In Lagos today (Friday July 16, 2004) at the Pa Imoudu Hall, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Secretariat, members of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), Labour activists, members of civil society groups, students, National Conscience Party (NCP) activists, gathered to pay tribute to Comrade Rotimi Ewebiyi (popularly known as RE). Until his death on June 6, 2004, Rotimi was a member of National Executive Committee (NEC) of DSM and also a member of the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), an international socialist organisation of which DSM is its Nigerian section.
For socialists and members of DSM in particular, the day’s event was an eloquent testimony to the fact that struggles pay. Excluding many comrades that could not be physically present at the event due to the bad transportation system, which we face in the country, over 130 labour and youth activists including Rotimi’s three surviving children (Bisi, Keye and Sanjo) and members of his immediate family graced the occasion. Even though, Rotimi died young only aged 42, the predominant mood at the occasion was more of celebration and rededication to the socialist ideals, which he committed his entire adult life to.
Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the people in attendance were predominantly young who don’t earn any income, a fantastic sum of N1,104,500 (US$8,180) including cash, cheques and pledges was raised for Rotimi Ewebiyi Endowment Fund. For us, apart from the tremendous enthusiastic exhibited by comrades at the event; the money raised at the event means that at least for the immediate and medium period ahead the education and upkeep of Rotimi’s children is guaranteed. In a society where most regard revolutionaries as people wasting their time, the handsome donation was a big morale booster in that some after all appreciate sacrifices being made by elements like Comrade Rotimi.
Speakers at the occasion among others include the General Secretary of the NLC, John Odah, Comrade Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, the Chief Launcher of the Rotimi Ewebiyi Endowment Fund and Comrade Ayo Arogundade who chaired the occasion. Also in attendance were Sylvester Odion-Akhaine, a long standing human rights activist and founding member of Campaign for Democracy (CD), Biodun Aremu, a labour activist from Kolagbodi Memorial Foundation, Zikirullahi of United Action for Democracy (UAD), Seni Ajai of Campaign for Workers and Youth Alternative (CWA), Tony Iyare, Editor, Gleaner News and many other labour and working class activists and friends. Members of the DSM across various branches were also in attendance.
Segun Sango, DSM General Secretary, in his official tribute exalted the virtues of RE as a really rare, dedicated socialist organiser and fighter who dedicated all his life to the organization of the revolutionary movement. To him, the greatest tribute payable to RE is a rededication to the ideals to which he lived for- the ideas of scientific socialism. He used the occasion to urge the leadership of the labour movement to develop strategies and tactics, which aim to use general strikes as a means of transforming society rather than merely using it to secure paltry concessions, which are often snatched back after every such strikes by the capitalist class. While acknowledging the existence of a Labour Party at the moment, Comrade Sango, however, lamented the virtual dormancy and complete lack of alternative working class economic and political strategies being put forward by this party at this point in time. He particularly challenged labour leaders to play active role in the formation of a fighting, independent political party of the working masses, which will be radically different from all pro-rich capitalists parties in objectives and methodologies. This, he said was necessary to bring to a permanent end the exploitative, oppressive and divide and rule policies of the capitalist ruling class. Unless this approach is adopted, all the heroism and courage exhibited by labour leaders and rank and file members in organising general strikes would end up as nothing but miss opportunities. In rounding up the speech, comrade Sango thanked the NLC leadership from making the Imodu Hall available free of charge for the programme.
On his part, the General Secretary of NLC, John Odah, paid glowing tribute to the gentle nature but steadfast dedication of Comrade Rotimi Ewebiyi to the struggle for the emencipation of the working masses in Nigeria. While observing that many erstwhile socialist groups have either ceased to exist or active within the labour and youth movement, in sharp contrast, he was full of praises for the DSM, which he stated, has remained consistent in its ideas and activities. At the occasion, the NLC General Secretary made a personal donation of a sum of N10,000. In addition, he promised to carry the message of the endowment to other labour activists especially with a view of striving to launch an Endowment Fund that can serve as a collective pool of fund from which children and relations of other fallen activists like Bala Mohammed, Chris Abashi (former NANS President), etc can draw from.
Biodun Aremu of the Kolagbodi Memorial Foundation said he met Rotimi about 20 years ago during the student movement struggles of 1984/85. The varieties and caliber people present at the occasion was for him a graphic confirmation of the fact that Rotimi was an organisational person to the core. He promised to get the Kolagbodi Memorial Foundation to donate N10, 000 to the endowment fund and also promised to donate same amount personally. He also promised to run a page for the Endowment Fund in a labour publication, LABOUR FACTSHEET, of which he is one of the anchor persons.
On his part Zikirulahi, Secretary of the United Action for Democracy (UAD), recalled that he met RE sometime in 1995 when he (Zikirulahi) was victimized as worker for attempting, along some other workers, to organise the Nigerian Mint Workers Union. As far as he was concerned, Rotimi was a huge inspiration to himself and his colleagues for his constant useful suggestions and practical assistance in the organisation of their fight back against the unjust dismissal by the Mint management. He made a donation of N10, 000 to the Fund and also pledged N20, 000 on behalf of UAD.
Seni Ajai of the Campaign for Workers and Youth Alternative (CWA), a group that split from DSM in 1994, said he attended the programme because of profound effect Rotimi has on him when he was a member of DSM. Seni emphasised that Rotimi was an admirable socialist organiser who remained friendly even in the face of serious political differences. He pledged to donate N2,000 to the Endowment Fund. Goke Akinrogunde (GOK) also a member of the CWA lamented the untimely death of Rotimi whom he regarded as an outstanding socialist activist. He pledged to donate 30% of his very first salary to the Endowment Fund.
Some individuals and organisations, who could not physically attend the programme sent solidarity messages and pledges. Mrs. H. O. Adewale, the principal of Anwar – Ul Islam Model College, Agege, Keye Ewebiyi’s school, sent a letter promising to sponsor the eldest son of Rotimi, Keye, through the remaining part of his secondary school education. The Agege division of Nigerian Red Cross Society of which Keye is an active member also sent representatives and pledged to contribute to the Endowment. The Precision, Electrical and Related Equipment Senior Staff Association, an affliate of Trade Union Congress (TUC,) sent a solidarity message and donated the sum of N5, 000 to the Endowment Fund.
To underline the working class character of the occasion, Reggae musicians from Ajegunle, a thick working class suburb in Lagos, including Amala, Raymond King and Comrade Dagga Tolar, entertained the audience free of charge with lyrics of protest music delivered with melodious expertise.
At the occasion a sum of N80,500 both in cash and cheque was realised while different pledges of donation amounting to N 1, 024, 000 were made.
12 copies of Socialist Democracy (N240), 2 copies of the DSM publication “Nigeria’s Crises: Time for System Change” (N200) and other education materials (N1, 800) were sold at the occasion.
Given vote of thanks, Comrade Adewale Bashar urged comrades to rededicate themselves with greater vigour to the struggle for the socialist transformation of the society. He called on others who agreed with our ideas and activities to take decisive step to join the DSM as active participants. He gave special thanks on behalf of the DSM to members of the media who covered the event and implored to give adequate coverage of the event. The meeting ended with singing of solidarity songs.