His father was a canon of the Anglican Commune. Baba died with a firm commitment to the ifa canon of traditional Yoruba cosmology. But he was nonetheless a revolutionary socialist. This was just one of the many contradictions of the life of this great activist. I never agreed with him on the turn to “self-determination struggle” in the mid-1990s, which he and several other comrades (particular of the –largely- south western Yoruba ethnic stock), seeing it as a mirage of a shortcut view to revolutionary change, with its backlash, much of which we have seen.
But one of the most commendable elements of Baba’s personality was that he welcomed disagreements. He never expected all comrades to be in agreement on more than one thing: we must fight for a better world! And fight he constantly did, establishing a rich pedigree of struggle.
As a young man, Baba served at various times as: a personal secretary to the Fourth International’s Ernest Mandel while studying in the London School of Economics; the secretary of the indomitable Michael Imoudu’s “General Staff” and; a guerrilla in the ranks of the FLN during national liberation struggle in Algeria.
He was one of the leaders of the Nigeria Labour Party formed in 1964, when along with Eskor Toyo and Ola Oni amongst others, he split from the Socialist Workers and Farmers Party formed a year earlier, partly due to what they considered the sidelining of Imoudu for clearer Marxist-Leninists in the leadership of SWAFP.
Baba Omojola who was erudite as a development economist became something of a professional revolutionary for the better part of his life. By that I mean he devoted his life to full time left politics. But with little or no resources “owned” by the organisations he helped to build, he worked “part time” you could say, as an economist for several bodies, including United Nations’ bodies and ploughed his resources into the work that was his calling; building the movement.
His house was always home, but never just his. I heard a lot of how his house on Beirut Street was always open with comrades coming and going at will, sure of a roof over their heads, warm food in their stomachs, more than enough swigs of beer, well brewed coffee….and never ending political discourse. I never knew him then, but I knew No 22 Itolo street, off Eric Moore road, Surulere. No less could be said of that our home. The only other comrade I ever knew whose home was anything like that for us was Ola Oni.
Baba Omojola was one of the pillars of the Socialist Revolutionary Vanguard, the Marxist-Leninist group which Ola Oni led till his death in 2000. Leadership of SRV had then rested on Baba and Dr. Abayomi Ferriera. Unlike many Marxist-Leninist, and probably flowing from his tutelage under Mandel, Baba held Trotsky’s views in high esteem. The two most prominent pictures in his library at 22 Itolo St. in those days where those of Friedrick Engels and Leon Trotsky.
Baba was never one for long speeches. With his stammering he would more often than not allow others to speak, except he had to, but always had a rich repertoire of metaphors and proverbs as oil for the yam of his words. But he wrote the way he lived, as a libertarian socialist. Unfortunately, most of his writings have never been published.
I believe that this sense of the practical intermingled with the heart of a romantic which he had, partly explains his embrace of radical Yoruba nationalism in the heat of the June 12 struggle. But Baba was never a jingoist who saw all non-Yoruba as the enemy and all Yoruba as friend. His concern even within the Yoruba nation was consistently for the downtrodden, the mekunu. The belief he, and a number of those who took up “socialist” struggle under ethnic colours had was that it would be easier to face the social/class question within the borders of nations in the classical sense of the word.
Of course, this stagiest perspective is fraught with dangers, and as a form of “war of position”, it often became a war for position with many socialist-turned-ethno-nationalist activists. Not a few in the high echelons from our collective folds who took this turn ended up as millionaires or in high offices. Baba did help several to climb up the social ladder in a manner of speaking. But he never cared for his self in a material sense. He was as selfless as they come.
He had a penchant for making friends, even with people that he staunchly disagreed with politically. He was thus, not surprisingly a bridge between the left organised around the Campaign for Democracy and the “progressive bourgeoisie” of the National Democratic Coalition. Unfortunately, he thus stood on the side of compromise with Abacha at the dawn of his November 17, 1993 coup.
There was one regret Baba never stopped having, he often complained that Nigerian revolutionaries seem unperturbed by the poverty of philosophy in our ranks. “I don’t know why people choose never to write, maybe because of the hardships of survival”, was a constant refrain he gave me in my constant haranguing over Mass Line.
Mass Line used to be the “cadre journal” of the SRV. It chose to open up as a journal for the Left as a whole, especially after the 2005-2010 All-Nigeria Socialists Alliance which never left the ground. Baba managed to raise resources for the journal but his complaint was that people never bothered to write. He conscripted me into the journal’s editorial board and I could understand his frustration.
I would say that the final political project Baba devoted his time to is the Socialist Party of Nigeria, which flowed from the post-ANSA efforts of Eskor Toyo, and comrades organised around Edo Future in Benin City. He was frustrated by the fact that in no time there were similar efforts to form an organisation by the same name, even though he felt the SPN was to rally the entire socialist left under one umbrella. But he was for discussions with the DSM-SPN.
In concluding what is a somewhat randomly put tribute to one of the finest of revolutionaries we have ever had, one cannot but be challenged about the need to learn from the strengths and weaknesses, of Jagunmolu. His death also points at the thinning of the ranks of those whom we had the privilege to learn from and the question of what we of subsequent generations are doing in pursuit of the cause of the self-emancipation of the working class in an age where NGOism and ethnic jingoism are rife in our ranks.
It might be too early in the day to assess the place of Jagunmolu Baba Omojola Oluwide in history. But we must say, this was a man true to his heart, who lived and fought with one mind, and in the end still stood firm to the ideal that the most fulfilling of lives are those lived in the service of the wretched of the earth.
Adieu Baba….sun re o!
12 Aba Close, Area 8, Abuja, Nigeria
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