When in the early evening of Wednesday, 9th July, 2014, the shocking, heart-wrenching and benumbing news filtered to me about the passing away of Comrade Bamidele Aturu, I could not be consoled. I called all his lines that were with me but unfortunately all of them were unusually silent. That was an ominous sign but I pressed on and called a few comrades who could not also confirm that tragedy but as I pressed on, putting calls to some lawyers in his chambers and other colleagues, eventually the confirmation came though by then I had become not just psychologically a wreck but physically eviscerated.
Aturu has always been a strong, healthy and vibrant personality right from our days in the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) of which he was a very senior colleague up on till the news of his sudden demise. He has had his own share of the normal headaches, pain and colds here and there just like many other comrades but I have never thought that anything was seriously amiss with his health. We saw just within that week and he never looked frail or in very bad condition.
He was an indigene of Ogbagi in Ondo state and was a pacesetter for us in the students’ union movement of those days especially when he rejected the tainted award by the military junta led by the bespectacled and toothy one as one of the best youth corpers in the then Niger State. His love for the downtrodden masses of Nigeria and his quest to be able to defend them better propelled him to go back to the University to acquire a Law degree. Armed with the degree in Law, he pursued his lifelong dream of engaging all anti–people forces that had foisted themselves on Nigerians.
We remember him as a prolific writer, an ideologue, a dogged but gentle activist, a loyal and dedicated comrade who discharged his duties with thoroughness and dispatch, a great advocate of the peoples’ rights and a deep passion for the protection of the rights of Nigerian people.
He was part of the founding pillars of the nation’s civil rights movement which he joined while still in the University. He was a veteran of all the anti-SAP struggles joining forces with other comrades from all around the nation’s campuses to resist the military regimes that held sway in the country then. He was a technical man for the civil rights movement and was always available in the field proffering solutions and giving advice here and there and joining the barricades.
When we all graduated, he continued the struggle and was one of the forces that fought the Babangida and Abacha military regimes to a standstill. He was there in all our marches at Yaba, TBS, Obalende etc. Eventually he became the convener of United Action for Democracy (UAD) and Democratic Alternative (DA) platforms that offered him the leverage to confront the draconian military regimes headlong.
He was never led by his stomach but driven by his eternal quest for the liberty and freedom of Nigerian masses. I know many cases he has taken pro-bono both for the movement and for indigent individuals who would have suffered adversely in the hands of merciless lawless agents of the government. Recently, he rejected an offer to be part of the Abuja jamboree called the National Conference which he believed would not yield any tangible result and was a fraudulent construct by some people to pull wool over the eyes of Nigerians. His position has turned out to be prophetic.
It would be difficult to recount his many exploits both as a student leader, a civil rights advocate and a lawyer. He has handled many landmark cases even in the period he had spent in the Bar rising rapidly to become one of the best known Labour Lawyers in Nigeria of which he was their national president before his death.
We shall all miss him greatly and his death makes our persistent call on all agencies of government at all levels to act responsibly to ensure that our nation’s industrial relations sphere remains harmonious. Perhaps, if the Health workers had not gone on strike, he may still be alive today. Perhaps if the relevant agencies had handled the issues raised by the concerned workers expeditiously and creatively, the strike would not have taken place and BF would have been alive today. That may be a conjecture from a mourning heart but it holds true as I know that just like Aturu died, there are still others who went because relevant medical personnel were not available to handle his case quickly.
We cannot condole ourselves sufficiently as his death in this manner is unacceptable to all of us in the nation’s civil rights movement. Nevertheless, I call on every member of our movement to take heart and do everything necessary to overcome all distractions and to stay alive. We send our heartfelt condolences to his wife and children including his loved ones.
This death is one too many for most of us. We have continued losing our crème de la crème one after the other. His passing reminds me immediately of the exit of our mutual friend comrade Olaitan Oyerinde in 2012. Aturu was one of those comrades who I confided in when I was deciding my political trajectory. His advice was very helpful in the eventual course that my life followed.
BF who would I go to now when I need those sound comradely advice with legal underpinnings? I remember my casual drives down number 5, Mbonu Ojike street, Surulere to your chambers where you will receive me in your inner chambers and we will talk about our dear country and on how to make things better. Even when you eventually moved to Dopemu area of Lagos, I followed suit and we normally had wonderful times winding down and having heart to heart talks. I remember your sincere and practical talks concerning even how we conduct our affairs in the various houses of assembly. You were frank and those talks helped in moulding my conduct in public life.
Once again, I am forced to use the passing of our beloved BF to talk to our comrades wherever they may be to emulate the exemplary life which he lived; the principle that made him to resist to be contaminated by the wine and meat from the master’s table. He did not allow the pressures of life to make him recant his stance. He stood by the people and he worked for them until he left the stage. He refused vehemently to be sucked into the septic tank of corruption that became commonplace amongst our cadre.
His life even as we mourn his passing should shine the light upon our paths and help us in redirecting our thoughts and actions in tune with our preachments so that true and abiding freedom can flow from us unto the far reaches of our nation. Our mourning can only have a meaning if we all arise from the couches of sorrow determined to continue the struggle that characterised his life and not allowing the torch to go out.
The only way we can immortalise him and I’m sure that is what Aturu would want is for us to further the struggle wherever we find ourselves. Expand the struggle to the far reaches of our nation carrying the gospel of resistance to every anti-people forces wherever they may be. When he became a born again Christian and eventually became a pastor in the Redeemed Christian church of God, he took his message of freedom to the pulpit thus furthering the struggle into the heart of Christendom. We must further this by taking the message of freedom into the mosques, the churches, the market places, the legislators, the executive mansions and the hinterland. That is the way to immortalise this noble fallen comrade.
My call is to every other comrade to stand by the family he left behind; his wife and his children and other loved ones. The same way he championed the cause of the late Olaitan Oyerinde by being the chairman of the Olaitan memorial foundation – a trust that was set up to support Olaitan’s loved ones, I call all well- meaning comrades to also gather together and champion the setting up of a memorial in honour and remembrance of this comrade.
Aturu, my brother! Aturu my comrade!! Aturu my counsel!!! You have gone to be with your maker; freed from the bondage and pressures of this world but one thing I know is that you are surely counted amongst the greats of our beloved movement in Nigeria, especially Progressive Youth Movement of Nigeria (PYMN). Your imprint in our hearts and your impact in our lives cannot be wiped away.
Soldier on worthy comrade! And I’m sure if there is any other battle to be fought for the people you loved so much where you have gone to be, you will be the first on the line to enlist. Fare thee well my friend and brother!
Olumuyiwa Jimoh is a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Apapa State Constituency 2