Copied from Socialist Lib & Archive WhatsApp group.
Prof Eskor Toyo, fondly called “the Lenin of Africa” by his close associates, died at 7.30pm on December 7, aged 86 years. He had been bedridden for over two years, after a series of strokes. Before ill health made it impossible for his powerful brain and limbs to work, he was one of the most brilliant and committed revolutionaries on the Nigerian Left.
Named Asuquo Ita at birth in 1929, at Oron, within the present day Akwa Ibom, Eskor (a “guy name” for Asuquo) became an activist in his teens, inspired by the radical Zikist National Vanguard, in the 1940s. He became one of the first set of Marxists in the country by the late 1940s and mobilised solidarity for the families of coalminers killed at Iva Valley on November 198, 1948, on the platform of the National Emergency Committee constituted in the wake of the massacre.
He was equally at the barricades during the 1950 strike of the Amalgamated Union of UAC African Workers’ Unions (UNAMAG), led by the fiery Nduka Eze. Eskor was also a regular contributor on the pages of the Labour Champion, a monthly newspaper of the short-lived first Nigeria Labour Congress (established on May 26, 1950).
After the Macpherson constitution of 1951, the middle class nationalists parted ways with the radical Left and trade unionists. It had then become obvious that the British colonialists would be handing over power to them within a foreseeable future. A number of small Left parties immediately sprung up such as the Convention People’s Party (inspired by the exploits of the Kwame Nkrumah-led CPP in Ghana), the Freedom Movement, People’s Committee for Independence and the (Marxist) League.
Eskor was a rallying voice for unity of these different formations leading to what he consistently described as the 1st All-Nigeria Socialists Conference in July 1952, where the United Working People’s Party was formed at Onitsha. Unfortunately, this neither resolved the problem of factionalisation on the Left or that of the revolutionary forces being on the margins of mass politics after the heydays of popular struggle in the 1940s.
Marxists however continued to play leading roles in the trade union movement, though the political gains of work within the unions were not garnered for building a mass party. Subsequent to the demise of the then NLC, barely 10 months after it was formed, the All-Nigeria Trade Union Federation (ANTUF) was established in 1953. Eskor Toyo drafted the platform of its Founding Congress which included such radical aims as: “to seek for state ownership of major industries in the country” and “to establish and support the political wing of the movement (political party), with a view to realising a socialist government”.
But even before the collapse of ANTUF four years later, the centrifugal pull of moderates within the trade union centre who were averse to the working class being involved in partisan politics (and were decidedly anti-communist) made it impossible for such aims to be concretely pursued.
Undeterred, in his characteristic manner, Eskor muscled his resources, not the least being the depths of his thoughts and tenacity of action, to open one of the earliest Marxist bookstore in the country, at Ojuelegba, while he was a teacher at Eko Boys Highs School close by in Mushin, and later for a brief spell,as Labour and Staff Manager with Lever Brothers (Nigeria). I can see still see the gleam in his eyes when he recounted that experience:
I would be there in the evening except revolutionary exigencies made it impossible. Ojuelegba was the hub of working class commuting daily to the Island and other parts of the Mainland. We did not only sell books, comrade, we engaged in discussions, and through this won many rank and file workers to the struggle”.
Eventually, after several false starts, by the beginning of 1963, it seemed that the possibility of building a mass socialist party was on the horizons, with cadres from the Nigeria Trade Union Congress (NTUC) and the Nigeria Youth Congress (NYC). Eskor was pivotal to the convening of a meeting in April that year which resolved on building the Socialist Workers and Farmers Party (SWAFP) which held its founding congress in August.
But, he did not stay long in this party, which with an estimated number of 5,000 members remains the largest socialist left party ever built in Nigeria, with a Marxist-Leninist ideology. It would appear that the left current rooted in the NTUC (led by the dogged trio of Wahab Goodluck –better known as Goodie or later WOG-, Ibidapo Fatogun –IF-, and S.U. Bassey) had schemed out Eskor and co, whose direct ties to the rank and file in the unions were more tenuous. Further, there was a major debate over leadership, particularly over who should be the SWAFP Chair.
Eskor Toyo and Baba Omojola, who at different times served as Michael Imoudu’s personal secretaries, as well as Mayirue E. Kolagbodi insisted that, with his iconic place as “labour leader #1”, cemented with his penchant for leadership of workers right from the eve of the Great COLA General Strike of 1945, MAO Imoudu was the natural choice for Chair.
