June 14, 2024
Colloquium TheArtHub

The Ivory Tower, revolutionary art and revolution

  • June 2, 2024
  • 27 min read
The Ivory Tower, revolutionary art and revolution

(Being a rejoinder to Prof. Chris Anyokwu’s ‘Music is not enough’ reaction to Aj Dagga Tolar’s earlier: Bob Marley: 43 years after, still in our living memory)

* ‘Wonder no more why the revolution will not happen

By Aj. Dagga Tolar

I have, on another platform, positively welcomed rejoinders, and I must do the same here, especially for those like Prof. Chris Anyokwu who have taken time to fully digest the text and also found time to engage it fully like he has done. And I must say I have been amazed at the manners of response, to a completely innocent attempt to humbly review the impact of Bob Marley’s music on my own consciousness, and how I ultimately came to draw the revolutionary ideas of Marxism that I still subscribe to and will do till death.

While my original piece sought to take on the legacy of Marley, and indeed the importance of art and as well as the wider issues of the role of revolutionary art, and if indeed it has any role whatsoever in the making of a revolution. Anyokwu, in his heavily loaded and professorial cryptographic response, chooses to go for the real stuff. Away with art and the meat and it’s mythic “rage against the “shitstem”, and bringing on board the bony and thorny issue of “moral deracination and political self-defenestration”. Under this guise, Marley, Fela, indeed the entirety of revolutionary art is dismissed. Not done, he blasts out that “all talk of the revolutionary torpedoing of the decadent order is mere jiggery-pokery.” Here you have it; forget it: REVOLUTION IS WISHFUL DREAMING! It is not going to happen!

This is the classical standpoint of the ruling class. It should be obvious to us why this is so: the ruling class will not welcome any threat to its power. And if there is anything that has already happened to our psychic it is that we have all become immune and subsequently lost our ability to be aghast or shocked at happenings in this hellhole of wonderland. Our reality surpasses all existing imagination of fiction to knocking Lewis Carroll’s Alice (1865) to second place. So to have the same position parroted by the intelligentsia in our Ivory Tower that a revolution is out of it for us should not be disturbing. Unconscious that it projects it’s own failing and inaction with regards to the suffering of the working masses, but it then ignores the whole of history, the very bank and custodian of knowledge chooses not to reference or bring into evidence in delivering judgement against the working masses with its summation and analysis of happenings. Truth be told, this is in itself not just a surrender but a vacation of the demands of its occupation as the custodian of knowledge.

But, what am I saying? The university’s teacher is not an actor on the scene of history, from its observatory Ivory Tower and evidently based on researches… We are informed of why a revolution is out of it. “Nigerians (are unable to) slough off their mind-fogged manacles of ethnicism and religion.”

How are ethnicity and religion factors brought into play by the working masses? Is this not mistaken. Okwudiba Nnoli in his ‘Ethnic Politics in Nigeria (Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1980) provides for us the scholarly basis of the origin of ‘ethnicity in politics’ and of the why and how the ruling class profits from it. He points out that the colonialist consciously employed same as a means of ‘divide and rule’ to have colonialism entrenched. What is, however, more interesting is the conclusion drawn by Nnoli that only a revolution led by the alliance of the “rural and urban poor majority” can change the status quo, which clearly flies against the postulation of our Prof. Anyokwu that a revolution is not possible on account of ethnicity.

Religion is also not any different from the above. Indeed, the initial article had presented Bob Marley’s song: ‘Get up, Stand up’ in the bid to rightly identify how the development of a material worldview is the first step and basis of becoming free from the grip of religion in the mind of the working masses. He sang:

And I say, most people think that great God will come from the sky
Take away everything, and make everybody feel high
But if you know what life is worth
You would look for yours on earth

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Bob Marley

It is this education of humans breaking away from the illusions sowed by religion in a non-existing afterlife, and that life, in all ramification, is material and as such the working masses ought to know that “what life is worth” is all the worth there is to life and therein bid for their claim and share of the wealth of the universe, as a minimum of meeting all their basic necessities of life. There is no greater foundation on which Revolutionary Art is built upon. This is the materialist grounding that shapes Revolutionary Consciousness and indeed Revolutionary Art. And interestingly, Revolutionary Art subsequently takes on the task to extend this consciousness to a wider layer. This is the significance of Bob Marley, and indeed our own Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who also weighs in on religion:

