My first encounter with Comrade Omotoye Olorode, was sometime in 1980/81. Our Comrade Biodun Jeyifo (BJ), was President of ASUU, and I had gone to attend the annual Ife Book Fair. There was an evening of readings, that night. The problem was that BJ was to read from, I think, a Wole Soyinka work; but he had lost his voice! So everyone was making a suggestion about the remedy that could assist the rapid recovery of the voice; and because I was a broadcaster, who announced and read news, for a living, I was requested to offer some suggestions too. I was with Dapo Olorunyomi that night, and one of the comrades that we had met with, briefly, earlier that evening, was Omotoye Olorode. We agreed to meet at his office, the following day. And we did!
Of course, the knowledge of the person of Toye Olorode, preceeded the meeting. But it was as if we had been relating forever! He had a most friendly, welcoming smile, and we got immediately into conversation about work that was being done in our different locations, and around the country. He was in Ile-Ife, as member of the Ife Collective and ASUU, while I had always been in Ilorin, working with the trade unions, the student movement on various campuses, as well as the in the Marxist-Leninist Movement of Nigeria, the STRUGGLE magazine, underground group. But in 1980/81, I was studying for a Diploma in Mass Communication at the University of Lagos, and the PYMN, had given me the assignment to provide leadership for the Marxist League, on campus.
A few hours of discussion ranged on the problems of organizational work, in the Nigerian working class movement; strengthening the work of student groups, and the issue at that time, of attempts to build a united left front, to confront the Shagari administration’s anti-people policies. I was very impressed with Comrade Omotoye Olorode’s clarity of perspective, and more so, with his rich human qualities. He made me welcome; was a very sympathetic listener, had easy manners, and was a genuine teacher, in disposition. I joined BJ in his Volkswagen Beatle, on the long drive from Ile-Ife to Lagos. He had an ASUU assignment; while I returned to the life of Lagos: school; the Marxist League; the FORWARD team with Ola Fajemisin; Idowu Obasa, Ayo Olukanni, and others; workers education programmes, at the national headquarters of the Civil Service Workers Union, at No 9 Aje Street, in Yaba.
But Comrade Omotoye Olorode, was simply unforgettable. Here is an intellectual, in the sciences, but whose incredibly rich education in the social sciences; in the best Marxist-Leninist tradition, continued to offer a remarkable example of commitment, through various phases of developments of Nigerian society. These included the highs, of very robust organisational work around the country; the near-dominance of the liberating paradigms of the historical materialist approach, in the social sciences, on Nigerian campuses; the increasingly rich experiences of organisation and struggles of the Nigerian working people, and all these, against the backdrop of an international situation, which favoured progressive struggles, around the world.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, as well as the erstwhile socialist camp, of Eastern Europe, was followed by an imperialist triumphalism, that was heralded in Francis Fukuyama’s thesis of “end of history”. Africa had lost the whole decade of the late 1980s-early 90s, to the depredation of SAP. And in Nigeria, the succession of military dictators, created the turbulent and reactionary social ambience, that had severe and varied, dialectical consequences: increasing entry into the national space, of younger social forces of revolutionary renewal in the Nigerian left; a negative, often reactionary stratum, that conveyed struggle, only from the platforms of identity, and the centralisation of the National Question; and even more radical, right-wing forces, that appealed to religious confessional platforms.
These took place, just as the Nigerian state, became completely wedded to the neoliberal orthodoxy of the Washington Consensus. The reforms imposed by imperialism; and the wiping out of jobs in industry, began to erode the base of the trade unions, and the working class movement in general; there deepened, the bureaucratization of trade union leadership, with a leadership that had very strongly petty-bourgeois sensibilities. In tertiary institutions, the PYMN also lost it’s historic role, within the Nigerian students movement.
In the midst of all these developments, Comrade Omotoye Olorode, never lost his understanding of the currents of social development. His responses were firmly anchored within the Marxist-Leninist tradition; and he retained the scientific understanding of the roles that the working people must play, in the liberation of our country. His intellectual output was not a sterile, doctrinaire response to issues, but a very creative, scientific apprehension of social phenomena. And because of his conviction about the righteousness of the Marxist-Leninist approach, he has always been able to work, in a comradely manner, with ever-newer generations of Marxists, entering the field of struggle in our country. This is the sense, in which Omotoye Olorode, has remained one of the most inspiring, and best representatives, of the leftwing intellectual tradition, not only in Nigeria, but on the African continent!
Omotoye Olorode’s exemplary life, as a Marxist intellectual; a Nigerian patriot and an internationalist, is a genuine source of education for the younger generation. And the fact that he continues, his relentless contributions to the struggle for the liberation of our country, is testimony, not only to his staying power, but more importantly, to the strength of his commitment. And at 80 years old, he is not about to slow down. He is providing leadership, for newer vistas of organisation and struggle commensurate with this historical period.
Comrade Omotoye Olorode, is certainly one of our very best!