Saturday, 2nd December 2023

Generations of the Nigerian and African Left – History and Historicity – Part 2

By Biodun Jeyifo
30 June 2023   |   3:39 am
For starters, we began the digitalization process around and about three particular generational cohorts of the Nigerian Left. These are the 1940s-1960s generation; the 1970s—1990s; and the Post-SAP, Post-Neoliberalim generation.


For starters, we began the digitalization process around and about three particular generational cohorts of the Nigerian Left. These are the 1940s-1960s generation; the 1970s—1990s; and the Post-SAP, Post-Neoliberalim generation. Here are some names – only a small, partial list – of each of these groups. The 40s-60s group: The Zikists; Labour Leader No 1; Dapo Fatogun; Eskor Toyo; Wahab Goodluck; Dr. Kolagbodi; Baba Omojola; Comrade Ola Oni; Chimere Ikoku; Dr. Tunji Otegbeye; Chinua Achebe; Wole Soyinka; Segun Osoba; Eno Edet Traore; Ken Saro-Wiwa; Fela Kuti; Alao Aka-Basorun and Mokwugo and Ifeoma Okoye. In Group 2: Gani Fawehinmi; Omafume Onoge; Bade Onimode; Seinde and Dunni Arigbede; Yusuf Bala Usman; Omotoye Olorode; Bene and Edwin Madunagu; Femi Osofisan; Dipo Fasina; Raufu Mustafa; Ntien Kungwai; Tar Ukoh; Jibo Ibrahim; Mahmud Tukur; Atahiru Jega; Festus Iyayi; Assisi Asobie; Niyi Osundare; Esiaba Irobi; Ayesha Imam; and G.G. Darah. Group 3: Femi Falana; Ngozi Iwere (née Ojidoh); Kunle Ajibade; Chido Onumah; Akin Adesokan; Uzor Maxim Uzoatu; Chima Ubani; Owei Lakemfa; Baba Aye; Austine Amanze Akpuda; Kayode Komolafe; Wumi Raji; Offiong Offiong Aqua; Mallam Femi Taiwo; Dapo Olorunyomi; Sola Olorunyomi, Tony Iyare and Biodun Ogunyemi. As these are only partial lists, we can see that in generations of the Nigerian Left we have an impressive numerical consolidation.

As a matter of fact, it is also qualitatively impressive. This goes against the grain of the received “wisdom” about national formations of the Left on the African continent. By the light of this “wisdom”, countries like Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania, Egypt and Ghana have formations and generations of the Left that are deemed much bigger, stronger and accomplished national left formations than what historically obtained in Nigeria. One of the things that the digitalization project of SOLAR will hopefully accomplish is debunk this myth, this fallacy.

For the fact is that though no politically strong or viable Communist or Socialist Party has emerged in Nigeria, and the control and guidance of labour unions by the “hard left” has never been anything close to what it has been in countries like South Africa, Nasser’s Egypt and Nimery’s Sudan, the Nigerian Left has penetrated deeper and wider into three domains of national, public affairs than any other national formation of the Left in Africa: curriculum and pedagogy in the tertiary educational sector; the penetration of Leftist writers, critics, artists and performers into the arts, theatre, popular music and street art of the country; and the ideological and political alliance of intellectual and manual labour signified, for instance, in ASU’s membership of the NLC. Though Babangida ejected ASUU from membership of the NLC, the links have remained intact. On this note, I come to the closing thoughts of this talk.

In the title of the talk, I mention two terms hinting that I am counterposing one to the other. The terms are “history” and “historicity”. By “history” I have in mind the connection between periods or generations across aeons of time, like a chain of being. In contrast, in “historicity” I have in mind the distinct and unique set of conditions or, more pertinently, contradictions that make each age, each generation like no other. On this account, “history” and “historicity” are respectively like the terms “syntagm” and “paradigm” in linguistics and/or semiotics. In the syntagm or syntagmatic structures, the syntax, the links between words, phrases or signs are so clearly established that they are regulative. In contrast, the paradigm or paradigmatic structures require absolutely no nearness or resemblance between the words, phrases or signs compared. What is the relevance of this excursus on “history” and “historicity” and “syntagm” and “paradigm” to the subject of this talk, SOLAR’s digitalization of the lives, works and struggles of generations of the Nigerian Left? Well, it seems to me that in our project, analog and digital technologies will combine to abolish the gap or divide between “history” and “historicity”, “syntagm” and “paradigm” so that both connected and unconnected comparisons can be made across the board.

