Celebrating Samuel Olusegun Osoba at 80

28 March 2015

By Raheem Oluwafunminiyi

My intention was to teach history as I knew it, research into history as I understood it and share the product of my intellectual excursions with as many people as possible. — Segun Osoba

It is rare these days for people to live till their 80s especially in a country like ours where the mortality rate remains on the high side and even fast becoming a norm. The remarkable rate at which lives are lost in the country due to negligence among other avoidable reasons is better imagined than mentioned. It is therefore, the reason why attaining the age of 80 in Nigeria calls for both praises and thankfulness for the life of such individual and most importantly a level of ''sober reflection''. The reason for this statement is not far-fetched as this piece shall identify.

Quite a few today would know the man Samuel Olusegun Osoba. In fact, the first mention of the name would strike a resemblance to a former journalist and governor of Ogun state. Segun Osoba, as he is commonly referred to, was neither a journalist nor governor but a first class scholar and Marxist historian. For those who had witnessed the heydays of Nigeria’s vibrant university education system, especially in the South West of the country, the name Segun Osoba would readily come to mind. It was he and few others who for many years were at the centre of the struggle to build and entrench the University tradition in Nigeria. Segun Osoba for many was one of the most brilliant and exceptional Marxist historians to have emerged the university system. He was not only a radical writer but also an avowed Marxist historian who many would not forget at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife (then University of Ife) for the impact, legacies and contributions he made both in the struggle for social justice, academic scholarship and patriotism.

Segun Osoba was born on the 9th of January, 1935 in Ijebu Ode. He attended Saint Saviours Primary School, Ijebu Ode (1940 to 1946) which was the only primary school in Ijebu-land at the time. He went on to attend Ijebu-Ode Grammar School for his secondary education from 1947 to 1953. Thereafter, he proceeded to the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Ibadan from 1954 to 1955 for his A-levels and later to the University College, Ibadan for his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1956, graduating with a B.A in History and Languages in 1959. After graduating from Ibadan, Segun Osoba taught at Ijebu-Ode Grammar School, his Alma-Mata between 1959 and 1963. With more thirst for knowledge, he proceeded to the former Soviet Union on a UNESCO fellowship for his PhD at the Moscow State University from 1963 to 1967. Between 1965 and 1967, Segun Osoba earned a PhD in History and International Relations with a thesis titled: ''The Colonial Antecedents and Contemporary Developments of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy: A Study in the History of Social, Economic and Political Conflict.'' Upon the conclusion of his PhD, Segun Osoba appeared very much to have gained some useful knowledge from the whole experience in the Soviet Union and a much deeper knowledge of a particularly different historical process. He discovered that the traditional approach to historical reconstruction and analysis in the West was heavily biased in favour of political history with little attention paid to social and economic foundations of even the political process. Apart from what he wanted, it was one significant thing he learnt in the Marxist historical methodology which puts a very strong emphasis on social and economic interpretation of history.

Armed with first-hand knowledge and different perspective on this 'historical process’, especially in the 'Marxist historical methodology’, he returned to Nigeria to share the product of his intellectual excursions with as many people as possible. Segun Osoba was employed at the then University of Ife on the 1st October, 1967. While at the Department of History, Segun Osoba remained a classical example of a thoroughbred Marxist historian, radical intellectual and role model for many students. He taught courses which include Philosophy and Methodology of History; The Politics of Decolonization in Africa; Nigerian History in the 19th and 20th Centuries; Advanced Philosophy of History; African Political Thoughts in the 19th and 20th Centuries; The Making of Nigerian Foreign Policy and Diplomacy and several others.

His classes were usually highly charged and saw students from other departments joining the intellectual discourse. It was said that after his classes, students became apprehensive and habitually felt like taking up arms against the authorities. His radical intellectualism went beyond the classroom. His quests for social justice led to the use of public rallies and peaceful protests on university campuses to critique and denounce Nigeria’s neo-colonial economy and growing corrupt political and economic governance. This single action would awaken a generation of radical students.

