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The reactionary and the activist

By Bisi Lawrence

The good people of Ekiti State are supposed to have elected Ayo Fayose as their state governor. They must have done so in all innocence and with the expectation of his keeping to the proper behaviour of an occupant of the high office.

Dr. Tunji Braithwaite
Dr. Tunji Braithwaite

He has often departed from the norms of a composed demeanour and respectful address associated with his position. He retains the coarse attitude of a motor park tout which marked his routine through the campaign period. But the campaign is over, though Fayose does not appear to notice the fact. His pre-occupation with running down the Federal Government in every way possible, by trashing the efforts of the government at all points has only highlighted, rather than mask, the abject paucity of his contribution to the governance of the State, which is his primary role in office. He takes exceeding delight in maligning his predecessor in office both by innuendo and even directly by name. He has indeed chosen a curious way of representing the respectable people of Ekiti who are well known for their industry, as well as their modesty.

Someone should talk to him, someone in his political party which he continues to misrepresent by mistaking a governor’s position as that of a political thug. The press will hardly do that as a body, since he is considered as a “good copy”, as long as he can provoke some readership, especially among the class of uncommitted citizenry, or the politically naïve. He is at the point where his approval of some personalities is no longer accepted, or openly acknowledged. His commendation is becoming an embarrassment to some of those he would like to be identified with him as his peers. It is sad, but it could get worse.

It is reported that some Ekiti State legislators went into hiding recently, while giving out that they were “missing”. They have now joined the human race, declaring that their sojourn under cover was to avoid their being arrested by the police. Other legislators in the state were last heard of in Ibadan, Oyo State, where they had fled to avoid, according to them, police arrest. Well, is the arm of the police so short that it cannot reach out to grab a miscreant across the country?

All the same, there was at least one arrest followed by the detention of an Ekiti legislator, not by the police, but by the Directorate of State Services which seems to have a reason for its action. In any case, we operate as a nation under a law that guarantees the freedom of every citizen to live unmolested and secure. Any arrest by any law-enforcement agency is open to the jurisdiction of the law courts.

Fayose knows this, and yet removes the albeit tattered umbrella of his political party, and the dignity attached to his office to be withdrawn from the well-being of his legislators— that is if the allegations of harassment have any foundation in reality. He occupies himself in irresponsible statements unbecoming of the elevated position of a state governor.

His most recent tirade was against the recent National Economic Council Retreat which he attended. In truth, the “retreat” could have been better constituted to include more experts, but that could be accounted for in subsequent fora of the implementing committees. However, to declare that nothing was achieved is to belittle all the efforts which indicated that this was a progressive step forward. And since he was present at the meeting, or “retreat”, it would be instructive to know what contributions he made to the discussions. Patently, none. A more negative reaction to a situation which concerns anyone in a position of responsibility, nay authority, could hardly be expected—except from a reactionary like the Ondo State governor.

That is what separates an activist from a reactionary. One is forward-looking, the other is backward-looking; one is for progress, the other is for retreat; one is on the side of advancement, the other is aligned to recoil. I wonder if all that is connected with what gave Tunji Braithwaite the idea of naming the political party he founded, the National Advance Party.

Tunji was sure he would become a lawyer. The environment of his upbringing suggested and supported that notion. He grew up in Lagos on Tokunboh Street at the divide between the Brazilian Quarters and the Epetedo area of the Island, which were two very “alive” areas of the island. He was quite involved up with the street confrontations of the day, like every active young man, until he was admitted to the CMS Grammar School in 1946. This was in the days when Rotimi Williams, an old boy of the school and others were becoming the leading lights of the bar.

He was also certainly helped in becoming focused by the nature and tradition of the CMSGS, “where mighty undertaking” was being processed in the lives of the young boys through a firm adherence to the principals of Christianity. The principals were usually clergymen who did not know how to “spare the rod”. In fact, one of them, L.J.Lewis, a former seaman, for his rod used a cricket bat , which he did not spare either. The school was also very close to the parents of many of the pupils because the school had the tradition of admitting children from the same families. So you had Asekun Senior and Asekun Junior; Adefope Senior and Adefope Junior; Phillips Senior and Junior; Subair Senior and Junior; Bishi, Senior and Junior; Lawrence Senior and Junior—tha’ts me, by the way. And then, of course you had the threefold entities like the Solankes—three of them; Oyeshikus, also three; the Kaitels; and the Braithwaites also three brothers, all in different classes, of course. Tunji was the youngest, and he could not afford to be other than calm is such a sober surrounding.

The legal profession had an overwhelming appeal to most of us and claimed a number of the boys in the school of the 40s. For Tunji, it was almost a religion. He became a lawyer, and he let you know that he was a lawyer.

By the time he was called to the bar, he was ready to fly. His cases had a flavour to them. He romped in the suits which involved his schoolmates whom he defended mostly without payment. But he also appeared in several celebrated cases of the period including the Obafemi Awolowo treason and others.

When he took to politics, he also created a costume of a Nigerian design which several of his followers also began to wear, but with less enthusiasm than could have been expected. His project to clean out “rats, cockroaches…” was not limited to such mundane projects but included the eradication of poverty, ignorance and disease. He advocated free education up to university level, and was convinced that Nigeria could afford it if corruption and dishonesty were eradicated, especially among political office holders.

Tunji Braithwaite also spared some time for Christian worship as his background, being the descendant of Christian missionaries had instilled in him. He was bold in his professional and political enterprises with a faith in God that was transparent to those who knew him. I also like to think of him as a visionary in his proposal that Nigeria would attain her full potentials only as a confederation. A lot is being heard about that these days from highly respectable sources and it is clear that a lot would still be heard later.

Tunji Braithwaite lived a commendable life. Like several notable Nigerians, his memory is today wreathed in garlands of laudatory tributes by a nation which held back even the lowest national honour from him. All the same, I have not the slightest doubt in my mind that the spirit of this activist rests in peace.

Time out


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