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G. G. Darah: Marxist activism, literary criticism and oral literature scholarship in Nigeria – Part 1

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Gordini Gabriel Darah

Godini Gabriel Darah, fondly called G.G, has, for the past four decades, functioned as a scholar, revolutionary, polemicist and essayist, biographer, journalist, editor, folklorist, singer, dancer, resource control and restructuring advocate, consultant, and, of course, as a public intellectual.

This essay focuses on his radical activism and contributions to literary studies, folklore, culture, ideology, and the media in Nigeria.

In 1970, the year the bloody Nigerian Civil War ended, Darah got admission to study English at the University of Ibadan, where he became a leading radical socialist student. He graduated with honours in 1973.

Darah’s undergraduate days coincided with the rise of military juntas and as a result, pressure groups and organisations were formed to protest against the human rights abuses, corruption, and socio-political malaise.

One of those groups was the Young Socialist Movement (YSM), established in 1973 at Ibadan. This group had a journal called The Militant and Darah was its first editor. Darah was inspired and directly mentored by the late Harvard-trained Marxist Sociologist, Professor Omafume Onoge.

In his early years as a lecturer at Ife, Darah became a member of a generation of time conscious “strong breed” of Marxist dialecticians and socialist thinkers of the Ibadan-Ife axis.

Members of the axis include giants of the creative-critical clan in Nigeria, Molara Ogundipe-Leslie, Kole Omotoso, Ropo Sokeni, Biodun Jeyifo, Femi Osofisan, Niyi Osundare, Tunde Fatunde, Edwin and Bene Madunagu, Festus Iyayi.

Others are Funso Aiyejina, Odia Ofeimun, Bode Sowande, Olu Obafemi, Olu Agunloye, Banji Adegboro, Solomon Agunbiade, Femi Bamigboye, Idowu Awopetu, Bayo Ademodi, Femi Taiwo, Dipo Fashina, Bimbo Daniyan, Ranti Adenianti, Patrick Wilmot (Jamaican), Mahmoud Tukur, Iyorchia Ayu, Mohammed Sokoto, Attahiru Jega, Silas Zwingiwa, Aaron Gana, Jerry Gana, and of course Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the immediate past Governor of Osun State.

The prodigious and prolific playwright, Femi Osofisan, in his 1996 article titled “Warriors of a Failed Utopia? -West African Writers since the ’70s”, recalls the formative years of this generation. He asserts that the members of this generation “had many things in common: first, most of them had been born in the years of the Second World War, had come to adolescence in the so-called years of Independence, and while still at school, witnessed the gradual collapse of the first post-independence civilian governments. But unlike their elders, they were saddened, but not daunted, by these abortive beginnings. They had had the benefit of a much wider education, and were more aware of the play of the exigencies of geopolitical forces.”

Osofisan, who also happens to be the first Marxist president of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and General Manager of the National Theatre, Lagos, further reveals that the members of this generation, as a result of their Western educational heritage, “subscribed to the :reigning ideal of the time”, the theory of Marxism.

He further asseverates that “Through activists and scholars like Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Herbert Marcuse, Louis Althusser, Frantz Fanon and others, the young writers who began to take up positions in the higher institutions at Legon, Dakar, Abidjan, Ibadan, and so on, had come to learn that Marxism could rapidly transform their societies for the better, help project them with amazing speed into the technological world of the twentieth century, without the cruel, intermediary processes of capitalism, just like it had done in the Soviet Union.

All these would be possible, moreover, through communism, a system which was evidently closer to the traditional communalism of our African societies. And this allure of the Left was further reinforced by the fact that it was the Russian, and other leftist governments, which had consented to lend legitimacy, and give concrete assistance, to the African liberation movements”.

Owing to the Marxist ideology that Osofisan has aptly identified as the main influence of his generation, a new tradition of literature and criticism evolved in the 1970s. Darah, together with his mentor, Onoge, Ogundipe-Leslie, Jeyifo, Ogunbiyi, Sekoni, and other literary critics, employed the newly floated journal, Positive Review, to stoke the ideology of Marxism in Nigerian and African literature.

The critical attention they gave to the newly emerged “Alter/Native”, and critical and social realist literary traditions in Africa, engendered a creative blossom that met the rise of writers such as Tanure Ojaide, Niyi Osundare, Odia Ofeimun, Jack Mapanje, Jared Angira, Syl-Cheney Coker, Femi Osofisan, Bode Sowande, among others.

Reminiscing on the seminal interventions and advocacy of the radical critics, Olu Obafemi, one of the playwrights of that generation of writers, avers that “{T}hey began to offer, from a materialist ideological perspective, new transformational strategies and vision for society. What they refer to, in the summative words of the sociology scholar, Omafume Onoge, as “positive affirmative consciousness.”

Darah was in the vortex of the frenzy of the 1970s which culminated in the birth of a new literary and critical consciousness of the 1980s. His presence at Ibadan and Ife in the 1970s and 1980s was by no means fortuitous as he doggedly embraced and immersed himself in the charge to evolve an alternative literary and critical tradition.

His essay “Ideological Orphanage: the Intelligentsia and Literary Development in Colonial Nigeria” did so much in the recalibration of the literature and criticism that was to come out of Nigeria.

Himself and Onoge also stirred a storm at African Literature conference held at the then University of Ife in 1977 with their jointly written essay “The Retrospective Stage: Some Reflections on the Mythopoeic Tradition at Ibadan”. The great literary effulgence of the Marxist bent which flourished in Nigeria in the next decade owed its justification to the praxis of that essay.

Georg Gugelberger, in his edited anthology of essays titled Marxism and African Literature (1986), states that Darah and the rest ultra-left critics are the “new Brechtians, class-oriented, change demanding, socially conscious.”

He further asserts that their criticism attempts to speak to “the dynamic working masses… a criticism which embraces combative realism without giving up what can be learned from modernism, a criticism which discovers the casual complexes of African society and which unmasks the prevailing view of things as the view of those in power who are the functionaries of superpowers.”

In December 1977, the Marxist critics organised a maiden conference on the theme “Radical Perspectives in African Literature and Society”.

This conference engaged the existing body of works that mirrored the socio-political and economic realities of Africa at the time. The influence of this conference manifested in many writers’ thematic and stylistic orientations.

The humble, compassionate, hospitable, genial, charitable, optimistic and most significantly, radical Darah exemplifies the communist’s attributes that the Marxists advocated for.


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