By Owei Lakemfa
THEY were not advised visits. But the Pro-Democracy Movement had become badly depleted. The Abacha regime had forced quiet a number of activists underground. Some, like our leader, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti and Shehu Sani had been given life jail sentences, Ken Saro-Wiwa had been executed with eight other Minority campaigners, some activists had fled into exile and a number were in detention without trial.
One of them was Dr. Frederick Isiotan Folabora Fasehun on whose shoulders the leadership of the Campaign for Democracy, CD, had fallen after Beko had been seized over a phantom 1995 coup for allegedly “being an accessory after the fact of treason.”
There were bombings across the country especially of buses packed with soldiers on their way to work. They were by the Abacha regime, which used them to spread terror as well as blame them on perceived enemies of the regime.
On December 16, 1996 the then Military Governor of Lagos State, Brigadier Buba Marwa escaped death when a bomb planted at the corner of the Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja was set off as his convoy passed. It was an insider job that included those who knew his itinerary. The regime accused Fasehun of planting the bomb and detained him in the Intercentre, the secret cells of the State Security Services, inside the Ikoyi Cemetery.
We got reports of his being held in solitary confinement and being tortured. We had to carry out a campaign and got foreign missions to intervene that he be handed over to the police for thorough investigation and if necessary, prosecution, rather than being held without trial.
Our aim was to get him detained in a regular police station or prison where he would be able to interact with other human beings, where it would be more difficult to torture him and we might be able to get direct contact with him.
It worked, and Fasehun was handed over to the so-called Presidential Anti-Terrorism Squad which detained him at the notorious Federal Criminal Investigation Department, Alagbon Close, Ikoyi. Alagbon was already overflowing with detainees most of them, chief executives of failed banks. The bankers were allowed visitors so political detainees also took advantage.
It was not quite safe for me to visit Fasehun at Alagbon because I was known to the security agencies. I think one of the reasons the security released me quickly whenever I was picked, and their reluctance to detain me was because I was a bit known as a journalist and they did not want much adverse publicity. It meant that I could simply be kidnapped and disappear forever as it later happened to a colleague, Bagauda Kaltho.
But I had to meet Fasehun for organisational reasons. I recall the first time I visited, he told me about his ordeals at the Intercentre detention facility. One incident he could not forget was an agent ‘Darman’ who drew a gun on him. This is apart from having only the dead around him.
On this visit, he took me into the bigger yard to meet Chief Olu Falae, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and a leader of the opposition National Democratic Organisation, NADECO, with which CD had a working relationship. Falae was being detained in connection with the November 14, 1996 bomb blast near the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos in which the airport’s Chief Security Officer, Dr. Sola Omotshola and Mr. Nelson Gbolahan Kasim were killed. As I spoke with Chief Falae, someone placed his hand on my shoulder. When I turned round, it was Ambassador Yusuf Mamman, Nigeria’s ambassador to Spain. I was shocked as I thought he was in Madrid and instinctively asked what he was doing in detention. He shrugged his shoulders. I knew he was a detainee because he was in shorts and slippers.
Apart from the CD and related matters, Fasehun during my visits discussed with me the new organisation he was building when he was seized, the Oodua Peoples’ Congress, OPC, which he wanted me to take an interest in and help guide as I was familiar with some of the functionaries who were with us in the CD.
A Consultant and Acupuncture Specialist, Fasehun had resigned in protest from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH. He went on to establish the Besthope Hospital on Layi Oyekanmi Street, Mushin and build a beautiful hotel, Century Hotel, in Okota.
I gained an insight into his entrepreneurial spirit when he told me that in assessing the cost of furnishing the hotel, he ended up setting up a furniture company. I once took friends out on an evening at the hotel when I knew he was out of town. When I asked for the bill, the waitress said it was on the house. I protested and said I did not even know her. She didn’t know me either, but that the supervisor had spotted me and told her the chairman’s standing instruction was that I should never pay for accommodation or anything I consumed.
Fasehun was national chairman of the Nigeria Labour Party in 1989, one of the conveners of the aborted National Conference in 1990, presidential aspirant of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, leader of the Movement for Social and Economic Justice, MOSEJ, a leader of the CD, co-founder of NADECO and founder of the OPC.
He had the ability of motivating and galvanizing youths like Honourables Opeyemi Bamidele and Kayode Oladele who were to become members of the House of Representatives. But it was in mass mobilisation his talent shone brightly.
He mobilised people, including market people in their tens of thousands in the pro-democracy protests that resulted in the forced exit of the Babangida regime. He also put that talent to effective use in founding the OPC. In the course of his struggles for a free and democratic Nigeria built on social justice, he suffered long spells of detention in places like the Ikoyi Prisons, State Security and police cells in Lagos and Ilorin.
Fasehun was a consummate patriot, but in my meetings with him in Alagbon, I noticed he was undergoing a serious transformation; he had undergone emotional and psychological torture. His immediate jailors and torturers as symbolised by head of the Anti-Terrorist Squad, Zakari Biu – a notorious torture specialist – were almost entirely, from one part of the country. This led to resentment and he recoiled into an ethnic cocoon.
Unfortunately, this outstanding patriot over the years, became defined by his latter day ethnocentric politics. On December 1, 2018, this committed, honest and fine leader of the Nigerian masses, departed the world. This Thursday, January 10, he will be committed to mother earth in Ondo, Ondo State; the town that gave Nigeria the remarkable Dr. Frederick Fasehun.