Professor Eskor Toyo, Olumuyiwa Wahab Jimoh
Olumuyiwa Wahab Jimoh
One of Nigeria’s most erudite professors of Political Economy and one of the few remaining genuine great thinkers of the left, Professor Eskor Toyo, died Monday the 7th of December 2015 in Calabar at the age of 86 after having taken ill a year back. He was a philosopher King celebrated both here and abroad as one of the great Marxist exports from Africa in the mould of the late African greats: Prof. Ikenna Nzimiro, Claude Ake, Comrade Dr. Ola Oni; Baba Omojola etc. – a platform which he used effectively in collaboration with others to interrogate neo-liberal philosophies that attempted and have continued to undermine development in Nigeria, Africa and other under-developed nations of the world.
Eskor was not just a teacher or lecturer but had his early beginnings deeply rooted in social activism and anchored on the Labour dimensions with his committed participation in the trade union movement of those days and its activities. As a youth, he played active roles in the internal mechanisms of the various trade unions and their federations drafting the first communiqué of the All African Trade Union Federation in his early life. He was therefore at the beginning not just an ideologue of the popular struggle but also that of the trade union movement where he truly cut his teeth and took his life’s trajectory and purpose.
He was a highly principled, effective and forthright comrade who gave the various military regimes and dictators both here in Nigeria and abroad deep headaches. He had a very deep passion for Nigeria and the masses especially the downtrodden. His writings were vitriolic as much as they were incisive and assertive. He organised various platforms for interrogating and deeply dissecting the obsolete and backward development paradigms driven by western philosophy and imperialism.
Eskor, as most of us called him, was a highly cerebral academic and international intellectual. A child-prodigy and an outstanding student in his growing up years at Oron and further schooling in Lagos; he earned a scholarship from Texaco overseas that saw him proceeding to the prestigious London School of Economics where he made history as the first Nigerian to make a first-class degree in Economics from that prestigious institution. He was indeed an outstanding scholar that was well sought after both in the academia and in the corporate world.
Being a man who understood his destiny and goal in life, he rejected many mouth-watering job offers that came his way abroad and decided that he belonged to the people and masses of this great country Nigeria. He headed home to fulfil a destiny which he had crafted for himself and pursued tenaciously, which is to be a vessel for the creative and vigorous engagement of the occupying colonial powers not only in Nigeria but also throughout Africa and the rest of the developing world.
His instrument of engagement was in sowing himself into the lives of the up and coming generation and engaging the opposing powers intellectually through several publications spanning the entire known spectrum. His publications are master pieces that have remained ever-green and true today both to the Nigerian situation and to the entire emerging global order. He was one of those that foresaw the dangers to humanity of the economic world order of greed and avarice that had hitherto prevailed and still prevailing globally.
Many people may not know it but one of the students and young minds that went through Eskor Toyo’s tutelage was our own revered late Chief Gani Fawehinmi – the vibrant incorruptible social crusader. Prof was Gani’s teacher at victory college Ikare from where they forged a bond of comradeship between a master and his pupil that lasted a lifetime. That was why unknowing to many, Chief Gani was always receiving ideological support and nourishment from this deep fountain of sociological thought. His teachings in University of Calabar drew students from departments that were far apart from the Social Sciences department because of the character and contents of his thought processes as seen in his mastery of the didactic craft including his uncanny ability to bring to life in the classroom the objective realities that confront Nigerians and Nigeria indeed. My contemporary, Comrade Ismail Olawale, asked Eskor: “what advise can he give to the younger generation?” And Eskor’s positions was that we should think fundamentally.
His presentations in workshops and seminars which I was privileged to have attended marked part of the deep and clear fountains from where I drank while a student at the tertiary level. I did not attend the University of Calabar but I consider myself one of his students and philosopher sons. I diligently followed his thoughts both in publications, seminars and workshops including seeking him out deliberately for mentoring – an objective which I never regretted ever embarking upon. My interactions with this great icon equipped me with the needed instruments to engage my environment creatively. He built in me a constant quest to critically analyse every situation seeking alternatives believing that there are always alternatives to situations if carefully sought and understood.
Many people may not know it but one of the students and young minds that went through Eskor Toyo’s tutelage was our own revered late Chief Gani Fawehinmi – the vibrant incorruptible social crusader. Prof was Gani’s teacher at victory college Ikare from where they forged a bond of comradeship between a master and his pupil that lasted a lifetime. That was why unknowing to many, Chief Gani was always receiving ideological support and nourishment from this deep fountain of sociological thought.
The Labour movement as well as the civil society movement will not in a hurry forget his contributions to their ideological foundations and his prodding and participation both in the street and in the trenches for the emancipation of Nigerian people both from neo-colonialism and from internal oppression. Eskor Was born in Oron, Cross Rivers state in 1929 and in 1953 drafted the founding communiqué of the All-Trade Union Federation of Nigeria. A staunch member of the labour movement and passionate force within the nation’s civil society intelligentsia; he provided, in collaboration with others, the moral and intellectual force that the labour movement and the civil society needed in all its engagements both with their social partners and other sociological forces.
