Man created His own God, made His own World, invented His own Trouble
How do I begin and what’s more to say? So many people have said a lot but then I still would want to at least, say with heart-felt lamentation that with the passing away of this brilliant, dogged, indefatigable, relentless, humorous but uncompromising fighter for human rights, defender of the rule of law and justice, a quintessential humanist who dedicated his adult life to the cause of humanity. It is understatement to say human rights, pro-democracy nay, civil society communities have suffered a back-breaking subtraction that would be difficult to replenish for a very long time. Nigeria and especially the legal profession have indeed lost an illustrious and enigmatic personality. Quite evident is the fact that in spite of all that he had been able to accomplish in his relatively short but fulfilled life in the course of his practice as a lawyer and other selfless activities, he remained an epitome of modesty and humility, who never looked down on anybody. He was always ready, even eager to help others in the time of need of moral, social and psychological succour. Bamidele’s heart was always driven by empathy and uncommon compassion for his fellowman.
Most painful is the fact that, Aturu’s incurable knack for using his professional skill and disposition to help anyone that had run to him for assistance in one way or the other, had tended to mitigate on the pains we had had to bear on our heart all these years for losing that icon of our collective struggle, Chief Gani Fawehinmi. This was because, whenever we saw Bamidele, it was as if we were seeing Gani. We had always been consoled in the fact that one of the disciples Gani left behind perfectly stepped into his big shoes. He virtually fitted in and without exaggerating, I wouldn’t easily remember now if we, from this divide, had had any other legal practitioner of his rank whose record of pro bono services to the less-privileged, proportionately surpassed Aturu’s.
So many things to remember Bamidele Francis Aturu for, but let me just recall some of the events that characterized my relatively long relationship with him: An ardent apostle of true democracy who had a brief stint as a recruit in the Nigerian Army but left the basically dictatorial profession without notice either to his father, who was a police officer, nor his commanding bosses for further education that would enable him fit squarely into the civil populace. He attended the prestigious Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo as a degree student. That’s where he and I first met in 1984 and immediately became close friends. That was also where he bagged his first Second Class Upper Degree in Physics Education. He was the Students’ Union President in Adeyemi College and the Vice-President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, 1985-86. He was one of the main organizers of the nationwide protests against the imposition of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) – a fall-out of the then Military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida’s unilateral decision to impose the ‘conditionalities’ of the widely rejected IMF loan on Nigerians, popularly called Anti-SAP Protests of 1989. As a matter of fact, we were together with several former student activists in the University of Lagos to mobilize the students to the Anti-SAP action when some reactionary students in the garb of the infamous ‘Peace Movement’ started stoning us. Aturu was hit on the forehead. He was yet undaunted, he continued with other activists to ensure the Anti-SAP Protests succeeded in Lagos.
Bamidele meritoriously served Nigeria through the compulsory National Youth Service Corps scheme in Niger State between 1987 and 1988 where he bagged a couple of awards and commendation. His disdain for military dictatorship stoked the fire in him to seize the opportunity of NYSC Passing-out Parade on August 4, 1988 to amplify his rejection of military dictatorship by refusing to shake hands with the then Military Administrator of Niger State, now retired Col Lawan Gwadabe. To punish Aturu for the ’embarrassment’ Aturu caused him, Gwadabe, without second consideration, just immediately withdrew his left hand that was holding Bamidele’s NYSC Discharge Certificate as well as the 1988 Award as the Best Youth Corps member. The Military Administrator was to tell a big lie later that it was not his hand the passing activist refused to shake but it was the certificate Aturu refused to collect!
Aturu was back in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife to study law in 1989. It was during this second journey in the university system that he became the NANS National Mobilisation Officer in 1991. That was the time he led the Nigerian students in the struggle against the attempt of the military government to ‘recolonise’ higher education in Nigeria. He was ‘rewarded’ for the heroic feat with a three-month detention without trial in Kirikiri Maximum Prison in Lagos. Very brilliant and articulate a chap despite his time-consuming and energy-sapping activities in students unionism and human rights activism, he had nothing less than second class upper degree in all of his degree courses including Law School. He was, before he became the Best Youth Corps member in 1988, the Best graduating science student of Adeyemi College with B.Sc.(Ed) Physics in 1987, Professor David Ijalaye Prizeman, for being the best student in law in 1994 and he also had best result in Public International Law in OAU in 1995.
