By Is'haq Modibbo Kawu
Many different thoughts came to my mind last week, when news of Festus Iyayi’s tragic death broke.
The pain was deep and the anger and confusion were overwhelming. In that tragic accident, Nigeria lost one of its finest patriots; a Marxist revolutionary whose dedication to the liberation of our country and the enthronement of a society of social justice for the working people, were the defining motifs of his work as well as his life.
Festus Iyayi was simply one of our greatest heads, and we can paraphrase Fredrich Engels, that with his death, Nigeria genuinely became a head shorter! I first met Iyayi in 1982 in Benin City. The often, fractious Nigerian communist movement had been meeting over a period to find a united front against the depredations of the Nigerian ruling class during the Shagari regime.
There had appeared clearly fascistic trends in the manner the ruling NPN and the other parties of the bourgeoisie were desperately conducting themselves in the run up to the 1983 elections. We analysed that the Nigerian left had to offer a non-sectarian platform of struggle, able to bring everybody together, in what we believed, was leading to very dangerous portents for Nigeria. That was the basis of the creation of the National Democratic Movement, NDM.
It was a meeting of NDM that took us to Benin; a meeting held in a well-appointed hotel owned by a comrade whose name I cannot recall, but who had been a commissioner in one of the military regimes. That was also my first meeting with Iyayi. He had studied in the Soviet Union and had recently returned home.
Of course we knew about him, as we knew of comrades around Nigeria; individuals whose commitment to the struggle against neo-colonialism; capitalist exploitation; underdevelo-pment and for socialism, brought out the very best of their intellectual labours and genuine commitment. Festus had an easy manner about him, which was always so easily welcoming and he was a genuinely humane individual whose commitment was total and unstinting.
He hosted us to dinner in his house and over the years, he went on to demonstrate the depth of his commitment to the struggle for the liberation of our country. He was a local leader of ASUU at the University of Benin and would eventually become the National President of the union. He joined a long list of Marxist scholars from the late Mahmud Modibbo Tukur through to Biodun Jeyifo, who helped to define the union and made it one of the best-organized trades unions in Nigeria.
It was part of their tradition of commitment that they even took ASUU into the Nigeria Labour Congress, thus helping to deepen its class roots and assisting in the further radicalization of the central labour organisation. For his commitment and dogged defence of the organisation he led, Iyayi was sacked from the University of Benin, during the reactionary, rightwing vice chancellorship of Professor Grace Alele-Williams. But Festus suffered his personal setback with stoicism and exemplary fortitude relying very much on the solidarity of his comrades around the world.
There was the sensibility of the writer and cultured individual in the persona of our comrade and it was therefore no surprise, that his literary writings won the Commonwealth Prize.
His writings were the best expressions of realist and committed literature, which examined the Nigerian condition from the standpoint of its exploited mass of working people and the poor.
In 2007, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the NLC, a national body of committed intellectuals and working class leaders was put together by the Nigeria Labour Congress and after our first meeting, I recall an aside with Festus, where we tried a brief tour through the history of the Nigerian socialist movement. This was at a juncture when many comrades have retreated into ethno-religious laagers while many more had become executive directors of imperialist-financed NGOs.
Festus was still as refreshingly committed to his vision for the liberation of the Nigerian people from imperialism and the worst manifestations of capitalism as we have continued to face over the decades. In writings and interviews, Iyayi lucidly set out his vision and they were always a welcome engagement with the mind of one of the greatest sons of Nigeria: patriot, intellectual, Marxist. No ambiguities!
It was one tragedy too many that we lost him in an accident involving those convoys-from-hell that the members of the Nigerian ruling class have continued to terrorize our roads with since the days of military dictatorship.
There is a psychology of conquest and a most absurd level of arrogance and impunity embedded in the culture of convoys. Governors, ministers and all kinds of officials dominate roads with suicidal drivers and inhumane security details who push other road users off roads, as if the citizen means nothing. And in truth, the citizen means nothing in the nether world of evil, arrogance and impunity that they reside in.
