By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
Dr. Frederick Fasehun means different things to different people. To some, he is a medical doctor and to others a politician and the National Chairman of he defunct Nigerian Labour Party during the transition experiment of General Ibrahim Babangida.
Others know him as a politician who metamorphosed to a human rights activist after going to prison for fighting against military dictatorship. But to others, he remains the founder of the controversial Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC.
But whatever he means to people, the circumstances of his growing up appear to have made him a fighter right from childhood. Although he was born a normal children, he got so sickly that rather than watch him die on her laps, his mother, Comfort Olakurojomu threw him into the river to be eaten up by fishes.
“My mother took me along on a 10-day journey from Agbadu in Ondo State to Lagos. My sickness developed on the second day of the journey and I was told my mother attracted a lot of sympathy from other co-travellers who flocked around us in the boat offering suggestions on treatment but sympathies alone could not do it as the sympathisers soon retreated to their different corners in the boat.
“My mother had done everything she could to nurture me back to health but to no avail. She didn’t seem to understand what was wrong because I wasn’t born like that. And watching a once vibrant baby transform into an invalid toddler was too much for her that to the consternation of everyone aboard the boat we were travelling in, she did what she considered best.
Rather than watch me die on her laps, she sprang from her sitting position and dashed to the side of the boat and flung me into the river, my body making a loud splash on the water.”
Dr. Fasehun sees his mothers action as that of anger and grief but throwing him into the river did not mark the end of his life.
“Native intelligence taught that a human would sink and surface three times in deep water before finally sinking to rise no more.
“The other passengers in the boat knew this fact and waited as they screamed and shouted. I was told, even the boatmen brought the boat to a standstill and some passengers held my mother to stop her from jumping into the river to be drown alongside with me.
The rest of the passengers watched vigilantly, waiting for me to surface but I did not surface immediately. Then, some of the women saw me and pointed beyond the boat. They shouted I had surfaced and was flapping my hands and legs, knowing my life was at stake. And a women jumped into the river to grab me.”
According to Fasehun, the woman who jumped into the river was not just another passenger. It was his step-mother, his father’s younger wife, Mama Aina.
“My father, Columbus Akindojumi Fasehun had 14 wives. My mother, Comfort Olakufojomu was so grieved by my sickness and when she saw me getting cold on her laps, she thought I was going to die and threw me into the river. His co-wife, my step-mother whom we popularly called Mama Aina was the woman who jumped into the river and brought me aboard.
She could swim very well and I need not tell you that we became very close later, my step-mother and I.
“My mother, while alive, recounted this story several times with trepidation. She would look at me with vacant eyes filled with tears and then begin to recount the details of the incident that could have robbed her of one of her most cherished children. Really, I never blamed my mother for attempting to drown me.
Rather, I felt guilty that I subjected her to so much pain, grief and anger and as they say, life teaches that the person who is not angry at evil lacks enthusiasm for good. My relationship with my mother later grew so strong in affection to the risk of my becoming her favourite.”
Frederick Fasehun was to become a tough man later in life. But he is not just tough, he trained his children to be tough too. He recalled his daughter getting admission to study Medicine at a tender age and when the university refused to offer her provisional admission on account of her age, he began to carry placard until she was accepted.
“She is quite tough too. I remember an experience she had sometime ago. She took one of my cars to Lagos and she was pursued by robbers from Lagos Island and she gave them a tough time, driving very fast as they pursued her and she brought them into the premises. Obviously, they didn’t expect what they got as they followed her into the premises.
The gate was locked. The robbers were disarmed and handed over to the Police. I’m sure many of them did not go back to armed robbery after that experience.”
Looking back to his early childhood, Fasehun said he was born in times of peace and raised in times of war.
“I was not underprivileged. My parents came from well-placed families in Ondo. My father was the dawodu, the first born of his mother but the second son of my grandfather, Prince Adetona, a Crown Prince of Ekiti who refused to wear the crown and instead, emigrated to Ondo.
My paternal grandmother was Princess Ademushoyo who made a lot of hazardous journeys by waterways, using timber-built canoes paddled through creeks and canals. It usually took them 10-14 days to cover the 200 miles between Agbabu, the Port then serving Ondo town 40 miles away and Lagos.
The distance between Agbabu and Ondo was done in a palanquin, a wooden contraption carrying a canopy and borne by four able-bodied men. This section of the journey took three days to cover; four days, when accompanying luggage was substantial. The synopsis of my life began about six decades ago.
“I think that after that “water baptism,” something strange took hold of my health history. My life underwent a turn-around. I never suffered from any disease except rare cases of malaria. I think, the river episode is symbolic, that it washed away my ailments and physical infirmities.
I became very strong afterwards. although my mother and I became very close later, she couldn’t stand the trauma at the river initially and after we got to Lagos on that journey, she bundled me and deposited me with her own mother to rear.
“To me, that water ‘immersion’ and subsequent salvation denoted a metaphor that would re-echo at subsequent milestones in my journey through life.”