By ’Sina Kawonise
In the 30 years since I, in company of my friend and brother, Professor Wale Are Olaitan, have had the good fortune of knowing and relating closely with Dr Edwin Madunagu, it never ceased to amaze me how an individual could be so focused, consistent and irrevocably committed to an ideal and world outlook which at some point ruled about a third of humanity but now scarcely govern a hundredth of it. Such is the purposefulness and doggedness of Comrade Madunagu that he is unfazed by the vicissitudes of the Marxist-Socialist ideological worldview in the last 25 years in the global context and in Nigeria in particular.
In a tribute to him I co-authored with Wale seven years ago, published in The Guardian, when his 63rd birthday met him on an hospital bed, we noted that “while Comrade Madunagu ought to be concerned with his own health and survival on the hospital bed, the force of commitment impels him to continue to lament the condition of the ordinary person in Nigeria”.
The selflessness and self ‘forgetfulness’ of Madunagu are made possible by an impelling purpose. And that purpose is a commitment to work for the wellbeing of the human person and their dignity in a just, equitable and egalitarian socio-economic and political order. The philosophical order and paradigm of development for achieving this onerous goal is through the Marxian ideology and the socialist political economy.
To advance this cause, Madunagu has produced a rich repertoire of literature borne out of extensive learning and research, and rich praxical engagements in the popular struggle in Nigeria in the last half a century. In terms of Internationalist Marxism and the institutional memory of democratic socialism in Nigeria, Madunagu is a walking encyclopedia, producer and preserver, through the agency of the best stocked leftist library in Africa he established and which he is maintaining in Calabar, South South Nigeria, of the rich history of the left.
By his practical acts and intellectual production on the left, Madunagu has to his credit of having produced and influenced a crop of Nigerians, young and old, primed and trained to think critically and work to challenge and change the existing inequitable and unjust social order that has been the lot of Nigeria pre/post political independence. I, in addition to a good number of others, am a proud product of the Madunagu school of Marxian praxis. But this tribute is not strictly about the well known ideological essence of Comrade Madunagu. I seek to portray in this piece celebrating the landmark 70th birthday of this remarkable Nigerian what in journalism we call ‘the human angle’.
In my over thirty years of active involvement in the leftist movement in Nigeria, I’ve had to interact with hundreds of persons with whom I shared the same ideological orientation but whose humanism, in their inter-personal relationships, moral disposition, family life, compassion, and understanding, falls far short of standards demanded by the very world outlook they profess. There are those for whom ideological persuasion had drained of ethical rules of friendship, who take advantage of the less privileged when in position of power and authority, thereby guilty of the very misdemeanors they accuse the oppressor class. Many of those tepid ideologues are as judgmental and isolationist in both their relationships with fellow comrades and the wider social order.
In the mid-eighties to the late nineties, I was a frequent visitor to the Rutam House which houses The Guardian publications. Then, Dr Madunagu was the Editorial Page Editor and later Chairman of the powerful Editorial Board of the Newspaper. I saw all through how the boss, Eddie Madanagu, mixed freely with both senior and junior staff members of staff. He maintained, literally, an open door policy which allowed even the most junior staff members of the massive organisation free access to him. He was a father figure, shorn of the ‘majesty’ of the father or the ‘imperialness’ of the fabled godfather, to whom the low and ordinary staff members came in all of their existentialist challenges. Madunagu put on no air, never for once exhibiting any of the ‘excellencies’ of the high office he occupied.
Madunagu’s official residence in the high-brow Opebi area of Ikeja was thrown open to us his young comrades who in our lowly socio-economic positions then wouldn’t have had access to such privileged abode of the upper-middle class. Madunagu is kind, generous, accommodating and self-effacing. He dissolves himself into the lowly social matrix of those he leads. He is such an inspirational leader in whom there is no guile, judgmentalism and moral superciliousness.
I’ve had challenges with comrades who wrote off those of us who took up government appointments or stood for elections here in Nigeria. Rather than the preemptory condemnation and hostility of such ideological ‘purists’ who would perhaps more clearly qualify as ideological ‘nihilists’, Madunagu had a listening ear, an understanding heart, and a fatherly counseling disposition. While Madunagu does not compromise on principles and fundamentals, he nevertheless has a big heart that accommodates all. With him, we do not get just a commitment to socialist doctrines, but the more important realisation that such doctrines, because they are informed by the need for the emergence of a humane society where every human being would have the chance of a meaningful life, should be based on a humane level of interaction with others. For him, socialism is not shorn of moralism, but is indeed based on and energized by it. And this is why it is consistent to find Madunagu treating all with respect and humane considerations even while holding aloft his socialist banner. Which explains why his circle of friends encompasses all strata of the socio-economic and political divides.
In Madunagu is a bold statement written that ideological purity doesn’t have to induce social insularity and isolationism. Any wonder then that this inspirational leader of the oppressed, the conscientious and the radical is respected across a broad spectrum of the Nigerian social formation, including those who fiercely disagree with with him ideologically and politically.
While joining the multitude of his followers and comrades in wishing this great leader a hearty birthday, I wish, with due respect to many of our older comrades and my contemporaries in the mass movement, to commend to us all the exemplary life of this icon of the popular struggle, Dr Edwin Ikechukwu Madunagu. Happy birthday Sir.
––Kawonise, former Ogun state Commissioner for Information, is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of NewsScroll newspaper.