This seems rather like the words of the second epigraph to this talk attributed to Jesus the revolutionary Nazarene: “Before this generation shall pass away, these things will take place“. In this particular conception of “generation”, five or six bio-sociological generations are all members of one mega-generation, from new-born babies to the oldest “Methuselahs”. When it is completed, the digitalized archives of SOLAR will make available to us, instantly and simultaneously, archival materials on generations of the Nigerian Left as far apart as hundreds of years, the oldest materials going back to a time when our intellectual and ideological forebears did not refer to themselves as “Nigerians” but as “Africans”.

SOLAR’s ultramodern alchemy of post-analog digitality will not abolish the divides and gaps between and within generations of the Nigerian Left. At best it will make available to us the means of productively negotiating the most problematic divides, especially those that in the last six to eight decades have widened or deepened to chasms. I have two particular sets of such generational chasms in mind. One pertains to the unbridgeable chasm between, on the one hand, generations that continue to think of themselves as universalists and internationalists and, on the other hand, generations of leftists who are beginning to espouse ethno-nationalism and “restructurenista” irredentism. In some instances, this schism exists within the same generation. The second is the chasm between generations for whom anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism are fundamental points of departure and much younger generational cohorts for whom the effective ideological and strategic context for their struggles for justice and equality stops at our shorelines and land borders, barely extending to our contiguous neighbors like Cameroon, Niger and Benin Republic. Consistent with this stance, they completely subsume their anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism under a “patriotic”, nation-state polity in which the be-all and end-all of revolutionary or democratic subjectivity are captured by “governance”, “state capture”, “stomach infrastructure”,“insecurity” and “corruption”. Indeed, there are among the younger generations many for whom figures like Fanon, Nkrumah, Walter Rodney, Cabral and even Sankara evoke absolutely nothing, not even the shadow of mere name recognition! The shudder that this gives me is both literal and symbolic!

Does this make me sound like one of the “old Methuselahs” of Jesus’ conception of the mega-generation that contains a multiplicity of generations? I hope not! Like the entirety of the “generations” that listened to Christ’s sermon, all Nigerians, from the youngest to the oldest that are past the hundredth year mark, hope that “something” is coming that will deliver us all from the terrible suffering and darkness that envelope the land. Other than this “metaphysical” hope, SOLAR’s online digitalized archive of generations of the Nigerian Left will not pretend that all the multitudes, all the generations of the living and the departed speak with or in one voice. But neither will we project a cacophony, a Tower of Babel, a Day of Pentecost in which a riot of tongues locked the peoples – the generations – in the prison houses of their mutually incomprehensible languages and discourses. Ha, if only the universalists and internationalists could or would make common cause with the irredentist ethno-nationalists! But that is not the goal.

When our online-accessible archives become available, a new renaissance will follow closely in its wake – studies, readers, anthologies, booklets, full-length books all derived from the great harvest of SOLAR’s digitalized archives will be published in waves and cycles. In this respect, SOLAR is not without antecedents and precursors in the distant and recent past of the Nigerian Left. But fundamentally, it is, or will be a synthesis of institutional bodies of the Nigerian Left that were half-formed or stuck in a limbo of neither viable nor unfeasible projects: “abiku” socialist bookshops that just barely managed to survive from one month, one year to the next; socialist book distributors who, in good conscience, never paid proceeds from books they sold to the comrades who wrote and published the books, converting the monies to their own use just to keep body and soul together; and socialist book publishers in varying degrees of precarious individual-cum-collective forms of proprietorship and authorship. SOLAR will surpass these relics of our past and present attempts at institution building and financial independence and self-reliance – but we will make haste slowly!


(Being the full text of remarks orally presented by Biodun Jeyifo at the formal launching of the website of the Socialist Library And Archives (SOLAR) on Friday, June 16, 2023)

Jeyifo is Professor Emeritus and Research Professor of African and African American Studies and of Comparative Literature at Harvard University.