But the Goodie-led tendency insisted that the Chair of a Marxist-Leninist party such as SWAFP, equally had to have a sound grasp of “scientific socialism” and thus proposed Uche Omo who had been a General Secretary of the UWPP for the post. With its outright majority, the “IF & WOG” tendency carried the day. 11months later, Eskor, Baba, Kolagbodi & Ola Oni spearheaded the formation of the Nigeria Labour Party with Imoudu as its Chair.
In the run up to the December 1964 general elections, NLP called for a boycott, condemning SWAFP for its “collaborationist” engagement with opposition parties of the bosses in forming a popular front-like “United Progressive Grand Alliance”. The boycott (which became was pursued by UPGA as well, but independent of the NLP’s agitation) was partly successful, leading to postponement of elections in the Eastern region to March 1965.
The best showing of SWAFP (which was more rooted than NLP) was in Enugu, where it secured 3.7% out of the 14,765 votes cast. It was obviously not yet Uhuru for the Left in building a strong alternative to the bosses’ parties, electorally, and beyond episodic showings, in the extra-parliamentary sphere of power, beyond protest.
The January 15, 1966 coup d’état sealed the fate of the corrupt first republic (which smelt like roses compared to the jekudu jera criminality that is a supposedly fourth republic). It also set in motion a spiral of events that culminated in the 30-month Civil (Biafran) War of 1967-70. Eskor churned out leaflets and pamphlets which included calls to the soldiers at the front for a just war.
These also presented class analyses, of the war, showing that it was being fought by differentsections of the ruling class over which of them wouldcontrol the oil wells in the then Eastern region. He hammered on the fact that the war had nothing to do with “patriotism”.
After the war, Eskor proceeded to Poland to pursue a Master’s degree in Economics. He had passed the Cambridge School Certificate with a Grade A at the age of 16years in 1945, being subsequently exempted from the London Matriculation Examination as a result of his excellent performance. He had also been the first Nigerian to bag a First Class in Postgraduate Diploma in National Economic Planning, after his B.Sc in Economics (both being from the University of London).
After securing his M.Sc. with a distinction, as he once told me, he wanted to get back immediately to Nigeria to continue the struggle. But Imoudu told him that “comrade, look here. Stay back for your PhD. We need more intellectuals that can use their academic language to also fight those big men. Don’t worry, you will still meet us here in the struggle when you come back”. He came out with a PhD Cum Laude. And in 1977, his PhD dissertation on “Macroeconomic Analysis in Marx and Keynes” was published by the Polish Scientific publishers on the recommendations of the Universities in that country. It was later republished in Russian, in the USSR.
On returning back to Nigeria, Eskor at different times taught at the Universities of Maiduguri and Calabar, heading the Economics departments in both institutions. He wrote copiously with over 200 publications to his name which included journal articles, books and popular literature. He did not merely write as a “Marxist political-economist”. His writings encompassed the disciplines of sociology, political science, international relations and philosophy. He was Vice President of the Nigerian Economic Society and one of the two lifelong trustees of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for over two decades
But, his unpublished writings are probably much more than what he got published! His bookshelves creaked with the weight of books, many of which were unpublished manuscripts. His Magnus opus no doubt is Economics of SAP, a Prelude to Globalisation, published in 2002. He remained eternally grateful to Prof Abubakar Momoh for facilitating the publication of that thick volume. He later took to publishing photocopied pamphlets on the platform of his “Liberation Secretariat” with which he attacked “social-democracy” and helped situate the tasks of the current situation within Marxist perspectives for younger generations of activists.
Theory for Eskor was exceedingly important, but nonetheless was basically a handmaiden of practice. He never stopped attempting to build organisation for revolution with his words and actions, even though, this this went along with a real bid dose ofmegalomania. Eskor would say: “give me a dozen committed men and resources and I would make a revolution in Nigeria within a year!” with his deep battle-axe voice like a dozen thunderstorms reverberating through meeting halls.
This was not in any way to suggest he had an adventurist or sectarian view of the pathway to socialist revolution. On the contrary, as he stated in “an open letter to the Nigerian Left” in the Review of African Political Economy’s Briefings column, before the 1983 coup, “merely criticising the bourgeois” is not enough for revolutionary activists.