It was this culture of disdain for the Nigerian citizen and impunity which led the convoy of the Kogi State governor, Idris Wada, to kill Iyayi, one of the best sons of Nigeria! We must interrogate the culture of convoys. It is built on impunity, arrogance and disdain for the Nigerian people.
If we are building a democracy, and if these crooks have genuinely earned the vote of the Nigerian people, why must they treat the people with so much disdain and disrespect? Why do the convoys-from-hell continue to waste the lives of Nigerian people?
Related to this culture of impunity is another culture from hell: the one they call “VIP Movement” in the Nigerian airspace. You are in a flight from Lagos to Abuja and all of a sudden, the pilot announces that the plane will not be able to land, because there is “VIP Movement”. Your plane then hovers around the Abuja airspace, for another 30 or more minutes because a “VIP” is moving, thus endangering up to a hundred citizens in a commercial airliner! That happens regularly in Nigeria.
If Iyayi’s death can trigger sufficient anger in the Nigerian people to help stem that culture of impunity, he would not have died in vain. Iyayi’s name and example will endure to continue to inspire patriots committed to the liberation of our dear country!
With INEC, we are in serious trouble
Let me start with a confession. It is very difficult for me to write about Professor Attahiru Jega’s INEC. Jega was my teacher, who also supervised my Master’s Degree thesis. I respect him a lot because he has always been a man of remarkable discipline and integrity. I was still at DAILY TRUST when he was named Chairman of INEC and collectively and as a columnist for the newspaper, we had effusively supported him.
This background made it difficult to be critical of Jega’s INEC, in the manner I was, for example, under Professor Maurice Iwu. We were fixated with his role as ASUU President during the military regime of General Babangida, so we have not sufficiently interrogated the glaring failures under ‘our man’, Jega. I plead guilty to that fact.
But the “inconclusive” Anambra State gubernatorial election has brought us to a denouement. INEC’s conduct is clearly incompetent and unacceptable! This was an election we knew was coming, not least INEC itself. So how could they have bungled it so badly? In response to INEC’s failure in Anambra, a perceptive observer on an internet forum early this week, noted that there is a trend that should worry us.
By all accounts, the Delta Central Senatorial election held last month, he noted, was a sham. Even though no one could have predicted the senator’s death, there ought to be contingencies for inter-cycle elections in any term. There was also the bye-election for a seat in the Imo State House of Assembly in Oguta, which remains inconclusive more than five months after.
The portents for nation-wide elections in 2015 are frightening! Yet another person reminded that India organises elections for an electorate of 600 million; and because they run a parliamentary system, they could call snap elections anytime.
The electoral body gets its act together regularly! In response, someone added out that these things happen because we have an INEC leadership that we all indulge, especially because it is led by one of our own. The best way of supporting ‘one of us’ is to tell him the truth, as we perceive it!
In truth there is a trend of incompetent bungling that should worry all of us. There was the incompetent voters registration which returned names like Mike Tyson, Bill Clinton, etc, on the electoral roll; that incompetence was affirmed on the aborted first day of the 2011 elections.
The bungling was brought into sharp focus at the resumption of the elections and ever since we have been at the receiving end of what another contributor described as “a glaring trail of unsurprising incompetence and waste aided and abetted by an aberrant National Assembly and equally deplorable overindulged courts”.
The problem has arisen and persisted, according to this observation, because “we are too ready to accommodate rubbish and because of his (Jega’s) ‘reputation’”. He concluded that: “We consistently make the elementary error of judging action by reputation rather than reputation by action.
Reputation is not immutable; not even Vicky’s”! On the road to 2015, we have reached that juncture where we must ask very hard questions and join Daddy Showkey, the musician to implore Nigerians: “SHINE YOUR EYES WELL, WELL”! INEC has become a veritable danger to acceptably free and fair elections in Nigeria!