Nigeria News

NIGERIA: Goodnight, Aturu, Defender of the Masses

 Irecall the glowing narrative of a junior officer in our office on an errand to Bamidele Aturu. The young man came back with adoring first-time impression of Bamidele. In excitement, he told the story of how the famous lawyer and human rights activist welcomed him. First, Bamidele called him by first name, as if they had known before. Two, he quickly offered him a seat. Three, he personally served him refreshments, when he could have sent the house help to do that. Four, he said Bamidele was so warm and friendly that you would want to be around such a person all the time.
The young man was perplexed, but I was not. What he was describing was just the typical Bamidele: humble and friendly, no matter the age or class of the people he was dealing with. He did not hesitate to greet you first even if he was meeting you for the first time. But above his down-to-earth attributes, he was a man of character. He was not a man who would say yes when he meant no. He was not a man who would laugh with you and then stab you in the back.

I have known him for decades and I am in a good position to speak about him. He practised what he preached, and I am not even talking about his religious commitments as a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God. I remember when he contested for the governorship of Lagos State in 2007. We thought it was a hard nut for him to crack, but he told me that he wanted to show that politics can be played on the basis of principles. He wanted to prove that it is possible to practise politics of principles. He did not just want to be a philosopher; he also wanted to be a king.

Bamidele was a defender of the masses. He devoted a greater part of his legal practice to defending the downtrodden and the disadvantaged without charging a kobo. He did not see his profession as a meal ticket. Rather, he saw it as a God-given opportunity to help the helpless, to solve problems of inequality in the society. He defended a lot of people without charging them fees, because he knew they could not pay. If only the rich had access to legal defence, how can the poor get justice?
Bamidele was a crusader for democracy, rule of law and accountability. In the days of General Sani Abacha when it was like a capital offence to campaign for democracy, Bamidele was in the thick of the action. We were all members of the Democratic Alternative, a pro-democracy group that fought for the enthronement of government of the people, by the people and for the people. In those days when some youths were being mobilised to march for Abacha and deny Nigerians the right to choose their leaders through an open, free and fair electoral system, Bamidele lent his voice to the demand for true democracy.
Bamidele is a family man in the true sense of family. He devoted precious time to our sister, Bimpe and their wonderful children. When Chima Ubani travelled very suddenly to heaven, Bamidele devoted time to Mrs. Chima Ubani and their amazing children. He took time to go on holidays to Obudu and other parts of the world. He worked very hard but never forgot to leisure. He cares for all. He is a man of community and constituency.
Let me conclude that Bamidele Aturu is an original. Very original! He is an authentic! Nigeria and all of humanity will miss this great soul even as he travels to heaven at this time.

*Douglas is Special Adviser on Research, Documentation and Strategy to President Goodluck Jonathan

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