The letter was in honour of Comrade BalaMohammed who had played an active role in the People’s Redemption Party up to the period of his questionable death at 35 years.
Eskor argued then that, the time for merely criticising the bourgeois was gone and there was the need “to find a platform for going to action”, with the intent of “mobilising the people against the bourgeois establishment”. This lodestone which guided his position on the engagement with bourgeois politics on the radical PRP platform remained a compass of his political ideas, even when such platform-embodiment was not in sight, in subsequent republics.
This was not for want of trying. And in Eskor’s quest for the breathing life into mass line politics, he was always conscious of the central role of the working class as the harbinger of its self-emancipation and the transformation of society. With this in mind, he crisscrossed Nigeria for months in 1989 towards building consensus for a labour party to be formed, when the General Babangida junta unfurled its transition programme (which later turned out to be part of a hidden agenda).
He was a moving spirit of the Left at the NLC pre-NEC symposium in Calabar, where the idea he mobilised for, took on life. But when eventually the NLC would inaugurate the short-lived party at the National Theatre in Lagos, revolutionary activists like Eskor were considered to be too far left, and shut out of leadership roles in the party.
A major plank of the 1988/89 national mobilisation for the NLP by Eskor Toyo and Akpan Ekpo of the Nigeria Civil Service Union was the radical literacy programme he had spurred with comrades in Calabar. Convinced of the importance of workers’ literacy for the socialist project, Eskor and (the pre-renegade) Bassey Ekpo Bassey had earlier established the Directorate for Literacy in that beautiful city.
With a collective which included Akpan Ekpo, Edwin Madunagu, Bene Madunagu, Princewill Alozie, Okonete Ekanem and BikoAgozino as well as several shop stewards, the Directorate organised weekly literacy/political education sessions for workers and monthly public enlightenment programmes (symposiums and guest lectures).
The Directorate also published a cyclostyled monthly paper, Mass Line and occasionally organised National Literacy Conferences that drew activist unionists from across the country. In 1989, the Directorate for Literacy was one of the groups (which included the (Working) People’s Liberation Movement, the Democratic Action Committee and the SWP/Labour Education & Research Centre) which merged to form the Socialist Revolutionary Vanguard which included Ola Oni, Baba Omojola, Abayomi Ferriera, Omafume Onoge and (the pre-renegade) G.G. Darah in its leadership. Mass Line was bequeathed to the SRV as a theoretical organ, while the SWP’s Workers Vanguard was meant to serve as its popular newspaper.
“June 12” was a litmus test for the Left in the 1990s. The waves of mass struggles, repression and resistance significantly contributed to two key developments. The first was that, fierce debates on principles and methods within the three major trends (Marxist-Leninist, Trotskyist and International Socialists –or Mayists, as we were better known then) and their organisations led to splits in all but the Mayist circles. The second was a turn to different versions of ethno-nationalism as “self-determination” struggle.
SRV cadres were particularly sucked into the later of these developments. The first Yoruba self-determination group formed in the wake of the first wave of the June 12 struggle was a creation of SRV cadres, mainly youths from the earlier PLM extraction of that group.
The Apapo Egbe omoO’odua, which for a while was the coalition platform of the multifarious radical Yoruba ethnic-nationality platforms (mainly formed and led by socialists) was also headed by the indefatigable Comrade Ola On, the SRV leading light.
This turn to “self-determination” struggle, which to be fair to comrades who made it was, arguable enough as that was, was presented by them as part of, and not an abandonment, of the broader socialist project. If you ask me, though, it was seen as a sort of shortcut or bypass of the rough and at times frustrating pathway of persistent anchor on class politics (many argue it was class politics by other means).
It was also more much more potent at that point in time in the South West of the Yoruba nationality, largely as a result of MKO Abiola being Yoruba and the emergence as well of the organised Yoruba “progressive” bourgeoisie which most of these groups collaborated in some form or the other with, as the arrowhead of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). But it was not limited to that region and particularly so with regards to the SRV cadres.
Leading SRVists like Onoge Omafume and G.G. Darah also rose up to organise in Urhobo land for example. Efforts at forming Igbo self-determination groups were also made, including by such SRVists as Odinaka I.
