5TH ANNIVERSARY OF ROTIMI EWEBIYI’S DEATH
5TH ANNIVERSARY OF ROTIMI EWEBIYI’S DEATH
Celebrating the life and death of a rare socialist fighter
By H. T. Soweto, DSM
Segun Sango, DSM General Secretary speaks
Comrades of the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI Nigeria), labour and civil society activists and friends again remembered a darling comrade who died of hepatitis on June 6, 2004, a few days after his wife passed on. The activists and members of the DSM gathered at the office of CLEEN Foundation, 21 Akisanya Street, Ojodu Lagos for a symposium to pay homage to the memory of comrade Rotimi Ewebiyi. The theme of the symposium was: “Fighting for a working class solution to Nigeria’s economic and political crisis”. The event was also to re-launch the Rotimi Ewebiyi Endowment Fund (REEF) an endowment fund launched annually since 2004, except in 2008, for the upkeep of Rotimi’s 3 children and aged mother. Rotimi Ewebiyi’s tragic death from a curable ailment is one confirmation of the sorry state of the Nigerian health system. In Nigeria, there are no facilities to diagnose hepatitis B at early stage until it becomes terminal.
Rotimi Ewebiyi, known affectionately by comrades as RE, was until his death the National Organizer and member of the National Executive Committee of the DSM. For 14 years after graduating from the University of Lagos, he only worked for the DSM as a full timer and contributed immensely to the growth of the organization. In addition, as a member of Executive of the Committee for a Workers’ International, RE helped propagate genuine socialist ideas internationally. His choice to work as a full timer was not borne out of inability to get better employment. He had Bachelor Degree in Applied Physics from the University in Lagos. Rotimi Ewebiyi was one rare socialist whose burning desire for revolutionary socialist change became the hallmark of his adult life. At a time when his peers from the student movement abandoned the trenches upon graduation, Rotimi stuck to the idea of revolutionary change in society and worked enthusiastically with other comrades, while depriving himself of so many things, for this cause. According to a contributor at the symposium, the struggle was indeed his life.
The programme offered comrades who worked with RE another opportunity to reminisce on their encounters, work and friendship with him. Segun Sango, the General Secretary of the DSM, remembered RE as an embodiment of the best traditions of the movement. Odion Akhaine who was RE’s colleague at the University of Lagos in the good days of the student movement had a lot to remember. According to him, he remembered RE for his ability to cross sectarian divide to facilitate united work in the student movement. More than once in their relationship, Odion remembered sharing the barricade as well as filthy cells with RE during several student struggles against the Nigerian state, one of it was a protest against the then British Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s visit to Nigeria in the late 1980s.
But it was not just about reminiscences, RE’s death fifth anniversary also presented an opportunity for socialists, labour and civil society activists to reflect on the building of a mass based working masses party as a means for the working masses to take political power. The theme of symposium was Fighting for a Working Class Solution to Nigeria’s Economic and Political Crisis
Leading the discussion, Lanre Arogundade (member DSM – CWI Nigeria), x-rayed the socio-economic situation in the country and concluded that nothing has changed to give hope of a better life to the Nigerian working masses. He condemned the invasion of the Niger delta by the military’s Joint Task Force and reasoned that the amnesty given to militants by the Yar’Adua government is incapable of resolving the cause of militancy in the region. He criticized as well the method of oil bunkering, bombing of oil installations and hostage-taking by the militants as incapable of defeating the Nigerian state. According to him, they are methods that alienate the working masses of other regions of Nigeria while also limiting the capability of the Niger Delta masses to fight for themselves. He called for a struggle, controlled and piloted by the organized Niger Delta masses themselves, for collective ownership of the oil resources of the Niger Delta region. Such a struggle, along with defence of the region, should be run by committees of elected representatives of the working masses in contrast to the current situation where many dubious groups, some of them criminals, are masquerading as saviours or freedom fighters fighting on peoples’ behalf with ephemeral demands like fiscal federalism and a more favourable derivation formula. Collective ownership of oil resources by people of the Niger Delta, linked with public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under working class control, can lay the basis for developing other areas of the economy like agriculture, massive public works to develop infrastructures, oil exploration without polluting the environment, farm land and fishing lakes etc.
He also condemned the so-called opposition political parties of AC and ANPP who agree with the ruling party of the PDP on all its anti-poor and neo-liberal policies while only disagreeing on the sharing formula of political offices. He pointed out that despite all their limitations, the relative success of these opposition parties during the 2007 elections in certain states like Edo State, where former NLC President Adams Oshiomhole contested as AC candidate for governor and won, as well as the special situation in Ondo State where a bourgeois element like Mimiko contested as Labour Party candidate for governor and won, as well as Ekiti State, reinforces the possibility of change, but a decidedly working masses’ alternative party is the missing link. He reasoned that the clamour of bourgeois opposition for electoral reform and constitution review is incapable of eradicating election rigging and executive corruption. He maintained that if just 70% of the electoral act was complied with in the 2007 elections, there would not have been any rigging and that the 2011 general elections will be worse if there is no coherent mass based working class alternative party. He said the condition for a revolution is over-ripe in Nigeria save for the foot-dragging of labour leaders. He concluded by calling for the formation of a mass-based working class political party with socialist orientation that will identify with the day-to-day struggle of the working masses and fight for political power.