He founded the Socialist Farmers Party in conjunction with Pa Otegbeye and others in the 1960s a platform from which he sought to project and protect the interests of the downtrodden masses of Nigeria who were then under the grip of internal comprador bourgeoisies who had commandeered the reins of power from the colonial masters. This showed his commitment to egalitarianism and an avowal to resist social inequality no matter the offerings and carrots from the opposing philosophies and agents of Capital. He was a great man. A man who we all knew where he stood in all social issues – firm and steady but ready to allow the light of reason to shine upon every issue within the ambits of shared values and expressions.
Professor emeritus of political economy and a consultant to several international organisations including the World Bank, IMF, CBN etc and a founding member of the Nigerian Socialist league including being a former Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Economic Society. A nationalist that chose to train up and mentor a cadre of Nigerian youth to create a chain of succession against the rampaging forces of imperialism and underdevelopment in Africa. He shunned political office and its patronages but was content with his commitment to the ideals of the struggle and human emancipation.
I remember vividly when some of us became his adopted ideological children; his banters and chats with late Prof Inyang Eteng and Comrade Mokwugo Okoye, other scions of the struggle and his contemporaries. Their conversations both on national issues and mundane things of life were like full blown lectures to our young minds and we lapped them up. There was no way you would have come in contact with Prof. not just his teachings and philosophy but his personality without having a profound change in your perception of life and living.
Eskor Toyo was an unrepentant revolutionary and believed that “the shackles of poverty, underdevelopment and bad leadership that have engulfed Nigeria as a nation since attaining independence cannot be changed unless there is a total revolution in the country.”
He described Nigeria as “a country enslaved by poverty and underdevelopment, whose great potentials have been laid waste by successive bad leaderships.”
In these two quotes from his thoughts is encapsulated his ideals and thoughts about and towards this nation and the urgency that the need for change in our circumstances has become and how it could be achieved. His many books spoke of this trend of thought and perceived solutions which as he was wont to say: “…dissecting a situation without offering critical counterpoises for advancement falls short of expectations from every social philosopher.” The IMF debates of the 1980s during the IBB years and the Structural Adjustment Programmes, SAP, of that era including all its market–driven tenets of privatisation, liberalisation and commercialisation were vigorously challenged by Eskor and his group exposing it then as a fraud and a framework for backwardness and warned seriously of the dire prognosis if the country went ahead to implement its principles. Like a prophet, what he and his group projected as the outcome, is what this nation is experiencing today in diverse forms and manifestations.
That was why I was worried when he took ill that many Nigerians did not know or never cared. Nigerian masses whom he loved, cared and fought for never cared, the civil society and labour movement never showed up even while they held programmes in the same state where he laid ailing and much more, the Nigerian government which he had served in several capacities as an ideologue and intellectual did not pay any attention. Very few, indeed very few remembered, visited and comforted him.
He died a fulfilled man. He died having fought gallantly for the emancipation of this nation. He died rejoicing knowing that he had sowed himself liberally in the hearts and minds of many young men who were already taking over the socio-intellectual space even while he was alive. Talking to some of us; you could see the glint in his eyes knowing full well that the struggle for a better Nigeria will continue despite his going and despite the parlous state of our beloved country today.
One of the lessons which his life has taught me is that a man of principle lives forever and that the best way to eternity is to sow yourself liberally and abundantly into others – affect lives. And I wish that I am not alone in this lesson and fervently hope that all Nigerians will imbibe this culture and place others before them impacting their lives positively that we can live in them reproducing ourselves and multiplying eternal values in all lives to unleash a cycle of progressive thoughts within the socio-polity.
It is important that we learn to celebrate our heroes. Eskor was one of them. It is by celebrating them that we hold aloft their values as a sign post of excellence for future generations and encourage the younger ones to pursue these values that are eternal and crucial for national development and progress. Eskor should be celebrated. Cross River, Akwa-Ibom state governments including all the states of the old Eastern Region including my state, Lagos, and not excluding the Federal Government should immortalise this great sociological genius of economics dimension. Let monuments be raised in his honour.
Finally, it is important that I speak to the remaining genuine apostles of the left, the civil society and the labour movement. Our attitude to our comrades must begin to change especially the infirm, aged and the weak. We have to return to the basics of comradeship which is solidarity. His family does not only need the governments at all levels but also needs us as a movement. We must stand in solidarity with the loved ones which he left behind and must focus our action, thoughts and duty towards them in this regard.
Eskor has played his own role. He has passed down the torch to all of us. Our duty is to keep the fire aflame. We must not allow the baton to be broken and the heat of the struggle which requires eternal vigilance to grow cold. Passing it on to the next generation more creatively and deeply hot is our collective responsibility. We must recreate many more Eskors for Nigeria to grow. Adieu comrade! My mentor and teacher; fair thee well! Soldier on great one! Your thoughts and voice in me will never go silent!
Olumuyiwa Wahab Jimoh is the Deputy Majority Leader in the Lagos State House Of Assembly Representing Apapa Constituency 2