By Edwin Madunagu
Our subject is known officially as Professor (Mrs) Bene Edwin Madunagu; but in the Nigerian Left she is simply Comrade Bene. In other spheres she is variously called Bene, Ben, Mumsy B, Mummy and Auntie Bene. To those old enough to remember the name she was given at birth, and insist on calling her so, she is Benedicta. In this tribute I shall refer to her as Bene, Bene Madunagu or Comrade Bene.
Bene Madunagu, who turns 70 on Tuesday, March 21, 2017, is also variously described as a feminist, a human rights activist, a humanist, a scholar and teacher, a democrat, a Nigerian patriot, an internationalist, etc. She is all these, and more. I expect, from Bene’s friends, comrades and compatriots, tributes testifying to, and celebrating her contributions and achievements in various fields on this occasion of her attaining the age of 70. These expected tributes would have been sufficient for me as Bene’s friend, comrade and husband.
Put differently, my own tribute, or rather, its present public version would not have been necessary. But, then, at this point in her life, I think Bene’s comrades and compatriots at home and abroad and the Nigerian public deserve a statement of (and on) what this exceptional Nigerian woman is and has been – in addition to all that has been listed. I wish to make that statement.
Essentially, that is, first and foremost, Bene has been and remains a socialist revolutionary and a Marxist. But beyond this general statement I also confirm that Bene and I have constituted a revolutionary cell in the Nigerian Left since January 1975 during the popular struggle against General Yakubu Gowon’s military dictatorship. The latter part of this statement explains why this tribute is bound to have a character that may, in part, appear personal.
The journey began in 1973 at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. That year, our subject, Bene Madunagu (then Miss Benedicta Michael Afangide), was a graduate student of Botany residing in the Main Campus’ Female Hostel. I, Edwin Madunagu, was a graduate student of Mathematics residing in the Main Campus’ Male Hostel. The hostel where I resided, the hostel where Bene resided and the Faculty of Science where both Bene and I were students were closely located as if by a design of history. As if also by design, Benedicta’s path from her hostel to her laboratory in the Faculty passed in front of my window in the Male Hostel.
She passed – almost unfailingly – in front of my room at least four times every day between Monday and Friday, and sometimes as many times on Saturday. This routine was also noticed on some Sundays when, as I learnt later, she was conducting experiments in her laboratory that needed close monitoring.
I took note of her goings and comings whenever I could. My friends knew this and helped me to take note whenever I was unable to do so, and reported to me accordingly at the earliest opportunity! That was before our “fateful” encounter. Benedicta was unaware of this observation which was the first impression she made on me – a powerful impression of commitment and discipline at a time my consciousness was undergoing a rapid revolutionary transformation!
Early that year, 1973, the Postgraduate Students’ Association (PSA) of the University of Lagos was formed. In the election that followed the inauguration, Barrister Ayeki became President; I, Edwin Madunagu, became Secretary; and Benedicta Afangide became Treasurer. Bene, with whom I had had no previous contact whatsoever supported my candidature almost militantly; and for reasons that can be inferred from what I have said so far, I equally supported her nomination militantly. Our relationship had begun – on a political foundation! The other dimensions of the relationship – the ideological, the intellectual, the personal and the emotional – were to develop later: rapidly, I would say.
Later, but still in 1973, I introduced Bene, still a mere political collaborator, to two non-campus leftist groups – Nigerian Youth Action Committee (NYAC) and Society for Progress (SOPRO). By the middle of 1974, we had joined the revolutionary Marxist Anti-Poverty Movement of Nigeria (APMON) and could address ourselves and were addressed as revolutionary socialists, Marxists and communists. And I can also confirm that by the middle of 1974 Bene and I had become lovers, in addition to being friends and comrades. We became wife and husband two years later.
