s narrative titled “For Jeyifo (BJ) and Komolafe (KK)”, there have been many socialist tendencies and groups in Nigeria since 1946-1951 when the Zikist Movement introduced the call for a revolutionary overthrow of British colonial rule and the establishment of a socialist government to be run by the working class and its intellectual and popular associates.
This present intervention is to situate Godini Gabriel Darah in the radical discourse, revolutionary literature of Post War Nigeria, and Marxist activism that began at Ibadan in 1970. The year of the end of the Nigerian (un)Civil War in 1970 saw GG Darah becoming a socialist student at Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan (UI). And by 1973, he graduated with Honours Degree in English. The literary critic, Biodun Jeyifo was about 3 years ahead of Darah in the English Department. Jeyifo went to the United State of America for his Doctor of Philosophy Degree (Ph. D) in Theatre Studies. During the internecine Civil War, Nigerian Marxists and trade union activists were divided. With the quelling of the war, there was compelling and urgent need to regroup, and it fell on Comrade Ola Oni of the University of Ibadan to set up a New Left Movement (NLM). Oni headed the team that embarked on a nationwide tour, reconnecting radical forces and groups who later played major roles in the campaigns for the termination of military rule. The University of Ibadan and other tertiary institutions soon became fecund grounds for radical students and youths to develop and engage in the popular struggles. Comrade G.G. Darah had first joined the Afro-Cultural Society in 1971. From 1972 Seiyifa Koroye, Dafe Otobo, Eni Okoi and Darah published a monthly, general interest magazine called AWARENESS. In Darah’s first year in Post Graduate school (1973) he joined the Marxist Student Movement (MSM), and he became the pioneering editor of its organ THE MILITANT, and he handed over to Jimi Adesina who is now a professor at Rhodes University in South Africa. Adesina studied Sociology under the Marxist anthropologist, Professor Omafume Friday Onoge. By mid-1970s, there was the Patriotic Youth Movement (PYM) of which Darah was a member.
Jeyifo and Femi Osofisan returned from overseas about 1975-76 and joined the bloc of Marxist-academic and activists. By then Omafume Onoge had started the Sociology of Literature course from about 1973 in the Department of Sociology. Onoge’s list of background books for the course included The Manifesto of the Communist Party, Mao Zedong’s Talks at Yenan Forum on Literature and Art, Ernst Fischers The Necessity of Art: A Marxist Approach, Adolfo Sanchez Vasquezs Art and Society: Essays in Marxist Aesthetics as well as Frantz Fanons The Wretched of the Earth.
In English Department, the feminist scholar, Omolara Ogundipe-Leslie (1940-2019) introduced radical ideas and African American approaches to literature. But then, the ideas of Marxism and socialism were seen as taboo in the Department. Darah and Seiyifa Koroye in their final year in 1973 had to audit Onoge’s Sociology of Literature course which brought them under Onoge’s tutelage. Marxist Political Economy was already being taught by Comrade Ola Oni (1933-1999) and Bade Onimode (1944-2001) in Social Sciences Faculty. In the early 1960s, Professors Ogunsheye and Essien-Udom started Marxist perspectives in Political Science; Busari Adebisi joined them in the 1970s.
Comrade Ola Oni was highly regarded as the revolutionary leader of the New Left Movement and he was ably assisted by Comrades Onoge, Onimode and Ojo. At UI the Nigerian Academy of Arts, Science and Technology led by Comrade Oni and Comrade Darah as Secretary was the umbrella platform for all Nigerian academic leftists in higher institutions. Omafume Onoge was the editor of the Academy’s journal, THEORY & PRACTICE. The editorial board had leading Marxist lecturers and activists such as Professors Akin Ojo, Bade Onimode, Eskor Toyo, Chimere Ikoku, Nkenna Nzimiro, Baba Oluwide. The revolutionary folklorist, Darah’s article titled, “Igho sh’emu sua: Notes on Capitalist Ideology in Urhobo Oral Literature” was published in the second edition of the journal in 1977. Later, the academy published The Nigerian People’s Manifesto. The Manifesto was coauthored by both Ola Oni and Bade Onimode. Darah was also a prominent member of the Socialist Revolutionary Vanguard (SRV), a radical body that boasted of principal Nigerian Marxists such as Oni, Baba Omojola, Onoge, and Yomi Ferreira. Darah edited SVR’s WORKERS’ VANGUARD newspaper.
