G. G. Darah, the Ogberianrien @ three score and 10
When the history of Nigeria is given bold relief by future historians, Professor Godini Gabriel (GG) Darah will feature as one of the nation’s greatest minds for all times. Once described by the redoubtable poet, Professor Niyi Osundare as “the fertile minded don from Ife”, (he is now from Abraka ooo) Darah is an intellectual maestro.
He turns 70 today, November 22, 2017. A remarkably brilliant teacher, journalist and administrator, Darah broke the cocoon of existential circumstances when he entered the University of Ibadan in 1970. Before, Ibadan, the young Godini’s haunt was the creeks of the Niger Delta particularly in the Urhobo riverine communities of Esaba, Okwagbe and Oginibo. His brilliance was the liberating force which wrested him from the hindrances which defined creek life in the Niger Delta.
After secondary education at St. Vincent’s College, Okwagbe, Darah was at the Federal Government College, Warri for the Higher School Certificate (HSC), before entering the University of Ibadan where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1973. Like many Nigerians of his generation, Darah’s Ibadan years were his most defining moment for that was the period when Ibadan was really Ibadan and the universe was truly in that university! The campus, we were told, was a mix of sublime minds who genuinely sought and acquired knowledge.
The unforgettable intellectual ferment of the post-Civil War era of the 1970s coincided with the flourishing of Marxism as an ideological movement in the Nigerian academia. The ideology which interrogates economic and power relations and how they undermine the existence of the downtrodden appealed to Darah’s an indigene of the exploited Niger Delta that had started writhing from the bourgeoning capitalist exploitation fostered by the Federal Government and foreign oil multinationals. With infectious teacher-comrades like Omafume Onoge, Ola Oni, Bade Onimode, Biodun Jeyifo, among others to draw inspiration from, Darah immersed himself in the credo of Marxism and became a leading light of the movement first as a student and later as a university don.
Darah’s apprehension of Marxism aspires beyond its ideological representation to its application as a critical tool in the evaluation of the indigenous oral artistic tradition of his Urhobo people. Quite early in his career as a researcher and teacher, Darah devoted a lot of energy to the exegesis of the various verbal art forms of the Urhobo. The most significant of his academic endeavours is his landmark study on Udje which earned him the Doctor of Philosophy degree at the University of Ibadan in 1982. After studying and teaching briefly at Ibadan, he relocated to the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University).
By the time he moved to Ife in 1978, Ibadan had capitulated to the assault of military barbarism represented by the General Olusegun Obasanjo junta. Since, the junta’s full repressive attention was on Ibadan, the leftist movement thrived at Ife quite distant and removed from the brutal arms of the military buccaneers. Darah’s kindred spirits at Ife included Jeyifo, Segun Osoba, Dipo Fasina, Adebayo Williams and many more. From Ife, these radicals held aloft the banner of progressive scholarship for the emancipation of the Nigerian masses. Whether they succeeded or not is a subject for another discourse.
The 1980s was momentous for Darah and the radical movement. The abysmal failure of the Shagari government (1979-1983) and the derailment of democratic rule from 1984 created many battlefronts for the leftists. By 1986 the Babangida regime left nobody in doubt regarding its avowed mandate to liquidate the progressives. As Nigeria’s reincarnation of Mussolini, Babangida did irreparable damage to the ranks of the progressives. The regression of Communism in Eastern Europe, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and Babangida’s assault on the universities sounded the death knell on Nigeria’s ideological ferment. In the aftermath of the ruckus of Babangidance many of the ideologues sought refuge beyond the Ivory Towers that had lost their ivory to military masochism.
The foregoing reality forced many scholars to migrate abroad. Darah left the classroom for the newsroom at the defunct Daily Times in 1990. His sojourn in journalism had begun. He became the Chairman of the paper’s editorial board and brought a considerable measure of his literary finesse and intellectual rigour to what the newspaper offered her readers. Darah moved on to join The Guardian newspaper as a member of its highly acclaimed editorial board which he later chaired. While practicing as a journalist, he put his knack for activism to work by being in the vanguard of anti-military rule movement that finally sent the soldiers packing in 1999.
Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999 and Darah continued the struggle for the economic emancipation of the Niger Delta through intellectual advocacy. He delivered lectures and wrote essays which gave substance to the Niger Delta struggle. His advocacy of true federalism and resource control is what has now been fashionably labeled as restructuring. The new democratic order not only saw Darah returning to the classroom as a professor at the Delta State University, Abraka in 2001, but it also created a new role for him as an intellectual in government. Darah was appointed to serve as Special Adviser and later as Chief of Staff to the Delta State Government between 2003 and 2007.
He returned to the classroom at Abraka in July 2007 and continued his work as a teacher and researcher. This is the essence of Darah, the teacher as dispenser of knowledge per excellence! Darah is an inspiring teacher with prodigious knowledge. Whatever he does not know is probably not worth knowing. It was for this reason that he was conferred with the chieftaincy of Ogberianrien (the giant of knowledge) by the Okobaro of Ughievwen. As he turns seventy our wish for him is kukpe kukpe oye amre egodi!
Dr. Awhefeada teaches literature at the Delta State University, Abraka.
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