But, quite significantly, despite the rise of popular nationalist sentiments in his native Oronland, including the formulation of the Oron people’s Bill of Rights, Eskor Toyo did not for once allow himself to fall into the pitfall of that “self-determination” fever. He always insisted that even the seemingly most radical form of ethno-national politics would most likely play into the hands of the bosses.
Eskor spent the better part of the 1990s working on his Economics of Structural Adjustment, which as I pointed out earlier, was eventually published in 2002. When the republic was reinstated in 1999, he expressed the view that this was no democracy. Indeed, he would argue ceaselessly that it is impossible to have genuine democracy on the basis of capitalism. What exists even in the most “advanced” democracies, he would say, is nothing but “electo-plutocracy” i.e. the government of the “money and capital-powerful” few, which is legitimised with the façade of regular elections.
Building a mass socialist workers party which would enlighten the working masses and organise to win power using both electoral and extra-parliamentary means, was for him, of the utmost importance. When the NLC commenced its agenda setting process meant to drive a “new beginning” at the turn of the century, Eskor threw in his usual energy and erudition. The Civil Society-Labour Pro-Democracy Network was the platform for him and other socialists to do this.
Three meetings of the Network were held in the 2001-2002 period (at Abuja, Jos and Ibadan) and a resolution was passed for the trade unions to lead the process of forming a Working People’s Party. An interim steering committee was constituted with Comrade Ali Chiroma the NLC President (1984-88) as Chair and another committee anchored by Dr DipoFashina was also set up to come up with a draft manifesto and constitution for the establishment of the WPP.
A fourth meeting was fixed for the CLO office at Lagos. Eskor came all the way by road from Calabarand went to the CLO office. After waiting ad infinitum¸ he came to realise that, without even the mere courtesy of getting across to all concerned that the meeting was being called off, the NLC bureaucracy had actually called it off. The reason was simple, a National Executive Council meeting of the NLC had taken place at Bauchi where it was resolved that NLC should establish a Party for Social Democracy.
It was not just the rude and unilateral manner of handling this switch from collectively resolving on a socialist WPP with the radical Left for the essentially sole formation of a party for social democracy that riled Eskor. He recalled that the main architect of this turn, leveraging on his authority as “Head of Service” within the trade union movement, Comrade SOZ Ejiofor, had in fact been against the idea of a trade unions-driven party being formed!
Actually, during the Ibadan meeting of the Network, SOZ came late and scoffed at the unions-led party-building project, informing the meeting that he was coming from a meeting of the supposedly more serious efforts at party-building that he was committed to. This was the Ezekiel Izuogu-led People’s Liberation Party which fizzled out in no time.
Eskor was not someone to let a setback hold him down. On September 22, 2002, Michael Imoudu’s100th year birthday celebration was organised at Benin City. The then NLC President, Adams Oshiomhole chaired the occasion which became a political rallying point. Eskor drafted what has become known as the Benin Declaration, which was adopted by the broad array of trade unionists and socialist activists present. The crux of the declaration was inter alia, summed up thus:
In realisation of these two necessities that Nigeria be owned by Nigerians and that Nigeria be governed totally for the common people, we are resolved that the working people of Nigeria should launch immediately a liberation struggle, a struggle for the liberation of Nigeria from imperialist exploitation and domination and for the liberation of the working people from exploitation and domination of all manners of parasites… our struggle has to be political. We further realise that this struggle can certainly not be waged without a political party of the working people sponsored by the Nigerian working class. We therefore, resolve that there must be a political party of the working people.
Unfortunately, action was never taken to actualise the declaration. This was largely because NLC had committed itself to a pathway of “social democracy” regarding the party-building project, even before that declaration which its President duly endorsed was drafted!
While the trade unions at that time refused to take up the gauntlet, an opportunity at rallying the Left, at least, presented itself five months later. This was in the form of the 3rd All-Nigeria Socialist Conferencewhich held on February 21-23, at the same ancient city of Benin.
It was in the wake of this Conference that I had the opportunity of working with Comrade Eskor at close quarters. Seven groups at the Conference; Socialist Congress of Nigeria (SCON), Socialist Revolutionary Vanguard (SRV), Socialist Workers’ Movement (SWM), Campaign for Workers’ Alternative (CWA), Campaign for Workers and Farmers’ Democracy (CWFD), Society for Progress, and Mass Education, formed the short lived Nigeria Socialist Alliance (NSA). A Working Committee of the NSA was constituted with two of the leading members of each of these seven groups.