Now, let this point be made clearer and more explicit: Though I introduced Bene to socialism and radical politics following our entry into the Postgraduate Students’ Association, University of Lagos, in 1973, my own consciousness was at that stage undergoing rapid revolutionary transformation. Put differently, my revolutionary consciousness was being rapidly – and fundamentally – transformed as I was introducing Bene to socialism and radical politics. It can therefore be proposed, and I do propose that Bene and I moved into explicitly revolutionary consciousness – away from mere radical consciousness – together; and, I would add, we moved together through the instrumentality of the same set of critical events and experiences.
The critical events and experiences being referred to would include protests that were undertaken between 1973 and 1975, over several issues – existential and political – by the national students’ movement in general and the students of the University of Lagos in particular; the 1973 Nigerian students’ protests against the character and specific contents of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme as it was being introduced by the military government of General Yakubu Gowon (it was during these protests that we met Comrade Ola Oni); protests over the Arab-Israeli War of October 1973 – protests in which Bene and I dramatically moved from pro-Israeli to pro-Palestinian positions through the radical intervention and unrelenting challenge of Comrade Tony Engurube; 1974/75 protests over the federal governments’ national workers’ wage reviews (Udoji Awards); protest against Gowon administration’s increasing political intolerance, corruption and what Chief Obafemi Awolowo used to call “tenacity of office”, that is, disposition to remain in office indefinitely. It was during these protests, in January 1975, that I was first detained by the military and Bene first acquitted herself as a revolutionary – to the admiration and commendation of late Gani Fawehinmi.
Every political history has its significant dates, landmarks or turning points. In Nigeria’s political history, for instance, landmarks would include October 1, 1960, January 15, 1966, July 6, 1967 and January 15, 1970. Likewise, in every painstaking research of the Post-Civil War history of the Nigerian Left, Christmas Day, December 25, 1975 and August 6, 1977 will be listed among (post-war) landmarks. On the first date (1975), in Lagos, the Anti-Poverty Movement of Nigeria (APMON) held an Emergency one-day Congress and on the second date (1977), in Calabar, the Calabar Group of Socialists (CGS) was formed. Bene attended, and in fact, co-hosted both gatherings. She emerged from both with heavy responsibilities.
It was in Lagos, on Christmas Day, 1975 that a number of young Nigerians, including Bene and myself, resolved and committed themselves to the revolutionary transformation of Nigeria on the platform of workers’ power, popular democracy and socialism. Through monumental sacrifices and exemplary acts of courage and commitment – the results of which are nearly always credited to other people and entities, on account of the covert nature of most of our activities – Bene has remained faithful to the 41-year Lagos landmark resolution and its 40-year landmark re-endorsement in Calabar.
When Bene turned 60 on March 21, 2007, Comrade Professor Biodun Jeyifo (BJ) wrote a tribute, For Bene Madunagu at 60, which was published in The Guardian of April 11, 2007. In the second paragraph of the long tribute, BJ said: “If it is undeniable that part of the identity of Bene Madunagu derives from the fact that she is the wife of Eddie Madunagu, it is equally true that Bene stands so completely in her own shoes and in so many diverse areas of life that one can equally say that Eddie Madunagu derives part of his identity from being the husband of Bene. I shall come back to this point but first, a few significant details of the life of this most selfless, most dedicated and life-affirming of the activists of my generation….”
This profound insight can be extended, elaborated and substantiated in several directions. But this cannot be done in full here and now. I shall therefore limit myself to the following statement: In any of at least seven subperiods of the 30-year period (1975-2005), Bene and I would have been physically destroyed or politically liquidated – with the Nigerian Left suffering serious setbacks – if Bene had not possessed the attributes highlighted by BJ, if she had not been standing “completely in her own shoes”, or if she had just been sharing my shoes as wife.
