Segun Aderemi: Hero of the Nigerian Left Movement ends his race of life
By Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika (SAN)
Comrades, of death, all mankind can be certain. In the memorable words of that great American humanist and agnostic, Robert Ingersoll at the grave of his brother, a “… wreck at last must mark the end of each and all. And every life, no matter if its every hour is rich with love and every moment jeweled with a joy, will at its close, become a tragedy as sad and deep and dark as can be woven of the warp and woof of mystery and death”!
However, we gather today, not to wonder at the mystery of death and lament about the desolation of the grave but in celebration of a life lived joyfully and without regret in toil for a glorious dawn for the wretched of the earth. On the23rd day of May 2022, our friend and comrade, Segun Aderemi breathed his last. He was 64 years old. More than forty of those years went into the toil. And though it appears that we are not closer to achieving his revolutionary goal today than he was when he began his toil, this occasion affords us an opportunity to look back at his life and seek inspiration from his deeds. I will highlight a few here.
I cannot remember exactly my first meeting with this splendid being. I remember, however, my first consciousness of his specialness; his difference from the regular crowd of Marxism-inspired student radicals.
The regular pattern, for petty-bourgeois radicals, was that you go to the university; come across radical ideas; join-in; acquire and throw some ‘isms’ all over the place; grow a wild beard; participate in some social-rattling activities of students and students unions; then graduate; get a job; hopefully settle down into a petty-bourgeois life; marry; rear children; and sometimes, if there are occasions for it, make some radical noises. You might even go into politics, where you distinguish yourself from the regular crowd by spewing revolutionary quotes.
Sango studied law at the University of Ife, where I first made his acquaintance in the student Marxist group, the Alliance of Progressive Students (ALPS). Many before him had graduated and followed the pattern I described above. For instance, those that qualified as lawyers and still wished to maintain an air of radicalism became, in popular parlance, “Peoples’ Law!” (that is, they take-up popular, sometimes unpopular causes, especially for indigent clients). It was what was expected. It was what happened.
But for Sango, Marxism was not a fad. The idea of the social revolution was real, and he meant to see it attained in his lifetime. Hitherto, he had been immersed in the activities of ALPS within the small cocoon of the academic community. ALPS was, first and foremost, a Marxism study group of, and for students at the University of Ife. Its revolutionary activities had essentially been propagating Marxism among the student populace, intervening in student union politics and orientating the student union towards mass struggle, which was mainly the promotion and protection of the right to state-funded education at all levels of education. In this, it coordinated with similar groups in other higher institutions (starting from A-Level colleges). This was under the auspices of the loose coalition named Patriotic Youth Movement of Nigeria (PYMN).
So, as he inched close to graduating and leaving the cocoon of student activism, his thoughts were taken over by worries of about what would become of his Marxism and revolutionary training. He would arrive at a clear vision of what that should be; the role of professional revolutionary. He wasn’t going to be a professional lawyer, a “Peoples’ Law!”, which was the most revolutionary precept he could see from those that went ahead of him. He was going to be a professional revolutionary. From him I heard that phrase “professional revolutionary” for the first time ever, and it was intriguing in its novelty strangeness to the younger minds of my cohort of ALPS recruits. He was going to sacrifice his prospect of petty-bourgeois life for the hard one of organizing the revolution.
As he explained it, there was already a good number of ex-student comrades in paying jobs and professions who by reason of the demands of their jobs were left with no time to spare for the work of organizing the revolution. The revolution required a newspaper and full-time organisers and agitators. The idea was that those in paying jobs will contribute to support those engaged in full-time revolutionary work. The revolutionary work would, at the initial stage, concentrate on development of revolutionary cadre, propagating the idea of the revolution among the working classes, engaging in agitational and organizational support work in every mass movement of the people, mainstreaming the financial and other support requirement of the work among the masses.
One other important thing in the development of his life as a revolutionary at the time was his chance discovery of an alternative explanation of Nazism (National Socialism) which Hitler and his henchmen built on the false foundation of being a movement of the working masses. Our staple had been from the Soviet era publications of the behemoth, Progress Books. The franchisee of these books was that giant of the workers movement in Nigeria, the Marxist intellectual, Comrade Ola Oni.
Compared to now, the age of the internet where at a press of a button anyone could get access to any publication and different thoughts on any subject or issue of interest, that time was like the dark age. All our study of Marxism was majorly based on the classics from the Soviet state approved philosophers – Karl Marx, Frederich Engels, Plekhanov, Vladmir Lenin, Bukharin and the like (even, Stalin and his henchmen).
So, our ALPS group of the time, as part of our propagation of Marxism to the larger student populace, used to organise an annual book fair of Marxist literature and publications in science and other academic books from the then Eastern bloc of Europe. Our supply of books came entirely from Comrade Ola Oni’s franchise of Progress Books. He allowed us to sell these books at a small margin and use the profit to fund the activities of our group. So, Comrade Ola Oni’s house and book distribution centre at Ibadan was a place frequented by student organisers of ALPS.
On one of such forays to Ola Oni’s bookshop, his attention was caught by one book in an obscure and dusty corner. It was Trotsky’s ‘The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany’. Out of mere curiosity, he picked up the book and started reading. There, stark naked before him, page to page till the end, were answers to many of the questions we had always interrogated in our study and debate on Nazism in our ALPS seminars. He enthusiastically recommended the book to the leading cadres of our student group, principally Muyiwa Osunkoya (now Muyiwa Adebanjo), Taye Abiodun, Bunmi Oyewole (now JCA), Lanre Arogundade, Olumide Akanmu (‘Olu Akanmu’, in his current career as a very successful banker), etc. The exposition of the role of the Soviet state and its leaders, principally Stalin, in the growth of Nazism and suppression of the real workers movement in Germany did not sit down well with some of the comrades for whom the USSR and its satellite states in Eastern Europe served as beckon of socialist future.