In all of these labour movements and Marxist activism, Darah according to the Marxist mathematician, Comrade Dr Madunagu says, “distinguished himself as a very conscious activist, always prescribing and defending the correct Marxist line-as he saw it-honestly, selflessly and with all the energy and intellect he could muster… Beyond that, Darah distinguished himself in movement as an expert in the production of communiqués from usually stormy meetings and conferences. (We recall that meetings of the Left were usually stormy). He would, even before delegates had finished packing their files, produced a draft statement that would satisfy the largest fraction of the participants”. It was G.G. Darah together with former ASUU leader, Professor M.M Tukur who wrote the highly cited ASUU national conference’s communiqué. The title of the communiqué was ” Time for Government of workers and peasant”. The profoundly erudite Marxist, G.G. Darah was Chief propagandist of numerous radical organizations and bodies, most times writing into nights.
The convergence of Socialist-Marxist lecturers in Literature and Drama matured in 1976-77. Jeyifo, Yemi Ogunbiyi and Femi Osofisan had returned from overseas. Jeyifo had moved to the University of Ife now known as Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ife to join Soyinka, Ogunbiyi, Omotoso, Femi Osofisan, Ropo Sekoni. Darah relocated to Ife’s Literature in English Department as Assistant Lecturer in 1978. Later, in the 1980s, the Marxist caucus of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife outgrew that of UI. They formed a community of dissidents and iconoclastic rebels at Ife that almost grew beyond Wole Soyinka who they rebelled against and his generational cohort that include JP Clark, Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, Michael Echeruo based on their thematic and stylistic preoccupation in their works. Osofisan later relocated to the University of Benin where he and Festus Iyayi author of Violence, Heroes and Contract were ideological rebels who mentored other writers including Ogaga Ifowodo.
As Darah submitted later, “the Ife Marxist school of literature and criticism was the most active in the country. Large classes in departments of Literature in English and Drama and Theatre audited the courses featuring these approaches. There was a mandatory course on Literature and Ideology at the Literature in English department. From about 1981, the department inaugurated the seminar series that provided room for hard and vigorous exchanges on the emerging discourse on literature, society, and revolution in Africa. Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s books on the politics of writing and languages were freshly published. All Marxist-oriented lecturers and students on campus attended the seminars”.
However, there was coalescence of both radicals in Ibadan and Ife into one academic collective under the name called, the Ibadan-Ife group. And in December 1977, the radical Ibadan-Ife group organised the conference on the theme of “Radical Perspectives on African Literature” at University of Ibadan Conference Centre. The conference marked the clear difference between the socialists and the larger liberal scholars. The same 1977, the Literature in English Department at Ife hosted a conference on African literature. Onoge and Darah jointly presented a paper, titled “The Retrospective Stage: Some Reflections on the Mythopoeic Tradition at Ibadan in which they attacked the ideological issues of misrepresentation of myth, history and folklore that support conservative view about the African past. Their textual illustrations were Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not to Blame and Wale Ogunyemi’s Langbodo. The joint paper with Onoge according to Darah “caused a stir at the conference, with the non-ideologue critics accusing us of bringing politics into the sublime realm of art. But the dividing line was drawn from that point. The only major critic who appreciated our nuancing was Ime Ikiddeh who was a scholar of Ngugi wa Thiongo. Wole Soyinka published our paper in that years December edition of Chindaba which he edited.” The paper is represented in Chapter 23 of Darah’s edited anthology, Radical Essays on Nigerian Literatures (Lagos: Malthouse Press, 2008).