Suffer, suffer for world
Enjoy for Heaven
Christians go dey yab
In Spiritum Heavinus
Muslims go dey call
Allahu Akbar
Open you eye everywhere
Archbishop na miliki
Pope na enjoyment
Imam na gbaladun

Fela here says that religion is used by the religious head to guarantee the best of existence for themselves. No more no less. Going further in the same song, Fela X-rays the living conditions of the working masses, as one of complete suffering. Fela doesn’t then make the error to say that the working masses have imposed on themselves the necessity to tolerate their “suffering” by “smiling”, rather their “smiling” becomes a psychological means by which to provide strength and muscle to the minds to be able to survive, so long as the consciousness yet does not exist to recognise and hold the ruling class and its ‘shitstem’ responsible for the woes of the working masses. It is this task of spreading the consciousness of organising by the working masses of itself into a class distinct and different from the ruling class to chase after its class interest that provides the essence to Revolutionary Art.

Where do we go next on this trail? It is to pose the question afresh and sharply as to what and where the role of the Ivory Tower, of the university teacher, of the intelligentia in the building of consciousness. They are out of the scene. Removed from the picture. They removed themselves out and cease to be a part of the ‘Nigerians’ so referred to. They assume a non-existing observer status that in reality sees them bending backwards to do the bidding of the powers that-be to keep alive and healthy the status quo, to keep their pay packets as non-actors on the scene of history. They don’t want to be Shugaba-ed or suffer the Patrick Wilmot treatment. Need I add that they are not silent even on the side of the mass of students. There are dozens of examples to point out to, of lecturers sitting in panels to rusticate and expel student activists for no other crime than seeking to think differently from the university management, for questioning the management of university funds and calling for the democratic control and management of the university by all stakeholders.

As if the Ivory Tower is not a citadel made for all ideas to thrive, where all views ought to be guaranteed the freedom of expression. As if the idea of education for all, for public funded education to enable students from working class background access it, is not legitimate and a call from the pit of hell. What is herein exposed is the petty bourgeois mentality of the university teacher, the same philosophical framework that sees it putting forward proposal and supporting policies positioning for fees to be increased as means of earning additional funds and income for themselves.

But the French Revolution of 1789, and the subsequent mass uprisings in Europe in 1830, 1848 and indeed the Paris Commune of 1879 were possible precisely by the fact that they were preceded by the Age of Enlightenment and publication of that aal-important Encyclopédie. Yes, the university produced the Bade Onimide, Ola Oni, Ikenna Nzimiro, Yusufu Bala Usman, Eskor Toyo, Edwin Madunagu, Toye Olorode, Dipo Fashina and Sola Olorunyomi. Where are the replica of these lots today in the Ivory tower?

How do we dismiss the possibility of a revolution here and not bring to play the fact that the Ivory Tower in Nigeria has shirked its responsibility of teaching and transiting to a younger generation the history of mass movements in the country, and drawing the key lessons of such historic acts like the June 12 protest and struggle against military dictatorship? The struggle against deregulation with its peak of Occupy Nigeria in 2012, the #EndSARS protest… and that these are dress rehearsals for the future making of a revolution. But Prof. Anyokwu simply chose to dismiss the idea of a revolution even with these living and concrete examples that abound these past two decades in Nigeria.

But in reality it is this vacuum occasioned by the unwillingness of the Ivory Tower to step up its act and provide leadership or to play any role in organising the working masses that draws us back to the importance of revolutionary art. And the pride of place for figures like Marley, Fela, Victor Jara, and, of course, Tupac Shakur. How art is employed as a teaching tool with which to provide education and the necessary consciousness that brings about the making of a revolution by the working masses. It is this question of consciousness of the working masses coming to the understanding that the present capitalist order is set on course against their wellbeing.

But what then is the duty of teacher as a profession compared to the artist? What is Art? What is the Act of teaching? How does consciousness for the making of revolution comes about if not from the act of teaching, and from making available to the whole of society all of the sociological and historical observation of the polity and the economy? You will expect that the university teacher is better positioned to be more earlier bitten by the bug and consciousness of a revolution, given all of the advantages of its observatory status to now act, but not so. Even, when they go to the extent of writing books, poems and plays, it characterises this literacy exercise as completely fictional and a demand imposed on it by the profession of teaching to produce such materials to keep the educational system afloat. it’s no more no less an occupational calling. Moreso, it affirms this stance by always constantly and loudly proclaiming as in this case that revolution is not possible.

