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When beggars die there are no comets seen but …

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‘When beggars die there are no comets seen but heavens themselves blaze the death of Princes’ William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar

Life is but a chapter of mysteries which every known religion in the world offer satisfying and never satisfactory answers. The complexity and intricacies of life make it a difficult subject and one that is obviously beyond the ken of mere mortals. Obviously, the capacity of the human brain and mind to capture, in any proportion, the mysteries of life is not just limited but grossly inadequate.

Ancient and contemporary philosophical traditions, order and religions could at best offer peripheral postulations, never a complete picture of the jigsaw that life is certainly is. Each of the 48 years lived by Comrade J.O.B. Omotosho was chequered, impactful, exemplary and worthy of more detailed study in dedication to humanity as a cause, purposefulness and resourcefulness. The life and time of Comrade JOB Omotosho should provoke and encourage contextual and incisive interrogation of the meeting points of humanity, community service and career of Nigeria’s national and professional leadership.

It is equally an attempt to understand, appreciate and reconstruct the leadership of a man who arguably represented the best tradition of grassroots social engineering, mass participation and effective mobilization for ‘bottom-top’ development. For the labours of our heroes past not to go down the drains, the legendary contributions of such men and women as J.O.B Omotosho must be properly studied and documented to afford the next generation the opportunity to know that there is no sacrifice too much in advancing the cause of humanity and that our professional callings are to equip us for service.

The quality of life is indeed best measured by how much and well it impacts humanity. J.O.B. Omotosho and his comrades in the Nigerian Socialist/Communist Forum laid the foundation for a more purpose driven, scientific and intellectual leftist ideology. In spite of the volume of literature on the leftist ideology in Nigeria, it would seem that enough has not been done to document and analyse the scientific and intellectual foundations of contemporary practical socialist traditions in Nigeria.

Comrade J.O.B. Omotosho represented a socialist tradition and exemplified a public service culture which could be described as typically humanistic, collectivist or communal. His nuanced definition and conceptualisation of democracy, the nature and character of his orientation and the preferred ideological persuasion, necessarily encouraged the emergence of populist leadership traditions.

By his professional training as a legal practitioner coupled with his attitude to life as a humanist, J.O.B emerged as an enigmatic, practical and effective leader whose passion for the general good of all was never in doubt. The uncanny ability and natural endowments of J.O.B. Omotosho to conceive progressive ideas, articulate complex viewpoints on important social matters and effectively mobilize the citizenry in the execution of novel projects easily made him a natural leader and champion of progressive development.

In the midst of the ignorance, uncertainties and blind euphoria of the pre-independence and immediate post independence eras in Nigeria, J.O.B. Omotosho had a clear understanding of the problems and prospects of development in Nigeria. He had a bewilderingly bright foresight to realize the limited possibility of success in Nigeria’s adoption of neo-liberalism as a developmental agenda.

By identifying with and soon after, providing leadership for the Nigerian socialist intelligentsia, J.O.B. became a champion of a cause that was almost antithetical to the mood, aspirations and popular sentiments of his age and elitist contemporaries. His writings and positions on important national issues brought the best out of him as a dogged and determined fighter and defender of the cause of the masses of the people.

One major advantage of this egalitarian tradition was that it provided a solid platform for his engagements with people across ethnic, national, religious and geographical boundaries.
Comrade J.O.B. Omotosho was born on the 21st of May 1918 and died 20th of May 1967 just as the Nigerian civil war was starting. Indeed, his death was tragic and defied all rational explanations.

Having trained as a legal practitioner in the United Kingdom and accepted by the Council of Legal Education, he enrolled and was called to the British Bar as Barrister and Solicitor in Lincoln Inns. His impressive academic qualifications and attainments included LLB. University College, London, (1945-1948), Diploma in International Affairs from the London Institute of World Affairs, University College, London (1948-1950) BSc. Economics, Regent Street Polytechnic (1951-1953) and Diploma in French and German from the Language Tuition Centre, London (1954).

He had hoped that this impressive list of academic laurels would put him in better stead to serve his people. While in London and in addition to his pursuit of academic excellence, J.O.B. Omotosho became very active in the affairs and activities of the Pan African Movement, the West African Student Union which had been established earlier in the century by Ladipo Solanke to protect and promote the welfare of West African Students in the United Kingdom and awaken nationalist consciousness in West African countries.

His involvement with WASU provided a great opportunity to build a network of friends and fellow ideological travellers, articulate and enlarge his vision for egalitarianism and a more inclusive African development. There also seems to be no doubt that the WASU experience equally exposed him to theories and praxis of the communist ideology which eventually became the bedrock of his engagement with society as a legal practitioner and captain of grassroots development agenda.

He was also associated with the production and publication of the Daily Worker which was the mouth piece of workers and the proletariat.

In 1957, J.O.B. Omotosho returned to Nigeria to take up appointment in the Western Region as Secretary of the newly created Western Region Production and Development Board which was then at Ibadan.

He however opted out of the civil service blaming its conservatism, obscurantism, bottlenecks and over bearing influence of the political class for his decision to quit. By 1958, he had already become involved in private legal practice as an enrolled barrister and solicitor up to the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

From his base in Ibadan, J.O.B. Omotosho had a co-extensive practice covering virtually the entirety of the country and beyond. He was committed to using his mastery of the law, procedure and evidence to protect the interest of the ordinary man against the atrocities of the state and privileged individuals.