It should be noted that 1977 was also the year of the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) which brought to Nigeria many radical Afrocentric thinkers and revolutionary scholar-activists of Africa and its Diaspora, e.g. Ngugi, Walter Rodney, Miriam Makeba, Issa Shivji, Nyerere, Dan Nabudere, Ali Mazrui etc. FESTAC 77 was held in Iganmu-Lagos. It was also during the time Darah was undergoing his doctoral research on Udje oral song poetry of his Urhobo people of Delta State. He “applied the analytical instrument of Marxism to engage the themes of political economy and class relations, with illustration drawn from songs produced from the era of British colonial rule in the 1940s to the contemporary times of the petroleum industry in the region. Our findings confirm the view that oral artists are usually more radical and outspoken than writers on matters of politics, poor governance, economic injustice, and class discrimination”.
By 1982, the Ibadan-Ife group started the radical journal titled “Positive Review”. The group included Jeyifo, Darah, John Ohiorhenuan, Ogunbiyi, Osofisan, Odia Ofeimun, etc. While engaged in field research on the popular Yoruba travelling theatre, Jeyifo ran the Bamako Jaji column at the Sketch Newspaper based in Ibadan. In 1981, the poet of hope, Niyi Osundare ran the ” Sunday Poetry ” column in the Sunday Tribune newspaper. Femi Osofisan was not left out as he initiated and edited the Opon Ifa Poetry chapbook that helped budding poets like Osundare, Odia Ofeimun, Harry Garuba, Nduka Otiono, Afam Akeh and Emevwo Biakolo got published. To be fair, all these left-leaning academics collaborated in scholarship and cultural discourse, but Osofisan, Ogunbiyi and Odia were not in the socialist political organisations that Darah featured in.
Comrade Darah was always in socialist groups under the inspiring Comrade Ola Oni based in Ibadan. Even when he started academic work at Ife, he remained in the Ibadan group. In 1978 they founded the Socialist Party of Workers, Farmers and Youth (SPWFY) in anticipation of electoral politics. New parties were required to apply to the Obasanjo’s military government for recognition/registration. Comrade Oni signed as Chairman and Comrade Darah signed as Secretary. The national secretariat of the party was in family house of the Onis, that is, Number 6 Odeku Close, Bodija, Ibadan. Of course, the military did not register the party. But they continued their work since they were not interested in elections per se. Later, they changed the name to Socialist Revolutionary Party (SVP). Also in 1978/79, Darah initiated the Democratic Freedoms Movement (DEFREMON) in Warri. He did this with workers in the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) led by Mr Sleek Oshare now retired from NNPC. They published a news digest a few times. At Ife he was in Ife Socialist Collective that comprised the lecturers. The Ife radicals never wanted to be involved in open politics, so he did his political work in Ibadan all the years. But the Ife Comrades were dedicated Vanguard of ASUU and the students movement. The core of the Ife members later joined with others in Zaria and Benin to float their organization.
In the early 1980s, there was an Ife Book Fair at the University of Ife. Among those who came was the revolutionary thinker and Marxist, John La Rose. He came to displayed books by his New Beacon Books which he and his wife, Dr. Sarah White founded in 1966. While the fair was on, Darah accompanied John to Ibadan to meet Oni who had earlier opened the Progressive and Socialist Books Depot (PSBD) in his house at Bodija area. The purpose of John’s visit to Oni was to strike a business deal on book imports. As it was revealed, Oni’s bookshop got sole distributor rights for Dr. Bala Usman’s new book, For the Liberation of Nigeria, published by New Beacon Books. The first 3,000 copies that came to Nigeria were sold out within a year. By 1982, Darah together with Kole Omotoso and Odia Ofeimun attended the first edition of the International Book Fair of Radical Black And Third World Books at London. The book fair was comparable to the famous Pan African Congress which was organized by Sylvesttty Williams and George Padmore (1900-1945). The Uganda prolific poet, Oko p’Bitek performed from his “Song of Lawino” and “Song of Ocol”. Omotoso and Odia Ofeimun also read from their creative works. In March 14, 1983, Senator (Dr.) Jonathan Silas Zwingina and Darah were among marchers to the grave of Saint Karl Marx for his centenary celebration. Marx was buried in the Highgate Cemetery, North London in 1883. John’s wife, Sarah White with Roxy Harris, and Sharmilla Beezmohun edited A Meeting Of The Continents which captures all the 12 book fairs held at London, Bradford and Manchester from 1982 to 1995.
