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G. G. Darah: Marxist activism, literary criticism and oral literature scholarship in Nigeria – Part 2


Prof. G.G. Darah

In order to have profound insights about the Marxist patriot, Darah, it is imperative we reproduce his recollection of his generation’s exploits. In his article titled “Omafume Onoge: Africa’s Revolutionary Marxist”, which is co-authored with Sunny Awhefeada, Darah submits that: “we Marxists scorned anything having to do with feudal or traditional power systems. The image of feudalism we harboured then was taken from classical Marxist literature derived from the history of that class in European nations in the pre-French and pre-Russian revolutions. Feudal monarchs and their armies were notorious for blood-thirsty excesses, plunder and disinheritance of peasant producers and conquered territories. We carried these horrid images into the African scene and thus exhibited antagonism towards all manifestations and symbols of non-democratic dispensations”.

The foregoing graphically portrays Darah as an intrepid antagonist of irresponsible governments and lawlessness, a terror to corrupt rulers and a brave crusader for fundamental human rights and liberties. Indeed, he is a thorn in many fleshes. From the mid-1970s to the late 1990s, Darah was deeply involved in many labour movements where his ideas and thoughts informed radical themes and resolutions that sprouted from stormy deliberations. He was the devoted secretary of the Ibadan-based Nigerian Academy of Arts, Science, and Technology under the headship of Comrade Ola Oni. Darah was also the chairman of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife branch of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). His friend, Professor Jeyifo, was ASUU’s first Marxist national president. Darah was among the radical academics that General Muhammadu Buhari sent to prison in 1984 because of their unionism. Darah was also a prominent member of the Socialist Revolutionary Vanguard (SRV), a radical body that boasted of principal Nigerian Marxists such as Oni, Baba Omojola, Onoge, and Yomi Ferreira.

Edwin Madunagu, who adopted Darah as his “long-distance teacher”, describes Darah as a Marxist who “distinguished himself as a very conscious activist, always prescribing and defending the correct Marxist line-as he saw it-honestly, selflessly and with all the energy and intellect he could muster… Beyond that, Darah distinguished himself in movement as an expert in the production of communiqués from usually stormy meetings and conferences. (We recall that meetings of the Left were usually stormy). He would, even before delegates had finished packing their files, produce a draft statement that would satisfy the largest fraction of the participants”. Darah was also the chief propagandist of many organisations then, sometimes writing into nights”.

In 1991, Darah temporarily left the university system to become a practising journalist in Lagos. His footprints in the Nigerian media are indelible. He began his journalistic career at the Daily Times, and became its editorial board chairman from 1991 to 1995. He was known for his fierce and profound views. He wrote thought-provoking articles and editorials on the state of the nation then under the repressive regimes of General Ibrahim Babaginda and his successor, General Sani Abacha. In 1995, Darah joined The Guardian. He held sway as chairman of the editorial board of The Guardian till 2001 when he joined the teaching staff of Delta State University’s English and Literary Studies Department. While at The Guardian, Darah mentored a generation of journalists and writers through his impeccable writing, speaking, and managerial skills.

It is in the sphere of oral literature that the cerebral scholar, Darah, has become most notable. Darah is among the few scholars who have taken up oral literature from the perspective of Marxism. In truth, Darah’s dedicated scholarship, as well as his nurturing of oral literature scholars, is one of the raison d’être why oral literature is still flourishing in Nigeria. He completed his Doctor of Philosophy Degree (Ph.D) at the University of Ibadan in 1982 with the thesis entitled, “Battles of Songs: A Study of Satire in the Udje Dance-songs of the Urhobo of Nigeria”. The late Isidore Okpewho, a distinguished Professor of Oral Literature, supervised the last stage of Darah’s thesis.

In 2005, he revised and published his thesis in book form with the title Battles of Songs: Udje Tradition of the Urhobo. He has to his credit, innumerable articles on orature. His contribution to Urhobo Literature and Folklore is unquantifiable. He has organised numerous conferences and workshops on oral literature in Africa. He has also presented many papers in various conferences across the world. He is regarded as an authority in the Urhobo Udje song-poetry tradition, and oral literature in general. Darah actively supports and partakes in the collection, documentation, and translation of oral literature in Africa He has translated many Urhobo folksongs and folktales into English, including the famous Urhobo folktale of Princess Oyeghe and hundreds of Udje song-poems. His works have received innumerable citations by other scholars in the field of oral literature.

Darah’s contribution to the field of oral literature, especially the Urhobo Udje song-poetry tradition, places him at the same level with other renowned oral literature scholars like Isidore Okpewho, Tanure Ojaide, Ime Ikeddeh, Sam Akpabot, Wande Abimbola, Oyin Ogunba, and Olatunde Olatunji, among others. A chronicle of the academic study of oral literature in Nigeria cannot be completed without mentioning the place of Darah. The efforts shown by Darah and other scholars toward the documentation and analysis of oral literature in Africa also influenced creative writers, especially of the post-1970 generations. Notable among the writers that incorporate oral literary aesthetics in their works are Tanure Ojaide, Niyi Osundare, Sam Ukala, Remi Raji, Chukwuemeka Ika, Tess Onwueme, Hope Eghagha, Peter Omoko, and Stephen Kekeghe, among others.

On February 18th, 2010, Darah adorned his Urhobo traditional attire as he delivered his inaugural lecture with the title, “Udje Song-Poetry Tradition of the Urhobo People and Oral Literature in Africa”. The Delta State University’s Pre-Degree auditorium was set ablaze aesthetically by the live performances by Udje dancers, in which Darah exhibited dexterity as an Udje maestro. The celebrated scholar has taught oral literature courses at the Department of Literature-in-English, OAU, Ile-Ife from 1978 to 1991. He mentored students at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye on orature and folklore from 1986 to 1987. He was a visiting Professor of African Folklore at the Northeastern University, Boston, USA in 1992, and has also served as adjunct lecturer at the Department of English Language, Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo State.

Darah, a professor of oral literature and folklore at Delta State University, Abraka, is the founding national president of Nigerian Oral Literature Association (NOLA). He was also the national president of Nigerian Folklore Society (NFS) from 1988 to 1995. Other professional and cultural engagements of Darah include membership of the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL), Association of Nigerian Authors, Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation, Nigeria-UNESCO Committee on Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage, National Consultant on UNESCO 2003 Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage, International Society for the Oral Literatures of Africa, Commissioner, National Commission for Museum and Monument. Darah has supervised and graduated a large number of MA and PhD candidates in the field of oral literature. He also teaches American literature, African-American literature, Studies in Drama, and other courses assigned to him.

Darah remains indefatigable in his commitment to scholarship. On turning seventy in 2017 he had to retire from the Delta State University, Abraka. But his scholarship was to take a new turn as he got engaged by the newly founded University of Africa, Toru-Orua in Bayelsa State. His looming intellectual presence, more than any other factor, has given the campus an ambience of robust scholarship. It was from Toru-Orua that he co-ordinated the planning of the international conference of the International Society of Oral Literature in Africa (ISOLA) which was hosted for the first time in Nigeria at the University of Ibadan in July 2018.

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G.G. Darah
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