Blessed are the Dead

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GUEST COLUMNIST

By  Issa Aremu

How the Comrades and Compatriots are dying? It is bad enough to write on the demise of anybody, but more painful to reflect on the eternal exit of your comrades. Having witnessed the passing of most loved ones in quick succession in recent times, yours comradely had appreciated that death keeps no calendar and  (as the received wisdom has it!); “all our pomp, the earth eventually covers”. Certainly  it’s not yet the end of history when it comes to its surprise elements.
The news of the serial deaths of three great Nigerian patriots and pan-Africanists namely  Dr. Abubakar Momoh, (1965 – 2017), Funminiyi Adewunmi (1960 – 2017) and Yusuf Maitama Sule (1929 – 3 2017)  in quick successions further point to the inevitability (no less the unpredictability) of death. Both Momoh, who until his death, was the Director General of the Electoral Institute of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Abuja and Adewunmi of University of Ibadan were non-state  good friends,  comrades  and teachers. Sule (the Dan masanin of Kano), was among the last founding fathers of Nigeria, elder-statesman, and unarguably a colorful acclaimed orator and diplomat. Certainly there would be no gathering of progressive and democratic forces in Nigeria and Africa (and indeed in the world) without mentioning these great Nigerians separated by both birth and death days but bonded by the uncommon commitment to humanity, African liberation, justice and equity.  True to his earned, deserved progressive and radical reputation, Abubakar  easily came to mind as hundreds of members of the National Union of Textile and Garment Workers, (NUTGWN) civil society ally members, women and youths gathered  to observe the official  Democracy Day at Textile Labour House, Nasarawa Expressway in Kaduna on Monday May 29th. 
More than twice, as the pioneer DG of Electoral Institute, Abubakar  had enthusiastically supported our initiative on improving on the political and electoral literacy of thousands of our members. Naturally  I recalled my last conversation with him a month earlier  about the need to continue on our electoral literacy workshop series to which he was ever enthusiastically  ready. We  had invited my good friend,  radical activist lawyer, Barrister Festus Okoye to lead the discussion on the proposed amendments to the Electoral Act by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.  Barrister Festus Okoye , a member of Uwais Committee on Electoral reform and a delegate to 2014 National Conference was the guest speaker. 
Few minutes after we  exchanged  pleasantries, Festus’s mood hitherto up-beat changed for the low. He then  showed me a series of text messages indicating that Abubakar was dead early that morning.  It is now an open knowledge that the late patriot was buried same day at Auchi as a  Muslim. May Almighty Allah grant him the mercy the holy month of Ramadan in which he died on both the living and the death. Abubakar’s death is a loss to his wife, Tawa and his son, as well as his students, and  the privilege to have associated with this great African and global citizen.  Africa and Nigeria have indeed lost an intellectual democrat on an officially declared Democracy Day. 
Only the death of Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, a pan African progressive intellectual, (also a friend  of Abubakar) who died in an auto accident on May 25th Africa Liberation Day in 2009 in Nairobi Kenya invoked similar spiritual paradoxes and coincidences. Similarly , the death of our friend and comrade, Professor Funminiyi Adewunmi of University of Ibadan after a brief illness came to all as a shock.  
A brilliant scholar, committed activist and socialist, Funminiyi lived a life dedicated to the upliftment of the working class and service to humanity. His academic sojourn took him across several universities in Nigeria and abroad including prestigious universities like the University of Ibadan, Osun State University, University of Lagos and University of Namibia. He deployed his intellect researching and publishing in critical areas of Labour Relations in relation to Globalisation, Trade Union Development, Workers Right and Decent Work. 
Even in their passing, they still remind us of their core principles; Unity and liberation of Africa and Equal rights and justice for all respectively. What core principles do the living stand for? Blessed are the late comrades for they lived and stood for not just something but many positive things worthy of recalling today. The  demise of both were huge losses  to the labour movement, academic community and the country in general which they diligently served in various capacities for many years. The labor movement has truly lost resource fellows and  activists of the labour movement. General elections in Nigeria since 1999 have become periods for anxiety and tension about what the outcomes would be. Would the elections  be free, fair, credible and devoid of violence? Undoubtedly there have been noticeable improvements in the conduct of elections since the emergence of  Professors Attahiru Jega and Mahmood Yakubu at the leadership position of INEC. 
But  further improvement can be achieved through mass mobilization and sensitization of workers and the self-employed on basic voters’ rights and responsibilities. Given this background and the fact that majority of Nigerian workforce constitutes the Nigerian voters, our union partnered with INEC on Voters Education Project for Workers and the self employed in Lagos and Kaduna on 14th and 20th February 2015 respectively. The pioneer  Director General of the Electoral Institute, the training arm of INEC, Professor Abubakr Momoh was the lead Resource Person. He explained the voting processes and time schedule for registration and voting and counseled workers to remain good citizens by coming out en mass to exercise their civic right. He urged them to resist the temptation to vote based on inducement or even sell their voters card. The workshops had in attendance key non-state actors like the distinguished former Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, Comrade SOZ Ejiofor and Representatives of INEC in the States. In Lagos, the resident electoral Commissioner, Mr Akin Orebiyi addressed the participants and assured of INEC’s preparedness to conduct the 2015 free fair and credible elections. 
Abubakar was a regular star resource fellow at our 30-year old Annual Education Conferences. With his bagful of academic accomplishments, a Professor of Political Science, a Ph.D in Political Theory and value adding intellectual work since  1988, Africa has lost another human capital. As an organizational man, his  imprints are indelible;  he served on various Boards and scientific committees including those of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). He was Vice President of African Association of Political Science (AAPS). He was also the National Treasurer, Academic Staff Union of Universities (1991-1995). Funmi Adewunmi as an accomplished academic, served in international and national  development and labor market institutions like Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), Michael Imoudu National Institute of Labour Students (MINILS) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to further support the struggle of working people for Decent  Work and humane society. 
Paradoxically it was at the tribute session for both Abubakar Mommoh and Funmi Adewunmi on Monday by Lagos state university and progressive forces that the death of Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, acclaimed orator, diplomat and elder-statesman was announced. and the Dan masanin Kano. Alhaji Maitaima while in his 30s was in the forefront of the struggle for liberation of Nigeria against century long British colonialism. In 1960 he lead the Nigerian delegation to the Conference of Independent African States. In 1976, he became the Federal Commissioner of public complaints, a position that made him the nation’s pioneer ombudsman. 
He was appointed Nigeria’s permanent representative to the United Nations during the second Republic and commendably championed the campaign for the struggle against apartheid in both Namibia and South Africa. Again the death of Alhaji Maitaima Sule was a huge loss to my union, where  during the pointed military dictatorships of  Sanni Abacha, he courageously identified with the working people to demand for decent work and life and independent and democratic trade union movement. He was a special  Guest of honor at the last 11 Delegates conference of the Union in Kano in March 2015 who at his age came promptly with quotable quotes of wisdom and patriotism for the participants. 
At a time Nigeria seems to be under attack by misguided local and external centrifugal forces of various hues, Nigeria has indeed lost voices in the departed compatriots. The best tribute in honor of the late patriots is for the living 170 million compatriots to rise and heed the clarion call of our national anthem; “To serve our fatherland, With love and strength and faith” such that the “The labor of our heroes past, Shall never be in vain”. Blessed are the dead, for they shall no more be suspected of promises of nation building, not kept, persistent interrupted electricity supply, corruption, de-industrialization and growing divide between the few often corrupt and majority working men and women.  May their souls rest in peace.
• Aremu, mni, is the General secretary, National Union of textile, Garment and Tailoring workers, affiliate  of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC