February 06 05:55 2016

How time flies! It’s a year since “Rasta Paul” died….and I wrote this tribute for a dear friend and comrade. We will not forget you comrade….continue to Rise in Power in the minds of those, whom you fought besides, shoulder-to-shoulder….OUR DAY SHALL COME!
I still feel numb from learning that Femi Olabisi lost the battle for life this morning. My longest standing political collaborator and soul mate “Rasta Paul” was a fighter and fought his last battle gallantly….against high blood pressure that had assailed him with “stroke”, twice over the past 3 years.

When I saw him two weeks back at Enugu during our union’s 40th National Executive Council meeting, he acknowledged that his health had taken a turn for the worse, but that he would win the battle for life. Alas…Rasta is now gone!
Born on January 19, 1969, Femi who hailed from Ogbomosho, Oyo state, spent most of his life in Lagos, particularly in the Agege/Abule Egba axis. He attended Vetland High School where he sat for his WAEC in 1986.

I met him sometime in 1987, while I was pursuing my A’Levels at Anwar’ul Islam College. I and Femi Olatunji (“Dudusky”) who was on the College’s football team went to visit Femi Fadeyi another wonderful footballer who is now a leading actor/director of Yoruba films. Fadeyi was ill and had missed classes for some days. Rasta Paul who had come to see Fadeyi was seated on the low fence, strumming some reggae vibes with his guitar. He had the red, the gold and the green all emblazoned on him; wristband; necklace; jersey and; cap.

I was then a Rastafarian adept myself. We ended up spending hours together that day, reasoning together and sharing joints. A friendship of a lifetime was born.

We formed a two-man band which we called Haclus. But Femi Fadeyi (also a musician) and members of his funk band Wetlands, used to call our band “OsamAyes”. Femi was then known as Rasta Sam Paul (from which the “sam” was drawn) and of course, the Ayes was from Babs Aye, as I was then called.

We were not just musicians. We soaked up the works of Nkrumah, Nyerere, Cabral, Mandela, Cesaire, Fanon etc, and formed the African Liberation Movement (ALM) which was meant to be a clandestine “politico-military” organisation. Months later, I proceeded to Unilorin and Femi to Yabatech. Other members we’d recruited headed to Ife, Ibadan and KwaraTech. We charged ourselves with seeking like minds and consolidating ALM.

It was in the course of doing just that in Ilorin that I became a Marxist. I established Black Starliners reggae club as a front and identified the more political elements that came into it. In an attempt to recruit Bimbo “O” and Bayo “Nameless”, the later gave me a copy of Engels Socialism: Utopian and Scientific tract. This was after I condemned “socialism” which he had propounded earlier in response to the ALM’s black nationalist perspectives I raised with him, arguing that we could all see how oppressive life was in the USSR, but we stand for liberation.

Haven been convinced from Engels on what socialism actually is as against the monstrosity behind the Iron Curtain, I immediately reached out to Rasta with quite a pile of books when I visited Lagos a few weeks later. We thus moved forward again, together. We were together on the streets on May 31, 1989 when the anti-SAP revolts reached its peak. Immediately Unilorin was shut down a few days earlier, I moved to the capital of the working masses Lagos and it was to Rasta then at Yabatech that I first went before moving to Dudusky’s folks place when the arrests started

In 1990/91, I was one of the five persons that formed the May 31st Movement in Ilorin. Ideas from ALM including being a “politico-military” organisation were part of the founding principles of M31M. Not surprisingly, Rasta Paul was the first person to join outside Ilorin. I went to Lagos and we discussed about the new group around about midnight at the sports complex. Rasta Paul came from Lagos for the M31M’s first National General Coordinating Council meeting (the White House Conference, because it took place at the White House hotel in Sawmill) at Ilorin in September that year. The following month I moved to Unilag and together we began building Mayism in earnest, in Lagos.

I’ve hardly met a more tireless organiser than Rasta Paul. Very meticulous, almost to a fault, he was the more “practical” one. I would come up with some at times over ambitious schema for organisational development and “cadrerization”. Rasta would not say no. In fact he would start with “well, it’s actually a very good idea, but…” and point by point he would show the shortcomings of the idea. If I felt strongly about going ahead all the same, he would be there, with his stubborn “let’s go there” approach. Sometimes it would work out, sometimes it wouldn’t.

At Unilag we built the League of Black Nationalists together as the front of the M31M. This was after our efforts to revitalise the PYMN’s Marxist-Leninist Study Group (MLSG) and the then LM’s Socialist Youth League (SYL) towards uniting both to form a League of Progressives for Emancipation (LoPE….with the slogan, struggle LoPE) fell apart. We revitalised both and then their “owners” moved in from town to reassert the tendential lines of the past.

When LBN was formed, Segun Imana, the first recruit of the M31M in ’92 was coordinator and I was secretary. Shortly after he graduated from the Law faculty and till Rasta graduated in ’95, he served as secretary whilst I was president. Every Wednesday we would hold discussion sessions at the Faculty of Education and leadership meetings every Monday. Our The Black Nationalist organ was always pasted on the notice boards of all halls and faculties religiously every week by Rasta.

LBN became the leading Left force on campus, extending into nearby schools like the FCET Akoka and Project Time (a catholic church-owned College of Education also at Akoka). The League’s candidate Omoyele Sowore who now runs Sahara Reporters won the ’92 elections against the old Left and other forces in one of the most interesting students’ union elections of that era. LBN was also the force behind the victory of Malcolm Fabiyi (Malcolm X) and his “No Sell Out!” campaign in ’94.

Unfortunately, Rasta’s interest to become the Secretary General during the ’92 elections failed as did his subsequent bid to become Clerk of the ULSU Parliament. But this did not in any way dissuade him from being at the fore of defending the League line.
Rasta Paul served in what is now Gombe state. His penchant for organising was not in at all doused by the service year’s distractions. The first steps at forming the Youth Front (YF) started then.

YF was Rasta’s baby and one of the longest lasting of the many organisations he helped to found. At its peak, YF had hundreds of members across states in all the six geo-political zones of the country. Its periodical Youth Frontier was equally well circulated. Unfortunately, YF also represented his gradual disaffection with the “Left ghetto” of small sects and a turn to active participation in bourgeois politics. Like us all, Femi was a bundle of contradictions. Despite this, he was very active in the life of the Mayist trend till 2011….and was about coming back much more fully, until death cut short this remarkable life.

Rasta Paul was convinced of the centrality of political power for bringing about social change. He believed that political power required mass membership and participation. This led to the illusion that much could be gotten through entrism in the parties of the bosses. In ‘97/’98, he threw in his lot with the Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) during the truncated and questionable transition programme of General Abacha. He ran, for the first time, for the Lagos state House of Assembly. He did not win, coming second to the UNCP’s candidate. But he established himself as a grassroots mobilise and community leader in his Abule Egba area constituency.

After the restoration of the Republic in 1999, he joined the Alliance for Democracy. The powers that be did not feel comfortable with his strong loyalist following and did everything possible for him not to attain his heart’s desire to be part of the Lagos state’s legislative house. Femi’s organising prowess was brought to bear within the house of the bosses’ party where he was. He formed the Golden Frontiers which became a powerful caucus and challenged many that were considered to be untouchables due to their closeness with Tinubu and Aregbesola. Several times Aregbe tried to neutralise him first by fighting him and subsequently by courting him.

In 2007, when he was undemocratically denied the ticket in the then AC, he joined Tokunboh Afikuyomi in crossing over to the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) where he ran for the same office and once again lost. As at the time we met last talking for hours until I noticed he was weak and asked him to rest, he told me that he was likely to get an appointment after the elections. He had committed over a N100,000 to the party candidate for the seat, with the state of his health he said he did not have the strength to fight at primaries again.

Rasta Paul’s dabbling into bourgeois politics did not debar him from work within the working class and the tendency’s organisational life. He began work as a fulltime secretary of Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria in September 2000, in time to be a delegate to the 6th MHWUN National Delegates Conference which held that same month in Ibadan, the rustic city where Femi would die 15 years later. In that period, Rasta Paul served as a MHWUN organiser in: Kwara, Kogi, Nasarawa, Ogun, Lagos and Oyo states. He also acted as Head of the Education, Planning, Research & Statistics department for the almost 3 years I was away from MHWUN (first on a study leave and subsequently on secondment to the NLC).

In all these stations, Femi left commendable footprints. He built MHWUN structures and was always a leading, critical figure in the Joint Negotiating Council (Trade Union Side) and the Nigeria Labour Congress. He also built his YF structures in virtually all these states. His penchant for documentation led him to writing a pamphlet Oyo State Workers’ 15% Salary Increase Struggle 2007: Analysis, Minutes & Materials, which provides invaluable insight from his vantage position during that struggle as the Oyo state/South West Zonal Secretary of MHWUN in Ibadan, during that struggle.

