In his generation, not many stand out like him. He was honest, intelligent, humble, considerate, committed, loyal, dependable, and focused.
Born 7th December 1968, he attended Mount Camel Secondary School, Ilorin, Kwara State College of Technology (now Kwara State Polytechnic), Ilorin and the University of Lagos where he studied Mass Communications. He had done courses and attended conferences in several countries, which equipped him well enough for the challenges of his passion: to live and work for humanity in the quest for a better society.
He was groomed early enough by his journalist father to read, work hard, be humble, and concerned about others. He created humor out of serious situations that could have resulted in scuffles and yet proffered the best solutions to knotty issues.
He was the author of so many communiqué after several meetings as a student’s union, trade union and civil society activist. If you had him in attendance at any meeting, be sure to have the best communiqué that captures exactly what was collectively agreed as the outcome of the interactions, even if he disagrees with any part of the discussions.
His father worked as the Ilorin Correspondent of The Sketch newspaper, now defunct. His father is a realist, professional, progressive and every bit of him was in his beloved son who didn’t just start reading newspapers in secondary school but also sold newspapers without consideration for profit.
Olaitan Kabiru Aremu Oyerinde, until he was assassinated early Friday, 4th May 2012, was the Deputy General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress but on leave of absence to work with the immediate past President of the NLC, now Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as his Special Adviser (Special Duties) and Principal Private Secretary between November 2008 and 4th May 2012 when he was gruesomely assassinated by agents of retrogressive politics right before his young family at about 1.30am that Friday morning.
Before joining the Secretariat of the NLC, Olaitan did his youth service and eventually worked with the West African Economic Consultants (ECONSULTANTS) as a Research Officer in 1990 and later left to formally join the trade union movement as Assistant General Secretary of the Iron & Steel Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ISSAN). He left ISSAN for the NLC in 2001.
While at the University of Lagos, Olaitan was a rallying point as the secretary of the radical student movement, the Patriotic Youth Movement of Nigeria (PYMN), the coordinating organ of all progressive movements of the Marxist extraction in all tertiary institutions at the time. It was during this period that the state unleashed severe attacks on the students’ movement nationwide. Students Unions, academic and non academic unions were ferociously attacked by the General Ibrahim Babangida military regime. But, the movement under the leadership of people like Olaitan Oyerinde, Gbenga Komolafe, Gbenga Olawepo, Sylvester Odion-Akhaine, Adewale Bashar, Bode Ojomu, Ogaga Ifowodo, Bamidele Opeyemi, Bamidele Aturu, Lukman Saliu, Bala Jubril Mohammed(of blessed memory), Comfort Idika (now Ogunye), Juliet Affiong-Southey, Chima Ubani (of blessed memory), Segun Jegede, Lanre Ehonwa, Chris Ndiribe and others, worked with older comrades to resist the attacks and defended the rights of every Nigerian to education.
The attacks by the military were preparatory to the economic warfare unleashed on all Nigerians through the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), a neo liberal killer economic policy forced on Nigerians by the Babangida regime. Indeed, the Babangida regime for whatever reason was one with the worst anti people policies in the history of Nigeria. His regime downgraded the national currency. He had a political programme that was designed to entrench the military perpetually in office. His attack on the academic community reduced, till this moment, the quality of education in Nigeria. Radical lecturers were violently thrown out of their quarters because, as the regime claimed, they were “teaching what they were not paid to teach”. Dr. Festus Iyayi, as President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Dr. Osagie Obayuwana of the Faculty of Law, University of Benin, Dr. Tunde Fatunde of the same university all had varying degrees of heartless state attacks. Festus was not only sacked, he was irresponsibly thrown out of his official quarters by agents of the regime.
Dr. Patrick Wilmot, a versatile academic at the Political Science Department of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria was not only arrested and detained; he was disgustingly thrown off the borders to London, despite being legally married to a Nigerian.
These attacks predates other more severe attacks on the socio-economic and political rights of all Nigerians as the regime eventually rolled out the massively rejected SAP and eventually sank the entire country into a hollow political fate with the selfish annulment of the 12th June 1993 Presidential elections.
These events brought out the unequalled qualities in Olaitan as an astute and energetic organizer, brilliant writer, and selfless leader, loyal, dependable and a skillful revolutionary machine.
Olaitan was part of several organizations. When the then Military Governor of Lagos State, Brigadier Raji Rasaki forcefully evicted the poor from Maroko in favour of the rich in 1988, Olaitan was one of those who rose to the occasion and got the evacuees organized and fought for an alternative shelter. When landlords were becoming overbearing against the rights of tenants in Lagos, Olaitan was among those who formed the Nigerian Tenants Association to fight for and protect the rights of tenants. When the Babangida regime imposed SAP on us, Olaitan was on the protest line with us in 1989. When Nigerians had to be mobilized against the entrenchment of military dictatorship, Olaitan was always on the protest line under the auspices of the Campaign for Democracy (CD). He was indeed the Chairman of the Lagos State Branch of CD during the pro democracy protests era. CD worked with several organizations, including trade unions, to ensure the military never had a space in their obvious desire to continuously circumscribe our collective rights.
Indeed, Olaitan was not involved in anything unrelated to organizing for progressive human development. He was frank and brutal in expressing his opinions on issues passionate to him. He was very humorous at the right time. At some point, you will feel he could perform better than our commercial comedians. You will wish him off if your first contact with him was during one of his humorous moments. His humor was one of those veritable tools he used to get ordinary people on the street, derisively called “Area Boys” to understand why only through organized mass protests they will be liberated.
Olaitan’s commitment to work, any productive work- at his formal workplace or organizing for political change with informal organizations can never be doubted. He was time conscious and he knew the difference between play time and when work is on.
Olaitan was passionately kind. He was depersonalized and detribalized. Even with his Yoruba name and identity, most people who had known him for decades didn’t know where he came from because it didn’t matter anyway.
The murder of Olaitan is though a devastating loss to the Nigerian radical movement, but a severe personal loss to me. He was like a younger brother to me from our first meeting till our last. He stayed with me during his youth service in Lagos. We worked together at the West African Economic Consultants (ECONSULTANTS) until 1990. From our first meeting in 1985 till our last meeting on Monday 30th April 2012 when he last visited Labour House, Abuja; I saw deep commitment to our collective struggle for a better world vibrating in him.
His brilliance, patriotism, organizational discipline, hard work and selfless commitment to our collective desire for human development are legacies not a few will ever forget. These legacies generated the massive condemnation and cries that followed the callous and heartless murder of this Youngman just before his next birthday on 7th of December, when he would have been 44 years.
He died fighting, as part of a team leading the rescue of a state abandoned in poverty, maladministration, underdevelopment, and total infrastructural collapse. Edo State is today better in infrastructures than when Olaitan and Oshiomhole resumed at the Government House, Benin City. And perhaps, this may be why he was murdered in cold blood. Olaitan, after all, was not from anywhere in Edo State. So, they made him the lamb that had to be slaughtered for their inability to resume the privatization of state resources.
Whoever is connected, even in the remotest way, to the assassination of Olaitan Oyerinde is today stinking with his blood and will forever be followed by angry flies while Olaitan remain golden in our hearts and in history.
We must reinvigorate his memory by refusing to agonize but deepen our organizing work until victory.
Olaitan was a colleague of inestimable value, an unforgettable brother, a dependable friend, and a highly committed comrade whose patriotic zeal will continue to fire our collective commitment until victory.
Though we miss you, but your spirit and legacies live on.
Denja Yaqub is an Assistant Secretary at the headquarter of Nigeria Labour Congress, Abuja