That guy passionately called BF was very passionate about the cause of the down-trodden. It was this passion that drove him to be one of the progenitors of Civil Society activism in Nigeria. He was part of the first-ever attempt to put a Civil Society Organisation, Patriotic Democratic Front (PDF), together under the able leadership of the now equally late Comrade Barrister Alao Aka-Bashorun. He was the South-West Vice-Chairman of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO). He was part of the formation and later a member of the Expanded National Executive Committee of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR). He was a member of the National Consultative Forum (NCF) the platform that attempted holding a National Conference that the Babangida military regime brutally stopped in 1990. He was part of the Campaign for Democracy (CD). He was the Chairman of the United Action for Democracy (UAD). He was a member of so many other Civil Society organizations including the Women in Nigeria (WIN) which was a testimony to his commitment to respect for womanhood and gender equity. He was a member of the National Advisory Committee of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL.
He was a lawyer to the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC and many of its component industrial unions. He was lawyer to the oppressed Okada riders against several SANs, including Professor Osinbajo the former Commissioner of Justice in Lagos state defending the oppressive government, when the Lagos state government threw the commercial motorbike riders out of business without providing any viable alternative means of livelihood. Worthy of mention also is that he served as a lawyer in several cases bothering on issues of the Freedom of Information (FOI), some of which he won as watershed cases.
In his bid to better fight the cause of the downtrodden; Bamidele in collaboration with other progressive forces birthed the Democratic Alternative. It was on this platform Bamidele Aturu contested the governorship election in Lagos State in 2003. As the Director-General of his campaign, I had a swelled time moving round the nooks and crannies of Lagos. And on February 4, 2003 while soliciting support for Aturu I had this to say, “Barrister Bamidele Aturu has been put forward by the Democratic Alternative (DA) as an agent of desirable change. He had been nominated to lead the much-needed credible government in Lagos State so that governance in Lagos can be truly determined and run by Lagos people for Lagos people. This will not make governance either a commodity for the highest bidder or seed of tomorrows suffering”. It was my belief that BF would one day realise that dream turned aborted.
Bamidele was an orator per excellence, a down-to-earth analyst and an excellent school teacher. He taught Mathematics & Physics teacher, Federal Government College, Minna, Niger State (1987-88) and in Holy Child Girls Secondary School, Obalende, Lagos (1987-89). As a brilliant lawyer, he served as a Staff Attorney with the Itse Sagay & Co. Law Chambers at 1, Alhaji Tokan Street, Alaka Estate, Surulere, Lagos. (1995-1999). He was, till death stopped him the Principal Counsel, Bamidele Aturu & Co. Law firm, which he started from 24, Mbonu Ojike Street, Off Alhaji Masha Street, Surulere, Lagos since 1999. He was a committed Marxist, a member of the Socialist Congress of Nigeria (SCON) before becoming a Christian, then a volunteer Pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God. He also served in a couple of pro-people governmental panels in Osun and Ogun States as well as with National Electricity Regulation Commission. He got married to his soulmate, Bimpe, a physiotherapist with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital who had, all the time, been very supportive to the causes her husband stood for. Painfully, both of his parents are still alive.
I want to say that it has indeed been a grave personal loss for me, of a friend, a comrade and a brother. And like I said to Late Comrade Baba Omojola who exited last year, you too BF, don’t move too fast; the rest of us are coming behind. We shall then meet, probably, to part no more!
Just like I opined 25 years ago, precisely on May 11, 1989 in memory of one of my folk heroes, Late Robert Nester Marley, Aturu’s is a sun that set by midday. I will therefore end this tribute with a similar poem:
Aturu’s is a sun that set by midday
Plunging us into challenge of reality
Proving glowing sunup fleeting
For work time’s ephemeral
And wasted time, loss eternal
Since gloom of sundown is unpredictable
And lose the great hay
That makes the resilience lay heroic.
That’s a sun set by midday
Plunging us into peat darkness
Of regrets of untapped fountain
In courage, bravery and astuteness
For a feat meant for the sunup
Made lay lax
For unnecessary sundown
Unexpectedly dawn by midday!
But consoled, so we are
That Aturu fought a good fight
Swiftly, in the morning
And left a light in our hearts
And hope for a glorious dawn
That falls dark no more!
1Being tribute presented on behalf of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), Child Help In Legal Defence of Rights to Education in Nigeria (CHILDREN) Project, Beko Rights Klub (BRK), Alao Aka-Bashorun Foundation for Human Rights (AAFRIGHTS), Centre for Cultural Rights (CECURR), Oyeladeniran Foundation for Community Development (OFCOD), People’s Action for Democracy (PAD) and Ojo-Ola Yoruba Initiative (OOYI) at the funeral activities of Barrister Bamidele Francis Aturu.