By Doyin Odebowale
Everyone and everything subject to time is finite. Monuments, ill-advisedly locked in mortal combat with time, will be reduced to rubbles. Empires and kingdoms become history; deluded potentates are soon confined to the dustbin of history. Power mongers and narcissists will realize how pitiably ignorant they have been with the exposition of their tenuous grounds in their ordinariness.
Nothing abides outside of time. It is not for nothing that Heraclitus, observing the fluidity inherent in nature, posits change as the only permanent reality. Time’s suzerainty over matter is guaranteed; both moveable and immoveable objects keep a date with this patient, somnolent but effective nihilist.
The short sojourn of mortals on the terrestrial plane is replete with conundrums. The riddles of living and existence remain unravelled. Life itself acts as a constant pulley, holding forth tantalizing expectations of perennial and prosperous engagements.
The alluring vanity associated with perceived growth or motion, accretions or decreases, which indeed another equally perceptive and reflective lover of the things of the mind, Parmenides, also forewarns against, talking about the grand illusion which accompanies the very idea of motion and plurality, lulls us into a state of benumbing complacency and subjects mortals to the pangs of unnecessary surprises whenever the certain but unexpected occurs. A man or woman suddenly disappears like a candle light held against a gale of violent wind. He/she is simply reunites with matter from whence he/she came in the first instance.
Each time an occurrence, such as passing away, yanks us off our complacent pedestal and the reality of our finiteness resulting in the inevitability of transition dawns, helplessness and hopelessness ensue, albeit, momentarily.
The rat race for domination and exploitation of others soon follows in a manner which suggests amnesia, either deliberate or as consequence of incapability to reflect deeply on the essence of life. It is for this reason that the Stoics embrace indifference to pain and pleasure as a cardinal precept. Epicureanism, a doctrine which promotes hedonism as the ultimate good, appears as complementary to stoicism.
Both beliefs seem to underscore the significance of quality existence. The Kantian perceptive being must be able to rise above the mundane in the quest for the ultimate good. His activities must behomocentric in the positive sense. He must be ready for the inevitable with the same level of expectation akin to the Socratic analogy of a groom entering the bride chamber on the first night. The itinerary to the great beyond must be a pleasurable one indeed for those whose lives are abiding lessons to mankind. Not even death can extinguish their very essence.
Death: That blind, obdurate and asinine messenger, who spares the wretched and despised in the society and strikes terminally, with unfeeling ferocity, on the being around whom mortals weave, ignorantly though, all mundane aspirations for existential survival. The impartial dispenser of grim munificence to the low and mighty, who spurns all entreaties to allow the fructification of a sapling which holds an assured promise of a bountiful harvest while preserving the unproductive and parasitic Iroko. The nemesis which sanctions the hubris of the haughty with abrupt truncation of activities and extirpation of expectations. The ultimate killer of dreams.
Death asserts its importance, once again. The awe in which mortals hold this harbinger of grief increases with every strike. Its supremacy over all that live is incontrovertible. Its final triumph over men and women of outstanding qualities is, however, debatable. Certain individuals have conquered death. They can never die. So let it be with BF.
Bamidele Francis Aturu: writing about this exceptional individual in the past tense has been somewhat difficult. Each time I summoned the courage to scribble a few lines on this quintessential activist, I experienced uncharacteristic numbness of my fingers on the key board. His sudden departure has left many people gaping, wondering if the news could turn out as the figment of some diabolic imagination. Not a few persons are still shocked at the suddenness of this most unexpected transition. Granted that death is a necessary end which must be expected at anytime, this cut is most unkind.
I heard of Aturu, for the first time, in the late eighties when he rejected the NYSC award for the best youth corps member who served in Niger State. The military administrator, Col Lawan Gwadabe (Rtd) had presented the award to him gleefully expecting that the young man would embrace this much-sought after prize. He spurned it, to the consternation of the military administrator who had expected him to express gratitude profusely.
He was to pay dearly for the audacity. The government of the day released a statement that he had rejected his certificate as nobody wanted to give him any award in the first place! But his message of courage in the face of adversity rang through, slicing through the barricade of falsehood erected to punish him. He remained true to his mission till the end.
His decision to study law at Obafemi Awolowo University was of direct benefit to the mass of the people in the country. He was an uncommon attorney who was practically everywhere defending the rights of the people. From the lowly to the highly placed on the rung of the social ladder, he spoke truth to power. He often cast aside the convenient excuse to avoid direct participation in agitations for civil liberty. He freely moved from the courtroom to the barricades.
