In his acclaimed seminal, ‘’Tell no lies, claim no easy victories’’, Amilcar Cabral warned revolutionaries of the dangers of telling lies and claiming easy victories, even before the final battles are won.
Cabral, a distinguished African scholar and anti-colonial revolutionary leader whose credentials were forged in the furnaces of the struggles of our people, recognised the importance of truth to every struggle and the responsibilities the struggle imposes on activists as they fight for ideas, for a better life and for the future.
Cabral’s warning issued at a time revolutionaries on the continent were engaged in the anti-colonial struggles holds true today for activists who fight neo imperialists and those prejudicial customs and negative aspects of beliefs and traditions that hinder progress.
Truth, therefore, is when activists look at their own faces in the mirror the same way they demand that society looks at itself. Hypocrisy has no place in activism as it erodes its integrity and quickens the collapse of the activist movement.
Activism in our part has always been an ideological one. The activist movement of the mid 1980’s-to-late 1990’s was peopled by men and women on the left and right of our alternative politics. Then, the activist movement held itself out as a broad church. Though there were divisions within the movement, activists related to each other with a certain sense of respect. This sense of respect more than anything else propelled the movement.
On the ideological right, there were the likes of Olisa Agbakoba, Tunji Abayomi, Mike Ozekhome, Beko Kuti, Glory Kilanko, Tayo Oyetibo, Fred Agbaje, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Osa Director, Nsirimovu Anyakwee, Abdul Oroh, Shehu Sani, Patrick Utomi, Chidi Odinkalu, Odia Ofeimun, Felix Morka, Eka Williams, Clement Nwankwo, Ayo Obe, Nnimmo Bassey, Festus Keyamo and a host of others.
The ideological left paraded Alao Aka-Bashorun, Gani Fawehinmi, Festus Iyayi, Osagie Obayuwana, Ayesha Imam, Eskor Toyo, Edwin Madunagu, Bene Madunagu, Niyi Fasanmi, Toye Olorode, Dipo Fashina, Idowu Awopetu, Abubakar Momoh, Segun Osoba and the generation of leftist-activists who graduated from the students politics of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS): Chris Mammah, Chris Abashi, Festus Okoye, Lanre Arogundade, Emma Ezeazu, Salihu Lukman, Bamidele Opeyemi, Abdul Mahmud, Segun Mayegun, Nasir Kura, Comfort Idika, Femi Falana, Labaran Maku, Chido Onumah, Seni Ajayi, Yomi Gidado, Otive Igbuzor, Abdul Hussein, Luke Aghanenu, Odion Akhaine, Ogaga Ifowodo, Bamidele Aturu, Chima Ubani, John Odah, Chom Bagu, Lanre Ehonwa, Chiemeke Onyeisi, Uche Onyeagucha, Jaye Gaskia, Innocent Chukwuma, Omano Edigheji, Omoyele Sowore, Kayode Ogundamisi, Gbenga Olawepo, Olaitan Oyerinde, Gbenga Komolafe, Adeola Soetan, Fola Odidi, Chijioke Uwasomba, Lade Adunbi, Juliet Southey-Cole, Biodun Aremu, Biodun Ogunade, Ene Obi, Sam Amadi, Teejay Yusuf, Auwal Rafsanjani and many others too numerous to name here.
The relationship between both tendencies was often tense inside popular organisations like the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Gani Fawehinmi Solidarity Association (GFSA), Democratic Alternative (DA) and the Campaign for Democracy (CD), but the desire to end military rule made the relationship cordial.
Though there were the likes of Clement Nwankwo, Tayo Oyetibo, Fred Agbaje, Tunji Abayomi, Pat Utomi, Festus Keyamo (he joined the movement during his National Youth Service Corps’ year at Gani Fawehinmi’s Chambers in 1994; and prior to that year, he was a reactionary student with no connection to progressive students politics at the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma) and Odia Ofeimun who lacked the temperament and discipline to work inside popular organisations, one salutary aspect of their individual activism was their honesty of purpose.
Today, the new faces of public activism are Dino Melaye, Femi Fani-Kayode, Nasir El-Rufai and the tribe of public intellectuals and boy-scout activists that have taken the social media as the primary site of political action.
There is a point to be made here: some of these older activists of today bucked at the idea of joining hands with their contemporaries who fought the military on our streets. Perhaps, it is convenient today to throw stones at the effeminate civil governments than risk the beatings, expulsions, rustications, arrests and imprisonments without trials many activists suffered at the hands of soldiers.
