The word militant elicits a particular meaning in Nigeria and as the word insurgents, people often link it with violence. Another word that has taken on distinct meaning in Nigeria is restiveness – a descriptive word assigned to agitated Niger Delta youths totally radicalized by fossil fuels extraction pollutions and unwilling to stay civil in the face of oppressive injustice.
Patrick Naagbanton, a man of many parts – journalist, environmental/human rights activist, poet, etc. – has just added two important books to the Nigerian literary scene. One is a collection of poems titled Fury of the Fisher Woman and the other is The Last Militant – A biography of Comrade Cheta Ibama Ibegwura – and the struggles for workers’ rights in Nigeria, justice and self-determination in the Niger Delta region.
Furious Fisher Woman
The poetry book is loaded with anger, death and defiance. Poignantly, except for when the writer mentions “other unsung comrades (dead or alive) whose stories are not yet told,” both books are dedicated to persons who have departed from the physical plane. They nudge you to study closely Nigeria’s tragic post-colonial history - a history that current political leaders would rather sweep under the carpet.
Writing for the victims of the Umuechem massacre of 1st November 1990, the poem titled The Script opens with these lines:
Clad in black on the precarious pipelines
Demanding to drink from it along the
Bash paths of Umuechem
On the sad day on which Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8 were murdered, Patrick wrote under the title Hangmen:
Their banter of blood shall soon end
And I shall sing our funeral songs
They shall weep as we are weeping
With the troubled tribe
Militant to the core
As Patrick states, “the story of Cheta Ibama Ibegwura, popularly called ‘Wati’ and later ‘Comrade Che’ is the story of Nigeria.” And the book, “The Last Militant, though a biographical work, also takes us through a whole range of issues such as the histories of great organizations and movements– their successes and failures in Nigeria.”
One is tempted to ask: why Patrick chose to label Comrade Che a militant? Synonyms for militant include activist, confrontational, aggressive, radical, revolutionary, belligerent, combative, pugnacious. Within the array of words, the closest in meaning to the legend we all know as Comrade Che would be radical and revolutionary. He is a gentle, uncompromising militant. At 83 years, Apostolic Comrade Che remains resolute in the struggle for human and environmental justice as well as for community rights.
Through the book, we learn of his militancy in political actions, pro-democracy activism and in inspiring trade union consciousness. A freelance revolutionary, as Patrick terms him, he continues unwaveringly in the pursuit of militant causes.
Comrade Che before Comrade Che
Here is an extract from the foreword I wrote for the book:
This is a story of courage, love, commitment and passion. It is a story that shows the triumph of the human spirit even in the most hazardous situations. It is a story of a survivor. He indeed survived many detentions, false imprisonments, and assassination attempts. He admired his late friend, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and the Ogoni people for ‘being true to the struggle in the naked face of mass arrests, killings, government and crude oil induced bribes.’ Unfortunately, he could not say the same for the organizing ability and fidelity to causes by his own immediate people.
Apostolic Comrade Che, as I call him, is a very inspiring man. His simplicity is unpretentious. He is a man of ideas and is always willing to share such ideas. This book reveals much that is not readily known of this great man. I have known Comrade Che and benefitted from his friendship and fatherly counsel, from the mid-1990s. However, reading this book brings me face to face with him as though I only just knew him for the first time. In fact, until I read this book I always thought that Cheta Ibama Ibegwura was named Comrade Che after the famous Argentine internationalist. Behold, he was already Comrade Che before he ever heard of the other Comrade Che.
Not a Book Review
This is not a book review. It is a tribute to my mentor and teacher, Comrade Che. It is also a thank you note to Patrick for penning these powerful books. The books published by Creektown Books (Lagos) will be presented at a public event in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on 5th March 2016. Get the books and review them yourselves!