Comrade Eskor was one of the two from the SRV, the other person was Comrade Laoye Sanda. I and Jaye Gaskie were the two from the old SWM. An editorial board was also constituted as a sub-committee of the WC where I served with Eskor, and Festus Iyayi.
We started with so much vigour. The editorial board agreed on the quarterly publication of a theoretical journal by the name Socialist Discourse and monthly issuance of leaflets on topical issues in the country from a working class perspective. Unfortunately, within a few months, things petered out..
What is of concern here is the spirit Eskor brought to bear within the WC and EB in those few months, when we met for hours at Festus Iyayi’s office in Ugbowo, Benin City. What struck me most was that he would always come with much younger comrades, most of whom were students from the University of Calabar. He won the right for them to be part of the meeting by stressing the need for a younger generation of cadres to be groomed and the importance of their being involved at such levels for this purpose.
While the NSA fell flat, I nurtured the relationship built with this great mind. A journey to Calabar was never complete without hours spent at his house on Ekenga street (and also on Goldie street with EddieMadunagu, at his office). It was however curious somewhat that some Left comrades whom I worked closely with in the trade unions found it strange that any sane unionist in the 20th century would place such premium on “doctrinaire” hard-line socialists as Eskor Toyo.
For two years, as a member of the NLC National Coordinating Group, I would push for Eskor and Dr Edwin Madunagu to be included as speakers at the NLC Rain School, which then used to take place mid-year at Calabar where these two erudite socialist activists were based.
I would point out that, apart from the vast possibilities of their giving meaning to the clause of the NLC Education Policy that trade union education had to be political and on a working class basis, since they were both in Calabar, that would help save the costs of flight tickets and hotel accommodation for resource persons (and we did –and still do- have an array of vibrant revolutionary scholars, really, such as Comrades Toye Olorode, Idowu Awopetu, Dipo Fashina, Dung Pam Sha and Festus Iyayi whom we lost two years back ).
But my proposal got turned down each time. I think the then coordinator of the school (Salihu Lukman) found the iconoclastic verve of their positionsworrisome, especially as salvos of these were reserved for the trade union bureaucracy, one could say, not without cause, really. But when in December 2004 it was resolved at our National Delegates Conference that MHWUN’s education and training activities should be reviewed with the aim of strengthening our struggle against neoliberalism, Calabar came tops in my mind regarding a venue for the first of a series of conferences for this. Eskor Toyo and Edwin Madunagu were to be the core of the body of resource persons.
I sought the endorsement of Comrade Ayuba Wabba, the National President and was elated by his eagerness to have Prof Eskor Toyo in particular, present a paper at the strategy review conference
It was impossible for Eddie to be present. I can’t remember why now, but he did express his regrets for that. Saihu Lukman of the NLC also missed his flight, leaving us with Eskor and Remi Ihejirika. Till today, there is none of the over 120 state council officers and shop stewards of MHWUN that attended that Conference who can ever forget Eskor’sdelivery. He not only took up the topic of “Globalisation and the Working Class: Challenges for Social Transformation” with gusto, he took on the trade union bureaucracy and particularly SOZ Ejiofor for what he described as “betrayal” of the working class.
Later that year, the All-Nigeria Socialist Alliance (ANSA) emerged at Obote Umohoha, just hours before the burial of Chima Ubani on October 28. Eskor played a central role in trying to use this as a platform for “rallying the Left” as he would always say, for five years.
With the atrophying of ANSA, he decided to form a revolutionary party. It would be worthwhile to discuss the ANSA moment before coming to the aspect of what would be the final stage of Eskor Toyo’s revolutionary life.
The road to the October 28 meeting started at Abuja. The old SWM initiated the process for a united front of socialists in Abuja in September 2005 when three of its leading cadres and a leading cadre of the Communist Party of Nigeria (COMPON) issued an all-inclusive invitation to comrades in the Federal Capital Territory for a meeting on October 12. The meeting was a huge success and gave birth to the Abuja Socialist Collective (ASC).
