A Foremost Revolutionary Working Class Fighter

By Dagga Tolar

Segun Sango foremost Trotskyite and Revolutionary Working Class Fighter passed on, on the evening of Monday 23rd May 2022. It is indeed a sad pill to swallow. Down for years now with some health challenges. He impacted many on the left, organizational both in the Movement for a Socialist Alternative (MSA) and in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) of old, where he was General Secretary, these many and more will continue to cherish every inch of his living moments. The MSA condoles with the family of Segun Aderemi though more known as Segun Sango(SS) on the death of an outstanding revolutionary and working peoples’ leader in Nigeria and internationally.

For someone who gave a huge amount of his life and time defending the poor and campaigning for a better society for the majority of the masses through a socialist transformation. The greatest honour to his memory is a proper reconstruction of his lifelong commitment to the social transformation of society. As a student activist, a lawyer and a revolutionary Marxist, Segun Sango dedicated his life and effort to champion the fight for a working-class political alternative.

As a selfless working class fighter, he joined several others in the anti-military struggles in pursuit of the expansion of space of democratic rights, which would further endear the working class to struggle for a different type of society. He was active alongside his organization and cadres in all of the major struggles, writing, and producing materials, circulating and providing working-class analysis and insight into what happens. It was therefore not unexpected that he was at the forefront of the struggle of the labour movement in the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) against the neoliberal policies of the Obasanjo regime of fuel price increases.   

He was also founding Chairperson of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), demonstrating as Gani Fawehinmi did with the NCP, (where he was active as Chairman of the party in Lagos) that the working people can truly run their own political party breaking free from the bourgeoisie dominated parties of the PDP, the then CAN, ANPP and others, flying the banner of socialism. SS as he became generally known would also have welcomed the steps now taken by the trade unions canvassing workers to join the Labour party, but he would not have failed to ask …what is the character of the current labour bureaucracy are they now different from the sets and trend that prevented Socialists, and other change seekers to join the party earlier.

As the party as reformist formation even on the ideals of Social Democracy a platform that proponents of Big Business and adherents of socialism can cohabitate. How must the LP be characterized in terms of the overall goal and perspective of the working class in Nigeria. Would joining the LP as presently constituted advance the fortunes of the working class in relation to the overall goal of its liberation from the shackles of Capital, and the necessity of building an independent political platform for the working masses. Can socialists call for a vote for LP with a Big Business Proponent standing as a Presidential candidate?

Should a party for the working masses be defined only in terms of its name and not its programme inclusively? How do we commence the reclaiming of the LP, if and when it is reclaimable? These are questions that SS would directly have posed and given answers to as a basis for further arming cadres in defining how to relate to the 2023 approaching General elections … The rest of us must take these questions on, and provide answers that would help guide the labour movement, and challenge it more than ever before to lend its structures and resources to politically organizing the working masses. 

The labour movement in the country would eternally be grateful to SS, it is efforts on his part, along with some others that gave birth to Revolutionary Marxist League in 1987 become known in the labour movement as Labour Militant (LM) with Femi Aborishade as the first known name and face of the group as Editor. 

The LM was to lay down for Nigeria and the labour movement the entire prospect of the task of the working class, in the very thick of the IBB Military dictatorship, side by side with how to correctly characterize the then USSR. Trotsky’s prognosis described the regime as not representative of the interest of the working class, as self-serving and bureaucratic, and would ultimately if not replaced through a political revolution would in the end usher in a counter-revolution that would completely reverse all the gains of the 1917 October Revolution.

Trotsky went on to describe the regime as Stalinist and not Bolshevik in any sense, providing clear insight into how this was possible; a consequence of the isolation of the Russian Revolution, which saw the Stalinist Bureaucracy zigzagging from left to centre to right with its survival and entrenchment, as the sole defining ideal of the revolution and personalized by Stalin as oppose to the Marxian principle of putting the greater interest of the working masses in Russia and world first and foremost.

The dictatorship of the proletariat is not possible without Workers’ democracy, the soviet which translate to means the Workers’ Council had first announced its presence in the 1905 Revolution, it was workers and the common people organizing themselves in their own organ as opposed to taking over the existing machinery of a state that the revolution had risen against. The Russian working masses were replicating the example of the Paris Commune of 1897 and in 1917 gave it a qualitative leap as the very vehicle with which the revolution would be accomplished with the slogan: “All Powers to the Soviet” as put forward in Lenin’s April Thesis.

But even this was not clear to many worldwide who described themselves as socialists, they were only taking a peep at Stalinism from the surface and blindly gulping everything they saw, its superpower status, which was made possible given the fact that the USSR resting on a planned economy, succeeding therein to develop the means of production and on this basis shot itself up to be at par with the US, as the two dominant power bloc in the universe.

To therefore argue for an appropriate characterization of the USSR within the “Socialist” Workers Vanguard of Ola Oni ruffled the feathers of the group. To continue to insist that Stalin’s “Socialism in one country” was wrong and the two-stage theory of bourgeois democracy first before the socialist revolution that the Bolshevik revolution was not reenacted, and that Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution was the key to developing a Bolshevik type organization would inevitably lead into a parting of ways. 

