Reminiscing Eskor Toyo’s exemplary life



PROFESSOR Eskor Toyo’s exit on December 7, 2015, vividly reminds one of the timeless saying of the sage that death is a universal destiny, which spares neither the socialist nor the capitalist, the rich nor the poor, neither black nor white, and neither the old nor the young. In reminiscence, Professor Eskor Toyo, Marxist impresario, hero of the masses and veteran defender of the down-trodden was born 1929 at beach town of Oron, Akwa Ibom State, Niger Delta region of Nigeria. He moved with his uncle to Lagos and completed his primary education there. He gained admission into Methodist Boys High School, Oron, for secondary education and made the first grade at 16 in 1945.

Professor Eskor Toyo, emeritus professor of Economics lectured at the University of Maiduguri and at the University of Calabar. He was a national Trustee of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) of Nigeria, Vice President Nigeria Economic Society, patron of Nigeria Labour Congress and consultant to international organisations.

Manifesting his radical and revolutionary trade mark early in life, was the ease with which he dropped Asuquo Ita, the name his parents bequeathed to him at birth – to Eskor Toyo. As a teacher in Victory College, he had the opportunity of teaching the legal icon, Chief Gani Fawehinmi of blessed memory, a relationship which lasted for decades until death separated it.

We first met in 1980, at a symposium at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. One was a year one student of Political Science. On the notice board of the Faculty of Social Science was posted a notice of symposium listing names of eminent social scientists billed to give lecture during the event. Among them were – Professors Eskor Toyo, Claude Ake, Bade Onimode and Dr. Bala Usman, all of blessed memory.

Professors Ikenna Nzimiro and Okwudiba Nnoli took it upon themselves as a promo-assignment to enlighten us at each lecture on the profile of each of them. We were very excited and earnestly waited anxiously for the symposium. I was fascinated about Toyo, when Nzimiro told us that he was the author of the first communiqué of All Nigeria Trade Union in 1953. In that communiqué, he lambasted the British for their disdain and deliberate marginalisation of the working people. He said lines in that communiqué still dots the charter of the African Trade Union and Nigeria Labour Congress. Nzimiro rated Toyo as a principled and very committed Marxist; who visualised, bemoaned crass inequality erected by imperialists and devoted his life to dismantle the class dichotomy in Nigeria today.

The two days symposium took off on April 2, 1980 and it was worth its billing and the prime promotion. I was lucky to be one of those students chosen to ask questions during the prelude cum-interaction and my question was to Professor Toyo. I queried his over-emphasis on class struggle and class segregation vis-a-vis ethnoreligious divide as the bane of the development of our dear country. He took a breath and went down memory lane on how the bourgeois use ethnoreligious sentiment as an ungodly instrument in class segregation Nigeria. As if one didn’t agree with him, I threw in a follow-up punch.  Instead of getting angry, he invited me to see him at Continuing Education Centre (CEC) lodge, where he put up.

At the CEC lodge, he narrated his guiding principle, which up to date influenced my life. He said he had all the opportunities to make money, but detested money for money sake. He said he had the conviction early enough to live for common good and that it doesn’t matter if he died poor. That after all, the prosperity of one’s children is not dependent on only one’s wealth. That was the beginning of my cordial relationship with the intellectual and iconoclastic persona.

Our amity was not different when we met in 2014 at Abuja, little did I know that was to be our last meeting. As usual he came to lecture on the danger of misgovernance orchestrated then by the former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s regime. He lamented that the Jonathan administration exhibited more planlessness, and squandermania in the execution of its policies than Alhaji Shehu Shagari regime of the 2nd Republic.

I reminded him that as an elder statesman from the Niger Delta region, he should guide and protect the former president. He shrugged and reminded me that Jonathan had long left the working class; is a member of the bourgeoisie, hence had abandoned the ethos of the masses. If not, he said, how come a man that came to power shoeless, neither cared for the masses nor devoted energy to egalitarian welfare? Or even deemed it fit to complete the East-West road? A road which transverses the length and breathe of the Niger Delta region.

He passed his Cambridge School Certificate with Grade One and had 1st Class in Economics. He often reminded us that he went to the prestigious University of London on Texaco scholarship and refused to work for long with what he called imperialist multinational companies. For him they are instruments of exploitation.

He recounted how with other members of the defunct Socialist Workers and Farmers Party of Nigeria, like late Dr. Tunde Otegbeye, Mokwugo Okoye, Ikenna Nzimiro and labour compatriots like Michael Imodu, Wahab Goodluck, M.E. Kolagbodi, Baba Omojola et al, they raised alarm on the growing inequality, divided country, unwarranted corruption, gross unemployment and abject poverty in the society.

One cannot conclude these reminiscences without quoting Dr. Edwin Madunagu, who with his wife, took care of our icon held down by stroke: ‘Everybody who dies will be leaving his family behind, but beyond his family and constituencies is the Socialist National Movement of Nigeria, a constituent that has lost a giant.’

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is mystery. Today is gift, the sages re-echo … Asuquo Ita left indelible marks that can never be forgotten.

Okechukwu, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja.

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