When Gani Fawehinmi died in September 2009, I put together an extended tribute for distribution in Calabar, Lagos, and wherever the funeral would be. The centres of distribution in Calabar included our home and my office. Comrades, compatriots, and friends were asked to come to any of these centres to collect copies for themselves and for others. A young lady with whom I had worked in Calabar chose to come to the house. I did not see her but I heard her say something like this to a member of the household: “Oga is always writing tributes for his comrades. I hope someone will write for him.” I did not hear any response. Even now I cannot describe what I felt at this comment. But I remember that I smiled and shook my head. The person who received the comment on my behalf did not report it, and I did not ask. We both kept quiet. But now, almost 12 years later, I have a response for the lady.
That response is this: With what my comrades, compatriots and friends did on and around May 15, 2021, the 75th anniversary of my birth, there will be no need for special or elaborate tributes when I eventually depart. For more than adequate tributes have been paid to me in my lifetime and I don’t think anything can surpass May 15, 2021, in magnitude or in quality. All I need to do from now on, between now and my departure, is to try and maintain “good conduct.” And when I finally depart, all my comrades need do is to inter me, in a secular and non-sectarian manner, wherever they consider the “centre of gravity” of my entire ideological-political life.
The main event of Saturday, May 15, 2021, was the international conference: “Edwin Madunagu @ 75”. I could not participate in that event because, as I informed its inspirers and organisers, I would at that time be attending to the health needs of my partner, Comrade Bene Madunagu. Since then, however, I have been collating and going through the records and reports of the various activities of that very significant day of my life.
It is impossible for me to respond to all the messages and tributes. It is even impossible to list all the persons that sent messages or paid tributes – at the conference or outside the conference. And I have decided not to make a selection. I am therefore left with one option: to file the records and reports I have collated and refer to aspects of them as the issues they raised come up or become relevant again. Meanwhile, in lieu of responses, I shall reproduce a slightly abridged and edited version of the message I sent to the conference “Edwin Madunagu at 75”.
Here it is: “Forty-five years ago, as I turned 30, I left Lagos for Ibadan. From Ibadan, together with a comrade of the same age, I left for a rural community lying somewhere between Gbongan and Ile-Ife in present Osun State. There we joined others, similarly inspired like us, about ten in number, male and female, excluding two kids whom we took turns to “baby-sit” in order to free the mother to participate fully in revolutionary duties. We assembled to inaugurate an underground Marxist revolutionary vanguard embedded in the peasantry. While some members were fully in residence, others were semi-resident, but continually in touch with the Headquarters. I was not only fully in residence, but disappeared from the outside world for between 9 and 12 months.
“The strategic objective of that Extraordinary Expedition was to inaugurate an armed struggle in a socialist revolution which we recognized had been going on at a certain level in our country, Nigeria. The armed struggle did not happen. But it almost did. And in an attempt to force it to begin, we also almost ended up in self-liquidation. It was when I was leaving the Headquarters after the collapse of the Expedition that our peasant comrades knew, through my contact address and full name, that not only was I not an Ijesha man, but that I was not even of Yoruba parentage. For I had integrated completely with them and had been one of their conscientisation discussion leaders in the Yoruba language for at least the preceding six months. The scene of separation was very emotional.
“The Extraordinary Expedition had profound effects on all the participants. But, as expected, the effects were of different kinds on different comrades, with some differences less significant than others. It was this variation in differences that made it possible for BJ and I, then Bene, to regroup almost immediately after the collapse of the Expedition.
“For me, personally, the effects of that Extraordinary Expedition were completely transforming. I emerged from the commune a professional revolutionary: where to be a professional revolutionary was not conceived mechanically, for instance, in the way one is a professional teacher or a professional soldier, that is, in terms of training and occupation. It was not even conceived in the sense of making “revolution” the primary interest in one’s life. Rather, to be a professional revolutionary was conceived in the sense of compelling every other interest or commitment – including nationality, sub-nationality, religion, family, friendship and engagements for material sustenance and reproduction to find accommodation and justification in the commitment to revolution.
“But that is just one side of a professional revolutionary as conceived by me. The other side is the commitment to what Karl Marx, in his youthful days, called “categorical imperatives”, that is, the “struggle to overcome all circumstances in which the human being is humiliated, enslaved, abandoned and despised.” And later I added the commitment to struggle to extend immediate and unconditional solidarity to the “wretched of the earth” and ameliorate the human condition anywhere a professional revolutionary finds herself or himself. A professional revolutionary is thus a contradiction in the real world: simultaneous toughness and softness.
“The requirement sketched above is definitely not a necessary one for every Leftist or even for every revolutionary. But it is a self-imposed requirement for every vanguard in the struggle against capitalism, capitalist social formations and imperialism. Some would say that for a sustainable revolution to take place there must be a substantial number of this category of revolutionaries. But I would modify this and say that at least the revolution should be capable of rapidly reproducing its own professionals as it proceeds.
“My life as a professional revolutionary since the 1977 collapse of the Extraordinary Expedition has therefore been a contradictory one at least in the sense described in the preceding paragraphs. And it has been tough for that person who, in addition to having to share that life as a wife, a comrade and a lover, also has to live her life as an academic, an intellectual, a mother, a social activist, a Leftist-feminist and a revolutionary socialist. If there is any particular person who, since 1977, has kept me on my feet, stood with me as equal, pointing out what can be done today in anticipation of tomorrow, and correcting my frequent tactical and strategic errors, that person is Comrade Professor Bene Madunagu.
“About two weeks ago, on the eve of 2021 May Day, Comrade Bene and I made a re-affirmation and executed a long-standing decision of ours. The former was the re-affirmation of our subscription to Marxism, our commitment to socialist revolution in Nigeria and world-wide and our equal commitment to revolutionary internationalism. And the latter was the decision to transfer our Combined Archives and Libraries, built up since 1973, to the Nigerian Left. The transfer took effect from May 1, 2021.”
That was my message to the Nigerian Left through the birthday conference. My only additional message at this moment to the Nigerian Left is this: Wherever you are today, use all your intellect, use whatever levers you have, as individuals and as groups, to prevent Nigeria fully enacting a second edition of the (1966-1970) tragedy.
Madunagu, mathematician and journalist, writes from Calabar, Cross River State.