Saluting Bene Madunagu at 70
Our subject is known officially as Professor (Mrs.) Bene Edwin Madunagu; but in the Nigerian Left she is simply Comrade Bene. In other spheres she is variously called Bene, Ben, Mumsy B, Mummy and Auntie Bene. To those old enough to remember the name she was given at birth, and insist on calling her so, she is Benedicta. In this tribute I shall refer to her as Bene, Bene Madunagu or Comrade Bene.
Bene Madunagu is also variously described as a feminist, a human rights activist, a humanist, a scholar and teacher, a democrat, a Nigerian patriot, an internationalist, etc. She is all these, and more. I expect, from Bene’s friends, comrades and compatriots, tributes testifying to, and celebrating her contributions and achievements in various fields on this occasion of her attaining the age of 70. These expected tributes would have been sufficient for me as Bene’s friend, comrade and husband. Put differently, my own tribute, or rather, its present public version would not have been necessary. But, then, at this point in her life, I think Bene’s comrades and compatriots at home and abroad and the Nigerian public deserve a statement of (and on) what this exceptional Nigerian woman is and has been – in addition to all that has been listed. I wish to make that statement.
Essentially, that is, first and foremost, Bene has been and remains a socialist revolutionary and a Marxist. But beyond this general statement I also confirm that Bene and I have constituted a revolutionary cell in the Nigerian Left since January 1975 during the popular struggle against General Yakubu Gowon’s military dictatorship. The latter part of this statement explains why this tribute is bound to have a character that may, in part, appear personal.
The journey began in 1973 at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. That year, our subject, Bene Madunagu (then Miss Benedicta Michael Afangide), was a graduate student of Botany residing in the Main Campus’ Female Hostel. I, Edwin Madunagu, was a graduate student of Mathematics residing in the Main Campus’ Male Hostel. The hostel where I resided, the hostel where Bene resided and the Faculty of Science where both Bene and I were students were closely located as if by a design of history. As if also by design, Benedicta’s path from her hostel to her laboratory in the Faculty passed in front of my window in the Male Hostel.
She passed – almost unfailingly – in front of my room at least four times every day between Monday and Friday, and sometimes as many times on Saturday. This routine was also noticed on some Sundays when, as I learnt later, she was conducting experiments in her laboratory that needed close monitoring.
I took note of her goings and comings whenever I could. My friends knew this and helped me to take note whenever I was unable to do so, and reported to me accordingly at the earliest opportunity! That was before our “fateful” encounter. Benedicta was unaware of this observation which was the first impression she made on me – a powerful impression of commitment and discipline at a time my consciousness was undergoing a rapid revolutionary transformation!
Early that year, 1973, the Postgraduate Students’ Association (PSA) of the University of Lagos was formed. In the election that followed the inauguration, Barrister Ayeki became President; I, Edwin Madunagu, became Secretary; and Benedicta Afangide became Treasurer. Bene, with whom I had had no previous contact whatsoever supported my candidature almost militantly; and for reasons that can be inferred from what I have said so far, I equally supported her nomination militantly. Our relationship had begun – on a political foundation! The other dimensions of the relationship – the ideological, the intellectual, the personal and the emotional – were to develop later: rapidly, I would say.
Later, but still in 1973, I introduced Bene, still a mere political collaborator, to two non-campus leftist groups – Nigerian Youth Action Committee (NYAC) and Society for Progress (SOPRO). By the middle of 1974, we had joined the revolutionary Marxist Anti-Poverty Movement of Nigeria (APMON) and could address ourselves and were addressed as revolutionary socialists, Marxists and communists. And I can also confirm that by the middle of 1974 Bene and I had become lovers, in addition to being friends and comrades. We became wife and husband two years later.
Now, let this point be made clearer and more explicit: Though I introduced Bene to socialism and radical politics following our entry into the Postgraduate Students’ Association, University of Lagos, in 1973, my own consciousness was at that stage undergoing rapid revolutionary transformation. Put differently, my revolutionary consciousness was being rapidly – and fundamentally – transformed as I was introducing Bene to socialism and radical politics. It can therefore be proposed, and I do propose that Bene and I moved into explicitly revolutionary consciousness – away from mere radical consciousness – together; and, I would add, we moved together through the instrumentality of the same set of critical events and experiences.
The critical events and experiences being referred to would include protests that were undertaken between 1973 and 1975, over several issues – existential and political – by the national students’ movement in general and the students of the University of Lagos in particular; the 1973 Nigerian students’ protests against the character and specific contents of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme as it was being introduced by the military government of General Yakubu Gowon (it was during these protests that we met Comrade Ola Oni); protests over the Arab-Israeli War of October 1973 – protests in which Bene and I dramatically moved from pro-Israeli to pro-Palestinian positions through the radical intervention and unrelenting challenge of Comrade Tony Engurube; 1974/75 protests over the federal governments’ national workers’ wage reviews (Udoji Awards); protest against Gowon administration’s increasing political intolerance, corruption and what Chief Obafemi Awolowo used to call “tenacity of office”, that is, disposition to remain in office indefinitely. It was during these protests, in January 1975, that I was first detained by the military and Bene first acquitted herself as a revolutionary – to the admiration and commendation of late Gani Fawehinmi.
Every political history has its significant dates, landmarks or turning points. In Nigeria’s political history, for instance, landmarks would include October 1, 1960, January 15, 1966, July 6, 1967 and January 15, 1970. Likewise, in every painstaking research of the Post-Civil War history of the Nigerian Left, Christmas Day, December 25, 1975 and August 6, 1977 will be listed among (post-war) landmarks. On the first date (1975), in Lagos, the Anti-Poverty Movement of Nigeria (APMON) held an Emergency one-day Congress and on the second date (1977), in Calabar, the Calabar Group of Socialists (CGS) was formed. Bene attended, and in fact, co-hosted both gatherings. She emerged from both with heavy responsibilities.
• Madunagu, former Deputy Chairman, The Guardian Editorial Board, wrote from Calabar.
To be continued tomorrow