After 86 years of purposeful, impactful and fulfilled life, Eskor Toyo, a renowned Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Calabar passed away into eternity on Monday, December 7, 2015. The octogenarian died at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital after prolonged illness.
Professor Toyo was a man of many parts. He was an academic colossus, foremost nationalist, patriot, essayist, social crusader and human rights activist who applied revolutionary methods to advance the cause of socio-economic and political change in Nigeria and the African continent. With his death, a dark shadow now overhangs the world’s horizon of radical scholarship and human rights activism. As a multi-talented researcher, teacher and inspirational speaker, Professor Toyo’s intellectual radar covered all fields of academic intervention and struggles for change and justice.
Born in Oron on the Cross River estuary in 1929, Professor Toyo had his early education in Oron, Lagos and Calabar. His educational career was marked with distinction. He passed the Cambridge School Certificate in 1945 in Grade one and was exempted from London University matriculation. He also passed the Higher School Certificate (Cambridge) with distinction. He earned a Diploma in Public Administration and B.Sc. in Economics from the University of London. He later obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in National Economic Planning. It is remarkable that he was the first Nigerian to earn a First Class in Postgraduate Diploma in National Economic Planning.
Still burning with the zeal to acquire more knowledge that would enhance his skills in academics, he earned M.Sc. degree in Economics with distinction and Ph.D. Cum Laude (with praise) in the same discipline in Poland. His doctoral thesis entitled “Macroeconomic Analysis in Marx and Keynes” was published in 1977 by the Polish Scientific publishers on the recommendations of the Universities in Poland. It was republished in Russian.
Professor Toyo had varied experiences in the public and private sectors. For brief periods, he held the positions of Planning Manager and Labour and Staff Manager in Lever Brothers (Nigeria), and Manager, Supply and Distribution for Esso West Africa.
Indeed, as Manager, Labour, with Lever Brothers (Nigeria), he was directed by his top management to go and address striking workers of the company with a view to calming them down. Toyo went to the workers and rather encouraged them publicly to continue the strike. Accounts have it that he reminded them that all they have is their labour and if strike is the only thing that will make their employers to see reasons, that they must not call it off. There and then, he sent in his letter of resignation and joined the ranks of the striking workers.
It was in the academia and human rights activism that he made his most profound contributions to societal growth. He taught courses in economics, political science, sociology and history of ideas in Europe and Nigeria. He also headed the Department of Economics in the University of Maiduguri and University of Calabar at different times. His passion for education for liberation was evident during the period he taught in the university for decades.
As an indomitable intellectual, development economist and Marxist, Professor Toyo had written copiously on economics and society in learned journals, books and other periodicals. He presented papers in large number of conferences in many countries and delivered many distinguished lectures.
It is noteworthy that his book, ‘Economics of Structural Adjustment’, published in 2002 is still of enduring relevance because the country’s current economic policies are still no different from the neo-liberal components of privatisation, currency devaluation, deregulation, removal of subsidies and restriction of the sphere of the state among others.
Through his incisive writings, Professor Toyo trenchantly condemned the lack of seriousness with which the Nigerian ruling elite treat industrialisation and wondered “how a country that consumes so much foreign exchange on luxury imports or whose citizens keep large fugitive funds in foreign countries cannot find the operational or infrastructural capital for its basic industries.”
He believed that the shackles of poverty, underdevelopment and bad leadership that had engulfed Nigeria as a nation since attaining independence cannot be changed unless there is a total revolution in the country.
Professor Toyo was also a key ally of the labour movement as he participated actively in mobilising the masses against oppression for decades. Professor Toyo rallied round the union and the Nigerian people at meetings, conferences and on the streets in mass protests. He was indeed a man of the people and he lived for the people. To the labour movement, he was like a Rock of Gibraltar. He actively worked (as General Secretary) with Nigeria’s Labour Leader Number One, Comrade Michael Imoudu in organising strikes and other mass actions against the British colonial government.
He was one of the leading voices in the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) who facilitated the affiliation of the union with the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) in the 80s until the military regime headed by General Ibrahim Babangida removed the union from Congress by military fiat. Professor Toyo and his colleagues fought for the return of ASUU to the NLC and the union has since re-affiliated with NLC. He was a National Trustee of ASUU for nearly two decades.
He was actively involved in the struggles for Nigeria’s independence from British colonial rule. He collaborated extensively with patriots and nationalists of generations ahead of him and those of successive generations in the struggle for a better Nigerian society.
The revered Professor of Economics sat as consultant to several international organisations as well as agencies of government in Nigeria and Ghana where he pushed development economics to serve the interest of the growing poor in Africa. He was Vice President of the Nigerian Economic Society (NES), consultant on economic issues to the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research (NISER), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Government of Ghana. In addition, he was a leading member of the Socialist Patriots of Nigeria (SPN).
By his death, the Nigerian academia, the labour and civil rights movements and the Nigerian masses have lost a dependable ally. As Dr. Edwin Madunagu, one of his associates rightly observed, his demise marks “the departure of a revolutionary, socialist and a profound intellectual.” Although Professor Toyo belonged to a biological family, his primary family was the working people of Nigeria and the masses. “Everybody who dies will be leaving his family behind, but beyond his family and constituencies is the Socialist National Movement, a constituent that has lost a giant,” Dr Madunagu said in his tribute to Professor Toyo. Professor Toyo devoted his time, resources and intellect to the cause of a prosperous, democratic and egalitarian society till he breathed his last.
As Nigerians celebrate the life and times of this legendary development economist, the consolation is that he lived a fulfilled life and touched the lives of people. Adieu, Professor Eskor Toyo.
By Chris Ajaero