To have witnessed Ola Oni at the Ten year anniversary of the LM in 1997, which had then changed its paper name to Socialist Democracy, and its unused public name of Marxist Revolutionary League to Democratic Socialist Movement proclaimed that Trotsky was correct and that their Cadres in Lagos were also correct in their characterization of Stalinism, was for me a confirmation of the “foresight” Marxism guided appropriately my dialectics is. The collapse of the USSR following the Yanayev coup in 1991 and the collapse of the Stalinist regime in the USSR had shook so many supposedly “socialists” to become born again “nationalists”, “reformists”, anything even to the point of espousing capitalism as having no alternative.  

Yet there is no celebrating SS without a reference to Ola Oni, for all of his pioneering efforts in entrenching the ideas of Socialism, and the fact that it was a chance reading of “Leon Trotsky: Fascism: What it is and how to fight it”. Taking from his shelf and circulated among the Lagos cadres that were to sow the seed and commenced the discussions in the Lagos Circle that saw the birth of Trotskyism in the Labour Movement in Nigeria.

Other classics like “The Revolution Betrayed”, also written by Trotsky was also seen and read, grounding these early Trotskyites all of the necessary education to not be shocked by the counter-revolution led by Yeltsin that was to follow the Yanayev coup in Russia. It is significant to mention that SS and others had made it out on their own, gathering their own resources to launch out on their own and to have produced their own paper and as well as the first of documents that internally was referred to as ‘Yellow Book’ a reference to the cover sheet of the publication. 

And from there on, up to three decades nonstop SS proved and earned for himself the status of providing leadership to the foremost Trotskyite and indeed most consistent Socialist organization in the country. The LM in the 1990s with foot soldiers like Rotimi Ewebiyi as Chief Organizer distinguished itself, it became the chief Organizing Left paper in the workplace, up to the point the Textile Union then under the leadership of Adams Oshiomole issued a pronouncement banning the publication from all Textile factories. Of course, this did not stop the paper from continuing its inroad into the workplaces to support workers in struggle and encourage rank and file workers to challenge their union to defend workers’ interests. 

Taking the paper to the workplace provided means for young cadres to interact with workers. This was my own first practical schooling, to directly behold how workers were in reality the “creators of wealth”, and how they were condemned to live lean and slave on till their death for capitalism to continue to accumulate wealth for the owners of industry. The likes of me, cadres in the MSA and many others who are proud socialists today, in some other groups lean on this rich tradition and the entire heroic efforts of SS and who like Trotsky has now paid the ultimate price. That he survived the accident in the 80s in the course of his student struggle and succumbed to CVA more generally known as Stroke, speaks to his resilience to not give up. For more than five years SS gave the ailment of all of his internal strength struggling, with the full support of comrades and family members. 

If there is anything to hold up high and exemplary aloft about the life of SS; it is the very idea of Socialism as the alternative to Capitalism, alongside the idea that democracy; workers’ democracy is an essential component of socialism, which Trotsky explains succinctly when he states that “Socialism needs democracy to survive in the same way the human body needs oxygen”. As a consequence, we know what to uphold and be proud of about the Soviet Union. In the October 1917 Revolution, under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky the Russian Working population and poor peasants stormed heaven, registering for all time that working people can take power if they build their own party, distinct from the bourgeoisie. Enshrining on its banner, Socialism. It is to this very idea that Segun Sango devoted all part of his adult existence.  

All those who encountered SS are in no doubt as to his commitment to the task and struggle for a socialist transformation of society, both nationally and internationally, both in the Committee of Workers International of old and in the International Socialist Alternative, the passion with which he comes into debate thundering loud against all of the pitfalls of the ruling class and the capitalist system. He is a completely rounded personality, in Marx’s full characterization actively engaging with everything that is human, a first encounter following a political discourse will be followed through by a social scaling down that for SS again to continue the political education or outlining of the task. 

The General Secretary of the MSA, Aj. Dagga Tolar, who joined the ranks of the LM in 1991, said he got introduced by Adewale Bashar in Ondo with a note to go meet SS for the first time, and after all of the discussion, he offers the kola nut of sharing a drink together to continue to size one up and hear you out, judging and testing your will and resolve on how far you are willing to run with the ideas of Marxism. While his love for Marxism is unrivalled by nothing else, you cannot but rank Music and literature close to his heart.

Indeed Music and his love for literature, are essays waiting to be written. Lanre Arogundade in his book on Fela dedicated to SS as touched on this a little. How he fits in appropriately even after Fela’s death to continue to act as an apostle of the power of radical music to impact the consciousness of the working masses. An avid reader not just of Marxists Classics, but as well as literary classics, as a means of continuous engagement with the human experience. His writings, which need to be compiled will in itself testify to his total dedication to the working class and continue to provide insight for struggles yet to come.   

This passing is therefore a marker to point to the rest of us, the task that still awaits the working masses, which is no other than the task of liberating itself from the yoke of capitalism and the role of Socialists and trade unionist activists in bringing this consciousness to being. As long as this task remains, and there are adherents to continue to pursue this, employing all of the scientific insight of Marxism in its clear revolutionary sense, guided by dialectic materialism …so long will Segun Sango live

Long live Segun Sango!
Long live the idea of Socialist Alternative and Internationalism!