My Reflections at Sixty


Sylvester Odion Akhaine

 I am 60 today. I have decided to share my reflections on my journey so far and the lie of the Nigerian state.  I could recall aspects of the Civil War years. The then Mid-West region was liberated from the Biafran forces that had overrun it with lightning speed. Engr. Emmanuel Omofuma, my cousin, and I stood in front of the Akhaine house, at Emaudo-Ekpoma, welcoming the federal forces with fingers raised, shouting “Welcome, welcome, one Nigeria”. Knowing what I know about the contradictions of the Nigerian state today, the pogrom against the Igbo was unjust, needless, and amounted to a crime against humanity. 


I grew up in the context of the disconcerting objective conditions of the Nigerian state: poverty was rife, corruption was ubiquitous, and human rights violations were widespread (nothing has changed today, and things are even worse with talks of a failed or failing state). Upon leaving secondary school in the early 1980s, I joined one of Nigeria’s radical movements at the time, the Patriotic Labour Movement (PLM) led by Comrade Femi Ahmed, otherwise known as Sandinista. PLM was a left-wing cell that envisioned a revolutionary transformation of the Nigerian state into a socialist one by any means necessary. We thought, rightly so, that the resource endowment of the Nigerian state was enough to achieve happiness for the greatest number of our people.

However, much of the revolutionary fervour was doused by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. We subsequently merged into the Socialist Revolutionary Vanguard (SRV) and we were active in the student movement that was co-ordinated by the left group known as Patriotic Youth Movement of Nigeria (PYMN). It was a strong organisation that shunned ethnic chauvinism and simmered with patriotic nationalist and anti-imperialist commitment that formed the bulwark of resistance against the military dictatorship in Nigeria. It was a breeding ground for radical leadership and the ideological vanguard for the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). That NANS minded by PYMN was over in 1995 under the leadership of comrade Nasir Kura. What you have today is not NANS but in name. I rose to become the Public Relations Officer of NANS in the 1990/91 session. My Executive Committee led by Comrade Mahmud Aminu, now a prominent Lawyer, succeeded the one led by the current Senate Leader, Bamidele Opeyemi.

In the anarchy imposed on the country by the Babangida and Abacha regimes, the NANS was the first, and main line of defence against the rapacity of military rule. It was the legendary tortoise, at the heart of every folklore. In this instance, the resistance against military autocracy. Recall the Anti-subsidy protest that began at the University of Jos under the leadership of Labaran Maku, NANS PRO in the Emmanuel Ezeazu-led Executive Committee of NANS. Maku later became the Deputy Governor of Nasarawa State, and Minister of Information under the Goodluck Jonathan administration. Also, NANS led the Ango-Must-Go protest over the killings of students at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; the anti-SAP protest of 1989; and the 1992 economic protest that Babangida equated to a civilian coup against his administration. When the June 12 was annulled in 1993, it was the bulk of former NANS activists who formed the engine room of the Campaign for Democracy (CD) that galvanized the country against the military regimes of Babangida and Abacha. As secretaries, late Comrade Chima Ubani and I were the poster faces of the NANS elements in the CD, and subsequently, United Action for Democracy (UAD) led by Olisa Agbakoba. We also collaborated with the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) which came into fame after the CD in 1994.

The consequences of the struggle against the military were horrible, and the road was tortuous. Mr President, you ran into exile along with other prominent Nigerians, namely, Chief Anthony Enahoro, General Alani Akinrinade, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, Commodore Dan Suleiman, and Chief Odigie-Oyegun among others. We held forth, untill many of us were incarcerated. After some days at Inter-Centre in Ikoyi, Lagos, I was driven 1000 Kilometres by road to Birnin-Kebbi Medium Prison where I was held in solitary confinement for a year. On that long journey, I spent a night apiece at Anki and Argugun Police Station. While in prison, I learnt of the death of Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, and Ken Saro-Wiwa. With this unpleasant news, I had given up on survival. I could recall when the ‘Giokoo killings’ happened in Ogoni land, Ken was in Lagos. I recall Beko and I had warned him not to go back to Rivers, but he did and was arrested. He was in captivity untill when he was hung on November 10, 1995. It is to be noted that tips from Soyinka’s The Man Died helped me to survive ‘the season of a mind’.

I regain my ‘freedom’ on the eve of 1996. The Abacha junta freed four of us, namely, Adeniji Adele, former Chairman of Lagos Island Local Government; Fred Eno, Chief Abiola’s personal assistant; Wariebe Agamene and Amos Idalemo of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), and I, to humour the international community outraged over the murder of Saro-Wiwa and his compatriots. In my case, there had been an extant ruling by a Lagos High Court that I should be released unconditionally on May 25, 1995, that was never obeyed.

Nevertheless, my ‘freedom’ added a tonic to the activities of the pro-democracy movement. I made some strategic journeys to South Africa and Europe through the legendary NADECO route. As a scribe of the organisation, I sharpened the propaganda war against the regime, over which I was again declared wanted. Alhaji Wada Nas, Abacha’s chief propagandist, and Minister of Special duties, had announced that I and others had taken delivery of arms into the country from Benin Republic. It was the beginning of another tortuous cat-and-mouse game, untill Abacha died on June 8, 1998. Let me note here that the exit of Abacha saved the country from what would have turned out to be a second civil war, and perhaps, the end of Nigeria.

 We wanted a better country for our people, a country founded on democracy, where the people can reap the benefit of its natural endowment, free from the strictures of the Bretton Woods institutions, free from the burden of ethnicity and sectional hegemony, a country based on justice and merit in social production. That country of our dreams is today being undermined by nobodies and ‘bumbling parvenus’ who were at large when we engaged with the military in the epic battle for democracy in Nigeria.

The abiding vision of a better country and the need to create a sanity zone for our people drove me to aspire to govern Edo State in the recent All Progressives Congress (APC) Primary process and from which I withdrew due to sundry contradictions. The country is yet to arrive at the haven that I have characterised above. All is not well. Nigeria’s outlook from all metrics is frightening.  

Sylvester Odion Akhaine,a human  rights activist is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at Lagos State University


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