Abdul-Raufu-Mustapha 2

Academically, I considered myself a disappointment to Raufu’s generation of organic working class intellectuals. I will remain indebted to him and many in his generation for overlooking my academic shortcomings and putting me on a career path that till today continues to challenge my commitment to the struggles of the working class and their allies.

Ahmadu Bello University, Faculty of Arts and Social Science (FASS) was a beehive of intellectualism in the 1980s. Around that period, relatively young academics like Raufu, Jibo, Siddique, Alkassum Salihu Bappa, et al, were part of generation of scholars who shaped and are still shaping the lives of many of us. By the time I got into ABU to study economics in 1986, Raufu and Jibo were already on study leave for their postgraduates in UK and France respectively. Raufu was a household name.

For those of us privileged to be members of the Marxist group, Movement for Progressive Nigeria (MPN), we were oriented to understand that Raufu and his generation of cadres left a legacy of service and commitment to the student movement that translated into academic excellence. In all our cell meetings, we were reminded that being members of the movement imposes the academic burden of aspiring to excel on us. The name of Raufu and Jibo were constantly mentioned. Similarly, the names of victimised students’ leaders, such as late Abdulrahaman Black, Lamis Shehu Dikko, late Jibril Bala Mohammed, Issa Aremu, etc., who were on the path of academic excellence were also constant references.

Graduating with a third class degree, I always look back with a deep sense of disappointment. Of course, I could give the excuse of the distractions arising from having to discharge my responsibility as the president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), which involved travels almost weekly and eventual arrest on the eve of my final exams as justification. However, if the truth is to be told, the result of the final year is only a part of the aggregate. A small consolation is that at least I was able to graduate, unlike many other potentially academically excellent student leaders who had their academic life truncated by rustication.

The big consolation was that although not quite academically successful, I was a very privileged student leader whose tenure witnessed landmark protests including the 1989 anti-SAP protest. Partly on account of some of these privileges, one was able to enjoy some good recognition from many Nigerian respected intellectuals. People like Raufu must have felt proud by some of those estimated achievements. This could explain the narrative of my first encounter with him sometime around May 1991, immediately after my Youth Service. Returning to Zaria from Maiduguri, Borno State, where I served, I visited ABU. Getting to FASS, there was Raufu in the company of late Prof. Akin Fadahunsi. I was very familiar with the late professor, who introduced me to Raufu. At that time, Mustapha had completed his postgraduate programme and returned to ABU. The short conversation we had on that eventful day, to a large extent, opened the opportunity that defined what followed as my working career.

In a profound way, both Raufu and late Prof. Fadahunsi expressed the view that finding employment would be tough for me. They jointly came to the conclusion that they think with Comrade Issa Aremu on study leave for his postgraduate programme at the International Institute for Social Studies (ISS) in the Netherlands, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the then general secretary of National Union of Textiles would be requiring an economist. Those were inspiring moments that reproduce some sense of self-belief and confidence. The mere reference of being an economist meant a lot to me at that time, partly because with a third class certificate, I was troubled with some feelings of inferiority complex. Yet, there was I, in front of two intellectually accomplished giants, being referred to as an economist, despite the full knowledge of my third class certificate! There and then, Raufu invited me to follow him to his house for lunch so that he can give me a note to Comrade Adams. And there was Kate, who was sincerely very amiable, to say the least.

The meal that followed was unforgettable – simple, delicious and African – boiled yams with efo soup. May be now one has to confess. Somehow, the sight and taste of that meal raised my curiosity on whether our comrade has committed class suicide by employing cooks. Since Raufu and I were just arriving then, I thought that it couldn’t have been Kate who cooked the food. Our puritanical ideological orientation made us to believe that comrades shouldn’t be associated with exploitative practices. The notion of hiring cooks, for some of us at that elementary ideological level, wasn’t to be our way of life. Unfortunately, I couldn’t muster the courage to ask Raufu. Instead, I just kept trying to look out for confirmation, which I never got. My subsequent visits rather simply confirmed that Kate and Raufu cooked all their meals, and Kate is more African than many of us.

I left Raufu’s house that very first time with a note to Comrade Adams. The next day I went to Kaduna to present the note to Comrade Adams who then asked me to exercise patience and wait for the return of Comrade Issa Aremu, who was scheduled to complete his postgraduate programme by the end of that year (1991). I must say, I was disappointed at that point and decided to move to Lagos to try my luck.

In Lagos, comrades in the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the human rights community were just amazing. Thanks to Salisu Muhammed, Chom Bagu, John Odah and Chris Uyot, although I was not provided with regular employment, the opportunity was availed me to serve in the NLC education endowment committee. It lasted for about two months. From around August 1991, I was appointed the National Administrative Secretary of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) led by late Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti. I served in that capacity up till February 1992.

