The Sun, 12th August, 2023
Edo guber race: I can’t ignore cries of my people –Odion Akhaine
As an undergraduate, Sylvester Odion Akhaine, now Professor of Political Science and Lagos State University (LASU) lecturer, bestrode the campus of the University of Lagos UNILAG), Akoka and the students’ union community, like the proverbial Colossus. Bold and articulate, his name commanded both awe and respect. He was a one-man movement.
After graduating from the university, without any reservation, he threw himself into that anti-military struggle and soon earned a place in the hall of fame of frontline leaders of the pro-democracy movement in Nigeria. He was, at various times, general secretary of the Campaign for Democracy (CD) and the United Action for Democracy (UAD) in the battle to chase the Khaki boys back to the Barracks.
He recalled his UNILAG days when fellow students used to talk about Odionism, thus:
“I came into UNILAG with a journalistic background and a fully formed ideological worldview. We wanted to change our immediate environment, the Nigerian society, and the international situation. We saw a nexus in the dynamics operating at these levels. We articulated practical ideas, first, how to transform the university environment guided by the NANS Charter of demands. We wanted greater autonomy for both students and academic staff; we wanted to promote cultural activities; we wanted to establish exam clinics for our students; we wanted students to have access to their answer scripts. Above all wanted the students to understand causality and to be able to interpret the contradictions in society and proffer solutions. Ideologically, we were anti-imperialism and market fundamentalism that was being promoted in the Chicago school. These ideas resonated with the students. I became the rally point for the students who hailed me with the slogan: ‘Odionism, new ideology.”’
Asked about the ideology, he said it’s still alive. “In those days, we were full of ideas on how to transform our society.”
And ahead of the off-season Edo State governorship election, Prof Akhaine said he had received overtures to join the race.
Q. Since the advent of democracy, you’ve been quiet. Why is it so? Is it that it’s now Uhuru or you’ve given up on your fatherland?
A. No. No. No. Struggle ends when you die. As Che Guevara puts, you die with the belief that others are taking up the baton. The way you confront a military regime is different from a civilian regime. The absence of strong parties failed us. With strong parties, you can have strong opposition. There will be balance in the polity. I have personally not given up on Nigeria. Many of us in the progressive movement in this country believe that Nigeria can be salvaged. I desire to see smiles on the faces of our people. I am ready to contribute my quota in this mission before I exit the scene.
Q. Ok, can you do a quick assessment of the country since 1999? Some analysts would argue that what we have is civil rule, not democracy. What’s your take on it?
A. Nigeria’s democracy was never consolidated before the January 1966 coup. Long rule by the military killed constitutionalism, rule of law and democratic values. Our democracy has not matured but it is gradually being consolidated. The stage we are in has been qualified as ‘choiceless democracy’ or ‘grey zone, apologies to Thomas Carothers. I believe we can transform this grey zone with practice and the entrance of democrats into the political scene.
Q. You’re from Edo State. That state has been in the news recently, not exactly for good reasons. The worst of them is the state of infrastructure, especially roads in the Central Senatorial District where you come from. How does that make you feel?
A. The problems in Edo are surmountable with the right leadership. I started articulating solutions to the problems of the state as far back as 1991 when I researched the history of agricultural development projects in Bendel State (1963-1988). I persisted in my pre-occupation when I articulated an agenda for the development of Edo State in 2001 in the United Kingdom. I also promoted the Unity of Edo people with my active participation in Edo-Okpamakhin organisation in London. I hosted one of its meetings where I lived in Egham, Surrey. Chief Priest, Nosa Isekhure was in attendance.
Q. There’s so much agitation that the Esan stock where you come from should govern the state. The governorship election is next year. Have you, in any way, been approached to contest?
A. Many well-meaning Edo people have called on me to join the fray and help salvage our people from their conditions of immiseration with our brilliant ideas. They believe if good people like us refuse to participate that we are simply prolonging the agony of our people who have waited for too long for a demiurge. Edo people will say that it is the pains of suffering that invoke the spirit of redemption. I cannot ignore the cries of Edo. What is life if it is not led in the service of humanity?
