21st September, 2015, marks the 10th anniversary of that tragic day in 2005 when Comrade Chima Ubani and Vanguard newspaper ace photo journalist, Tunji Oyeleru, died in a fatal accident on their way from Maiduguri to Abuja after attending an NLC rally against one of President Obasanjo’s plans to increase the pump price of petroleum products.
The 10th anniversary of the death of Comrade Ubani in active struggle for a new Nigeria provides an opportunity for comrades and activists to reflect on our struggles and ask the hard questions: where did we go wrong? Why are the same forces we fought to bring about the current democracy, the same forces, the same people still calling the shots, still at the helm of affairs in our country? Why have the dividends of democracy continued to elude the mass of our people? And very saliently, what is the way forward?
As part of the celebration of the life of Comrade Chima Ubani, we republish the piece below by Omolade Adunbi and Chido Onumah first published in 2006 to mark the first anniversary of the death of Comrade Chima Ubani.
It is hard to believe that it’s been one year since our friend, Chima Ubani died. We still remember that evening of September 21, 2005, when we received news of the ghastly motor accident along the Potiskum-Bauchi Road that claimed his life. Ubani was returning from Maiduguri in a vehicle belonging to the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). He had gone to mobilise Nigerians against the arbitrary increase in the prices of petroleum products.
Until his death, Ubani was the executive director of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Nigeria’s foremost human rights group. But Ubani was more than that. He was the arrowhead of numerous anti-military initiatives that fought consistently against the regimes of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha. Little wonder that he met his untimely death doing what he knew best- mobilising the masses to stand up for their rights.
From his days as president of the students’ union at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Ubani carved a niche for himself as a staunch advocate and defender of the downtrodden. His fragile looks belied a steely determination to confront oppression at every level and under whatever guise. Very few people in the annals of pro-democracy and human rights struggles in Nigeria have exhibited the passion, conviction, and resolve of Chima Ubani.
His determination to have in place, a people-friendly regime in Nigeria motivated him, in association with others in 1994, to launch a political party whose aim was to capture power for the benefit of the people. The inauguration of the Democratic Alternative as a full-fledged political party in Nigeria on June 4, 1994 and Ubani’s election as pioneer General Secretary of the party marked the beginning of a consistent struggle for the termination of the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha.
When a transition programme was hurriedly put in place by the Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar regime in 1998, Ubani persistently argued that the left must take advantage of the opening up of the political space, more so when the programme was put in place as a result of the struggle of the Nigerian people and not through the will of the military.
To him, the only way we could maximise the gains of our consistent struggle against the military was to offer ourselves as an alternative to the rot represented by the military and its civilian collaborators.
Unfortunately, some of our colleagues thought the only way we could be relevant was to remain professional social critics. Hence, the space we collectively created was left for the unprincipled and corrupt politicians to occupy. Ubani never considered this a setback. Rather, he persistently urged his friends to see the struggle as continuous until victory is won for the Nigerian people. This was what motivated him to join forces with the NLC in the struggle against increases in the prices of petroleum products.
Forming an alliance with the labour unions, Ubani argued, would further take the movement for emancipation to the heart of Nigerians. When constantly reminded that the NLC, as presently constituted, could not be trusted to align with the masses, he would respond that soon the Nigerian people would be able to differentiate their genuine leaders from pretenders. It is unfortunate that Ubani met his untimely death while on a trip to prove that separating the pretenders from the genuine activists can be demonstrated when you stand on the side of the people. It is ironic that shortly after his death, the alliance collapsed.
Now that Nigerians are seriously yearning for change, the entire pro-democracy movement has gone comatose. No one is seriously thinking about being the agent for change. Rather, members of our movement have decided to pitch tent with the political elite. Were Chima Ubani to be alive today, he would be thinking in the direction of translating the rancour within the political class into positive mass action that might contribute to the emancipation of the Nigerian people. He would have been thinking about how to reach out to all Nigerians for the purpose of mobilising for a mass action that would lead to an enduring democracy.
Ubani would have been thinking about replicating the five million man march that led to the termination of the Abacha regime, as well as the June 12 protests, that forced Babangida out of office. Today, we celebrate the transition of our friend because he died for what he believed in. He did not die on his way to some luxury vacation. Even if he could afford it, he most likely would not have embarked on one. Ubani died for the cause of the Nigerian people. He died as an ally of the working people.
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