By Husseini Abdu, Steve Aluko, Nasiru Kura, Adagbo Onoja and Auwal Musa
His family, nuclear and extended, must be shattered. His immediate family would certainly still be in a shock from the reality that a vivacious father and husband is suddenly no more, with all the economic and socio-cultural implications of such dislocation.
We grieve along with them, especially Bimpe, his wife and our friend from her days at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, which was where we operated from as NANS leaders more than even Bayero University, Kano, that was the Secretariat of NANS in the early 1990s. His friends in both the bench and the bar, his fellow worshipers in his church and his neighbours must have lost a truly dear one in Bamidele Francis Aturu, aka BF who died on July 9th, 2014.
For the five of us writing this collectively, however, we mourn BF politically. Politically here is not in the sense that we were comrades. That is part of it but it is in the very specific sense that BF was the personification of the culture of immanent critique. We argue that it is that culture that he imbibed from God knows where that makes him the BF whose death we all feel very sharply today.
It summarises him. And this claim finds the strongest demonstration in his leadership of the defunct Patriotic Youth Movement of Nigeria, (PYMN) between 1992 and 1994. The PYMN, as many people do know, was the ‘masquerade’ behind NANS but not in the sense in which Nigerian governments thought of it as the radicalising external influence. It was also a platform of students but of tried and tested cadres of the radical nationalist movement in Nigeria from the late 1970s to mid 1990s.
His leadership of this organisation coincided with the junta commotion in the aftermath of the June 12, 1993 elections. The commotion shook the student movement in the sense that, notwithstanding the radical commitment, many took positions that stressed some spirits of that radical commitment. This was not just in the ethnic/cultural or regional sense, much as that was part of the problem. It was also the more serious push from the promoters of ‘action’ or ‘permanent revolution’ in response to the crisis on the ground even when the potentials as well as the limitations of some of such actions had not been exhaustively debated.
It is difficult to imagine what it would have been like in the student movement if a BF were not on the chair, supported powerfully by the late Chima Ubani, late Olaitan Oyerinde and Ogaga Ifowodo. Tendency splits and crisis did come to the pro-democracy movement eventually on account of June 12 but we say it here without overrating any individuals that BF, along with the above named comrades, saved the democratic movement in Nigeria the embarrassment of such split occurring much earlier in the student movement.
He saved it because, for BF, an issue was not right or wrong because it conformed to the grains of one dogma or another. It was right or wrong based on how he saw it in the context of the larger issue of the struggle for the expansion of the democratic space, that is democratic space in the more profound sense of emancipation, not in terms of mechanical, ritualistic democracy.
This attitude was not typical of members of a group marked by substantial fallback on one school of Marxism or another. He must have, therefore, acquired the disposition during his First degree in Physics before enrolling for an LLB programme at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife as a response to the withholding of his NYSC discharge certificate in the aftermath of his refusal to shake the hands of a military governor who would have presented him an NYSC award certificate rating him a star corper in the 1987/88 service year in Niger State.
The decision to enrol for a degree in law equally brought out the dynamism in BF. Someone else who was not that dynamic or determined might have resigned to fate, finding justification in destiny or pleading poverty. As it turned out, it was as a lawyer that he came into himself fully. We say so in the sense that, with law, he could proceed with being a Socialist even when the society had not achieved Socialism.
This is what we make of the following features of his life: the fact that he used the law to fight injustice against the weak wherever such occurred. His clients here included the trade unions, students, badly treated workers and any under privileged person or persons. It is perhaps wrong to use the word client in the sense that they did pay for his services.
He did it for free. Two, he was the constant star in the survival of the family of many fallen comrades, most notably the wife and children of late Chima Ubani and Anselm Akele. It was not because he made money from law that he was doing so but because he saw himself as a Socialist. And he didn’t think that Socialism is only when the revolution was achieved but as a day to day duty of anyone who professed it. Dr Abubakar Momoh has given a moving testimony of BF’s intervention in his own case in a way that strengthens the point we are making here.
The point must be made though that this ‘Socialism’ predated his becoming a lawyer. In late 1997, Steve Aluko, aka Maradona, one of the authors of this tribute had gone to inform BF that he wanted to get married. He actually went with the lady in question. Right there and then, however, BF wondered how Maradona could contemplate marriage when he was scheduled to be killed by Abacha’s goons?
Did he want to create misery by leaving behind a widow? And he was serious. But the couple pressed on. To their greatest surprise, BF turned out to be the pillar of the entire thing at the end of the day, In fact, he and Comrade Omolade Adunbi, another student activist then, were the few people on the ground at the wedding ground in Ibadan on April 4th, 1998.
It was a risky ground because the interpretation of the SSS was that there was no marriage but a pretext for a rally. The situation was so bad that the pastor scheduled to join the couple locked the church and ran away. SSS operatives had obviously told him that Maradona was a confirmed ‘trouble maker’ who should be avoided. BF was fully on the ground to the very end. Today, the marriage is blessed with three children. Meanwhile, the Maradona story itself in the history of radical student unionism in Nigeria is a blockbuster waiting to be written and published.
There is a sense in which BF and Maradona presented part of the tension in the movement towards its collapse in the mid 1990s. Probably as a result of the prolonged privations the Nigerian State had subjected Maradona to as a student activist, he became born again, adding Christian religious activism to his radical activism. BF was one of those who were very disappointed. As usual, he said so and the two of them argued over that.