But before it held, we had lost Chima Ubani on September 21, and his burial had been fixed for October 27-28 at Obote Umuhoha, his village. Apart from the sobering effect of Chima’s death, comrades gathered at the founding meeting of the ASC were of the opinion that, if we could come together as we did at Abuja, it was possible to have a united platform nationally. It was thus resolved that discussions be initiated with comrades from across the country that would definitely be at the burial, for realising this.
Eskor was not at Obote Umuhoha. But he participated actively in subsequent meetings and discussions towards building ANSA. At the second and third meetings which held at Ife and Abuja in December 2005 and February 2006 respectively, he warned that as an alliance, the likelihood of centrifugal dynamics rendering ANSA ineffective was high. He called for the formation of one organisation, proposing the nomenclature of Movement for Total Liberation, with tendential rights for groups, within it. His position which was shared by Festus Iyayi and endorsed by ASC did not sail through.
Ever one for ideological thoroughness from a mass line point of departure, Eskor, I would argue, was the only one who seriously engaged with the programme formulation process of ANSA at all stages of the Alliance’s (for most part, comotase) life, and I learnt from him in the course of this. The Steering Committee appointed at Obote was mandated at the Ife meeting to come up with a draft programme and within the committee I and Ngozi I, were charged with putting this together.
At the February meeting the perspectives programme format was adopted in principle, with most of the interventions being from Eskor. A year later he wrote a comradely critique of the programme. Thelambasted the section on “globalisation is the highest stage of imperialism” as being “loud nonsense” and insisted that the language of the document be made more accessible to the rank and file worker. I was actually a wee bit vexed with him, particularly regarding the language as he had agreed at the February 2006 meeting that the language was apt as a programme for organisations in or that would want to be part of the alliance (after asking what the audience of the programme was).
But, looking back, a major lesson I drew from that was that revolutionary socialist programmes have to be as simple and possibly as brief as possible. If the emancipation of the working class can only be an act of self-emancipation programmatic platforms of socialism must be as accessible as possible to workers at the shop floor. Commentaries could be used to elaborate on specifics or even the general programme.
Regarding the bit on globalisation, discussing with him after the meeting, I pointed out that his argument against it ran against the grain of the sub-title of his Economics of SAP; a prelude to globalisation. Sharply, but with a comradely spirit, he stressed the need for “every single word” in a socialist programme to be concise and unambiguous. The author of a book though, could have some latitude in using expressions for emphasis in titling the book.
Despite the selfless commitment of Eskor and other leading older comrades such as Toye Olorode, Jonathan Ihonde, Festus Iyayi, Idowu Awopetu, DipoFashina, Laoye Sanda, Ibrahim Yusuf, Joel Emereole, and several others across generations of the Left, ANSA ended up as a platform for more or less annual meetings. The only activity of ANSA par se was a rally held to commemorate the first anniversary of Chima’s death in 2004. And even this was not done in its name. It organised this at Evans Square, Ebute Metta on the platform of a front: Friends of Chuma Ubani for Socialism (FOCUS). This was supposed to be an annual event, but none took place after 2004.
At the August 2008 ANSA meeting hosted by ASC in Abuja, Eskor praised the efforts of ASC in sustaining a monthly paper Working People’s Vanguard from May and moved a motion for the adoption of WPV (which at the time circulated in 31 out of the 36 states and had trade unionists, including shop stewards sending in reports and articles) as the ANSA paper while Mass Line should be made the theoretical journal of the Alliance. This was accepted as a resolution of ANSA, but nothing came out of it.The case of WPV was particularly painful for me.
After editing its fifth issue I departed for further studies outside the country in September. There were about three more issues anchored by “Che” Oyinatumba which I sent in articles for. But both the ASC and ANSA did not take up the task of keeping its flag flying. Thus, when Festus Iyayi suggested at the April 2010 ANSA meeting after I had returned, that we should recommence WPV publication and won Eskor’s support for this, I refused. My argument, which Eskor agreed with, was that there was a deeper problem to be addressed if an Alliance’s paper could not be sustained because of the absence of any single one person.
At the same meeting, which was hosted by Festus Iyayi in his house at Benin, Eskor expressed his disappointment at the gradual atrophying of ANSA. He reiterated his earlier position that as a loose alliance, ANSA appeared to be drifting into nothingness. He urged groups that could reach understanding on working together up to the extent of merging to do so and added that where strength could be mobilised by such groups to form a party and still be part of ANSA, such should be done.