And yet this is “the whole truth, nothing but the truth”. And we cannot agree less: a revolution will not be accomplished, even if Revolutionary Art exists if the practical task of building a Revolutionary Organisation is not taken up both for and with the working masses.

But who is Marley? What is his background? How is it that without the posture and observatory advantage of the Ivory Tower, it concludes and proclaims to the working masses that “It takes a revolution to make a solution” to all the woes and tribulations imposed on them by the ruling class? And we should ask ourselves what it will take to bring about. Such a question should not be above the elite members of our Ivory Tower. There is the necessity of both objective and subjective factors synchronizing at both the optimum quantity and quality to make a revolution happen. So no doubt that the objective factors already exist in abundance. Regime after regime, this objective factor is fully nurtured to a state of ripeness and even moreso under the Tinubu to an alarming state of rottenness. What holds the working masses back? And for once, we cannot disagree as Prof. Anyokwu calls Marx to the witness stand stating that: “Marx teaches us the need for the class-in-itself to morph into a class-for-itself in order to wrest power from the capitalist vampires and buccaneers!”

So the genie is out of the bottle. Acknowledgments comes in at last and identifies the working masses as the “class-in-itself”, but must, with consciousness, acting as an alkaline solution metaphosphate it into a “class-for-itself”. Why then the earlier dismissal that all talk of a revolution “is mere jiggery-pokery”? Or are we home to the scholar’s self-lining positioning of siding no side and siding only with objectivity? This new revelation doesn’t distract from the earlier one that the university teacher doesn’t count himself/herself called to the task of helping remedy the deficiency of the subjective factor of making a revolution in the society.

Of course, revolution is laced with “It’s a never-ending whirligig of antinomic tensions and inherent contradictions”, says Prof. Anyokwu. And this is clearly imprinted in the pages of history with revolution and counterrevolution intertwining with and against itself, like the French Revolution leading on to the Thermidorian Reaction and the Russian Revolution giving way to the Stalinist bureaucracy. This is the dirty, murky waters of revolution that the university teacher, in their elitist comfort in the Ivory Tower, can’t simply stoop down to swim in. It is demeaning and degrading for the maintenance of the sanity of the mind needed to be a university teacher. Herein is the negation negated.

The petty bourgeoisie cannot bring themselves to act or position themselves against the direction of history. It is permanently in the locked grip of idealism as put forward by Hegel to make rational what is real and insist with all of its intellectual endowment that what is real as in the Tinubu regime is rational and legitimate. This is largely the reading of history by the intelligentsia in Nigeria of the constancy of nothing ever changing. Even against the conviction of a literary genius like “Bertolt Brecht” brought to the witness stand by Prof. Anyokwu, who educates “us” that “contradictions… are the stuff of life”

It is to the working class that history must place its hope of a revolution completely against LLeni’s earlier prognosis in 1902 that its consciousness is only limited to its economic survival at the level of the trade union’s agitation for wages. And that the consciousness of class revolutionary struggle will be gifted to the class from outside of its rank. Lenin had in 1905 become wiser. Like then like now, we need not look further. Revolutionary art has come upon us not from outside but from within its own class. This is the beauty and essence of Bob Marley’s music: The freedom to pursue and create Revolutionary Art. The same freedom a petty bourgeois mentality encages. It is the will, the refusal to surrender the will of the self to exercise freedom, one’s freedom on behalf of the working masses as opposed to the pursuit of the self aligning with the status quo to have one’s bread buttered.

Fela too broke peace with his own petty bourgeois upbringing and aspirations of the Ransome-Kuti to side with the working masses, and creating songs after songs through the instrumentality of revolutionary art. This is where you cannot but stand Fela Anikulapo-Kuti a rung higher than Marley, in not only drawing the conclusion for revolution and leaving it at the act of Revolution Art, but also taking clear, practical steps to become involved through the formation of his Movement of the People political party in 1979. This very step must be celebrated in embracing the idea of building a political organisation.

