The Great Ife Students’ Union Building (Ken Saro Wiwa Building) means different things to many people. While to some, it is a place that has produced heroes and legends; to others, it is the bedrock of Students’ militancy; to others still, it is a house for thugs, rogues and ‘professional’ students. Whatever it may mean to anyone is a matter of interpretation. For those, like me, who have served the Union in any capacity at one time or the other it is a centre for political consciousness, analyses and education which we will always love cherish.
In front of that building once stood a newspaper vendor, Abe Igi( under a tree) where different people come to read the papers (usually for free) and in turn analyse, discuss and argue about topical issues making the news for long hours that one begins to wonder if these people ever attend lectures. (I must confess I learnt more politics at this point than I did in the classroom studying for a degree in Political Science in the university). It was at this place that I met the strangest person in my life!
Comrade Tony Uchendu is a young man who you would ordinarily prefer to avoid. His appearance is austere; his stature is what you would call below average. His ideas and opinions are either strange or bizarre. He professes Communism and his deep knowledge of Marxism particularly thrills me. But how will you know except you come close to him? But I have never met someone who calls himself a Stalinist until I met this Comrade!
In addition to loaning me Isaac Duetscher’s Stalin: A Political Biography some day after our first meeting, he requested me to attend the meeting of his group, The Eagle Network; a group a was largely unaware of its existence on Campus. I was reluctant to read the book he gave me ( I have not read any Joseph Stalin’s biography all I knew then about him were from books about Soviet’s history and politics), just as I was to attend the meeting. After hesitating for several days, I decided to honour the invitation baring any political or social consequences for attending the meeting of a strange, largely clandestine, and an unknown group and at night! It was at this meeting still that I heard further shocking message particularly about democracy!
Noticing my hesitations, Comrade Tony allayed my fears: the group sprang up from the Black Nationalists’ Movement (BNM). I told him that I only know the Movement as a political ideological group to which the Governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola belonged to as a student of The Polytechnic, Ibadan. Then we discussed some things in my project thesis: The Effects of Party Politics on Nigeria’s Democratic Experience (which I dedicated to Ogbeni ). On seeing my work he oppugned all my ideas about democracy and told me that all Nigeria needed was Stalin’s leadership and not democracy.
It is now 54 years that our colonial masters left us. It is also 16 years since the soldiers went back to their barracks handing over power to politicians or ‘democrats’. And Nigeria has had almost equal number of years for both military and civilian regimes. The ‘democrats’ may disagree with the points I will be making but no problem.
A lot of people are deliberately ignorant of the fact that two of modern history’s most celebrated dictators are products of a democratic process. Benito Mussolini(Italy) and Adolf Hitler(Germany) a were elected under the Fasci di Combattimento or Fascist Party and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party or the Nazi Party respectively in 1922 and 1933 in addition to countless others. We must equally concede that elections have also produced geniuses and near-saints like: Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Thatcher, Julius Nyerere, Sam Mbakwe, Lateef Jakande, Sule Lamido and the likes, just as it has produced rogues and despots: Robert Mugabe, is just a good case.
Also, anyone who has studied US history would know that democracy is just a style of leadership not a system as we may think. Franklin D. Roosevelt is a good example. Many remember him today as perhaps the most loved American president. Few remember the ‘Court Packing’ and attempt to flush out all his opponents from the Congress during the 1938 midterm election using his influence in the Democratic Party. All these he did to force the New Deal Program through the throat of Americans. Few still remember he is called the lion and the fox: two creatures known for ruthlessness and craftiness.
We have equally been told that democracy is built on institutions, and not men. In fact President Obama made this point clear on his visit to Ghana in 2009: Africa needs strong institutions and not men. If I am on the same page with these people, the word institution is to be taken literally: an organisation that has a particular purpose. In this case may mean: courts, parliaments, bureaucracy, political parties, or electoral bodies. If that is the meaning of institution, then I submit we have them in fact in excess. To fight corruption alone we have: Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offenses Commission(ICPC), Code of Conduct Bureau, National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control(NAFDAC), State Security Service(SSS), the Police the list is endless. Has the existence of these reduced corruptions?
It is on that note that I found another meaning of the word in Oxford Dictionary: a person who is well known because they have been in a job for a long time. In the United States’ Federal Reserve Board we can mention institutions like William M. Martin Jr. who served as chairman between 1951 to 1970 serving under five different administrations, both Democrats and Republicans. Also we have Allan Greenspan who was appointed chairman in 1987 and served four different Presidents, including Bill Clinton, even though he himself was a Republican. These are institutions per excellence. And these we need!
When I hear people talk of ‘institutions’ they say it as though they will be manned by robots or X-Men. Judges can be bribed, influenced or intimidated; security agencies can compromise; other institutions can be deliberately underfunded (all these we recently witnessed in Nigeria). The reason for all these is that these institutions are manned by weak men. Weak men cannot rise above partisanship, tribalism, nepotism, ethnicity or religious bigotry. This is where I agree with my Stalinist friend!
Irrespective of what the West wants us to believe about Stalin: he was responsible for the deaths of untold number of Soviet’s citizens through starvation and ‘concentration’ camps; murderer of many if not all his opponents and supporters (including the respected Leon Trosky one of the leaders of October 1917 revolution); reigned terror on many through the notorious and dreaded KGB (the Secret Police), we need him to bring discipline back into our lexicon as a nation. For those who do not know, Stalin it was that mechanized Soviet’s agriculture; turned around its education that rural farmers were all sent to school; laid the foundation of Soviet’s industrialization, and development of nuclear power which compelled Americans to treat Russians as equals in international politics; responsible for Soviet’s victory over Adolf Hitler’s Nazi army. All these came with great costs. Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and other great reformers have been dwarfed by the giant form of the Man of Steel(Stalin)(Deutscher 1961: 294 ). If we remove Stalin’s contribution to Russia’s history what is left? There is always a price to pay for making progress!
As a developing nation, we need leaders to guide and inspire our people into political, social, economic, cultural and spiritual vitality, revival and activities. History is not in want of such leaders: Napoleon Bonaparte(France), Charles De Gaulle(France), Lee Kwan Yew( Singapore), Jossip Bros “Tito”( Yugoslavia), Major-General Park Clung(South Korea), Mustafa Kemal Ataturk( Turkey), Fidel Castro( Cuba) and the likes. These will not be your first choice of ‘democrats’ but the untold development they brought into their domains and jurisdictions cannot be quantified.
Comrade Tony, I later learnt, was shot by the men of the Nigerian Police during a demonstration in 2012 nationwide Strike so I was not able to return his book Stalin: A Political Biography to him while he was alive. During my little stay with him, I knew him to have so many ambitions. I also know of his unconditional love for Stalin. When I looked at the book again recently, I saw the words: “If I ever meet you, Stalin,” wrote the Comrade at the back of the book, “I will give you a kiss.” As against what his appearance portrayed he was just 26 years old when he was shot. I hope he is kissing now!