Fonds OO - Ola and Kehinde Oni

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Ola and Kehinde Oni


  • 1950-01-01 - 2010-01-01 (Creation)

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Biographical history


Comrade Ola Oni was born on 6 th June 1933 and hailed from Otun Ekiti as his parents, Chief Owolabi Oni and Mrs Ajibola Oni were from the same town but based in Osogbo in the present Osun State where Oladipo later known as Ola Oni grew up to attend Quranic and primary school education in his formative years. His father was into trading and estate business and became one of the richest people in the town.


Comrade Ola Oni was fortunate to attend the best schools available in his time. These include All Saints Primary School, Osogbo and Kings College, Lagos for his elementary and high school education respectively. He left the country shortly after working at Eko Boys High School, Lagos where he taught Latin, upon leaving Kings College in 1952.

To further his education he attended Exeter University and the London School of Economics. Here he studied economics and graduated with BSc degree in 1959. He earned MSc degree in the same place and discipline in 1962. Both the high school and universities he attended were noted for not only scholarship but also for their curriculum activities. He exemplified himself well as a member of the school football team throughout his school days at all levels of his education. He was also politically active in the wider society while in high school and in university.

His specialized area of study in Economics was finance, banking and central banking. His generation was trained and prepared to take over the leadership of the sector from the colonialists. Instead of pursuing this line of professional calling, on coming back home he chose teaching. He received offer of appointment to this effect at the three universities he applied to. These included University of Ile Ife (presently known as Obafemi Awolowo University), University of Lagos and College of the University of London. He gave preference to the latter (later known as University of Ibadan) and assumed work there as Assistant Lecturer in 1963.

By 1976, he was already Senior Lecturer at the Department of Economics. His area of teaching covered finance, central banking, history of economic thought. He later creatively introduced new course titled “Political Economy”. This was the first of its kind in the sub-Saharan Africa. He co-authored a pathfinder Economics’ book together with his student, and colleague (later), Professor Bade Onimode, titled: Economic Development of Nigeria: The Socialist Alternative (1975).

His academic contributions were not limited to the classroom but included research. To this effect he organized academic groups and journals in advancing scholarship at different period of his academic life. These included the Sankore Society, the Academy of Arts, Science and Technology, together with journals such as The Advocates and Socialism: Theory and Practice. Other members of the Academy and editorial boards of the journals include leading Nigerian scholars drawn from various universities and disciplines such as natural sciences, humanities, and arts, social sciences and political activists from outside. They included Eme Awa, Essien-Udom, Chinua Achebe, Adebisi Busari, Tayo Akpata, Oke Emordi, Chimere Ikoku, S. G. Ikoku, M. E. Kolagbodi, Ikenna Nzimiro, Akin Ojo, O. D. Okediji, Femi Okunrounmu, G. O. Olusanya, Bala Usman, Obi Wali, Opeyemi Ola, Okonjo, Merg Obasi. One thing common to this composition was that they associated with the left scholarship that dominated the scene in Nigerian universities in the 1970s and up to 1980s.


It is hard to separate Ola Oni’s scholarship from his politics as he combined his teaching job with his socially committed activities. First as a pioneer in the formation of a trade union for academics, the Association of University Teachers. This was the progenitor of the present Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). He was also associated with the formation of the Non-Academic Staff Union. At different times, he was the General Secretary of the Polytechnic, Ibadan Workers Union and General Secretary of AUT.


He had a close link with the student movement at Ibadan – Polytechnic and University of Ibadan and across the country. The Left scholarship that he pioneered radicalized the student movement towards the Left politics. The organization led by him created students group in its own image that was ideological in preference to Marxism and rooted amongst mass of the students. The extant national students’ body – National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) was influenced by such ideological school of thought and thereby pushed to the left and led by socialist students. The tradition continued with the new formation of National Association of Nigerian Students in 1980s after NUNS was banned and disbanded by the government. He was committed to the struggle of the working class as it concerns workers resistance against exploitation and oppression at workplaces and against government’s policies as it affects them in the world of work. He lent his voice in providing solidarity towards such mass action in generating the working class struggle. He was always available in trade unions conferences and workers gatherings in offering workers education meant to raise the consciousness of the working class to the level that the class-for-itself can manifest rather than the class-in-itself.