But this is not for the university teacher to act on behalf of the working masses, to provide leadership for the struggle and aspirations of the working masses. But to not feel strange or left out, the petty bourgeois demonstrates his/her togetherness with the working masses in partaking not in the production of revolutionary art but in its consumption to as well “enjoy the pious preachment, the moral suasion and the will-to-power promptings in Bob Marley’s music”. And there is nothing to it; Revolutionary Art is first and foremost Art as well. This is all the licence the university teacher puts forward to take pleasure too in revolutionary art.

But the pleasure of the imagination is the only raison d’etre for art, as Leon Trotsky comprehensively states that “art is an expression of man’s need for an harmonious and complete life, that is to say, his need for those major benefits of which a society of classes has deprived him. That is why a protest against reality, either conscious or unconscious, active or passive, optimistic or pessimistic, always forms part of a really creative piece of work. Every new tendency in art has begun with rebellion…” This is what qualifies Marley’s reggae music or Fela’s Afrobeat to be what it is compared to today’s version of reggae music and Afrobeats. Trotsky insists that revolutionary art “has its laws – even when it consciously serves a social movement. Truly intellectual creation is incompatible with lies, hypocrisy and the spirit of conformity. Art can become a strong ally of revolution only in so far as it remains faithful to itself. Poets, painters, sculptors and musicians will themselves find their own approach and methods, if the struggle for freedom of oppressed classes and peoples scatters the clouds of skepticism and of pessimism which cover the horizon of mankind” (Leon Trotsky, “Art and Politics in Our Epoch, 1938).

This faithfulness of art to itself must not be mistaken to mean art for art’s sake. No. Every activity of man and woman aims to meet a human’s need; he here refers to the fact that no cause can be dictated to the art from outside of it; it must from within its own means stretch out to fulfil its purpose and not seek to displace the living force of the working masses.

To think that the working masses, who daily live under impossible conditions can wrestle themselves free to think and act on behalf of their interest continuously without a break and not hustle for their daily survival is to betray any understanding of the critical living conditions that leave them with no room to do otherwise if they do not want to sentence themselves to death. What we therefore face to face is life and death struggle: “A day off the mill is a tomorrow without a meal”. This is the grin reality that grinds and grounds the working masses to permanently act in a way that is clearly misinterpreted to mean that they league with “their oppressors” and doing everything possible even to the point of “sacrific[ing] their children’s future” to retain these vipers “sitting pretty in the saddle” in power.

But all said and done, Prof. Anyokwu draws the same valid conclusion arrived at by Aj. Dagga Tolar, when he writes that “music alone is not enough to move the needle, to set unconscionable power to heel.” Where we differ is on the question: What is to be done? The same question, like we have earlier pointed out, was posed by Lenin in 1902. Interestingly, Prof. Anyokwu doesn’t leave the question unanswered; his offering to the poser is for us “to individually brighten our little corners, make our immediate localities a better place and strive to love our neighbours as we love ourselves!”

There you have it. The code of conduct for the university teacher. The modus operandi for the petty bourgeoisie is to distance himself/herself from the bigger picture and seek out “little corners” and try to “make our immediate localities a better place”. Is this not the very goal of neoliberal capitalism to cut us all from each other, compartmentalizing us as individuals so that we never act together in unison as one against the ruling class. Well, this is exactly what we are doing in our localities, digging our gutters, our borehole, providing for our individual self our own electricity, living under our own roof. Yet the failure of this approach seems not to be glaring enough for us; the statistics of early death, of mounting debts, unfulfilled dreams and betrayed expectations that trail the lives of the working masses daily. Clearly, Prof. Anyokwu defies the logical sequential of putting forward a revolution and returns us all to the consoling moral ambit of “love our neighbours as we love ourselves.” This is the same Ziggy’s definition of his father, symbolised by Marley’s song: ‘One Love.’ We are rid of class struggle, of revolution, and of Revolutionary Art. Wonder no more why the Revolution will not happen!

