BAMIDELE Francis Aturu, who died, July 9, 2014, abandoned a career in the military to train as scientist. Precluded from public service by an audacious act of objection to military dictatorship, he discovered a vocation as arguably the foremost public interest advocate of his generation in Nigeria. A lawyer and a pastor, he was also former student leader and prisoner of conscience. He was 49. The son of Felix Aturu, a Police Officer, ‘Dele or BF to his close associates, was born in October 1964, a mere four years after Nigeria’s Independence. In those days, the Police was a very respectable institution. Working in it also meant frequent postings around the country. As Felix Aturu moved around on transfer from one duty post to another, so did his wife, Felicia, and their young family. This opportunity to live in different parts of Nigeria would give BF a deeply rooted and informed sense of the country.
Pan Nigerian outlook
BF’s pan-Nigerian outlook would be deepened by his years of leadership in the student movement. At the Adeyemi College of Education, in Ondo, where he took his first degree in Physics education, BF was elected President of the Students Union and emerged as one of the leading young voices against military rule in Nigeria at a time when it was quite dangerous to do such things. Yet, in 1987, he graduated with a first class degree and as the best student from the college. Armed with this qualification, BF undertook his compulsory National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, as a physics teacher at the Federal Government College, Minna, Niger State, where he earned a reputation as an exceptionally able, committed, and caring teacher. The management of the NYSC adjudged BF as the best member of the NYSC 1987/88 service cohort in Niger State. This assessment was considered worthy of recognition by the then military administration. Called upon to receive this recognition from the Military Governor at the passing out of his NYSC cohort in 1988, BF declined to shake the hands of the governor as an act of conscientious objection to military rule. The Military Governor in question was Lawan Gwadabe, a protégé of then Military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida, who also came from Niger State. The unprecedented audacity of this act would put BF in the cross hairs of successive military regimes. For denouncing military rule, to begin with, the NYSC denied BF his “discharge certificate”. As one of the most qualified physics teachers in the country, BF was well qualified for the career he loved as a teacher. But, an NYSC discharge certificate is a requirement for employment in the public service which had the best schools in the country then. The only jobs available were dead-end teaching jobs in private schools.
With the onset of official persecution following his rejection of military rule, BF naturally gravitated towards an emerging community of protest in Lagos, which was dominated by some very charismatic lawyers, including then president of the Nigerian Bar, Alao Aka Basorun, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, and Kanmi Isola-Osobu, all now of blessed memory. They would be complemented by two emerging names, Olisa Agbakoba, himself a future president of the Nigerian Bar Association, and Ayo Obe. This period also gave birth to a young advocacy community for human rights pioneered by the Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, in 1987, closely followed by the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, CDHR, in 1989, and the Constitutional Rights Project, CRP, in 1990. BF worked hard to ensure that these groups maintained open channels of communication and worked together. Partly under impetus provided by him, they would coalesce in 1991 to form the Campaign for Democracy, CD. Even in those early years, the new human rights organizations included left leaning volunteers and workers from the labour and student movements but were mostly led by liberal professionals who were often derided for lacking the ideological purity. With wattage to spare, iron discipline and candour, BF was one of the few who managed to retain the confidence of the competing ideological camps. Unable to undertake a fulfilled teaching vocation without the NYSC discharge certificate and under the influence of these leading cause lawyers, BF enrolled in 1989 as a law student at the University of Ife. Here, he became the leading spirit and guide behind the students’ movement in Nigeria. In 1991, a new leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, led by Abdul Mahmud (presently a delegate to the National Conference) under BF’s guidance would force issues with the military government by seeking an indefinite, nation-wide shutdown over two major policies of the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida: the structural adjustment programme, SAP, and their interminable programme of transition to civil rule.[eap_ad_2]