You must have wondered why you haven’t heard from me lately. My last column here was a tribute to the late business administrator and politician, Dr Abel K. Ubeku, posted on 18 June. My silence was due to the need to review my status as a Sahara Reporters columnist in the light of my decision to return to Nigeria and be directly involved, once again, in the effort to bring about the change that our country sorely pines for. As some of you must have gathered, through the grapevine or the news media, I have decided to run for a seat in the House of Representatives, under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). I will, if nominated by my party, be seeking to wrest the seat, belonging to the Isoko Federal Constituency (Delta State), from its current occupant, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who is seeking a fourth term. My avowed interest conflicts with SR’s strict standard of non-partisanship with regard to political affiliation and led to the need for me to cease to continue to write as an SR columnist.
SR, however, remains partisan to the truth and defence of the principles of democracy, rule of law, and social justice. Thus, the news is that I am able to renew my literary—or, shall I say, writer-reader?—relationship with you in some form: as a guest writer or something of the sort. I shall leave it to SR publisher Omoyele Sowore to decide the exact designation. I have proposed that Sowore use his best editorial judgement to decide which of my columns henceforth do not meet SR’s condition of non-partinsanship and to publish those that do. My hunch is that he will find almost all, if not all, in the latter category. But for the special relationship that exists between me and Sowore as ex-comrades of the student movement in the late eighties and early nineties (oh, those halcyon days of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS!), and between me and SR right from its inception, I would not gladly concede such sweeping powers to an editor. But I do so for one more reason: I have tremendously enjoyed my relationship with you as readers, in particular the cut-and-thrust of the debates in the comments section where you write back. Not long ago, you forced me into a ten-page response to clarify and further advance my position on a controversial matter of public policy. I wish to preserve that relationship at any bearable cost. Especially because I have recently learned that there is a dedicated SR readership!
Thus, even though I continue to publish my column under the caption “For Crying Out Loud” in Vanguard every fortnight, and also in Premium Times and the Nigerian Village Square, a good many of you do not see them! And, so, in addition to my latest column, a eulogy to my good friend and comrade, the lawyer Bamidele Francis Aturu (popularly known as BF), whose sudden death on 9 July stunned all progressives in Nigeria, I have provided the links to the three others since you last heard from me. In the midst of the frenzy of politicking, not to mention the learning pains of a rookie politician, an insurgent pitched against an opponent entrenched in the system and mentality we wish to change URGENTLY, I promise to always eke out the time for sharing my thoughts, for all that they may be worth, with you. I hope you will undertake to continue to read and write back, as usual. Politician I may become, but nothing in my life-long commitment to truth, democracy, the rule of law and social justice—in short, to being a radical humanist—shall change! Here then are the links to what you might have missed, and following, my current column. I thank you.
“For Bamidele Aturu, 1964-2014 (Who Raged Against the Darkness and the Dying of the Light”)
“Let Us End the Pretence and Declare Nigeria a Unitary State”
“Ekiti Verdict 2014: The Apotheosis of Adedibu”
“Ogbeni Aregbesola, Oranmiyan’s Chief of Staff”
For Bamidele Aturu, 1964-2014
(Who Raged Against the Darkness and the Dying of the Light!)
© Ogaga Ifowodo
He was not a poet, and I doubt that he ever knew of a Welshman by the name of Dylan Thomas who famously enjoined his dying father not to “go gentle into that goodnight” but to “rage, rage against the darkness and the dying of the light.” Physics educationist by first training, lawyer after, and crusader for democracy and justice, he was inclined to think in more prosaic terms. Still, his all-too-brief life exemplified the best form of poetry by constantly seeking to distill beauty out of the chaos and ugliness of our existence, much of that ugliness a direct product of the astonishing propensity of our so-called leaders to greed, corruption, and visionlessness.