The responses to the lead-off by activists from the left and labour movement, save for few comments, was primarily a rehash of the age-long lack of faith in the power of the working class to aim for political power on its own party and class programme. Wale Balogun (newly inaugurated Secretary General of the United Action for Democracy) betrayed this more than any other. Although he supported the drive to enter and build the Labour Party, he still maintained that money bags are needed in elections in Nigerian politics. To crown it all, he opined that Adams Oshiomhole, who abandoned the Labour Party platform to contest in AC – a bourgeois party, would not have won if he had contested on the platform of Labour Party. This point flew in the face of reality, and not a few comrades reacted to correct this impression. His understanding of the events in Ondo State did not also go down well. However, he correctly pointed out that, as it is presently constituted, the Labour Party is incapable of playing a role in mobilizing the masses to take political power unless it is rebuilt by the left from within.
Ayo Arogundade lamented the non-performance of Oshiomhole’s government in Edo State and pointed out that Oshiomhole’s government might fail at the end of the day due to his inability to break away from neo-liberal policies. He answered Wale Balogun’s scepticism in the following witty phrase “where poverty is acute, money becomes paramount but at the end of the day, the platform is crucial”. Odion Akhaine canvassed for merger of all left forces to form a working class party. Abiodun Aremu (immediate past convener of the United Action for Democracy) called for ideological regeneration as the basis for building a working class political party. He said he is perhaps the longest associate of the DSM since the “Labour Militant” days and that the problem of working class leadership today is the lack or shortage in theory and ideology within the left platforms. And, since theory and praxis reinforce themselves, this development has emasculated the labour movement. He lamented the collapse of the student movement and pointed out that the collapse of the labour movement is also possible because the collapse of the student movement itself threatens it as socialist elements are thinning out. For Omotajo (Assistant General Secretary of NUATE), the challenge is for left activists to get organized across sectarian divides. He called for the unity of the left.
In his response, Segun Sango called on all left activists and platforms to enter into the Labour Party in order to make it a functional and vibrant working class party for 2011 general elections and beyond. He pointed out that the Labour Party bureaucracy has refused to build the party as a mass based one. But he argued that the deepening of the social crisis and big events could drive millions of working class people to seek alternative which the Labour Party bureaucracy will not be able to resist. He also pointed out that the unity of the left being canvassed will not work if the lefts do not have a common purpose of building the Labour Party. In answer to sceptics of workers’ ability to win political power on their independent platform, Segun Sango pointed to the phenomenal performance of the NCP in Lagos State when under the leadership of the DSM as confirmation of what can be achieved in Labour Party. He cautioned that development in Labour Party will not be along a perfect straight line but a lot of ups and down and zigzags, nevertheless there is no alternative to a labour-oriented solution to the socio-economic crisis in Nigeria through the formation of a mass-based workers’ party with socialist programmes.
Dagga Tolar reads poem
Comrades Victor Osakwe, Pelad, Soweto, Chinedu contributed to the debate. Pelad and Chinedu used the opportunity to inform the gathering of what the DSM and some left groups had started doing to intervene in the Labour Party in Lagos State. A series of meetings have been held, a steering committee formed to commence activities to build the party as a mass based and for mass recruitment and to call on party leaders to make the party functional. A launch of the Labour Party had been organized in two communities in Lagos, Agege and Ajegunle, at the instance of DSM comrades who have also started work in the Party in Osun and Edo States.
However, the programme was not all about speeches. A little drama was added when comrade Dagga Tolar came out to render a poem titled “Can I trust the rain not to fall”. The poem is a critique of the capitalist economic system and the hopelessness of humanity under its painful claws. The constant musical refrain of “can I trust the rain not to fall when the sun is up and high” added melody to the rendition.
If Dagga Tolar’s poem added drama to the symposium, the re-launch of the Rotimi Ewebiyi Endowment Fund (REEF) was inspiring. Despite the down-to-earth modest status of the participants and the growing poverty made worse by the constant attacks on the living standard of workers, a sum of N296, 500 was raised in cash and pledges for the further upkeep of RE’s children and family. What is important now is to get everyone to redeem their pledges.
The program wound up with Keye Ewebiyi (RE’s son who is also an active member of the DSM) giving the vote of thanks. It was indeed an eventful day for all participants not just for the memory of RE but also for learning how to continue the struggle for socialist change which he lived and died for. Many will undoubtedly look forward to a repeat next year.