With the benefit of hindsight, he had given inkling of his frustration with what ANSA had turned out to be, and what his own next step would be, at that meeting. After the meeting, he started organising for a series of guest lectures he intended to give across the country, to “speak directly to Nigerian workers” and urge them to fight for their self-emancipation. This kicked off at Calabar, his base, in August. An ANSA meeting was scheduled to take place immediately after the lecture.
But, Eskor declared the need for a party to be built and his readiness to take the bull by the horns regarding that, at the lecture. He then gave an open invitation to “a meeting of socialists” that evening. Comrades who went to what had been scheduled as an ANSA meeting were shocked to find it turned into an all-comers affair at which Eskor declared a party was being formed. They walked out in protest.
The second guest lecture took place in October at the Labour House, Abuja. Posters were printed and pasted across the Federal Capital Territory. Eskor had a sizeable audience to whom he presented a working class perspective on the history of Nigeria and the necessity of building a revolutionary socialist partyon Thursday, October 28, 2010. Two days after the lecture, “a meeting of socialists” with Eskor was organised. I was then working with the NLC on secondment from MHWUN. My office was the contact point for those to attend. We moved from there to Emirates Hotel on Agadez Crescent, WuseII.
There were just about 10 persons in attendance, when the meeting started around 10.30pm. Eskor began by pointing out the need for those present at the meeting to be the nucleus of a socialist party that he would lead, and which had been initiated at Calabar two months earlier. He said he had not resolved on a name for it, but was considering it being called the Socialist Working People’s Party or Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party. At that point I had to raise some objections.
My point of departure was that I had been informed that this would be “a meeting of socialists” and not one about building or establishing a socialist party. I referred to the walkout of Comrades like Festus Iyayiand Abiodun Aremu at the August meeting haven felt they were being ambushed into something beyond what they believed they had been invited for. My thinking was that Comrade Eskor would have drawn some lessons from that experience and we would not be repeating it at Abuja.
I further pointed out that I would rather be in a workers’ party which was not socialist, raising the banner of socialism as the necessary ideology of a workers’ party even if this position is that of a minority, than be in a socialist party bereft of the presence of workers. I further went on to draw the attention of the meeting to the fact that I was active in the Labour Party, on the basis of this perspective.
Not one of the nine other persons in that meeting was active in any workplace or trade union. There were three persons that I had worked with on the Left at some time or the other, apart from Eskor. Top on that list was “Kulu”, then a member of the Democratic Alternative and a Professor who had passed through Eskor and is now Vice Chancellor in a private university. He informed the meeting that he was an active card carrying member of the then Action Congress. The third was Mark O. who, had to some extent shocked me while we were discussing at my office a few hours earlier with his wonderful support for President Goodluck Jonathan on an ethno-nationalist basis.
The remaining persons included one young man who, as PRO of the Abia State University had written a bootlicking “biography” of some sorts for the school’s Vice Chancellor. From the discussion I had with him after the Guest Lecture, he was not only liberal in terms of ideological commitment, but was more concerned with a platform that would help him secure an appointment. It turned out that he had listened to Eskor speak at a symposium somewhere and when he saw the poster announcing the lecture, he decided to attend. After the lecture, he went to tell Eskor how much he adored the latter and pronto, he was invited for the “party meeting”!
Another person was one, as he described himself, “Apostle of the peoples of the Niger delta and Biafra”. He kept on talking about the need for the spiritual liberation of the peoples in what was the Eastern region, for the salvation of Nigeria. And then, there was Esiagha O. I met him earlier as a personal aide of Bassey Ekpo Bassey who at the time had become a renegade. Not surprisingly, I was equally not too comfortable with him, at that juncture.
Eskor’s take at the onset, in response to my objection was that, LP was simply SOZ Ejiofor’s baby, born through betrayal of the left. I agreed with him that the process of forming LP, then as PSD in 2002, after the Network’s discussions was clearly questionable. But, considering the establishment of a mass workers’ party behind the backs of the trade unions would be utopian.
Further, I informed him that the Left had not helped matters in letting the LP drift. NLC had constituted a Political Commission which was meant to guide the trade union’s intervention towards reclaiming the party, with a number of our persons nominated into this. But they hardly ever turn up for meetings. I also broached the possibilities of utilising the NLC education programmes for sowing seeds to massifythe party and challenge the “social-liberalism” that was its official ideology, from below.