He actually challenged me to write my first book Era of Crises & Revolts stressing that it is not enough to have papers, leaflets and all such like “practical” literature, we owe it a responsibility to posterity to churn out books with the insights we have from practical struggles, he kept hammering at me, till I agreed and took up the challenge in 2012, after the January revolts.

In the Mayists’ years of the locusts of the mid-2000s when the M31M, by then renamed as the Socialist Workers Movement, he always rebuffed my calls for us to reinvigorate the “Movement”. He would say that organisations are vehicles and you do change vehicles when their life spans are through, especially when some of those that insist on being on the earlier vehicle with you are actually holding onto the vehicles tires or worse, trying to make the engine “knock”.

But in 2008/2009 when a rebirth was in the offing, Rasta was at the fore of activities to ensure things worked out well. In Abuja where he was at the MHWUN National Secretariat, he became the backbone of the old SWM’s organisational life. He was initially cautious about merging with the Socialist League. But once convinced that they were not “like those people that JG brought us into alliance with to form the CWA in 1993 and who almost scattered our house with old wives’ tales”, he did everything possible to ensure a methodical merger process. He made the offices of his Rasta Records label available for organisational meetings in Lagos whilst in Abuja he helped fund activities and as well took up active roles in these.

A key step in the methodical approach he called for towards the merger was the August 2010 Memorandum of Agreement on the merger which the Abuja branch came up with at his instance. Most of the Memorandum’s positions were pushed by him including the need for an expansive Central Committee. The old SWM CC adopted it after being widely circulated amongst members and considered apt. This was dispatched to the SL which also accepted it.

At the merger conference on January 29, 2011, elements of the memorandum were jettisoned, including: an expansive CC, and; initiating a programme that would lead to the organisation being birthed becoming a registered political party that could stand for elections in the nearest future. The majority of delegates were of the view that the CC be compact and with regards to the SWL that emerged from the merger becoming a party anytime soon, the general view was of this being rather over-ambitious.

While he never renounced his membership, including supporting the League where he could, Rasta withdrew from active tendential life. A very stubborn son of a gun, all my entreaties fell on deaf ears. In fact for a brief while, our personal relations were strained. He couldn’t understand how I could have eventually taken up the majority view despite the August Memorandum’s general acceptance. I did convince him though that there was no underhanded understanding and my commitment was simply to ensuring that the new organisation takes off on a firm basis of Conference resolutions. Thus, as I argued (which he accepted but would not go along with), the resolve of Congress was superior to any earlier Memorandum.

Then came the final battle of his life….which eventually took this very life away. He had the first stroke in 2012. The following year, he had the second stroke. That was when he realised that the drugs he got from a general hospital after the first stroke, to manage his high blood pressure had actually expired before it was prescribed! As if things were not bad enough, domestic blows also hit him. An acrimonious split with his partner, who left with their four daughters, was followed months later with the death of his mother, whom he was very close to.

Rasta Paul took all these with philosophical equanimity. Despite his state of health, he also expressed his desire to get more active in the organisation’s life. He proposed the organising of weekly Workers Educational Forums in Ibadan, which he was prepared to fund. His long standing influence in the working class movement there would as well have been invaluable for this project. He had won a number of trade union leaders to this idea at state council and shop floor level.

The project could not commence before the end of 2014 due to his ill health. The Oyo state contingent arrived pretty late at Enugu on January 12. They stayed at Tommylyn hotel where the Women Leadership Workshop I was facilitating was taking place. As soon as I arrived there, Comrade Ayobami, the state chairman informed me that “your brother’s health is pretty bad”. I had to leave the workshop appealing to Comrade Eris Ibi the Deputy Chairperson of the National Women Commission to stand in for me. We spent almost three hours talking.

One of the main points we discussed was the need for him to make peace with Sola, his partner. He agreed to do this.

Unfortunately, that and all the dreams and goals Rasta still had in mind have come to an abrupt end. He died this morning, alone when the grim reaper came calling. I actually wonder how I have been able to write this through the hail of mist before me. For once, not even the rolling out of Socialist Worker from the press can lift my spirit. I have lost a brother, a friend, a comrade. The working class has lost one of its most committed and very dogged organisers. Mayism has lost one of its most thorough historical cadre.

Good night Sam Paul……Rest in Power, Rasta!