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Remembering those who left lately

By Rotimi Fasan
A LOT seems to be happening all at once. Amid huge celebrations of major milestones all around, times when the sun never seems to set, there are the dark streaks.

In Nigeria, the trouble of insurgency only escalates. It now looks like a matter entirely out of hand, beyond the capacity of Abuja to contain.

Lethal explosives are going off with the rapidity with which children throw Christmas bangers. There is death on the right.

There is death on the left. In front and behind death stalks many, especially the innocent. Impunity walks on all fours as outlaw elements increase their profile. Mass death has never been cheaper.

Not even alleged sympathisers of insurgency such as General Mohammadu Buhari are spared the madness of marauding homicidal characters. President Jonathan may not think much of Buhari’s sermonising that Nigeria is on the brink of anarchy.

He may see Buhari as an agent of provocateur. But the killer beasts on the prowl don’t think much of Buhari’s perceived support. Either this or they wouldn’t have gone after him in the manner they did last week. They ran their deadly cargo of explosive devices into him on his way to his home town of Daura. He escaped by whiskers. The madness of this ongoing terror is surely without method.

Nigerians also marked, last week, 100 days since the school girls of Chibok were forcibly taken into Sambisa forest.

Nothing has come of their abduction beyond the rhetoric of politicians trading accusations as to who is doing or not doing what about bringing the girls back. The entire issue has been turned into a point of political debate that generates more heat than light.

But the Pakistani teenager and fast rising icon of girl freedom, Malala Youfsafsai, succeeded in injecting some life into the lingering saga of the unfortunate girls of Chibok.

She snatched victory from the jaws of defeat as her visit appeared to have finally forced a meeting between President Jonathan, the Chibok girls that escaped from their abductors, and their parents. It was all going to be another debacle when the girls didn’t show up at the presidential villa following an arranged meeting. But eventually they did go to the mountain that is Jonathan since Jonathan wouldn’t go to them.

There have also been the celebrations. One of these, the 80th harvest of Kongi, was reported in our last encounter here.

The many months of preparation and eventual celebration of Wole Soyinka on his 80th birthday came to a climax on July 13, 2014. It was a celebration well worth it.

But just as Nigerians were celebrating this global icon of creativity, just as the sun turned in his direction, so was it setting on the life of another global icon of creativity and freedom.

Nadine Gordimer, the South African Nobel Prize winning writer and anti-apartheid crusader, took her mortal leave of the world on that same Sunday Wole Soyinka was being justly celebrated.

It’s not every day that writers show their admiration or respect for fellow writers. But Gordimer was different. She was very generous in the manner she celebrated or praised those writers she admired. She was an admirer of Soyinka, just as she was of Achebe. Which is the same thing as saying she was an admirer of Nigerian literature.

She was in Nigeria in 2006 to celebrate 20 years since Wole Soyinka won the Nobel Prize. There she was in Oduduwa Hall of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, a quiet-looking, soft-spoken, petite lady. Although Gordimer was already over 80 at this time, she sat through the keynote lecture of the event delivered by Professor Biodun Jeyifo. She also witnessed the performances and had kind things to say about Soyinka as she had done on other occasions.

At a time when it was fashionable to treat Blacks as dregs of the South African society, Nadine Gordimer, a member of the supremacist race, elected to be on the side of the oppressed and brought the full weight of her literary might to bear on the struggle for a free South Africa.

She put her livelihood and safety on the line as her works were banned. But she remained resolute and lived to see a free South Africa. It’s a last farewell to this daughter of a jeweler, the effacing woman of letters, whose long life of the mind has enriched the world she came into in 1923.

As with Gordimer, so it was for Bamidele Aturu, the human rights crusader and lawyer whose remains were buried last weekend in Ogbagi-Akoko, Ondo State.

Aturu’s death was a shocker that came just out of the blues. One of the more effacing and dedicated of the group of younger lawyers who followed the Gani Fawehinmi crusading style of jurisprudence, Aturu first came into national limelight after he rejected a handshake with Lawal Gwadabe and thus an award rightly earned following distinguished performance during his national service year in Niger State.

This was in the late 1980s when the military was in power and government, and the word of a soldier was law. Gwadabe was the military governor of Niger State. A mere ‘corper’, Aturu’s rejection of a handshake with a governor was an act of courage. His discharge certificate was seized as a consequence. But his personal loss in this instance was Nigeria’s gain.

He had studied physics at Adeyemi College of Education in Ondo, coming tops of his class. But he returned to school to study law as a result of the seizure of his certificate. He would again rise to prominence as a lawyer, proving that his winning the NYSC award in Niger State and topping his class as a student of physics were no fluke efforts.

He became a prominent lawyer but his prominence was not of the cheap, attention-seeking type, as many of our so-called human rights lawyers are prone to doing these days.

He used the law in a manner that at once suggested and confirmed that he had his very heart in what he preached. The passing of Aturu marks a serious and grievous depletion of the rank of public-spirited Nigerians who look beyond the self in the everyday challenge of living in Nigeria and being Nigerians.

As Nigerians live through the trauma of these times; the foolishness of politicians who take their personal greed for public gain and cannot see beyond the immediate gratification of their desires, we must always remember those among our country people and others from around the world who, by personal example, sacrifice and dedication, remind us that there is more to life than the primitive acquisition of material gains.

Life is for such people no brief candle; they see the personal in the communal, the self in the whole.



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