It is remarkable that J.O.B. Omotosho represented Dr. Victor Allen who was a British citizen, a sociologist, historian, economist and Professor at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. Dr. Victor Allen was accused of sedition against the Nigerian State in 1964 and was eventually convicted 1965.

This high profile case advertised the arrival of J.O.B. in Nigerian legal community. The paper, fireworks and the international attention generated by this case which went into appeal were such to make J.O.B. Omotosho a celebrity lawyer in Nigeria.

In spite of the seriousness of the charges, Defence Counsel succeeded in securing a very light sentence of 12 months imprisonment for the accused. Indeed, the British House of Commons had good reason to commend the efficiency, diligence and brilliance of J.O.B. Omotosho as defence lawyer to Professor Allen.

​He also successfully defended Celestine Bassong of the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon who otherwise would have been executed by firing squad. The first true nationalist party in French Cameroun was the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC).

Its leftist oriented leaders such as Felix Moumié and Um Nyobe demanded a thorough break with France and the adoption of a socialist economic model for the new state. The agitation for what was considered a dangerous ideology ordinarily marked the party out as a potential threat to French interest in the Cameroons.

This organization with socialist tendencies and sympathies from the International Socialist Forum was eventually proscribed and forced underground on 13th July 1958. Some of its radical members who continued with principled agitations for a socialist order were arrested and would have been eliminated if not for the heroic legal defence provided by J.O.B. Omotosho.

J.O.B. Omotosho offered his time, brain and brawn to the service of humanity with conviction and passion. He was a principal financier of leftist and progressive causes and provided access to education for an army of indigent children and youth across the country.

His initials, J.O.B. soon became a recurring decimal in socialist circles in Nigeria which paraded stalwarts like Dr. Tunji Otegbeye, Comrade Niyi Oniororo, Baba Oluwide among others. J.O.B. founded and was the first editor of the Advance, the Nigerian Workers’ Newspaper and arguably, the first socialist news bulletin in Nigeria. He was a member of the editorial board of the Nigerian Socialist which was the first publication that espoused scientific socialism in Nigeria.

J.O.B. was also legal adviser to many trade unions, to the Nigerian Tenants Association and member of the Nigerian Academy of Scientific and Technical Workers. His concern was how best to use the agency of law as shield in the protection of basic human rights and freedoms of citizens and also employ it as sword in the struggle against poverty, ignorance, squalor and disease imposed by unequal and inequitable access to national wealth typified by neo-liberal and capitalist arrangements.

The cruelty of death was again, demonstrated on Saturday 20th 1967 at Sotubo Village near Shagamu when an unidentified and troubled driver rammed his vehicle into the stationary Volvo Saloon Car in which J.O.B. Omotosho was travelling. According to eye witness account, J.O.B. was coming from Ibadan and heading towards Lagos which was then the capital city and seat of power in Nigeria on Ibadan-Ijebu-Ode-Shagamu-Lagos highway.

The purpose of this weekend trip was to join other nationalists in resolving the Nigerian crisis and prevent the outbreak of the Biafra/ Nigerian civil war. He had earlier been to Ipoti-Ekiti his home town where he was constructing and supervising a collectivist development agenda for his people. He had thought that he would return to base after the meeting to complete the project and give his people a lifeline and a quantum leap forward in grassroots development.

J.O.B. had noticed the recklessness of the dare devil driver and had instructed his own driver to pull over so that he could warn the other driver and give him a lesson in safe driving. By the time he got down and was waving the driver to stop, the agent of death came after J.O.B. and pinned him into his own car, without a chance of survival.

The death of J.O.B. Omotosho on this same road on which Chief Adegoke Adelabu (Penkelemesi) died in 1958 and Segun Awolowo subsequently, under curious circumstances, leaves a bad taste in the mouth. One hopes that Nigerian history would be further enriched by a more trenchant examination of the nature, motives and circumstances of these high profile accidents and deaths on this road and within the same section of the road.

At his burial on Saturday 27th May 1967 at Ipoti-Ekiti, it was indeed evident that Nigeria had lost a shining light and a progressive leader. In a tribute, the Ipoti Community said of J.O.B. ‘He encouraged all our noble activities for the progress of our town and spent his hard earned money and efforts on us’. By the time of his death the Ipoti Community was executing certain communal projects under his inspirational leadership.

These included: A fish Pond, Rest House, Recreation Gardens, Parks, Nursing Homes, Dam, Industrial Estate and a Saw Mill. The Oshun Division Branch of the Nigerian Labour Congress remarked that by his death, Nigeria lost one of the strongest pillars and one of the strongest fighters in the cause of freedom.

In the words of the United labour Congress:

Mr. Omotosho impressed the working class in Nigeria by his apparent sincerity, forthrightness, sense of justice and patriotism. As a leader of the working class, he served his country with devotion. He was an outstanding administrator and a devout communist. He has let a vacuum which is difficult to fill.

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Comrade J.O.B. Omotosho, let us all be reminded of his heroic contributions to the emancipation of the common man, his devotion to his people and country, his forthrightness and principled positions on national matters, his sacrifice to make the world a better place for all, his diligence, commitment to excellence and distinction in national service and his passion for the eradication of all forms of discrimination and injustice. His address at the Nigerian Bar Association Conference which turned out to be his last important academic outing spelt out the duties of a lawyer in a developing nation and provided a blueprint for the use of law to liberate and ennoble our minds and societies.

Akin Alao, Ph.D.
Professor of Legal History
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife

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