Emma Ezeazu: True Nigerian across borders (1)
EMMA Ezeazu, former President, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) 1986 – 1988; former National Secretary, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) 1990 – 1992, former Executive Director, Community Action for Popular Participation (CAPP) 1992 – 2000 and until the early evening of Monday, May 18, 2015, Executive Director, Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE) died after a long protracted illness. He died at the age of 52 after clearly more than four years of health challenges.
Everyone that may have encountered Emma in the last few months would have certainly noticed that he was going through very trying times but one thing that is also very clear was that he remained his determined self. Partly on account of that, conversations with him never focussed on his personal health. Rather, it remained as usual around politics and national issues.
I first met Emma sometime in 1985 while attending the meeting of Patriotic Youth Movement of Nigeria (PYMN), which was the coordinating body of all Marxist movements in higher institutions across the country. Through the PYMN, Marxist movements were able to control the leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). Central, therefore, to the deliberations of the 1985 meeting was the issue of NANS convention, which was scheduled for early 1986 and Zone D covering campuses such as UNN, UNIPORT, UNICAL, and UNIBEN. Emma Ezeazu and Jonas Awodi were introduced to the meeting as leading cadres of the UNN-based Marxist Youth Movement (MYM) and proposed NANS’ candidates respectively for the positions of President and General Secretary from UNN.
I was introduced to the meeting by the then NANS President, Hilkiya Bubajoda and the General Secretary of the ABU based Movement for a Progressive Nigeria (MPN), Ado Yahuza, as a representative of Students’ Liberation Movement from College of Advanced Studies, Zaria.
Emma certainly, although attending the PYMN meeting for the first time, made more contributions largely because he was far more advanced both academically and ideologically. He was already a postgraduate student in UNN. Faced with bigger contestation against the Nigerian state with clear state sponsored candidates, PYMN was able to reconcile its cadres and produced the Emma Ezeazu leadership. Labaran Maku eventually emerged as PRO. Emma was to serve as NANS President under very trying times.
Shortly after the Kano NANS Convention, authorities of ABU Zaria expelled Mathias Yohanna and Bala Hamid, student union leaders and on May 22, 1986 ABU students began a protest demanding the removal of Prof. Ango Abdullahi as Vice Chancellor. Police were invited and on May 23 four ABU students were killed, including a female student, Farida Mustapha. The Emma Ezeazu’s NANS leadership immediately called for national protest.
Government responded with a ban on NANS and appointed Emmanuel Abisoye Panel of inquiry on the remote and immediate causes of the ABU Students’ crisis. In addition to banning NANS, the Federal Government also banned activities of students’ unions in all tertiary institutions. Emma Ezeazu’s leadership responded appropriately by refusing to accept the ban and continued to operate. In addition to the Abisoye Panel, the Federal Government also set up the Justice Akanbi Panel to among other things determine the role of teachers in the crisis.
Akanbi Panel came up with the notorious report that some teachers are not teaching what they are paid to teach leading to very aggressive state intervention in the content of university education in the country. The deportation of radical ABU sociology lecturer, Dr. Patrick Wilmot in 1987 by the Babangida administration was a direct fallout of the Akanbi Panel report.
Armed with Abisoye and Akanbi Panels’ Reports, the Babangida government opened direct attacks on structures of students’ unionism in the country. Without barely any union leadership in Nigerian institutions, Emma was able to run NANS, often spending more time in SSS detention centres. In February 1987, he was arrested and was to face military tribunal with the potential danger of death sentence hanging on him. Students across the country were to rise in his defence and the Babangida regime was left with no option but to release him.
To say Emma was a committed student union leader will be an understatement. I believe there must have been a genetic factor in the constitution of Emma. His parents no doubt must have been very selfless to be able to accommodate his choice of activism and the periods of tribulation that he has gone through. There were periods between 1987 and 1988 that Emma, on the floors of PYMN cried out loud for the need to have a NANS convention. The realities on ground made it impossible for NANS Convention to be organised until mid-1988.
In March 1988, there was an attempt to hold the Convention in Jos and SSS virtually took over the whole of Jos, especially areas around Tafawa Balewa Way. As a result the Convention was aborted. But in June 1988, we successfully had the Convention in Ilorin. Interestingly, two issues that were very clear to us were that the government had a different strategy. Instead of stopping the Convention, the government wanted to take over the leadership of NANS.
Candidates that had no prior knowledge of NANS came to Ilorin to contest for NANS leadership. One of such was the President of Bendel (now Edo) State University, Ekpoma who came to contest for President. He had no prior knowledge that NANS President is a joint ticket with the candidate for Secretary General. He was flamboyantly dressed with a walking stick.
• To be continued tomorrow.
• Lukman wrote this tribute via email@example.com