Ajeluorou: When a poet pours libation on home soil, harps on Africa’s leadership challenge, preservation of culture

‘As children of the continent’s empire- and Pyramid-builders, we should rise up to the historic geniuses of our forefathers’

PG Berkley Asiafa promises to collaborate on Ozoro library rebuilding, revitalisation

By Godwin Okondo

ON Friday, May 24, 2024, Berkley’s Lounge on Ughelli-Asaba Road, Ozoro, Delta State, came alive with the rhythmic cadence of poetry at an event that had as theme ‘Libations for Africa: A Poetic Return to the Soil.’ The gathering featured readings by journalist and writer, Mr. Anote Ajeluorou from his acclaimed poetry collection, Libations for Africa, and served as a reminder of the rich cultural and leadership heritage of the continent that are being eroded. Against the backdrop of Ajeluorou’s reflections on Africa’s past, present, and future, the event also highlighted the dire state of local libraries, igniting a passionate appeal for the revitalization and stocking of these essential cultural repositories.

Speaking about his past experiences at the defunct Bendel State, and later Delta State Library Board, Oleh and Ozoro Branches, Mr. Ajeluorou said, “I have always been a fast reader, and I would borrow two books each from Oleh and Ozoro libraries, both in Isoko South and North LGAs of Delta State, and I would read them all in two weeks and return them to borrow more. Years later, the libraries collapsed due to poor maintenance and negligence. The Oleh library has been built up by an NGO, but it still needs recent books. Oleh Book Club organized a book donation drive to get more books for the Oleh library. Here, I’m donating three of my books – Igho Goes to Farm, Libations for Africa and my latest one, Brides of Infidels, as a seed-sowing gesture and an appeal to Delta State Government and the new leadership of Ozoro Progress Union (OPU), represented by my host and OPU President-General, Chief Berkley Asiafa, that Ozoro needs a brand new library that is well stocked with books. There could also be a collaboration on how we can mobilize books for the library.”

Turning to the newly elected Ozoro Progress Union’s President-General, Chief Asiafa, Ajeluorou charged him to use his good office to expedite action on the rebuilding of Delta State Library Board, Ozoro Branch, so it could be available for use by young people. It’s ironic, he said, that a town hosting the Delta State University of Science and Technology does not have a library. Although he lamented the cynicism with which some Isoko young people scoff at education when they say ‘school is a scam’, and their resort to ‘Yahaoo-yahoo’ scam as alternative, Ajeluorou said it was the clear absence of such vital learning facility as a library that encourages the cynicism among some Isoko youths. He further noted that the only way to counter ‘school-is-a-scam’ cynicism is to make libraries available even for those who are keen to learn. He said the promised library should have an e-library component, so it could meet modern tastes that young people desire.

On his part, Chief Asiafa promised to collaborate with all partners in the educational ecosystem in the state to rebuild and revitalise the Ozoro Branch of the state library. He said he was in touch with the state commissioner for education, who he said promised to reflect a ‘rebuilding’ plan in next year’s budget, as only ‘renovation’ is captured in this year’s financial outlay, which the library at Ozoro cannot benefit from since there is no library as yet to ‘renovate’.

Speaking about his poetry book, Libations for Africa, Ajeluorou said, “I published this volume of poetry to enable us look at our journey as Africans — where we are coming from, where we are now, and where we are headed. There are lots of things peculiar to us. But how do we preserve them? The book is a documentation of some of the things that are part of us as a people, despite embracing modernity. We don’t keep records in this part of the world, and we have lost a lot of information about our past, and our children will be the worst for it. So how do we preserve Africa’s rich cultural heritage that is also steeped in amazing religious rites for future generations?

“We have masquerades, masks and many works of art. Africans built the Pyramids of Egypt, The Sphinx, so what are we, the children, doing today? What lasting monuments are we building? You can find a lot of cultural issues in this book. Africa’s leaders of the past created great things, but what are we creating today? Let us be like our ancestors, great men and women, who did great things. Our ancestors were geniuses. Look at what they created that the world looks at with wonder. But look at us, their great-great grand children – what qualifies us to be called their children? What have we built or created that is worthy of the name?”

Speaking on the first poem read titled ‘And the Night Fell Silent,’ he said, “In those days, you could count the number of houses in Ozoro that had television sets, because there weren’t many. Our source of entertainment was storytelling in the evening. We would form a circle around our grandparents and they would tell us different stories, but it’s different now and no one tells stories and folklores anymore. We lost out of one of Africa’s beautiful moment where we tell stories to children, an event some of us benefitted from.”

