Norma Perchonok pays tribute to Olusegun Osoba, scholar and chairman of the Yusufu Bala Usman Institute, at age 85

Of how many people can it be said that they have lived to the age of 85 and have led their entire life without deviating from their designated goal, especially when that goal involves unrelenting struggle to bring about change to a Nigerian society rife with economic and political inequality and various forms of injustice?

This can be said of Dr. Olusegun Osoba, who turns 85 this month, and who continues to be an inspiration to new generations, with his lifelong example of struggle for a better society – a society where oppression and exploitation have been eradicated and where each individual is able to develop his or her full potential in a truly democratic environment.

Olusegun Osoba was born in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State on the 9th January, 1935. He attended Ijebu-Ode Grammar School (1947-53); Nigerian College of Arts, Science & Technology, Ibadan (1954-56); University College of Ibadan (1956-59) and Moscow State University (1963-67). He taught at Ijebu-Ode Grammar School (1959-63). For most of his professional life he taught and researched in the Department of History, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (1967-91). His special area of research interest is the social and intellectual history of modern Nigeria.

As a teacher and lecturer at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife he was a mentor who inspired students and colleagues to think critically and develop their mental capabilities in order to generate ideas that would be used to move Nigeria forward. As a committed intellectual, his historical writings dissect the nature of the Nigerian ruling class with acuity and precision, exposing their hypocrisy and their incompetence.

Last year, at the age of 84, he wrote an important New Introduction to the work he co-authored with late Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman in 1976, when they were both members of the Constitutional Drafting Committee, set up by then Head of State, Gen. Murtala Muhammed, to produce a constitution for a democratic Nigeria. At the time, they disagreed with the majority of the CDC members who were set on producing a constitution that enshrined the deeply unjust and undemocratic practices that had been enslaving Nigerian citizens for so long. They wrote a Minority Report and Draft Constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1976. When, after many years, this work was finally published in 2019, Dr. Osoba produced a New Introduction incorporating a Minimum Agenda For Change, a blueprint for a path to implement fundamental changes in Nigerian society, which should be adopted by all those who seek to bring about progressive change in Nigeria. The five points Dr. Osoba brought out in this Minimum Agenda for Change are:

One, there shall be one and only one Nigerian citizenship. . . .A citizen should be legally entitled to live and work in any community in Nigeria . . . and shall have full rights to participate in the total life of the community in which he chooses to live and work.

Two, the need to demystify the colonially-derived legal system so that the Constitution and laws are written so that they are accessible and understandable to ordinary citizens.

Three, in a new constitutional order, the fundamental rights and duties of citizens and the directive principles of state policy must be fully justiciable in law, as this is the only way citizens can hold their government to account.

Four, there is the need to urgently abrogate the constitutional immunity from prosecution granted to executive arms of government, as no official should be above the law.

Five, to ensure that political parties are responsible to the electorate, they should only be registered if they have national, non-sectional and non-religious programme of activities, and if they are funded exclusively by the financial contribution of their individual member, none of whom may contribute in any one year more than the national minimum wage for one month. The financial records of each party is subject to comprehensive auditing by the regulatory body, and parties are proscribed from charging their members any fees for seeking nomination, or making a statement of intent, to run for party or public office.

Last year, Dr. Osoba also undertook the new responsibility of becoming the Chairman of the Yusufu Bala Usman Institute, an organisation established by colleagues and associates of his long-time friend and collaborator, late Dr. Bala Usman, dedicated to carrying on the work begun by Dr. Osoba and Dr. Usman, with the aim of creating a new Nigeria, where no one is oppressed and where true democracy reigns. The five-point Minimum Agenda for Change is no doubt a central pillar of the work of the Yusufu Bala Usman Institute.

On the contentious issue of restructuring Nigeria, Dr. Osoba is very clear: ‘’Restructuring is s lie’’, he bluntly said at the public presentation of the Minority Report, at the University of Lagos in May of 2019. It is a con, a scam to create more avenues for the Nigerian ruling class to steal public funds. What is important, Dr. Osoba reiterated, is STRUGGLE, not restructuring.

As he so cogently said at the end of his New Introduction to the Minority Report and Draft Constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1976: ‘’A successful engagement with our people on the core principles of this minimum agenda for change will blow away all the fears and anxieties being generated among them by the fake apostles of ethnic and regional separatism, hiding behind their mendacious and tattered banners of ‘restructuring’. What the masses of our people want, as most of humanity in the modern era, is NOT a coalition of mini unviable states whose human and material resources are at the arbitrary disposal of their separate ethnic and regional notables. Our people need a country, Nigeria, operating at full capacity and unshackled by the thieving activities of a good- for -nothing ruling class whose only operating agenda is looting the national treasury.’’

We heartily wish Dr. Olusegun Osoba many more healthy and fruitful years ahead to continue with the struggle.

Perchonok is a Director Yusufu Bala Usman Institute, Zaria