I woke up to that fateful midnight SMS: “So Sad. We lost Bamidele Aturu.” At first I thoughtfully concluded it was a bad dream, an ugly night mare. So I waved it away and tried to continue from where I left off my sleep.
But sleep eluded me! I was left contemplating on the SMS and when to call my dear friend Funmi, who had sent me the text. My worry heightened when my call to her was unanswered. I needed information from someone to confirm the veracity of the text message.
When the response finally came, I was shell shocked as the caller on the other end confirmed the contents of the SMS.
My initial responses were series of questions: When? How? Where? What happened? I had no immediate response but silence, a loud tangible silence that stretched long to the life and times of a cherished activist icon. I was simply short of words. Tears came to my eyes at the gravity of what had happened.
I reached out to colleagues and friends I knew had interacted and worked with him. I got calls back and one, a former Senator and friend of the Labour Movement was so dumb struck that he asked: “Are you sure?Because I spoke with him a few days ago; it can’t be true!” Alas, it turned out to be true!
I have been very sad since the news of his death. I am yet to recover from the shock and the pain of this death. However, as a Christian, we cannot grieve without hope of blissful eternity with Christ.
It is consoling that BFA was also a Christian and a Redeem Pastor, and that he has gone to a far more glorious place to take a well-deserved rest after years of fruitful labour. He fought “a good fight; finished the course; kept the faith” (Tim 4: 7). And now he is ushered to his rest.
I knew of and read about BFA long before I met him. His human rights crusade put him in a class of men and women who fought assiduously to promote, protect, preserve and defend the fundamental rights of Nigerians. Our paths crossed when I became the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity in 2003.
We connected as he represented Labour in the Tripartite Committee that reviewed the final draft of our Labour Bills. He was very passionate and objective in his position during the review exercise. His balanced views and detailed analysis of the various clauses of the five draft bills will forever be one of his parting legacies to the Nigerian Labour Movement. Sadly though, only one of the five pieces of legislationshas been passed after eight years of their submission to the National Assembly.
In the heat of his very busy schedule, BFA still had time to write several labour books, present papers, honour dialogue engagements and served in a number of human rights committees. One of his books: Nigerian Labour Laws: Principles, Cases, Commentaries and Materials ranks as a foremost reference material for students and practitioners of Industrial Relations.
I have found it a treasure trove in my general industrial relations practice and regular labour negotiations. I also recall his excellent inputs and gallant defence during the Amendments of the Trade Unions Act 2005.
He stood up with members of the National Assembly for Nigerian workers and amplified their voices that moderated the tone of the amendments. His contributions averted the listing of Nigeria in the Committee of Standards of the ILO for gross violation of workers’ rights and unfair labour practices, and nipping in the bud, industrial protests and associated work stoppages that would have threatened the peace of the nation.
Bamidele was an amiable colleague, friend and “aburo”. We treasured and respected each other’s professional and technical views. He was a principled activist, quiet achiever, a nationalist and statesman who distanced himself from any situation that could compromise or corrupt his ideals. He would rather turn down opportunities that may conflict with his avowed beliefs.
But he was never hesitant to undertake briefs on violations and abuses of human and workers’ rights. This was probably why he accepted to be a member of the 2011 Committee that looked into the conflict in the NDDC. He must have participated out of his deep conviction for the challenges of the people of the region and a conviction that they deserved more than they were getting.
Bamidele was a dogged fighter, an advocate of the poor, powerless and voiceless masses, the abused, neglected, down trodden! He was a team player that expanded the space for Nigerian activism and activists.
Every time I called on him to discuss workers issues and concerns and share some thoughts on contemporary development in the labour sector, his eager response that I should inform my principals that they were unfair was instructive and inspirational.
But he was also very courageous to tell workers to take the path of honour and negotiate in good faith, rather than resorting to abuse of the sacred instrument of strike. And any time I asked for his intervention, especially during national impasse or impending face-off, he usually graciously obliged. Together, we had partnered to regulate peaceful and harmonious industrial relations in Nigeria.
His death is a huge loss to the nation in general and, the human rights and the labour movement in particular. His dependable disposition, honesty, truthfulness will be greatly missed by all peace loving Nigerians. He always promised each time we spoke to come and enjoy pepper soup at my place. He was so busy he never fulfilled his promise. His excellent works live! May God Grant him Eternal Rest!
Timiebi Koripamo- Agary, an independent scholar and consultant, wrote from Lagos.