His politics were working class politics. They can be categorized into two parts that include – socialist politics and electoral politics. Both are inclusive and related. The first is based on his strong believe that the working class is historically positioned as alternative in taking political power from the rich and propertied class. The way capitalist society is structured in favour of the rich class eschewed against the working class; nevertheless, this brings to focus the propensity of power inherent in the working class to make the system to work. Such power the workers possessed can also be used to disrupt the system and wrestle power from the hands of the bosses and the ruling class in general by way of the working class tradition of withdrawing their service from work rather than taking to violence if the ruling class will allow this to happen in such manner free of violence.

The second as to electoral politics is related to mobilizing the working class to participate in election every 4-4 years despite the fact that it is not unknown that such is associated with money politics (ie the use of money). So workers are not likely to be favoured in having contest with the rich class for power in this regard. Nevertheless, such political exercise is not without its nuisance value as it helps to expose the ruling class for what they are and register the population of the people with descent views against the ruling class.

Participation of the working class in electoral politics becomes inevitable in as much as there were illusions in the democratic process to bring about change not only by the ruling class and the followers but also by not a few of the rank and file members of the working class. For this reason they have to be involved before they could be able to appreciate the paucity of what the system represents, thereby having such illusion exhausted. By this time they would have come to the realization of the need for revolutionary political process over electoral process as the way out. At other times, in the absence of the working class involvement in electoral politics, such situation in no little way deepen the illusion of the working class in certain faction of the ruling class with fashionable programme to impress. Comrade Ola Oni was sometime found in such political formations in order to set up a Left current within it that will be able to push the parties in the direction of the Leftists for the best interest of the working class. In the history of political party formation and their activities in Nigeria, he has at different times worked and gathered experience in electoral politics in Left oriented political parties that include Socialist Party of Workers, Farmers and Youth, Labour Party, Unity Party of Nigeria and Social Democratic Party in the first, second and third (aborted) republics respectively.

His politics remains the same everywhere he goes. This he also carried along with him in his involvement in the self-determination politics too, to address the issue of national question. In this regard, he viewed the politics of ethnic groups as one like any other interest groups in society meant to exploit their environment. He did not believe that this could be dissociated from class politics. The very reason he was interested and involved in order to prevent the leadership of the movement to waste away the mass followership at its disposal that could be mobilized for revolutionary cause. He usually referred to his family as a political family which can be interpreted to mean part of the political structures to carry out his political objective. The family was organized along this path and this could not be disassociated from this political life. The very reason they were prepared fully well to overcome psychological disturbance which may result from the absence of Comrade Ola Oni within the family, especially while being incarcerated in detention on not a few occasions. So other members of the family were schooled along the politics of the working class that Comrade Ola Oni represents. The politics of feminism that his wife, Mrs Kehinde Ola Oni was fully evolved could rather not be separated from that of the working class in difference from other feminist school of thought. By way of diffusion, the students he influenced into revolutionary politics at Ibadan, not a few of them entered academics as a profession and spread across the country. This helped a great deal in expanding the movement in space and time. There were also other groups across the country led by others apart from the group led by him. But they collaborated at the level of united front when there were needs to do so.

No notable movements of the 1960s and up to 1990s that took place without the active participation and leadership role of Comrade Ola Oni. He became a household name in the 1970s and thereafter. The movements included students’ protest that led to the death of Kunle Adepeju who was killed by the police (1971), and ‘Ali-Must-Go’ (1978), the Agbekoya peasant revolt against imposition of tax in the Civil War period (1969), anti-SAP movement (1980s) and the June 12 political movement against the annulment of the presidential election result conducted in 1993. The latter caused stalemate in the polity for the next six years.


The group led by him had relationship with different groups including socialist groups internationally in advancing the cause of history, while maintaining their independence. He had link with the Kwame Nkrumah led government in Ghana, the Frelimo movement in Angola, the Communist Party in South Africa, the Militant group led by Ted Grant and the Afro-Asia movement based in Britain. He also had links with: C. L. R. James’ yearly book exhibition, and other leftist publishers such as Zed Publishers, Beacon Books (UK), Progress Publisher (USSR) and that of China.