Eskor expressed his appreciation of the information my intervention brought to his notice, wondering why these, as he agreed, possible openings had not been raised for discussions by, as he put it, “ASUU comrades” that had been involved in them. He then said that we could consider what he was establishing as a cadre party, and work on that basis.
To this, my position was that, as an organised revolutionary socialist, it was not apt to discuss the formation of a subterranean “cadre party” as individuals. I then recalled his earlier proposition for the formation of a “Movement for Total Liberation”, suggesting that we could rather look at the possibilities of establishing such, in the spirit of what the Campaign for Democracy used to be when it was established.
The old man was however of the view that we should go ahead with the meeting as one geared towards forming a socialist party. He angrily dismissed my throwback to his suggestion at the early days of ANSA, saying the Alliance proved to have been worthless as it became a talk shop and no more, because it refused his advice! That stage, he averred, had thus been passed by.
The other professor shared my view, even if for a different reason i.e. his commitment to AC. Other persons present supported Eskor, I however could swear that this was for anything but the spirit driving him (except probably for Kulu). At about 2.30am, I took the principled position of excusing myself from further discussions and left the meeting.
This exposition of Eskor’s efforts at forming a socialist party is important for situating the subsequent collective efforts that brought about the Socialist Party of Nigeria shortly after, in Benin. The SPN was both a negation and a fulfilment of these preceding efforts. A meeting was summoned in the last weekend of February 2011 by the Edo Future group. It was the first step towards forming the Socialist Party of Nigeria, as it would be so defined later that year. But for Eskor, it was the continuation of what he started earlier in 2010.
SPN was the last battleship on which this great revolutionary sailed his last. He had great hopes in the possibilities which the party holds for working class emancipatory struggle. Almost five years after, SPN is far from being what Eskor aspired for. And there are even two SPNs! In Benin City, where the SPN has over 200 members in the University of Benin and its environs, the party has youth on its side. But the need for youth in its leadership and a connect with the working class cannot be overemphasized. More importantly, the need for parties such as the SPNs to be involved in an all-inclusive process of engagement by the NLC and TUC as it aims to re-found a party of labour is of utmost essence at this point in time.
Theory and practice, for Eskor as a Marxist are inseparable. He left behind what could be the most profound corpus of writings by any single individual,within the socialist movement in Nigeria. As I stated earlier, while he did have over 200 articles, pamphlets and books published, most of his writings remain unpublished or were merely “published” in cyclostyled format. Even when his sight started to fail, he would dictate to Comrade Ben Anthony Sampson (who would also read to him), his most trusted aide. Some of these were typed at the University of Calabar for the Liberation Secretariat, free of charge by commercial typists on campus who held him in the highest of esteem as a working class-people’s fighter.
There is an urgent need to make this rich body of literature available to a new generation and wider audience of revolutionary socialists. There was an attempt spurred by Ben Sampson, with support from Did Oriakhi, an International Socialist and one-time official of PENGASSAN to have a “Collected Works” of Eskor published in his lifetime. This was constrained by the lack of resources. It is still a veritable project that has to be pursued.
Also, in 2008, I did try to commence a digitization of Nigerian Marxists’ works for the Marxists Internet Archives and received the authority to use their works from several leading Marxists in the country. It was Eskor I first turned to, but at that time, he initially refused. It took the intervention of Ben Sampson to convince him of the worthiness of such a project for advancing the socialist cause in general and collating/presenting his thoughts for a wider audience, in particular.
Subsequent to the earlier failed attempts on our part, a digital collation of “Nigerian Marxists Online” which would be submitted to the Marxists Internet Archives has commenced. As Eskor, “the Lenin of Africa” departs, we have not only lost one of our best and most brilliant, we are witnessing an attrition of the ranks of leading thinkers and fighters on the Nigerian Left, while hardly replenishing these from the younger generation.
The greatest honour we can do them I would say, are twofold, theoretically: to make their thoughts available to a younger generation and wider audienceas part of a renaissance of revolutionary literaturerequired for deepening working class consciousness in the current era of crises and revolts we are living through and, practically: to build a socialist party rooted in the working class, and make the revolution.