One of the high points of Segun Osoba’s career was in 1975 when he alongside the late Yusufu Bala Usman joined other selected Nigerians as members of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) of 1975-76. Known as the 49 wise men, the CDC was tasked with crafting a new constitution for the country. Segun Osoba and Bala Usman alongside the few left-leaning elements in the committee repeatedly clashed on a number of critical issues with the right-wing majority whom the ruling military government had carefully jam-packed into the committee. The CDC eventually came up with a Majority Report and excluded the views of the left. Segun Osoba and Bala Usman would eventually write their own report popularly called at the time the Minority Report, releasing it to the public. Both scholars hence went on a nationwide campaign to familiarize Nigerians with the contents of their report. This campaign would ultimately raise the nation’s consciousness on the critical issues at stake.

That was the extent to which Segun Osoba went in not only trying to affect a change through his scholarly works but also as an individual who believed in subverting'' the economic and political status quo entrenched upon the country by the colonialist through constant agitations and formation of political movements with radical and revolutionary underpinning. Segun Osoba used his scholarly works, academic and public debates to fill up the political lacuna inherent in Nigeria at the time.

Segun Osoba had warned in most of his works that Nigeria was on the precipice and needed the vast majority of the people to arm themselves with ''a genuine revolutionary culture…unshakeably committed to the principles of social justice and equity.'' If corruption today is one of the many reasons Nigeria keeps retrogressing, it is because we have not been able as a people to understand the dynamics of corruption and why it remains a hydra-headed monster to nip in the bud. Meanwhile, Segun Osoba in his seminal work ''Corruption in Nigeria: Historical Perspectives'' had given an historical angle to the corruption question we face today and even provides ample solution saying: ''Combating corruption requires a popular participatory democracy able to monitor and hold to account those in charge of the state and the treasury.'' In our attempt to stem corruption, we have continued to go in vicious circles despite the simple solution provided above.

At a time when it seems there are no solutions to the dreaded Boko Haram menace in parts of the north and the economy fast dwindling in fortunes, Segun Osoba’s repeated warnings rarely should have been adhered to. He it was whose scholarly works, especially the minority report, would have answered most of the critical problems we have faced and still face as a nation today if carefully followed. He was the proverbial prophet who came to lead the children of Israel to the Promised Land but we failed to listen.

Even after quietly retiring into private life in the 90s, Segun Osoba’s resounding legacies still could be felt both from his scholarly works and through many generations of students he taught directly and indirectly. He was known to have inspired and re-oriented generations of Nigerian university graduates and changed for good, the content, tenor and direction of higher education in Nigeria. It is interesting to note that while many of his contemporaries who claimed to be Marxist at some point and well known in the Marxist ideological camp have changed course, Segun Osoba remains an affirmed Marxist.

Segun Osoba had spent most of his life for the struggle and liberation of the common man. He was always ready to fight for the vast majority of our people to see them get the desired social justice and equity guaranteed them even under military rule. He had participated and engaged actively in the social movements of the 70s and 80s with others to help entrench democratic ideals and democracy for the country. His struggles to see that our universities become great citadels of learning and an environment where ideas are freely expressed remains indelible. His radical solutions to many of the country’s most challenging problems, especially through his scholarly works, will forever remain a critical game changer for a greater Nigeria. Through Segun Osoba, thousands of scholars were born and from these, others too have been made. It is why at 80; Segun Osoba has lived a life well spent and so as a people, we need sober reflection through a man of history. We need to understand that life can only become a better place if we live not only for ourselves but also for others. This is the life Segun Osoba lived. His sacrifice for humanity was genuine and exuded altruism. He went through all forms of harassments and humiliations, yet never relented in his quest for social justice for all. Such individual is not only worth thanking God for but should be highly celebrated for his rare contributions to human progress even in the face of adversity.

As you join the octogenarian club today, I join others to celebrate you. Long life and prosperity!

Raheem Oluwafunminiyi wrote via creativitysells@gmail.com


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