His activities did not go unnoticed by admirers, followers and those at the receiving end of his activities. These included his boss, the authorities of the University of Ibadan and the Nigerian State. While his admirers hailed him for his activities the latter pilloried him. The very reason the former honoured and granted him awards to serve the purpose of recognition and motivation for his activities. The State and UI authorities on the other hand rather saw him as a security risk. They both worked in collaboration to frustrate him. He was detained and kept behind bars on several occasions. Not a few times he was not allowed to leave the shore of the country during annual leave and sabbatical as his international
passport was impounded. It was never to be released to him after he returned from a trip to China in 1964.

At the time his politics became open and yielding result beyond just being associated with the Communist World his promotion stopped as at 1976. The only anti-imperialist military government led by Murtala Muhammed saved him from being flushed out of the system during the 1975 purge in the public service on the excuse that he was teaching ideology and not what he was paid to teach. So his sack together with his other colleagues and patriots came later for their support of the most successive protest of the students in 1978. Others included in this list were Bade Onimode, Omafume Onoge, Akin Ojo, Laoye Sanda, Benedicta Madunagu, Eddy Madunagu, Ebenezer Babatope, Bassey Ekpo Bassey, Wale Adeniran, P. O. Sogbetun, Iya Abubakar and Ade-Ajayi. Some students were also rusticated. They included Appah and Segun Okeowo.


However much the state will want to paint him in a bad light, Ola Oni’s contributions to public service were recognized and appreciated. He worked in collaboration with the state in the campaign against Apartheid South African government. He pioneered Marxist scholarship in Nigeria on a par with the other universities across the world. His Marxist school of thought dominated debates at different times on how to move the country and the working class forward. He served the old Western State of Nigeria well as a Director in the newly established Western Nigeria Industrial Investment and Credit Corporation. His tenure was renewed in this position to show gratitude to him for the work well done.

As one of the leaders of Social Democratic Party he played an important role in uniting the political associations that merged to form the party. This was responsible for their success at the poll. The results of the election were annulled, but it showed that a party that is pro-poor can win elections if the process is free and fair.

Abiodun Olamosu, November 2021

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Archival history

The archives have been kept by the Ola Oni family since their creation.

The history of the documents and other materials existing in the form of private archive of Comrade Ola Oni could be traced to him as a leader of a political tendency that is to serve as piston to the entire working people that the group he led is to serve as its intellectual harm. The records were being kept for various reasons that include safekeeping as reference materials that could be useful for members or non-members for the purpose of research and as well as the property of the organization he was leading like any form of the organisation’s properties that were to be looked after with utmost care.

The encouragement towards formalizing such idea became crystalised after Comrade Ola Oni’s death by his son Oladapo Ola Oni when the family was contacted for materials that would be useful in writing Ola Oni’s biography. So the biographer depended on the family’s support and cooperation in this regard, but Oladapo Ola Oni was the one charged with the responsibilities in sorting out materials needed for the project.

At other times when a Research Centre in the name of Comrade Ola Oni, financed by a sitting governor of The State of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, was instituted the same Oladapo Ola Oni was also the one to provide the Centre with the materials used to take off with the general support of the family and Ola Oni political associates.
There has been preponderance of interests in Comrade Ola Oni personality and his politics by both associates and well wishers, for the respect people have for him for his altruism and selflessness in the service of humanity. The archival project being instituted by IFRA in the name of Comrade Ola Oni aims to collect all his writings together with other materials associated with him and these are to be classified in the best way possible for easy accessibility for people that may want to make use of the archive.

Abundant materials have been accumulated for this purpose, nevertheless, the process is in the continuum as more are being expected from other sources especially his other associates and followers.

Comrade Ola Oni represents a political tendency for social change in Nigeria’s political environment and internationally. He had a contagious influence on generations of political and labour activists. Not a few people would love to know more about him and what he represents. The archive will therefore be useful for researchers in this regard.
Also, as Comrade Ola Oni’s activities added value to the social, political and economic development of Nigeria in many ways, his materials would be useful in the understanding the social construct of the society where he spent most of his life. So those who are interested in various areas of knowledge related to Nigeria would have the materials in the archive very useful as source of collecting data.

Comrade Ola Oni is best noted for his versatility as a person in diverse areas. The materials collected on him are as broad in reflecting such versatility and diverse nature of his life.

Abiodun Olamosu, November 2021

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  • English
  • Yoruba

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