Q. Will it be correct to say you’ll accept the invitation?
A. The answer is obvious. I have received calls from important Edo elite, I will not ignore them. We must come to the rescue of the Edo people.
Q. People from the old Bendel consider the administration of the late Ambrose Alli (79-83) as their golden era. You have a lot in common… you’re both from Emaudo. You’re both professors. How does it make you feel?
A. History is full of surprises. Alli was a Professor, and here I am, Professor of Political Science with vast experience in development and comparative politics. Ambrose Alli, perhaps, will be smiling now. When he died I was one of those who accompanied his remains home. I was a student at the University of Lagos. We flew an Air Force Hercules aircraft to Benin with my younger cousin, Lt. Akhere Okhaifo. Let me acknowledge Chief Ezekiel Ainabe who hosted most of the preparatory meetings of Alli’s funeral in his Apapa office. Let me add with emphasis, should Edo people offer me the opportunity to govern the affairs of the state, it will be a continuation of that golden era laced with the civility of His Excellency, John Odigie-Oyegun and the grand vision of Osaigbovo Ogbemudia as military governor of Midwest. It will be a new dawn for Edo people, an era of giant strides.
Q. Over 30 persons have declared their intention to run for governorship. Don’t you think this large turnout can truncate the Esan agenda?
A. This large expression of interest shouldn’t worry anyone. It is like the parable of the sower. Many of the fruits will not germinate due to various ecological and climatic conditions. If the existing political parties were to field candidates, which is one apiece, the number will not be more than 19 or so.
Q. How do you think the Esan agenda can be realised?
A. The question should be how the Edo development agenda can be realised by an Esan person. By fielding one of its best, the Edo development agenda will be realised.
Q. You were in the forefront in the struggle to restore democracy to Nigeria. Can you recollect some of those dark moments in our history?
A. Ah, it was a tragic era of our history. It was a period of military dictatorship. The Second Republic had been truncated in December of 1983 by the military, as a consequence, we metamorphosed into full-blown military rule. Military rule itself was also full of intrigues underlined by coups and counter coups. However, under the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, the country went through an endless transition where we had to confront the regime. The NANS of our time was ideologically oriented and guided. We confronted the continuous shifting of the goal post of the transition-to-civil rule programme and the devastating economic policy, the structural adjustment programme inspired by the World Bank and IMF. We led the anti-riots protests of 1989, the resistance to privatised and commercialised education in 1990, agitations that culminated into 1990 botched coup d’état against the Babangida regime, as well as the economic protest of 1992, described by the junta as the equivalent of a military coup d’etat. All these activities coalesced into the activities of the pro-democracy movement. From the national Consultative Forum to the Campaign for Democracy (CD) and the United Action for Democracy. In 1994, I became the General Secretary of the Campaign for Democracy in the heat of the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential elections won by Chief M.K.O Abiola. The coup d’état of November 1993 led by General Sanni Abacha who toppled the Interim National Government of Ernest Shonekan after we had forced General Babangida to step aside, reinforced authoritarianism in Nigeria. Correspondingly, we doubled our campaign for the military to leave the polity for all-time. By January 17, 1995 I was arrested in a Gestapo-style raid at No. 5 Imaria Close, Anthony Village, Lagos. After a brief stint at Inter-Centre, the home of the state security service (SSS), I was moved to Birnin Kebbi Medium Prison, Kebbi State where I was held for a year.
To be sure, I believed in the revolutionary transformation of the Nigerian society. With the abundant resource endowment, we believed that another Nigeria was possible, and it is possible today, despite the rot in the system. With ideological orientation which is eternally pro-masses of our people, I hate to see people suffer, I hate injustice, I hate cheating, I was ready to die to save our people. I live daily in pain seeing the mass suffering of Nigerians, more painful as I know it is not natural but manmade.
Dear Readers, Good and credible news reportage is tedious task and requires huge finances.
We are soliciting your Noble support for as low as N1,000 your support would go a long way in assisting us to continue to guarantee our readers quality news.
Bank transfers can be made to:
Account Name: Harvest and Commercial
Bank: Sterling Bank
Account Number: 0078627735