A noted advocate and radical activist-scholar, Darah became Ife branch secretary of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Biodun Jeyifo was the first Marxist National President of ASUU (1980-1982) with Mahmud Tukur as Vice President. From 1982 to 1986, Tukur served as president and UNIBEN’s Iyayi as Vice President. Festus Iyayi later became the president (1986-1988), and handed over to his vice, Attahiru Jega (1988 to 1994). Meanwhile, by 1984, became Ife branch chairman, thus becoming the first minority man that held positions of secretary and Chairman. Darah’s winning of the chairmanship position can be credited to the influence and popularity of the socialist collective he belonged to and who were loved by students. General Mohammadu Buhari took over office from Alhaji Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983 following the massive corruption, the high cost of things, the 1982 budget by Shagari. Buhari made corruption his sole agenda. He arrested and jailed politicians among whom were the weeping governor Sam Mbakwe, cerebral Governor Ambrose Alli, Barrister Bola Ige. As the Aladja-based popular music duo of Juju and Udjabor called “ikoriko” or austerity economy inflicted on Nigeria by Gen Buhari. There was a general disillusionment and despair. Nigeria was heading nowhere. On April 1984, ASUU under Tukur organized a national conference at the famous Akin Deko Hall of the University of Benin on the theme, “The National Question: Which Way Forward?”. The keynote lecture was delivered by Professor Eskor Toyo with Comrade Darah as Rapporteur-General. UNIBEN had radical lecturers like Professors Itse Sagay (SAN), and the Marxist novelist Iyayi.
Soon, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) went on strike over outrageous hike in tuition fee, hostel fees, withdrawal of feeding and unlawful ban of students’ unionism in less than 24hours. The university of Ife was set ablaze as ASUU Ife supported the students. ASUU Ife held a meeting because it is progressive. NANS’ executive included Lanre Arogundade as President, Yinka Odumakin as Public Relation Officer (PRO) and Pius Ewherido as Adviser. Yes, ASUU Ife backed the protesting students. By then, Darah’s marriage with his late Opha was in its first year. Darah and other ASUU leaders at Ife were arrested and taken in a Peugeot 504 to Ibadan police Station. ASUU Ife branch rallied, held an immediate Congress. There was an International media conference of which the young Mrs Opha Darah was brought in and she courageously challenged the then Head of State, General Buhari to arrest the former president Shagari and released her Husband, GG Darah. Two weeks later, Darah was moved to Ikoyi in Lagos. By 1984, ASUU had joined the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). ASUU had to cry to NLC. Campaign were launched immediately. In weeks, propaganda were released on the unlawful arrest and detention of Darah who was one of the staunchest members of ASUU. It was the sister of the Nobel laureate, Soyinka, that accommodated Mrs Darah. Comrade Godini Darah and others unionists were released, and NLC came with two vehicles and took him to NLC’s office. Thereafter, ASUU Ife came with their vehicles and conveyed Darah and others back to Ife. However, Comrade Darah relinquished office as chairman of Ife branch of ASUU in 1986, and Professor Julius Ihonvbere took over. Professor Ihonvbere later relocated to the University of Portharcourt (UNIPORT).
It is true Marxists have not been elected into Federal Government. But the point must be made that Marxists and socialists have won some highly sensitive political offices. Yes, the victory of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) 1978 was as a result of the indefatigable socialist energy of the period. The duo, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi and Balarabe Musa became executive governors of Kano and Kaduna States respectively as both states still bear imprints of Rimi and Musa’s development strides.. Though no socialist party in Nigeria has won governorship elections in any State, some socialists and Marxists have had cause to play significant role in the nation’s country. Comrade Professor G.G. Darah was Chief of Staff to the Delta State Government (2005-2007) during the remarkable administration of Chief James Onanefe Ibori (1999-2007). Comrade Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola was Chief of Staff to Lagos State Government and later Governor of Osun State before his present appointment as Nigeria’s Interior Minister.