If BF felt about anything, he must voice it out. You could say he had no protocol when it came to that. In time, however, BF too became a born again Christian and would vigorously take on anyone who challenged him on that as happened between him and Comrade Adagbo Onoja in an exchange of texts in October 2013.
Sometimes, he carried this self-referentiality too far. Once upon a time, the congress of the student movement at Ife decided that the Vice-Chancellor was doing certain things that amounted to a joke carried too far in their own estimation. And that, among other things, the Vice-Chancellor should be kidnapped and driven round the campus in a wheel barrow.
That was when Ebun Adegboruwa aka Big Sam was the student union president, meaning 1992/3. It amounted to foolhardiness to go against congress when student unionism was it in Nigeria but BF did. He didn’t just argue against the position, his own arguments sailed through, the students backed down and the VC did not have to be kidnapped. The logic of this story is that he could go against the ‘rabble’ but most time that he did, he always had an argument that could not be dismissed offhandedly.
Four out of the five writers of this tribute were all in Political Science Department of Bayero University, Kano, when NANS Secretariat was in the university. But most core activities of the Secretariat took place at OAU, Ile-Ife. There were funny and serious reasons for this. One, OAU was one of the very, very few campuses in the entire Nigeria that had no cultism at that time. So, it was safe. Two, Hussein Abdu loved the plantain component of OAU catering regime while Adagbo Onoja admired the ‘forest’ called OAU. Nasiru Kura had an incurable desire to always be near Lagos.
But, in all cases, BF was a common denominator in our perpetual attraction to Ife. He was the one you talked about the struggle no end. He never gave excuses. None of us can recall BF saying he would not be around one weekend or so either because he wanted to read or wanted to go to Lagos for any social commitment or to go see parents.
Nothing like that ever! It was with him that we would discuss in great details the issues that were not for rally politics. The other such person was Chima Ubani but Chima was always surrounded by the crowd. We would end up in late Olaitan Oyerinde’s place but that would most be likely to collect the draft of some propaganda stuff because he was the resident in that realm.
But BF’s personal and political relations with the quartet preceded the movement of NANS Secretariat into BUK. Auwal Musa aka Rafsanjani was the leading Islamic theologian of the Muslim Student Society, (MSS) before he became a radical student activist. In the NANS EXCO of 1991/92, he was the Assistant Secretary-General during which he hosted a meeting of one of the aborted NANS Convention in BUK.
The university authority was aghast and they rusticated him. There were local campus initiatives against the action in BUK such as push from Kaduna comrades as well as that by the local ASUU members but it was the threat mobilised from Lagos that got the BUK authorities to back off and annul the punishment subsequently.
It happened that BF was the arrow head of the multiple threats from Lagos. Yet, if Rafsanjani’s rustication had stood, the student movement in BUK would have suffered a deadly blow because it would have been a ready evidence for those who were waiting to say it didn’t pay to be an activist or to move from being an ideologue of the MSS to that of NANS.
Subsequently when Rafsanjani founded the Abuja based Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC), BF remained a permanent resource person whether the function was in Abuja, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Lagos or Jos but without ever collecting any payment. In fact, BF became the think-tank for the civil society, drafting much of their constitutional advocacy agenda.
And sometimes last year when naval personnel pounced on Rafsanjani and gave him the beating of his life for challenging them against manhandling some hapless citizens on the pretext of environmental best practices, it was BF again who challenged them. It was only the intervention of the Chief of Naval Staff that stopped the naval violence from becoming one of the most sensational litigation against such acts of recklessness.
Our evidences in support of our major claim regarding BF’s persona, politics and overall life have been substantially restricted to the student movement and the associated realms. It is because that was the arena we knew him best and are collectively most keen. We also feel that, at a time when Nigeria is suffering from a terrible crisis of leadership from the local to the regional to the national level, BF’s leadership when he was a student is what the country needs to know about most. We do not have the power to wake BF from death but we have the power to give insights into that aspect of his life. If anything said here impacts positively on any living comrade, we would have achieved our objective.
In the same context of poverty of leadership, we must never tire in putting on record and/or publicising all the good things he did. By so doing, we would be conscientising our people in relation to the models of people Nigerians should watch out for as far as protectors of their genuine interests are concerned. This makes the compilation of and translation of tributes to BF into the three dominant Nigerian languages an imperative.
Finally, we may ask this seemingly pointless question as to why so many comrades are dying. The tribe of the genuine comrades in Nigeria is so small a population that losing one person in every twenty years would still be such a big blow. Yet, the tribe has lost them: Chima Ubani, Anselm Akele, Joseph Mammam, Jibril Bala, Chris Abashi, Tom Adanbara, Olaitan Oyerinde, Festus Iyayi, Tajudeen Abdulraheem, Christie Adanbara, Claude Ake, Omafume Onoge and now, BF, the casual, agitated, restless, outspoken, natural, determined and deeply public spirited human rightist, democrat, student unionist, labour lawyer and politician.
Perhaps, God knows the best. Adieu, BF.
Husseini Abdu, Country Director, ActionAid International-Nigeria
Steve Aluko aka Maradona, Executive Director, CLO
Nasiru Kura, NANS President, 1992/3
Adagbo Onoja, NANS Sec-Gen, 1992/3, University of Warwick, UK
Auwal Musa aka Rafsanjani, Executive Director, CISLAC, Abuja