But Sango and a core of ALPS associates (Muyiwa, Lanre, Akanmu) were not to be held down by the Soviet tradition of Marxism by which they had been trained. They would explore everything explorable; question everything theoretical, every dogma; search for knowledge about scientific socialism, including critiques, without fear of where it might lead them, even if abandonment of socialism. It was a completely new vista that propelled interest in other works of the same writer. Gradually, the promise but eventual degeneration of the Soviet states as projections of the hopes and aspirations that the working classes invested in the October 1917 workers revolution in Russia, became, at once, inescapable and explainable in scientific socialist terms. Whilst acknowledging that the Soviet states represented progress for the working masses compared to their pre-soviet conditions, it was also clear that it was under the throes of bureaucratic degeneration. Lessons of history must be learnt so that we don’t end up repeating it. His revolutionary, if you like, brave inquisitiveness eventually led him and his closest collaborators to a clearer ideological vision of the revolution for which he was prepared to spend and sacrifice his life as a full-timer. Yes, to workers revolution, but no to soviet-style bureaucratization; yes, to workers internationalism and international solidarity of the working masses, absolute no to socialism in one country!
And so with a clear ideological vision and of his own role, he set about living his life, the life that has now come to an end. Was he fulfilled, seeing now, as I previously noted, that it seems we are not closer today to socialist revolution in Nigeria than we were when he embarked on that journey?
Well, if he were able to rise now and address us, I would hear him say, “Comrades, despair not! If the course is right, then we fulfill our historical roles by working towards it! Historical and dialectical materialism teaches us that when the fruit is ripe enough to fall from the tree, it will! Stay the course, comrades, keep moving!”
Many a times he had encouraged me with words of this nature, when in my low moments I wonder whether we labour not in vain. With him, I have seen high moments of our efforts, and I have seen many low moments of it. Having thrown himself headlong into developing a core of revolutionary cadres, we’ve unfortunately lost a lot of investment in these cadres. Some lost hope and wanted a way out; some wanted to be generals in their own inconsequential army within our relatively inconsequential larger left movement in Nigeria. On each and every occasion these elements brew-up schism in order to give the colouration of ideological disagreement to their actual but hidden ambition. Each time one leaves, and I lament, he instead throws himself afresh into developing new cadres.
He would not be daunted. He used to say that what I referred to as lost investments would prove, at the right time, not to be so. He was wont to encourage me to snap out of my feeling of loss by reminding me that Lenin also fell a similar sense of loss when Trotsky, desperate for the unity of the nascent Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party, seemingly cast his lot with the Menshevik faction, against his instinctive revolutionary nature. However, when the call of revolution came, pseudo-revolutionary nature of menshevism was in clear display. Trotsky heard the call loud and clear, and he recognized the moment because he was genuine in his quest as a revolutionary.
This would later prove prescient during our NCP days (i.e. the National Conscience Party, founded and led for a time by that epochal character, the instinctive revolutionary, Gani Fawehinmi) when in the fervor of the social momentum we were able to create, a lot of those I had lamented about losing (including one of the most important persons with whom he worked at the early stage to build our forces, Muyiwa Adebanjo, who had left to become a pentecostalist) heard the call loud and clear. They did return and contribute immensely to our efforts in that party. Of course they petered off again when the ebb of that movement flowed to its stop. Years after that, Sango used this to illustrate his optimism, and the point that his work has not, cannot and will never be in vain!
His work is uncompleted; his dream of seeing with his own eyes the dawn of the Revolution unfulfilled in his lifetime; the task of building the socialist society a thing that he can no longer contribute to. We, who still live, are left with this task. He has not left us this task without a clear pathway. Let us remain on that pathway. Through all high and low ebbs of the revolutionary cause and course, with every dent we make on the formidable armour of blood-sucking capitalism, in every defeat we may suffer in the mortal struggle of the working masses against their capitalist expropriators, let us remain steady and focused as Sango was till he took his last breath.
To us, the members of DSM, let us remain encouraged by the fact that by the natural law of gravity, the fruit will fall from the tree when it is ripened enough; by the dialectics of historical materialism, capitalism will fall. Recently, a soldier in our rank of revolutionaries published an article titled “Sowore: The One-Man Show!”. To illustrate one of the points he was making in the article, he quoted how Ursula Le Guin put this same point in a speech she gave during the National Books Awards in 2014, thus:
“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did divine right of kings …. Power can be resisted and changed by human beings; resistance and change often begin in art; and very often in our art – the art of words”.
In our own case, in addition to words, our own art includes the clarity of the revolutionary idea and organizational praxis left to us by my and our dear friend, comrade and revolutionary leader, Segun Aderemi, known to the public as “Segun Sango’ or ‘S.S.’. Death has parted him from us, and so he’s taken his leave of us, having acquitted himself creditably on the side of Right, in the mortal struggle between Right and Wrong! With emotion, we who believed in the rightness of the cause for which he lived, now bid him bye.
To our comrades of the CWI (Campaign for Workers International), we thank you for all the efforts made towards finding medical succor for Sango. We also thank all left elements in this country, too numerous to mention one by one, who reached out with helping hands to his family throughout the period of his ill-health.
To his children, Omotola, Babatunde and Olasubomi, we express our condolences and thank them for the gift that their father was to us and the working and struggling masses of this country and worldwide.
To his wife Tinu, the ‘Oya’ to our Sango, whose lot it has been to take care of him 24/7 in the last few years after he was struck down by the health challenge to which he has now finally succumbed, we can only say a big thank you that comes from the innermost depths of our appreciative hearts! You are a rarity!