The poet also read ‘Libations’, and said, “Libations are prayers that Africans offer to higher beings, to Oghene for protection, for good health, etc. Just like many other cultures, I try to reflect on the past. Africans made wonderful things, kingdoms and empires. They could not have made all these wonderful things without the sense of leadership. Foreigners came in and enslaved many and then colonisation took over, and everything we do now is a reflection of what is alien to us as a people. But we can take solace in reflecting back. Story books are timeless, and there are smartphones now, but the starting point is always the books. I pay fond tribute to an Isoko son who is now an ancestor, SMO Aka, who is a pioneer writer of Isoko extraction. He paved the way for some of us.”

A guest and friend of the poet Bar. Anthony Esime commended Ajeluorou for bringing the event to his hometown, Ozoro, but also wanted the writer to point at one particularly lasting impression the audience could take away from the event that would stay with them forever.

In response, Ajeluorou said, “Writers challenge their societies to the problems in that society and the need to find solutions. As a writer, my duty is not to prescribe but to point you in directions where solutions to communal problems could be found. It’s not my duty to give answers; that’s not my calling. I give headaches instead that would prompt you to find answers. Everyone in this room has solutions to Nigeria’s problems. How then do we apply them to solve to the problems?

“We should be like our ancestors, who were geniuses; they built empires – Oyo, Benin, Mali, Songhai, Zulu, etc; these were empires our ancestors built long before we heard of European civilizations. Our ancestors made great masks or artefacts that the world still admires today on account of their artistic genius, with many stolen by foreigners, which we want brought back.

“As the children of noble ancestors, what have we built? What stands us out in today’s human race? It took great leadership for our ancestors to have accomplished those things. Where is leadership today in all of Africa? Zero. And that is my challenge to everyone. If our forefathers made those great things through effective leadership, why are we lagging behind? Why can’t we be like them? How did our ancestors’ geniuses desert us that we have become toys in the hands of others? As children of the continent’s empire- and Pyramid-builders, we should rise up to the historic geniuses of our forefathers. Unless we do this, Africa will continue to lag behind others.”

Ajeluorou also took on Isoko’s Eseemo and eri, as potent tradition that needs modification, and called on the traditional leadership of Isoko – kings and ediologbos – saying there is need to redesign Eseemo and eri tradition to reflect modern tempers.

“As an artist, there are no taboo subjects that can’t be talked about,” Ajeluorou said, “and that is why we needed to talk about Eseemo as infidelity policing instrument, as practised by my Isoko people. A lot of Isoko young men have fallen victim of wicked wives’ infidelity and this needs to stop. Should we continue to lose our men because of their wive’s infidelity?

“Libations for Africa is heavily influenced by Isoko traditions. The Eseemo justice system of policing wives’ fidelity needs to be modified so as to spare Isoko young men from dying in the hands of wayward wives. Early this year a tragic incident happened in Irri town where Eseemo killed a young man for failing to report the infidelity of his wife to family members, so the wife could be summoned to appease Eseemo. Instead, the man ran to inform his pastor, but was struck dead by the Eseemo in a matter of days.

“In anger, the man’s family made an obituary poster with the wife where she was shamed for killing their bother by sleeping around. This is happening all the time. Should we allow it to go on? I think we need to modify the Eseemo fidelity policing tradition. Let erring wives bear the brunt of their infidelity rather than the men. The Irri incident would have been averted if the wayward wife was the sole victim of her infidelity instead of the innocent husband. Isoko traditional rulers and priests need to intervene and reorder Eseemo infidelity policing method. Only erring wives should pay for their sin, so the men and children from the union are spared.

“A wayward wife who had appeased Eseemo once would likely do it again and again, thereby endangering the life of the husband. With society becoming ever so permissive, and the concept of ‘omote ibobo’ (virgin bride) now a distant memory, it is no longer practicable to sustain the Eseemo policing tradition that held the man to account for the sex sin of the wife outside marriage.”

Although it rained heavily just before the start of the programme, Mr. Ajeluorou expressed gratitude to all who attended physically and virtually, and promised to take the reading and conversation to schools in future, so students could be part of it in their numbers. He donated copies of his books to Alaka Grammar School and Notre Dame College (NDC) before the event came to a close.

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