Emma Ezeazu: Death of our Goliath
HE certainly was the first post-graduate President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS. He took over from Comrade Bubajoda who succeeded Lanre Arogundade, the NANS President in charge when Brigadier Sani Abacha made his announcement early morning, December 31, 1983, which ushered Major General Muhammadu Buhari as Head of State in response to the mess the Shehu Shagari civilian regime had made of Nigeria in manners that displayed uncontrollable impunity as his ministers and party kingpins privatised the entire country and our collective resources as the first test of the vulnerability of our leaders to the destructive pills of an imperial dictate that found a ready nest in a directionless regime.
Emma Ezeazu was tough in ideology, strong in commitment to our collective struggles, hard on principles and straight with everyone. His passing in the evening of Monday May 18, 2015 was a shock, and honestly, this is one death that hit us on the wrong side. We all knew he was sick and have been sick for as long as four years. Yes, Emma in his usual humble self wouldn’t disclose his own crisis to anyone, but felt concerned about everyone’s crisis in the individual and in the collective. There is no fancy in celebrating anyone in death. It is more fanciful extending assistance at the right time to anyone in pain. That Emma died, literally in his own hands without any strong presence by his comrades, is much more sad.
Writing a tribute on Emma, not long after writing on Olaitan Oyerinde, Baba Omojola, Festus Iyayi and Oronto Douglas has been a difficult one, basically because these deaths came so close and represent an unwelcome speed in the depletion of our ranks and dearth of a generation of trusted, committed, uncompromisable, determined comrades and patriotic agents of qualitative change.
Emma lived a life worthy of emulation. He was completely detribalised, indeed an internationalist in all ramifications; a humanist to the core and a focused, dependable fighter for justice and people driven society.
As President of NANS, Emma, without compromising his frail look, traversed the country organising protests and attending meetings of the students’ movement, mostly convened at nights and held most times all through the night, after a long stressful travel all day. Our first encounter was during one of such meetings, held at the Bayero University, Kano in 1986, during the meeting of the Patriotic Youth Movement of Nigeria (PYMN) at night and the NANS Convention that followed next day when he was elected President succeeding Bubajoda of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Throughout subsequent encounters, Emma clearly never compromised his concern for a better society; he never displayed lack of strength in mobilising for change, not change in political leadership, but change in class rule. He worked for the working and toiling mass of our people.
Emma Ezeazu worked with the labour movement and his commitment to the movement convinced the Nigeria Labour Congress to join the coalition that made up the Alliance for Credible Elections, ACE, the organisation he worked for until death. He was the head of secretariat of Nigeria’s premier human rights organisation, the Civil Liberties Organisation, after Clement Nwankwo who pioneered the leadership of the secretariat as National Secretary. He moved on from there to establish the Community Action for Popular Participation, an organisation that took our struggle to the communities, organising peasants for our collective struggles at all fronts. He took the battles of the original indigenes of Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory to limelight as he organised with them to demand for compensation for their natural resources, including lands, which were taken through state fiat to grow the nascent Federal Capital.
He approached all his endeavours with humility, high sense of communal commitment and painstaking thoroughness. He operated the secretariat of the CLO in such manners that attracted the interests and commitment of several other comrades who had thought the organisation had many petty bourgeois elements and lacked the Marxian content needed for the change we collectively mobilised for and the class struggles we engaged in. We saw human rights violations as a major attribute of the bourgeois ruling class who must violate rights to sustain its overbearing hold on the poor and the oppressed. Ezeazu midwifed a synergy that worked as everyone, without ideological barriers worked together in unison against rights violations and military dictatorship as a minimum programme of actions against the ruling class.
Emma Ezeazu’s leadership of NANS actualised the relationship between the labour movement and the students’ movement as represented in the formal agreement between NANS and NLC in 1984 under the leaderships of Comrades Lanre Arogundade of NANS and Ali Chiroma of NLC. The leadership of NLC under Comrade Ali Chiroma was eventually seized by the General Ibrahim Babangida military dictatorship after incarcerating key leaders of the NLC, including its President, Ali Chiroma, General Secretary Dr. Lasisi Osunde and others as well as occupying offices of the NLC across the country in the guise that June 4, being the anniversary of the Jerry Rawlings’ led actions that cleansed bad governance out of neighbouring West Africa country, Ghana, was the day Nigerian workers and students chose to protest against the heartless murder of students in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, north central Nigeria.
That kick started a useful and historic relationship between the labour movement and a key ally, the students movement, prompting the labour movement to later engage in stronger alliance with the progressive flank of civil society groups to form the Labour and Civil Society Coalition, LASCO, through which protests against neo liberal policies in Nigeria have been massively rejected through mass protests and strikes.
Since the mid-80s, there is no serious mass organisation involved in the struggles of Nigerian people that didn’t enjoy the benefit of Emma’s key roles. He was involved in most of the mass protests against military dictatorship and for the de-annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election. Indeed, when the main centre of the protests, Campaign for Democracy, a coalition of several human rights and pro democracy groups imploded, following ideological contestations on method at a meeting held in Ibadan, Emma led other comrades to form the United Action for Democracy, UAD, after personally drafting its programme of action and gave the coalition its name, which was adopted after intense debates by comrades at an historic meeting held elsewhere.
Emma Ezeazu is not just a hero of the struggles for democracy, he stands out even in death as one of the most valuable and credible heros of contemporary Nigeria. His contributions to the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria cannot be underscored. He contributed immensely to the work of the Justice Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reform Panel that produced recommendations which gave credibility to the 2015 elections at all levels. He was also to contest for a seat at the House of Representatives, but lost at the primaries with only four votes even while on his sick bed.
We lost Emma, a key leading figure in our collective struggles, but we must not lose his legacies. That is why the struggle must continue.
• Yaqub, a close friend and associate of Emma Ezeazu, is an Assistant Secretary at the headquarters of Nigeria Labour Congress, Abuja