By Owei Lakemfa
The story of Laoye Oluwole Sanda reads like fiction. It is that of a man who decided to dedicate his entire life to the emancipation of society so that others may have a better tomorrow. While almost all in his generation planned to generate wealth for themselves and their families, this highly cerebral intellectual, at great cost to himself, his career and even at the risk of his life, planned for the good of all.
Sanda insisted that the wealth in the country must be generated, harnessed and distributed to all citizens on the basis of need, not greed.
He peeped into the future and concluded that the battle may be long and bloody, so he decided that one of his primary tasks was to identify, nurture, culture and lead cadres capable of fighting for tomorrow.
He had been born in Ibadan in 1944 and attended Ibadan Boys High School. As a youth in Ibadan, he came across socialist literature with a newspaper vendor at the old Ogunpa Motor Park. It was free. There were a number of friendship associations with various countries, including socialist ones. It was some of these associations that were distributing socialist literature through the vendor. So he formed the habit of visiting the vendor and getting socialist literature which he studied. He decided to build the type of egalitarian society the socialists were constructing.
In 1965, he was admitted into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to read Mass Communication. However, his dream of becoming a journalist was cut short by the political crises in the country. The country was tottering and with the East and North threatening to secede, it became too dangerous for him to remain in the university.
So, at 22 in October 1966, Sanda and other undergraduates from the West, including Toye Olorode, who later became a Professor of Botany, and the future General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church, Dr. Enoch Adeboye, were evacuated to Ibadan.
Sanda was given a new admission in the premier University of Ibadan, UI, but since the institution did not offer Mass Communication, he had to change to Political Science. This was fortuitous as he met Comrade Oladipupo ‘Ola’ Oni, one of the lecturers in the department whose lectures on political economy, was a magnetic pull for Sanda. Thus began a life-long ideological collaboration with Sanda joining what was known as the Ola Oni Group. It included very brilliant minds like Omafume Onoge, a sociologist and social anthropologist; Bade Onimode, an economist; and Akin Ojo, a nuclear physicist.
Sanda’s first major battle on campus followed the February 1, 1971 killing of a student, Kunle Adepeju, by the police during a protest over welfare conditions. When the government set up a tribunal to probe the killing and the protests, the Ola Oni group secured the services of a rising and fearless lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi, to defend the students.
Sanda graduated in 1972 and began a Masters programme. In 1975, he was employed in the Public Administration Department of the Polytechnic, Ibadan. He immediately established the Marxist Socialist Youth Movement, MSYM, on the campus to radicalise students and provide a platform for alternative views. At the beginning of the 1976 Session, the MSYM, like other student clubs on campus, produced banners inviting students, especially the new ones, to join them. Sanda told me in a conversation in 2021, that of the students who joined the organisation, two from engineering stood out: Abimbola Daniyan and Rauf Aregbesola, the future two-term Governor of Osun State and current Minister of Interior. He said: “As Ola Oni brought me up, so did I bring them up… We encouraged Daniyan and Rauf, as we did the immediate joiners after them like Femi Aborishade and Kunle Bakare, to get involved in student unionism. They did throughout their stay in the polytechnic.”
Aregbesola became the Speaker of the Students parliament. Daniyan led the students in sustained protests against mismanagement on campus, was expelled, and Sanda was part of the vanguard whose campaign led to Daniyan’s readmission.
There was a nationwide student uprising in 1978 christened ‘Ali-Must-Go’ against the Obasanjo military regime’s attempt to commercialise education. At least 20 persons were killed as the regime set armed policemen and soldiers on both the students and the civil populace. The rattled regime expelled student leaders, removed Vice Chancellors and sacked lecturers and other staff whom they accused of allowing or encouraging the protests. Amongst those sacked were members of the Oni Group in UI, including Ola Oni, Omafumi Onoge, Bade Onimode; and in the Polytechnic Ibadan, Laoye Sanda. However, agitations across the country got them reinstated.
Sanda was a revolutionary committed to the overthrow of the capitalist system, but in the 1976-79 Transition to Civil Rule Programme, he joined in establishing the Socialist Party of Workers, Farmers and Youths, SPWFY, to contest elections. When the party was not registered, he and other leaders of the party decided to join the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, in a controversial ideological move called ‘Entryism’. This is revolutionaries joining a non-revolutionary party in order to radicalise it and channel it towards the radical transformation of the country. The efforts failed.
Sanda was one of the leaders of the pro-democracy protests in 1993 to force the military out of power. The Military murdered hundreds of Nigerians in a vain effort to crush the protests.
Two of the greatest anti-military street battles in our history took place in Ibadan on Tuesday April 14 and Friday May 1, 1998. Ola Oni, Sanda and other pro-democracy leaders led the populace in the city to stop the ‘Two-million-man’ rally in support of the blood-thirsty General Sani Abacha’s aim to transit into a civilian President. Ten persons were killed; and to give an indication of the regime’s mindset, it designated the protesters captured by the soldiers, police and thugs as “Prisoners of War’, POWs!
After the return to civil rule, Sanda and Ola Oni decided to add another controversial route to revolution; this time, through ethnic nationalism. Their ‘Entryism’ which many of their comrades derided in 1979, later yielded some fruits, including one of their cadres, Aregbesola, becoming a Governor.
Although virtually all socialists I know do not accept the ethnic route to liberating the country, their chosen routes are yet to yield much fruits.
When his dear wife, Mrs Folashade Sanda passed away in 1989, he single-handedly brought up their three sons.
Laoye Sanda, author of books like African Origin of Civilization: The founding of Seventy Professions and Sixty African and African-American Heroes and Sheroines: Ancient and Modern passed away on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at 79. As the giant in the revolutionary movement marches on, his earthly remains will be interned on July 28, 2023.
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