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Remembering Eskor Toyo

Published by The Nation on Thu, 16 Jan 2020

By Agbo AgboDuring a visit to see my mother some years back, she brought out a series of old pictures she has meticulously kept which showed how skinny I was some years back. While we were laughing about some of my boyhood escapades, some tiny sheets of paper slipped from within some of the pictures.Taking a closer look they turned out to be a 1983 note I took from a public lecture I attended at the then Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.The FASS used to be the hotbed of intellectual and academic excellence which was why successive governments paid close attention to what happened there.My note turned out to be a 1983 lecture titled the Marx and Africa Conference. It suggested it was organised to mark the centenary of the death of the great revolutionary, Karl Marx. It was surprising that I attended the conference years before I became an undergraduate!These were some of the names on my sheet; Professor Eskor Toyo, the highly revered university of Calabar Marxist economist, who died four years ago. Others include late Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman, a world class historian, Professor Claude Ake, a notable political economist who died in a plane crash and Professor Bade Onimode, another Marxist economist some of us grew up to love.Professor Toyo was the last of these renowned scholars and thinkers on the Left in my list to pass on. Following these intellectuals from that time onward, my stay in the university was smooth as my intellect was sharpened even before I gained admission. It is in this light that I remember Eskor Toyo whom I only saw physically from afar in 1983.For the benefit of those who may not know, our varsities were once a citadel of ideological debates. Yes, in this same country! From my note, Toyos presentation at the conference was made during the session called Methodology where he made clarifications on misconceptions about Marxist philosophy.Ever since that 1983 encounter I followed his writings and submissions diligently. As a Marxist, his approach to politics was clearly class based. He believed in and worked for the political power of the working class.He challenged socialists to move from the margins of national politics to the mainstream. This he demonstrated by being an active member of the late Aminu Kano led Peoples Redemption Party (PRP).Toyo took the practical aspects of the struggle seriously, believing that a progressive politician should be immersed in the people for his activities. That perhaps explains his immense admiration for the late Gani Fawehinmiwho incidentally was his student.He declared Gani the greatest politician in Nigeria for always standing with the people. A man who always stood on the side of justice, Toyo played a prominent role within the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for the improvement in the conditions of lecturers and the universities.During the great Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) debate of the late 80s to early 90s, Toyo was quite eloquent. He wrote series of articles in newspapers and magazines arguing why Nigeria should not accept the International Monetary Fund/World Bank loan. Most of his thoughts were later encapsulated in his 2002 book titled Economics of Structural Adjustment.Looking backward to the debate and forward to present realities, this books relevance cannot be discountenanced. Our country is still in the vice grip of neo-liberal components of privatisation, currency devaluation, deregulation, removal of subsidies and restriction of the sphere of the state in economic matters as espoused by these institutions.These policies are more glaring today than they were even in the late 80s. We are still battling with the exchange rate for the naira. Some are arguing that we allow market force to determine the true rate of the naira against foreign currencies, while others argue that government should play a role by fixing an official rate. Mostif not allgovernment owned companies have been privatized or unbundled over the years. Most importantly, the good old subsidy debate is still ongoing!Apart from being a Marxist, Toyo was also a realist. He identified three types of critiques of SAP. The first sees the programme as necessary, but with a caveat; it should not be solely private sector driven because of the often unbridled quest for profits.The second questions the actual design of SAP and some of its component policies. The thirdwhich Eskor Toyo identifies withoffers a more fundamental critique of SAP as a set of policies designed to save capitalism as a global economic system.Toyolike most Marxistswas boxed into a corner when the Soviet Union disintegrated into its constituent parts, and with it the entire Eastern bloc. Socialism also went under. The ideological dissolution of socialism and the triumph of capitalism and free market painted the picture of the superiority of capitalism as a better system of economic management.However, any student of current studies will not fail to notice the persistent cyclical crises that continue to characterise capitalist economies throwing millions of people into unemployment, poverty and homelessness thereby increasing social inequality.Just like was done during the SAP riots in Nigeria in the early 90s, proponents of capitalism have been clamouring to give the system a human face. In the West, there have been several bailouts of companies that were run aground by their managements. Ironically, they were bailed out with public funds!Read Also:Toyo lived for the less-privilegedBuhariWhether or not one agrees with Eskor Toyos ideological orientation, he raises certain critical questions which must certainly attract the attention and interest of the managers of a neo-colonial economy like Nigeria. For instance, he raises the key issue of the dichotomy between growth and development. He contends that the two cannot be conflated.Over the years, we have been continuously inundated with Nigerias impressive statistical growth rates. It is brandished in our faces each time the government wants to score political points. Yet right thinking citizens could not fathom the high unemployment rate in the country.Neither could they make sense of our infrastructural decay or the overall well-being of the vast majority of Nigerians. It is often during periods like these that some grudgingly agreed that we had growth without visible development.Toyos argument was premised on his conviction that development means a qualitative change for the better in the capacity of man to control his environment while growth, by contrast, means mere expansion of scale without necessarily improvement in the environment.Because our economic policies are managed by scholars and theoreticians trained to wholly accept the IMF/WB solutions without question, Toyo and his colleagues operate from the fringes by providing alternative solutions.He once argued that It is the facile focus on GDP growth rate as such that enables the World Bank and the IMF to mislead. A country can, in fact, be developing while the growth in per capita income is zero.He cites the example of a country that decides to save to build an iron and steel industry and train its own scientists and engineers to man it.Even if nothing changes in terms of per capita income during the gestation period of this project, he argues, because of the crucial transformational role of the character of the investment, the country by that investment has made an incalculable leap in development. How true!This great economist of the left was indisputably the master of his profession. He was diligent in what he professed. His liberal and conservative professional colleagues might not be comfortable with his ideological position, but none could dismiss his excellent scholarship; he was a scholar to the core.His death reduced the rank of the true Nigerian left. He dreamt of a Nigeria where social justice and economic wellbeing will be the norm. I pray this dream comes true in my generation.
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