The Left under threat in Nigeria | by Baba Aye

by Jul 11, 2012Magazine

left-under-threat-in-nigeriaMay 4, 2012 is a day that I shall not forget. Early in the morning, I heard that my trade union comrade and friend, Olaitan Oyerinde, had been killed. He was shot four times in his home, in front of his wife, about an hour after midnight. Lintin, as some of us used to call him, was the Nigeria Labour Congress’ Deputy General Secretary. He had been on a leave of absence since Adams Oshiomhole, the former NLC President was sworn in as Governor of Edo state, in November 2008. The NLC (National Administrative Council) had resolved that he return in April to steer the ship of Congress’ secretariat. Lintin wanted to be part of the campaign for Adams’ re-election, but the macabre dance of Nigerian politics stole him from us. His murder robbed the progressive political movement of a major role player: he would have continued to contribute to a broad vista of left initiatives. The earth would claim him from us, as sometime it would claim us all, as his remains were interred on May 10.
Lintin was born on December 7, 1968 and became active in the Left movement when he was 17 years old. Later, in the late-1980s, he was one of the outstanding minds in the student movement, serving on the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). While studying at the University of Lagos, he became SecretaryGeneral of the Patriotic Youth Movement of Nigeria (PYMN), the subterranean Left core within the old NANS. On graduating in 1990, Olaitan promptly joined the Trade Union Movement as Assistant General Secretary of the Iron and Steel Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ISSSAN). He was Deputy General Secretary when he left to join the NLC a decade later, as Senior Assistant General Secretary and Head of the International Relations Department. He also built the Centre for Workers Rights, which he was Executive Director of, with a number of like-minded activists within the trade union movement.
Lintin was of the Working People’s Liberation Movement (WPLM) and became an active member of the Socialist Revolutionary Vanguard (SRV), led by Ola Oni until his death in 2000. He emerged in 1991 as the pioneer Lagos State Chairman of Campaign for Democracy, the united front with which the radical Left mobilised popular resistance against the military when the June 12 revolution unfolded. Lintin had cordial relations across the boundaries of factions on the Left. Not surprisingly, he would be a major bridge between radical civil society and the trade union movement till his death.
Olaitan was a profound writer. While at university, he had an old Olympia typewriter with which he would knock together many communiqués of meetings. He was in every sense of the word ­ both in the Students/Trade Union Movements and in the core subterranean Left ­ an organisational man.
In the past decade, he would ask me sometimes if I still saw him as a socialist. In confidence, he would say that he couldn’t consider himself as such anymore. But unlike many that seek faults in the theoretical groundings of the socialist idea or in other leading cadres as excuses for their temporary abdications, Olaitan upheld the correctness of socialism and socialist struggle. He noted, though, that it was not enough to uphold those ideas. To live the life of a communist required much more than he felt he could give. This did not stop him for one minute from contributing ideas and resources to the struggle for a better society. His gruesome murder raises a lot of questions. One is that of our security as activists. Olaitan had always dismissed security issues. Yet, the Nigerian state has demonstrated time and again that we cannot leave our fate in its hands. Further questions relate to our engagement with the forces of tyranny.
“The man dies in him who keeps quiet in the face of injustice,” as Wole Soyinka once put it. But when radical and revolutionary forces and activists remain dispersed as we are in disparate sects and in parties of the oppressors, a leeway is established for the man in each of us to be killed. Olaitan Oyerinde’s murder is indeed painful. For his beautiful wife, Funke, the four lovely kids he left behind and the myriad of friends and comrades whose life he touched within such a short time, anger and anguish swell in our hearts.
But as Olaitan’s aged father, Alhaji  Abdul Azeez Oyerinde, painful as it is, said: such killings in Nigeria have become “normal”. The greatest tragedy here just might be that the man in many of us that live in this Hobbesian state keeps being killed, as we bury our souls in the graves of our acts of omission and commission. Rest in peace Lintin, and pray we resurrect before our final deaths.
Baba Aye, a Deputy National Secretary of the Labour Party, is National Chairperson of the Socialist Workers League in Nigeria.
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