We have lost a friend and comrade of four decades in the social movements, in person of Comrade Remi Ogunlana. Oguns as he was usually called, was a socialist activist for the greater part of his adult life. He was an activist par excellence as he committed all in his possession including time, intellect and energy, to the cause of the working class and students/youth. He hailed from Ikere Ekiti where he attended both elementary and secondary school at the Local Authority Primary School and Amoye Grammar School respectively. While we shared this common background together, our paths did not cross until we met at The Polytechnic Ibadan as students, where we joined a political and ideological group, Marxist-Socialist Youth Movement (MSYM) together on the same day in 1981.
He studied Town Planning at the School and graduated with HND within a record period. He had a full Diploma in the same course later at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos. Along with his academic pursuit, he was also active in the students’ union as well as ideological student movement. For this reason, he became the president of the students’ union and senate president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) the same year, 1983. He was the first socialist to become the student union president of the School.
Upon graduation and after the compulsory one-year youth service, he got employment as a teacher of mathematics in Owo area of the old Ondo State where he excelled in laying a solid working-class tradition by building structures of struggle where hitherto there was none. He along with other contemporary teachers that included Okijiola, Dan, Bose, Itadare, Oniyelu, etc organized the Association of Patriotic Teachers (APT) among rank and file teachers within the National Union of Teachers to take control of the Union and resist the hitherto dominance of the union by the school headmasters/mistresses and principals of primary and secondary schools respectively.
The aims and objectives of the Association were achieved to a certain extent as the school teachers later took control of their Union from the impostors. This tradition later spread to other parts of the country and was the basis of the new Union formation comprising secondary school teachers in separation from NUT. The Association was recognized by the Ondo State NLC led by Comrade Oyekan Arije and both became partners in struggle. The relationship became strengthened in the course of struggle for a new minimum wage that the state government led by Evangelist Olumilua resisted vehemently that he could not pay but was made to pay
His activism in Owo was not limited to work within the Union but included the pro-democracy movement of the period, starting with the Babangida-must-go campaign. This took a new turn with the Abacha full blown dictatorship resulting in the assassination of oppositionists, while some were forced to go into exile. Oguns was a victim as his activities did not go unnoticed. He was arrested, brutalized and detained by the State Security Service. He nearly lost his sight to brutalisation during his incarceration. Some of his personal files carted away by the security personnel were never returned to him.
At this period the headquarters of NADECO was situated in Owo as Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, the head of the opposition group resided there; but their tradition of struggle was limited as they did not share a tradition of mass struggle with other young and working-class oriented organizations. But the presence of the Labour Militant group led by Oguns in the place changed the narrative as they embarked on activities of mobilizing the entire community against military dictatorship and for the disannulment of the presidential election result of June 12, 1993. The group was noted for embarking on street marches, leafleteering and protest to carry out their grievances like it was the case in other big cities in Ibadan and Lagos.
Oguns shifted base to Lagos on getting a new employment in the Local Government Service. He became an invaluable addition to the number of experienced activists on ground. He and Comrade Ayodele Akele constituted the leadership of Campaign for Independent Unionism, a campaign front of the Labour Militant group as secretary and chair respectively. The organization became our eyes in the other united front organizations such as Joint Action Committee (JAC) and United Action for Democracy (UAD) led by Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Olisa Agbakogba respectively. Together we organized the National Conscience Party to a state of maturity, fought the titanic struggles against military dictatorship on the streets of Lagos and especially the 2million people March rally against Abacha.
The role of Oguns in the political milieu of the period also included the work of the organization where he held forth as the treasurer of the organization and also wrote for its newspaper on a regular basis. As a member of the central committee, that was to oversee day-to-day activities of the organization he impacted on the work of the organization by his independent contributions on issues without fear or favour. The tour he made to sister group in Britain on behalf of Nigeria section took him to various branches including London, Scotland, Ireland, Liverpool, etc where he addressed several workers on the nature of our campaign against military dictatorship and for independent unionism. The travel was the best to have been achieved by any member of the group in terms of the presenting the political situation in Nigeria at the time, to an international audience, in th committee for a workers’ international.
There was a falling out within the organisation after our intervention in the 2003 general elections. And some of us including Remi Ogunlana, Femi Aborisade, Basirat Ogunalana, Funmi Adewumi, Tunde Owolabi and Biodun Olamosu based in Lagos (apart from other members in Owo, Akure, Ibadan, Oyo, Jos, Nasarawa, etc) came together and agreed to form a new organization based on a new perspective along that of the International Socialist Tendency. The result of this was the formation of Socialist League which joined other International Socialists organised as the Socialist Workers Movement to form the Socialist Workers and Youth League in 2011.
Adieu my good friend, Oguns best known in his younger days as Sugar. I can assure, you came and conquered and your bountiful role in our collective struggle was wholesome and can never be forgotten in a hurry. Rest in peace, your legacy shall speak for you.
by Biodun OLAMOSU