Sometime that February, I had some disagreement with Dr. Beko. It wasn’t anything fundamental, but I felt very strong about my objection to his position and Dr. Beko simply told me that it was either I accepted his position or left. As it turned out, I chose the latter and tendered my resignation, which he accepted. That very day, I went to NLC. Coincidentally, I met Comrade Issa Aremu who enquired where I have been and that Comrade Adams has been looking for me.

The next day, I went to Textile Labour House at Acme Road, Ikeja to seek Comrade Adams out. As luck would have it, I met him at the entrance and he immediately recognised me and held my hand through the staircase to his office on the fourth floor of the building. There were many people at the reception, and inside his office we met at least four other people. He introduced me to them and it turned out it was actually an interview panel, and the people outside were candidates to be interviewed. I was full of confidence and relaxed without knowing that I was being interviewed. I thought it was just some form of conversation. What was very clear to me was also that Comrade Adams was very interested in some form of quasi-academic and ideological conversation.

I became conscious of the reality that it was an interview session when a member of the panel, who turned out to be the senior deputy general secretary of the union, Alhaji Shittu, asked the question of how much I wished to earn if I was given an offer to work for the union. At that point, I remember making the point that since I had not applied for the job, I would take anything the union offered. In his own way, Comrade Adams flatly told me that the union would not make any offer to me without a demand. At that point, I informed the panel about what I was earning in CDHR (N1,200) without informing them that I no longer work there and told them that N1 addition would be fine by me. The session ended on that note and a week after I went back to Acme Textile Labour House and luckily met Comrade Adams who then gave me a letter of offer of employment to resume in the headquarters of the Union in Kaduna, with a monthly pay of N1,500. Two days after, I resumed in the Textile Union office in Kaduna.

The rest, as it’s often said, is now history. Thanks to that first meeting with Raufu around May 1991 and the recommendation note I got from him to Comrade Adams, I had the opportunity to serve the National Union of Textiles for eight years, from 1992 to 2000; served as a project manager of the European Union funded NLC two-year project on ‘Rebuilding the Nigerian Trade Unions’ (2000 – 2002); and finally as the assistant general secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (2002 – 2006). Delete that first meeting with Raufu, and my career trajectory would have been different.

While in Lagos, I was very much involved with the management of activities of the Campaign for Democracy (CD). The critical issue at that point was the campaign against military rule. This was accentuated by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections. By the time I moved to the Textile Union in Kaduna, I was still serving as the deputy general secretary of CD. Being located in the North, I was given the responsibility of coordinating mobilisation in the entire North. There were few Comrades in the North who were part of that coordinating team. Notably, there were Chom Bagu, Y. Z. Ya’u, Daniel Ishaya, Edward Daudu, Tomson Adangbara, late Anselm Akele, among a few others. One must admit that it was almost an impossible task. I cannot vividly remember how Raufu and Jibo became a major pillar of support for the discharge of that responsibility as a result of which we were constantly meeting in Kaduna and Zaria to review national development and come up with some plans of action. In the face of big frustrations and constant and sometimes inconsiderate attacks from our comrades in Lagos, Raufu was constantly optimistic and self-assured.

It was a stormy period full of suspicion. As a result, comrades easily got branded and written off. Jibo had a fair share of that with his “History As Iconoclast: Left Stardom and the Debate on Democracy” piece in 1993. At the heart of that piece was the declaration of the supremacy of liberal democracy over Marxism. Jibo basically bullied his way through that period and at every opportunity unapologetically re-affirmed his views. That, however, did not interfere with his commitment to pro-democratic struggles.

The combined intellectual energies of Raufu and Jibo in those trying periods between 1993 and 1996 were in every respect the motivating factor that strengthened the few of us located in the Northern parts of the country to, as late MKO would put it, keep hope alive in the struggle to nationalise the campaign against the June 12 annulment. The vibrancy with which they engaged issues presents them as the true organic intellectuals combining theory with praxis. We held endless night meetings, travel across the country. In those stormy meetings and trying times, we had sharp disagreements but Raufu and Jibo were always there to mentor some of us inexperienced and quite young activists. Raufu always had inspiring words to re-ignite our belief and commitment.

Academically, I considered myself a disappointment to Raufu’s generation of organic working class intellectuals. I will remain indebted to him and many in his generation for overlooking my academic shortcomings and putting me on a career path that till today continues to challenge my commitment to the struggles of the working class and their allies.

Thank you so very much Raufu. May Allah (SWT) reward you with Jannatul Firdaus, bless your family and comfort Kate, Asma’u and Seyi. Amin!