His seminal contributions to socio-political affairs of the country cannot be forgotten in a hurry. His was among the few genuine voices which challenged the excesses of politicians. He, unlike many hustlers today who do not have any viable means of livelihood, chose a life of quietude. He practised law. He deployed it as an instrument in the defence of the downtrodden. He was a delight to watch in the court and on the street. His humility was infectious.
I had first met him through my brother who studied law at Ife at about the same time as he. I later met him on several occasions at the Chambers of the legal Spartacus, Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, and at the barricades, the very last being the anti fuel subsidy demonstration in Lagos. We also met a couple of times at TVC and Galaxy Television for Dotun Saseyi’s programme on Democracy and The Rule of Law.
There was this mutual respect. He would always address me as “Doctor”, not minding his relationship with my brother, “Embody”. Our very last meeting was at Ibadan when the friends of Femi Falana, SAN, gathered to celebrate the legal luminary and an advocate of the masses. He came with the erudite legal scholar, Prof Chidi Odinkalu, who delivered the lecture at the event.
He had complained about my near-absolute withdrawal from the activities of the socially conscious. I had explained to him that I found it extremely difficult to join criminal elements who commoditise the struggle for the emancipation of the masses. I expressed my satisfaction at the lecture delivered by Prof Odinkalu. He told me that I was surprised because I had not listened to him before that time. I gave him my number again but was shocked to know that he still had it. I had given him at one of our meetings in Lagos long before that time. I promised to keep in touch afterwards, I did not. I had followed his interviews on television and in newspapers.
I remember teasing him about his status as a Pentecostal Christian and the menace that that tendency had become in the country after one of our meetings at Galaxy, Lagos. He did not disagree with me but was quick to add that he was convinced that he was on the right path. He spoke glowingly of the virtues of a good Christian. He also excoriated commercial pastors whose activities paint the Christian religion in a very bad light.
He did not fail to recommend the religion to me. I told him that I was satisfied with my Ifa worship and that I would gain nothing leaving it for any imported religion, much less the Nigerian variant whose provenance is traceable to the economic recession of the Babangida era. He laughed heartily and promised to be praying for my conversion.
I listened to him on the television, Channels to be precise, on the propriety of the jamboree called National Conference and its inherent futility. He had admonished the so called activists who fell over one another to be on the list of government nominees. He challenged them, especially the self-appointed spokespersons of the Yoruba, to reject the allowances attached to the grandiose charade if they were indeed serious about discussing the future of this country. He had questioned the rationale behind the composition of the conference. He signed off on a pessimistic note. How prophetic he was indeed! The jamboree just ended abruptly.
I had read his position on the eligibility of President Jonathan to contest for a second term as the law allows. He was, however, quick to add that Nigerians should be left to decide his suitability or otherwise and not a cabal of power mongers. I followed his case against the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, on behalf of his client, Mr. Babatunde Omidina, alias Baba Suwe. He defended this man, competently. He won at the court of first instance.
The appellate court upturned the judgment of the lower court on technical grounds. I read his opinion on the inept military and civilian leadership in the country. His intervention on the jumbo salaries of legislators is memorable, among others too numerous to mention. The death of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, left a big vacuum in the fight for the downtrodden. BF, as he was fondly called by his comrades, was able to step into his shoes most creditably.
I received the announcement of his sudden death from a sister-in-law who had seen us together in one of these programmes. She thought I should know as the news broke. I shouted like a deranged dog, completely oblivious of my environment. I called Comrade Femi Aborisade, another forthright activist, to confirm. He said he had just spoken to one of his lawyers. It was true! Bamidele Aturu, the relentless defender of the oppressed, is no more. I called Jiti Ogunye, a decent and committed activist and close ally of the deceased. He also told me in a subdued voice that we will never see this rare human being again.
I have never stopped ruminating on the essence of this life. A man struts and swaggers as if there is no other person as he. He uses his position to suppress others. He ensures that everyone prostrates or genuflects to pay obeisance to him. He extorts obedience through vile means. Nothing appears sacrosanct and no institution is above desecration before him. This character, and other base-born misanthropists such as him, will have even the elements celebrate their passing. Anyone who does not have a thing to die for has not started to live.
Aturu has joined the pantheon of our noble ancestors. As we mourn his physical absence, let us find consolation in the knowledge of the good deeds for which he was reputed till he breathed his last.
We send our heart-felt condolences to his widow, children and dependants. We will not pretend not to know that the journey ahead will be a very challenging one.
Asking him to rest in perfect peace will amount to an insult to this highly intelligent man with uncommon courage. I am sure he knows what to do in the hereafter, if truly there is a place like that.
A giant has fallen!
Dr. Doyin Odebowale,