It was with sadness that I learnt of the death of Dr Bekololari Ransome-Kuti. Beko died at the time in our life as a nation that we needed him more that ever before. His contributions to the enthronement of democracy, respect for the rule of law and human rights were monumental. He was both a leader and a follower. His passion for fairness, justice and due process were legendary. His love for the ordinary Nigeria was unimaginable. No wonder his doors at his Imariam close residence in Lagos were open to all and sundry. His loss is a national loss and a personal one for me and for most of us.
Beko will be remembered for his struggles against military dictatorship in Nigeria. These struggles earned him stints in various prisons and dungeons across Nigeria. To date, he remained one of the most arrested, assaulted and imprisoned human rights activists in the annals of the nation. Beko had been in and out of prison not on account of criminality but on account of his dogged determination to speak truth to power at all times.
He, together with his older sibling the late legendary Afro beat superstar Fela Anikulapo Kuti, faced constant harassment by the rouge bands of military and of security operatives at different times in our national history. In 1977 under the military dictatorship of General Obasanjo, the military assaulted and burnt down the family’s home in the Moshalashi area of Lagos. The patriarch of the family later died as a result of the injuries that she sustained during the attack and arson on the family’s home. These events, rather than weakening Beko, made him stronger as he continued his crusade for a better Nigeria till the very end. In furtherance of the military agenda of cowing critics and opponents of their misrule, Beko was in 1995 charged with the most ludicrous charges - faxing defendants' statements to persons unknown and "trying to manage an unmanageable society". The Abacha junta gave him a double life sentence in the infamous “phantom coup mistrial”. The term was later commuted to 15 years imprisonment following popular outcry over the trail and sentence.
In his lifetime, Beko was accomplished in his endeavours. He qualified as a medical doctor at the age of 22, having graduated from the University of Manchester, England in 1963. Whilst at Manchester he was President, Nigerian Students, in Manchester. Beko was a fellow of the Medical College of Nigeria and General Medical Practice and West African College of Physicians, while also doubling as a member of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and Nigerian Medical Council. He held several other national posts in the Nigerian Medical Association and was member and later chairman of Lagos University Teaching Hospital Board.
As a human rights and pro-democracy activist, Beko belonged to several Non-Governmental Organisations some of which he either founded or helped to found. He was chairman of Campaign for Democracy; President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, and Executive Director, Centre for Constitutional Governance, which he founded a few years after his release from prison in 1998. He was prominent in the struggle against the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections.
On a personal note, I remember how Beko assisted us with his facilities when I returned to Nigeria in 1999 to help set up the Nigeria office of the Centre for Democracy & Development (CDD). At that time when communication in Nigeria was most problematic, Beko generously offered us the use of his office facilities ranging from telephone, facsimile, Internet etc. He played a great role in helping CDD establish its presence in Nigeria. Even programme wise, he was always there for us when we needed him, offering all kinds of support that we needed at that teething period. It would have been difficult for us to achieve the remarkable success that we did if not for people like Beko, who believed in the vision of CDD of being a prime catalyst for change as well as the need to bridge between activism and academy.
After he founded CCG a few years later he never failed to consult with colleagues on any issue that he had doubts about. This is a clear demonstration of his humility and openness.
His fame and sharp intellect did not deter him from being a calm and patient listener. Though he had the opportunity of living a privileged life; he chose the path of struggle and lived a Spartan life.
Let me in concluding this tribute to Beko borrow the words of my brother, Chidi Odinklalu: “Beko was witty, cheeky, irreverent, talented, courageous, determined, logical, artistic, honest. And in all this and more, the best.”
Rest in perfect peace Dokky. You paid your dues to your country and all your sacrifices will be etched in our memory until the fullness of time.
* See http://www.tribune.com.ng/120206/news03.htm for more information about Dr Bekololari Ransome-Kuti.
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