By Owei Lakemfa
I SPENT five hours making the one hour flight from Abuja to Ibadan. It is part of a popular culture in Nigeria in which nobody is made to pay for time wastage, at least not the airlines that can delay flights for four or more hours. It was another experience clawing my way from the airport to the hotel. The roads were clogged, full of potholes and quite dirty. In the chaotic traffic, two children about four years, were playing hide and seek oblivious of the danger. In other climes, they should be preparing for bed; but these appear to be child labourers in the alms industry.
The next day, it was the second leg of the journey. I engaged the horrible state of the road from the Moniya junction. For another four hours as I plodded the road, I wondered whether there is a government. I also asked why we cannot mobilise the populace around the issue of citizens’ right to motor-able roads. If the constitution gives us the right to movement, why can’t we hold government liable for not providing basic roads? The landscape I beheld was alluring with lush green farmlands and beautiful hills cuddling themselves in eternal embrace. But the villages and towns are in a bad state and virtually abandoned; there is no renewal, rebuilding , publicly-owned transport system or social housing. Except for police check points, there is virtually no government presence. As we moved from Iseyin to Okeho, Ilero, Iganna to Iwere Ile and finally, Itasa, I wondered why we do not have a culture of grouping towns together as self-sustaining socio-economic units with their independent economic activities, power, water, university, libraries, police and even foreign relations. Not unexpectedly, there was virtually no power supply in the areas. As for cell phone services, the farther I went, the worse the service until I could get no service at all. Internet was of course, out. Yet, the Honourable Minister of Communication, Adebayo Shittu, is from this zone.
My mission to Itase was to pay final tribute to Mama Agnes Wuraola Aweda Aborishade, a mother who like Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, gave Nigeria three outstanding patriots as sons. Mrs. Ransome –Kuti, one of the nationalists who gave us independence, had also been the mother of former Health Minister, Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti who revolutionised our Primary Healthcare system, Afro Beat legend and consummate Pan Africanist, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and human rights icon, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti.
I met Mama Aborishade’s first son, Professor Peter Adebayo Aborishade of the Federal University of Technology, FUTA, Akure on the battle field as we struggled against military dictatorship. I did not immediately link him with my friend, Femi Aborishade, a comrade I met when I was a teenager. The military had in 1978 banned the National Union of Nigerian Students, NUNS. For some of us including Femi who came into the campuses following that ban, our mission was to revive student unionism and reunite all students in the country. We were able to establish the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, in 1980. But within a year, it ran into stormy waters, that was where Femi came in. He and some comrades in the polytechnics succeeded in convincing their colleagues to fully integrate the National Association of Technological Students, NATS, into the NANS. He was Education Officer of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, from 1983 to 1986. But the Labour leaders found him too hot to handle as he raised the consciousness of workers to critical levels. He had to leave NLC, and went into full time activism. That was when his numerous detentions without trial began. On a number of occasions, he was detained by the military in the Kirikiri Maximum Prisons, the Gumel Federal Prisons and the secret cells of the State Security Services, SSS. On one occasion after he was abducted by the SSS, and seemed to have disappeared from the surface of the earth, we discovered he was being held in a notorious underground cell beneath the Ikoyi Cemetery, called Inter Centre.
In the late 1980s during one of his long spells of detention, a number of us including Dr. Ransome-Kuti established the Free Femi Aborishade Campaign Committee. We found ourselves campaigning that the military dictators led by General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida should not only free Femi, but all political prisoners in the country. This led us to change the organisation’s name to the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, CDHR. The CDHR was pivotal to the founding of the Campaign for Democracy, CD, as the umbrella organisation of human rights and civil society organisations in the country. It was the CD that led the pro-democracy street battles which led to the forced exit of Babangida as Military President of the country.
The stone-age General Sani Abacha government was exceptional brutal and murderous. It brooked no opposition and had its perceived enemies like Senator Abraham Adesanya, GUARDIAN Newspaper Publisher and former Internal Affairs Minister, Alex Ibru and Pro-democracy campaigner, Mrs. Kudirat Abiola, shot in the streets. That regime was also infamous for hanging writer and Environmental Rights activist, Ken Saro- Wiwa and eight of his compatriots. So, only the quite courageous stepped out to fight that regime. Femi Aborishade was one of them. With Abacha banning all forms of political activism, and as he schemed to be the sole Presidential Candidate in the country, Femi Aborishade teamed up with Chief Gani Fawehinmi and like minds to frontally challenge the regime by founding a political organisation, the National Conscience , later called the National Conscience Party, NCP. When the military was forced to finally return to the barracks, Femi flew the NCP’s flag as the party’s Oyo Sate gubernatorial candidate in the 2003 general elections. Mama Aborishade who had borne the pains of having her son so constantly detained by murderous soldiers, was one of Femi’s enthusiastic campaigners in that election. A third son, Steve Aborishade followed his elder brothers into political activism. He is active in the running of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, KIND, an organisation established in memory of slain Kudirat Abiola. He is also central to the running of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism.
Professor Aborishade said of Mama; “Her battles were many; some short lived, others long drawn, what with a radical, non-conformist husband largely misunderstood by large sections of his community, and radical activist sons all who kept her in constant anxiety. Her long suffering spirit is a study in trust in the Lord and contentment in the face of daunting adversity”