He never departed from our teenage vows to transform our country, serve it with all our strength and spread the Pan Africanist message popularised by such giants as Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah. As part of these, Funmi, in missionary-style, became like a butterfly, pollinating young minds with ideologically-driven knowledge and seeking to make them first class brains in the global market of ideas.
I was a second year student of the University of Ife (Now OAU) when I met Funminiyi Olaitunnu Adewumi in 1979. We were both nineteen, but he was already in the third year studying History Education. At that age, we were part of a tribe of youth who had consciously decided to either change our country from its under-developed and dependent political economy or dedicate our lives fighting to do so.
At the back of my eye, I can see some of our friends and I ‘yapping’ Adewumi for still flying his shirt at nineteen. On such occasions, he would flash his boyish smile, shrug his shoulders and walk away. In all these years, even in the thick of arguments and debates, I never saw the easy-going Funmi lose his temper. He was quite brilliant; nine years after he left high school, he had bagged a doctorate from the prestigious University of Ibadan, the country’s premier university.
He never departed from our teenage vows to transform our country, serve it with all our strength and spread the Pan Africanist message popularised by such giants as Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah. As part of these, Funmi, in missionary-style, became like a butterfly, pollinating young minds with ideologically-driven knowledge and seeking to make them first class brains in the global market of ideas. His brilliance enabled him to do this across a number of tertiary institutions, like the Colleges of Education in Iwo and Ikere-Ekiti. He taught in the Universities of Lagos, Ibadan, Osun State, Elizade and Crawford. Continentally, he was, in 1988, Director, African Regional Labour Administration Centre, Harare and Visiting Professor, Department of Management Sciences, University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia, from 2013.
Beyond our immediate politics, since he specialised in Industrial Relations and I, for a long time, was a labour correspondent and later, trade unionist, we collaborated and worked on a number of projects. One I readily recall was when as the project manager of the Freidrich Ebert Foundation (FES), he commissioned me in 1997 to conduct a refresher course for labour correspondents in the country. It was at the height of the Abacha regime’s repression, when such an innocuous gathering was regarded as treasonable. I went to the Oyo venue of the course, and sure enough, secret agents detected us and I was arrested and taken to the Police Area Command but released and told to disband the gathering and leave town. Of course, I did not do so, but unfortunately, the State Security Services (SSS) tracked me down and I was taken to its Ibadan Offices.
In vain the security services had tried to intimidate Adewumi. At a point, they invaded the FES offices. When he persisted and organised a seminar for labour leaders at the University of Lagos, the regime sent armed thugs to disrupt the programme, injuring some participants in the process.
When he was in the University of Namibia, and I moved to Accra, Ghana, as the secretary general of the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), he made stops visiting me in Accra. During one of this stops, I told him I was thinking of establishing a university for African trade unions, using the expansive and well situated land of OATUU and its 112-room hostel. He advised that we started with running certificate courses, then offering a Diploma programme, before upgrading the proposed institution to a university college, then a full-fledged university. I took the proposal to the OATUU executive, which approved the proposed Kwame Nkrumah Labour College, Accra.
When we have highly developed minds like Professors Adewumi and Momoh’s, who had transformed themselves into knowledge factories, churning out ideas and graduates, suddenly departing without giving us a fighting chance to save their lives, a conscious nation ought to go into mourning.
Adewumi, without charging the OATUU a dime, not only made a plan on the establishment of the proposed university, but also developed comprehensive certificate and diploma programmes for the institution. He travelled to Ghana at his personal expense to present the proposals to the OATUU Secretariat. To him, bearing the entire cost of the proposals, was his contribution to the development of the African working class.
As the new century dawned, Adewumi thought the trade unions needed to be prepared for the future. As FES manager, he organised a seminar on “Trade Unionism in Nigeria: Challenges for the 21st Century”, where he presented his views about the future, in his paper: “for trade unions to play an assertive role in industrial relations, active membership involvement must be secured. A realisation by managements that union members enjoy massive support of their members may go a long way in forcing them to concede to legitimate demands made by the unions. That would also assist in reducing the capacity of the employers to undermine the union.”
Given the rampage of market forces and the international campaign to submerge unions in the workplace in the name of ‘freedom’, he admonished: “It is important for the unions to resist the attempt by employers and government to impose a collaborative and supportive role on them, within the industrial relations system. Such moves are not in tune with the ideals of trade unionism. The union is the organisation the workers can call their own. They should not allow anybody or group of persons to hijack it. They owe themselves that duty.”
I had been in regular touch with him, as he kept me posted on his moves; and he made no complaints of ill health. However last Tuesday, June 13, 2017, I got a message: This indomitable fighter of the people’s cause, this gentleman with an iron will, this intellectual of the masses, this selfless patriot and Pan Africanist had done his duty, and passed on into eternity. All he had complained of was an headache; he slept and slipped away within hours.
The pains of losing Adewumi are compounded with the tears I am still shedding for another comrade, Abubakar Momoh, professor of Political Science, who without warning, stopped breathing exactly two weeks before. He had even made some posts on the internet hours before he departed. The Funmi Adewumi generation had worked on various campuses to groom the youth who would fight for a new, non-exploitative Nigeria. Momoh was one of the most advanced and articulate cadres that emerged from those efforts. I was delighted watching him develop from his student days, to being one of the most gifted intellectuals of our age. In turn, he had also groomed some younger ones. But the tribe of the young activists has greatly diminished while fine ones of the older generation are fast depleting.
When we have highly developed minds like Professors Adewumi and Momoh’s, who had transformed themselves into knowledge factories, churning out ideas and graduates, suddenly departing without giving us a fighting chance to save their lives, a conscious nation ought to go into mourning. A serious country ought to ask: “Why?”, and find answers to stem the tide.
Owei Lakemfa, former Secretary General of African Workers is a Human Rights activist, journalist and author.