Yesterday, activism was about courage, valour and integrity. Today it is about name and publicity-seeking. El-rufai and Fani-Kayode, in particular, don’t express shame when reminded of their shameful connection to that obsequious party, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, peopled by some of the most despicable elements we can find in right-wing parties anywhere, that has brought us to where we are in today.
These new activists are former public office holders, beneficiaries of the product of the struggles they shied away from during the years of military dictatorship, with no connection to struggles of any kind, nor do they have any history which connects them to progressive politics before they chanced on public governance, that we can look at to analyse the truth of their new found public purposes. When critics accuse them of taking to activism as the shortest route of return to public recognition, or as a means to get on the right side of power, they dismiss their critics with the wave of the hand. Such criticisms cannot be dismissed because they provide the starting points for a critical understanding of their world views and how they connect with the masses of our people for whom they profess their new life politics.
Though, there are no assurances that activists of yesterday cannot today engage in role reversals that shame whatever they once stood for as we have experienced with some left activists who are today connected to power. History provides us basis for measuring then and now, here and there, for defining the parameters for engaging with them. Isn’t it important we have understanding of their ‘’Road-to-Damascus’’ moments? Isn’t it imperative we know how Saul became Paul? How far the down aisle of time can they walk as brides and grooms of our new life politics? That the new faces of public activism have no connection to any mass or popular organisations makes their public activism a project of publicity and suspicion.
Of the named individuals, only Dino Melaye boast of a ‘’connection’’ to struggles of any kind. Even that is dubious. My good friend, Ayobami Oyalowo, writing under the caption, ‘’Dino Melaye They Do Not Know’’, has this to say: “He struggled until he got admitted into Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria and the activist in Dino came to the fore. Throughout his stay as a student of ABU, he was a thorn in the flesh of the authorities. Matters came to a head when he sued the school authority. He was arrested by Abacha government and was locked in Yola Prisons for 11 months without any formal charges. He was in cell 4 when he was next door neighbour to Olusegun Obasanjo who was in cell 5. He was mercilessly tortured by the infamous Sergeant Rogers and hung to dry’’.
How audacious for any biographer to put out such untruth, pass off fiction as truth! Assuming there are truths to Ayobami Oyalowo’s claim, there are questions he has to provide answers. What year was Dino Melaye arrested and detained? Was his detention documented? We presume that Dino Melaye’s arrest and detention took place in March 1998, shortly after Daniel Kanu’s two million Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha’s march. Ayobami Oyalowo’s spurious claim is exposed by the Annual Human Rights Reports of the Civil Liberties Organisation and Amnesty International. The reports of both organisations make no reference to Dino Melaye.
Dino Melaye’s claim to student activism began in late 1998 when he was elected President of the Geography Students Association of the Ahmadu Bello University. His presidency was cut shut when he was sacked for gross misconduct. He later emerged as the Personal Assistant of the Vice President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Kabir Mohammed, who became President following the death of the incumbent President in 1999.
Another lie is the claim that Dino Melaye was a ‘’thorn in the flesh of the authorities’’. How could Dino Melaye who had no connection to the radical student union leadership of that institution led by Comrades Omale and Victor Arokoyo become thorn in the flesh of the authorities? This writer, as a former President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (1990/1991) and former Staff Attorney and Head of Legal Services of the Civil Liberties Organisation (1994 to 1999), should have become aware of the predicaments of Dino Melaye, at least in the course of his work as a human rights lawyer who defended students activists across the length and breadth of our country. One point that must be made is that the President, Kabir Mohammed, whom Dino Melaye served as Personal Assistant began the decadent era of state capture that National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has not recovered from today.
Concluding, every responsible activist must have the courage of his responsibilities. ‘’Hide nothing, tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories’’, Amilcar Cabral enjoined. The dangers of telling lies are starker when those who wield power mask their own penchant for telling lies by turning the uncovering of lies discredited activists tell into an art, some official obsession.
The wielders of power are unsparing once they detect the chinks in the armours of activists. An activist who gets entangled in the web of lies he or she spins endangers the movement and brings it to disrepute. Unfortunately, we have a rotten system driven by individuals who have no time for the tittle-tattles of dubious activists.
If this government shows no interest in the dirt and mucks of Melaye, why would it want to snuff life out of him as he falsely claimed this week? Dino Melaye gets away with his lies because we live in a different age; an age that makes heroes out of despicable villains. The strategy of getting noticed today and securing public appointments tomorrow is as old as the struggles they claim to fight. Melaye and his tribe of opportunist- activists travel on the well-worn, beaten path.