Aturu raged against the dying of the light over Nigeria. If Thomas thought that courage alone distinguished our brief time on earth, then Aturu announced his existence to benighted Nigeria by a quintessential act of courage. The year was 1988. Picture this: a 24-year-old man at the passing-out parade of the National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC). Presiding over the occasion, rendered more military than civic, is a military governor. His name, Lawan Gwadabe, a lieutenant-colonel of the army. His khaki starched to an arrogant stiffness, his boots polished to a perfect shine reflecting his image as he viewed the parade of young citizens about to be thrust with little more than their service uniforms into a society under the grip of military tyranny. The colonel-governor exemplifies illegitimate and brute power, but he gives it a flimsy human face with platitudes about national service, how these young men and women testify to our credo of “unity in diversity,” and how the nation looks up to them to build the future. Something like that. And then in recognition of merit, he begins to hand out awards. That for the best corps member in his state goes to one Bamidele Francis Aturu. In a flash, military starchiness is matched by a stony stare. Aturu, rather than be immeasurably glad for the honour and privilege of shaking the hand of his excellency, the Soldier-Governor, marches up, refuses to extend his hand and leaves the soldier’s hanging mid-air. And then he opens his mouth and says, “Sir, I cannot accept this award from you because you represent a government with which I have irreconcilable differences.” Words to that exact effect
Let’s give the devil his due: Aturu was not marched off and tied to a firing stake, was not clamped indefinitely into a dark and airless dungeon. But he did have his national youth service discharge certificate withheld. Still, it took exceptional courage for a young man to look in the eye of a henchman of military dictatorship, with the power and licence to do him incalculable harm — in short, to blight his future for good — and yet speak in no uncertain terms the truth that he knew; the truth that all of his fellow citizens, old and young, rich and poor, in or out of the corridors of power knew, but which many would not dare utter to public hearing.
Of the thousand and one things I could have written about to eulogise my (learned) friend, brother, and comrade, I have chosen this one and I hope the reason is clear by now. That singular act drew an indelible portrait of the young man as a revolutionary, an image that he never sullied. Till the end, Aturu walked the path of radical progressive politics. Even in an inherently conservative profession, he viewed law and legal advocacy as a tool of social engineering, following in the footsteps of his older compatriots like Alao Aka-Bashorun, Gani Fawehinmi, Kanmi Ishola-Osobu, Femi Falana, Itse Sagay and Olisa Agbakoba, among others. It was, I believe, his quest for a transcendental “embodiment” of his radical egalitarianism, a foundation beyond the contingent claims of mortals, that led him to God and pastoral work with an evangelical zeal that you couldn’t fail to appreciate, however much you might dispute some of its moral and eschatological premises.
Aturu’s death reminds us, yet again, of the rapid decimation of the ranks of radical humanists who have fought against military and civilian misrule, corruption and mass impoverishment of the people with their integrity intact. In just under a decade, the progressive forces in Nigeria have lost eight giants of the struggle, none of whom had reached the end of their natural days: Chima Ubani, Fawehinmi, Aka-Bashorun, Bala Usman, Beko Ransome-Kuti, Olaitan Oyerinde and Festus Iyayi, the last two assassinated by agents of the darkness that rules the land. I bear witness to Aturu’s ceaseless raging against this darkness not only at the barricades but also during those quieter moments when, still cutting his teeth as lawyer with my former dean at the University of Benin, he would come down to my one-room apartment in the “Boy’s Quarters” of Itse Sagay & Co at the slightest opportunity, often before going to his office in the main building on a day he was not in court, for conversations on the state of the nation. Especially, in those heady “June 12” days when that one-room apartment served as the underground secretariat of the Campaign for Democracy (CD) and Ubani more or less moved in with me, and we would have daily tripartite debates on tactics and strategy in anticipation of, or reflections on, the “expanded secretariat” meetings of the time.
Wild for truth and justice as Aturu was, we may say of him that he “caught and sang the sun in flight” — the sun setting too soon on the flower of Nigeria’s youth. He may have died of complications resulting from a stealth case of leukemia, but we owe the duty of righting the many wrongs that he fought against so we may, at the very least, hope to stay the impatient hands of death too frequent a visitor among us in recent times.