The Stuff of Revolutionaries – a tribute to Professor Olusegun Banjo

Some great revelations came to light in the history of our nation recently. The vibrant arm of the Nigerian media did a great job in bringing to light some hitherto untold stories. One that touches me tremendously is the sole effort of a Nigerian academician in protesting the inherent injustice in our superficially conjoined nation. The Nation newspaper in a publication published by Sahara Reporters carried the moving story of Professor Olusegun Banjo, a professor of Human Anatomy and Cell Biology, who gave so much in the struggle for the actualisation of the enthronement of socio-political justice. The story of the efforts and travails of Professor Banjo touches the heart. It is a stuff borne out of courage, deep-seated patriotism and undisguised and unabashed disgust with political intimidation, suppression, mismanagement and autocratic feudalism. Professor Banjo single-handedly stood up against injustice and political repression without scintillating limelight. He stood up to be counted in the comity of men of valour and integrity.

In a nation desperate for heroes, searching for beacons in the struggle for the entrenchment of social order and equitable political arrangement, this story of great significance went unnoticed by the vast majority of Nigerians. In a nation where the norm is to amass wealth at all costs, squander priority funds allocated for various forms of social development, the sacrifices of a single man in ensuring that his dream of a nation comes true went unacknowledged. Professor Banjo had a dream, a dream of confronting a monster who bestrode the landscape at that particular time through the only language which he understood. He had a dream of confronting those petrifying monsters that have caused a permanent state of paralysis in socio-political and economic development of our fatherland. He had a dream of confronting Abacha in the only acceptable language – force. He paid so much in this attempt to confront established feudalistic oligarchy, anarchists and modern-day fascism that has held Nigeria in their suffocating grip for so long.

In the words of Chukwuma Nzeogwu, he attempted to confront the “ten percenters and hypocrites” that have put our economic and political freedom in peril. In his attempt, Professor Banjo boldly wrote his name in the book of human bravery. He stands to be counted amongst those who not only stood to confront terror in the face but sought to eliminate it. It takes so much gut to hypothesize about the solutions to a bad problem; it even takes much more to attempt to correct it. With these thoughts, I pay my humble respect to this distinguished Nigerian who attempted to leave Nigeria better than he met it. His was a fight for social justice and the enthronement of political equality and freedom borne out of distaste for unbridled political hooliganism under the aegis of unchallenged dictatorship in a very acquiescent nation.

In particular, I feel proud to be able to write this of Professor Banjo. I was a medical student at the then Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria in the very early eighties, when I had the priviledge, along with many others, to have been taught Human Anatomy by the then Dr Banjo. Those were the days when academic excellence was the norm. The non-compromising attitude of Dr Banjo to the dictatorial disposition of the now late Professor Adesanya Ige Grillo was something that marked him out amongst the legion of beautiful academicians at Ife then. His rebellious and uncompromising attitude was something the late Professor Grillo found difficult to curtail. Looking back, Prof Banjo had always expressed his independent streak of mind and distaste for dictatorship and abuse of power. It is also for nothing that he happens to be the younger brother of the late illustrious Nigerian Army officer, Colonel Victor Banjo of blessed memory. Certainly some streaks run stronger in some families!

History has taught us that mere distaste for dictatorship might be strongly insufficient for the ideals of a revolution. And it has also been said that some praise in the morning what they blamed at night. So goes for the recent actions of Major Masaba Mukoro who suddenly found warmth in the bosom of Ibrahim Babangida. History is littered with turn coats like Mukoro, who forgot the sacrifices of many comrades in the pursuit of a goal. The recent so-called reconciliation between “father” and “son” involving Major Masaba Mukoro and Ibrahim Babangida served as a classic case of a pseudo-revolutionary assuming its true colour. It is ironic that several years after identifying with a cause and barely escaping by luck after the brutal deaths of his “comrades”, Mukoro could now use religion as an excuse in the macabre reconciliation initiated by a governor who lacked control over his burning state. It is not sufficient for Mukoro to use Christianity as an excuse for an inexcusable act. It is also laughable for Oyinlola, who failed woefully in Lagos State and apparently on the path of failure in Osun State, to seek national relevance as a peace maker. Mukoro, as a case study, represents the stuff of which revolutionaries are not made. His flirtation with revolutionary ideas was feeble and yellow.

On the global stage, men like Karl Marx brought home the key ingredients of the stuff of which revolutionaries are made. His writings on socio-political and economic engineering remain formidable even to this day. He contributed extensively to the understanding of human society especially in the understanding of class structure in class conflict. While his ideas may make many feel uncomfortable, Karl Marx nevertheless influenced many generations of government and people in the world. His ideas were born out of disregard for political formulae that encouraged the impoverization, subjugation and oppression of the masses, seeing in these a need for a struggle. Ernesto “Che” Guevara apparently was an off-shoot of the process started by Karl Marx. His activities in Latin America still reverberate up to this day, despite the brutal manner of his assassination by imperial agents of the CIA in Bolivia in 1967. On a perhaps different platform stood David Ben-Gurion, the founding leader of the nation of Israel. Ben-Gurion demonstrated that revolutionary ideals are necessarily borne out of the identification of a cause. He saw the need for correcting centuries of historical wrongs to the Jews and the need to establish a biblical home for them in Palestine. His cause became an irresistible vision which he actively pursued for the greater part of his life.

In revolutionaries like Ben-Gurion, “Che” Guevara, Fidel Castro, Lenin, Stalin, Ho Chin Minh (of Vietnam) and even our revered Nelson Mandela we saw the combination of ideals with action. And coming nearer home, Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, Isaac Boro, Ken Saro-Wiwa stand out amongst many.

What could have been, if Professor Banjo had successfully entered Nigeria with his ammunitions, remains in the realms of conjecture. However, this should not stop us acknowledging the courage of this gentleman. Professor Banjo’s patience finally snapped with the albatross called the Nigerian nation when he witnessed an unwarranted brutality unleashed on the civilian populace by the combined might of the military and the police at Ojuelegba in Lagos at the peak of the protests for the actualization of the June 12 election debacle. The memory of this particular day triggered events leading the professor to journeys outside our shores, acquisition of sophisticated military weapons, military trainings, commitment of lifetime savings and even more. Thereafter, Professor Banjo embarked on the ill-fated return journey to Nigeria where fate played its tricks with his subsequent arrest at Benin republic where the story ended.

Circumstances prevented Professor Banjo from achieving his objectives, actualization of which may have spelt anarchy for those who see the leadership of our

nation as a birth right. It is sad to note to this day that the Nigerian nation has not learnt anything. We have simply replaced dictatorship with dictatorship, feudalism with feudalism. We are now in the death throes of the grips of the men in “Babanrigas” and “Agbadas”. Lofty ideas have been sacrificed on the altar of selfishness and parochialism. Mediocre and sycophants are holding reins of power and the common man is suffering. The landscape looks bleak and dry. The future holds little promise for men, women and children.

It would be forlorn and a complete waste, if the sacrifices of men like Professor Banjo remains in vain. It would be sad, if Nigeria as a nation makes the emergence of another Professor Banjo inevitable. Unfortunately, that seems to be the path we have committed ourselves to. Really unfortunate.

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