The subperiods are: January-May 1975 when I was detained in the dying months of General Gowon’s regime; June 1976-May 1977 during the “extraordinary” revolutionary engagement at Ode-Omu in present Osun State; April – June 1978 during the national Ali-Must-Go students’ protests; April 1981 when Comrade Ingrid Essien-Obot, our German-born comrade and Secretary of ASUU-UCB, was murdered in her residence at the University of Calabar Staff Quarters; 1988-1990 during Bene’s 3-term tenure as Chair of the University of Calabar Chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) when the union was confronting the dictatorship of General Ibrahim Babangida; 1997-1998 when, for unknown reasons, General Abacha’s security apparatuses turned their attention on our adolescents’ conscientisation and empowerment programmes in Calabar; and about mid–2006, during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, when the silent state harassment of 1997/98 returned.
In a number of the crises that characterized each of these seven subperiods, Bene confronted and corrected my tactical errors, bore the sacrifices dictated by them and took brilliant, courageous and heroic steps that ultimately led to the realization of our original strategic objectives.
One final point here: I need to state very clearly – for history – that the “crises” to which I refer in the preceding paragraph were quite serious, very serious. The only hint I can permit myself to provide here and now about the seriousness is that at a certain period of our history, in the second half of the 1970s, our movement was “highly mobilised.”
Correcting tactical errors in a “highly mobilized” revolutionary movement, as Bene did – not once, not twice – was, to put it mildly, heroic. At certain points of our engagements our organizations came close to being liquidated or at least beheaded. The closest we came to this tragedy was during the national Ali-Must-Go students’ protests of April – August 1978. Bene saved the day – although I was in command!
Organizations and institutions to which Bene belongs or belonged and on whose platforms she has been, or was active-up to leadership levels – may be classified broadly into five: academic, professional, popular-democratic, sociopolitical and revolutionary. The first four are in the public domain and may therefore be skipped. Formations in the fifth category, the revolutionary, may be listed, in part: Nigerian Youth Action Committee (NYAC) (1973); Society for Progress (SOPRO) (1974); Anti-Poverty Movement of Nigeria (APMON) (1974); Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Nigeria (REMLON) (1976); Calabar Group of Socialists (CGS) (1977); Democratic Action Committee (DACOM) (1980); Movement for Peoples Democracy (MPD) (1977); Directorate for Literacy (DL) (1986); Socialist Revolutionary Vanguard (1989); Congress of Popular Democracy (CPD) (1998).
On attaining the age of 65 in 2012, Bene Madunagu – this bundle of humour, warmth and kindness – retired formally from the University of Calabar. That same year she delivered her Inaugural Lecture as Professor of Botany on Plant-Human Relationships. The following year, in 2013, she also retired formally from all executive positions – including that of Chair of Executive Board – in Girls’ Power Initiative (GPI) Nigeria, a women’s empowerment organization she co-founded in 1993.
Let me end this tribute by isolating and underlining three integral attributes of the relationship between Bene and myself: compatibility, complementarity and love. The first two attributes are necessary – and, indeed, irreducible – for a cell in a revolutionary movement. But a revolutionary cell which, in addition, is endowed with internal love has an added advantage of high degree. Bene and I have constituted such a cell in the Nigerian Left since 1975.
The contents of this revolutionary union of Bene and myself have included the following: All major decisions in our organizational, political, professional, occupational, financial and family lives – including relationships with our respective larger families – since 1975 have been taken together and executed together – sometimes with one person above ground and the other underground. Sometimes we creatively follow the revolutionary dictum: “March separately, but strike together – agreeing on where to strike and when to strike”.
Beyond this, everything that can be called property (which, excluding literary acquisition, is very limited) is collectively owned in a revolutionary sense (that is, with individual authority to use or deploy) – but with the formal and legal ownership residing with Bene. Division of labour, where this is inevitable, also follows the revolutionary principles that are continually moderated by our 1978 decision to have one joint foot in the existing bourgeois society, and the other outside of it – a duality that, under our subsisting historical circumstances, is inevitable in the life of a genuine revolutionary, individual or cell.
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