21st September, 2012
The Oramiyan Hall, Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja, southwest Nigeria was filled to capacity with hundreds of well wishers, including eminent Nigerians, scholars, activists, among others. Among them were Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka; Professor Akin Oyebode, a Professor of Jurispudence, Lagos State University; Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, President, Women Arise and National President, Campaign for Democracy and former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa.
Also present were the Executive Editor, The News/PM NEWS, Kunle Ajibade, Afro Beat King, Femi Kuti; revolutionary artiste, Yeni Kuti; Alhaji Yerima Shetima, President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum and Comrade Debo Adeniran, President, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, among others.
Only one thing could have attracted these people to such an event: that is the 79th birthday of the firebrand revolutionary, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite. Born on 17 September, 1933, Braithwaite, for over two decades, has continued to do what he loves most —playing politics. Because of his hot ideological standpoint, he floated the defunct National Advanced Party, NAP, and used it for his failed presidential ambition in 1983.
He has also tried several times offered himself for services, contesting the presidential primary of the now defunct Grassroots Democratic Movement (GDM) during former Head of State, late Gen. Sani Abacha’s transition programme before he was forced out at the Maiduguri convention of the party. He was also part of the Fourth Republic, though his party, NAP, did not make any appreciable impact.
In 2009, after almost 30 years in politics, he formally announced his retirement from politics. But despite that, he has formed various groups such as the Nigeria Intervention Group (NIG), the National Consensus Group (NCG) and the newly formed National Action Coalition (NACO), which he used to fight for the reversal of subsidy removal.
Women Arise, a body championing the cause of women had organised the event dubbed: Commemorative Lecture of the Great Revolutionary, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite at 79. Prof Soyinka was the right man to be the guest lecturer. He spoke on Corporate Gains and Human Deficit and as usual, he did justice to the topic.
A similar event to launch his book was also held at the Yard 158 Event Arena in Oregun area of the state to honour him, and the event had President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State in attendance. The book’s title is The Jurisprudence of the Living Oracle.
Also in attendance were members of the Federal Executive Council, including Minister for Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Emma Adoke and Minister, Integration in Africa, Mr Segun Aganga; Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu; the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade I and several other guests, including civil rights groups.
Oke-Odumakin, President, Women Arise, opened the floodgate of encomiums on Braithwaite when she said: “I welcome you to the celebration of 79 years of struggle to find a path, decades of legal sojourn and the celebration of the life of this great revolutionary par excellence.
“Dr. Tunji Braithwaite walked through and still walking through the path of goodness, bearing the weight of goodness as if it were a single feather. The attractions to power and the thirst to belong are factors which quickly kill the aspirations to goodness in our land today.”
According to Okei-Odumakin, “we celebrate Braithwaite because in doing so, we are also calling attention to his struggles, travails, triumphs, challenges and the unfinished business of a nation in agony.
“I welcome you to the celebrations of the life o a great man of deep conviction with strength of character who never compromised his beliefs, a role model and an icon in the struggle to usher in a better and greater Nigeria.”
Chairman of the day, Oyebode, eulogised the revolutionary attributes of Braithwaite, noting that the nation needed a proficient and honest judiciary to keep the course of democracy on track.
Speaking, Jonathan commended the author for being someone who had always been devoted to redressing the imbalance and inequality that the people live with, adding that at 79, Braithwaite remained active and productive which is a testimony to how truly blessed the nation is as that peopled by supremely gifted and blessed people.
The president examined the contention of the author that law must serve the cause of justice, saying that in law, justice must not only be done but be seen to be done, while he gave a commitment that his administration would pay attention to those things that would strengthen the union of the country, stressing that this is Nigeria’s decade of development and constitutional consolidation.
Also, Fashola described the life of Braithwaite as one worth emulating, while he reiterated the call for special status for Lagos.
According Barabe Musa, the NAP headed by Braithwaite during the Second Republic was very instrumental to moving the nation forward, adding that, “my association with him is that we often represent each other at political meetings. Today, he is 79 years old and he is still relevant.
According to Femi Kuti, corruption has continued to be the bane of the Nigerian society, adding that his father and others fought against injustice: “We are winning the war, we are winning the struggle; we believe Africa can be a great continent. The government is panicky.
“Where are the Bankoles, Iyabo Obasanjos and others? We have to forge ahead and not give up, they stole our money; with all our wealth, people still beg. We need to remove the colonial structure from our mind,” the Afrobeat musician added.
The guest lecturer, Soyinka while eulogising Braithwaite drew the attention of his audience to the Bakassi imbroglio.
“For this nation in particular, Bakassi remains a testing ground for corporate integrity. The basic facts are no longer in dispute –there has been much fudging, much elision, much false attribution and denial –all in order to avoid taking responsibility for an actuality that no one can deny.
The Bakassi islands were not uninhabited spaces. The Bakassi islands were human settlements, they existed not as wasteland but as homeland. And then, they were traded off –a quite pertinent expression– traded off between the leadership of Nigeria and the Cameroon corporations during the civil war.
“What I warned of at the time, the failure to have taken into consideration the wishes of the people who actually inhabited and worked that piece of real estate, turning its inert wealth into a dynamic composite of their livelihood, has returned to haunt, not merely the state, not merely the nation, but the international prospects for peace. Reactions to what I said at the time focused, in the usual reductionist way we have in this nation, on a side issue.
“That side issue was: I declared had seen the official, authorized atlas of Nigeria from our own side, signed by a former head of state —military— in the symbolic green ink of office. The signature was that of the head of state who had succeeded the original donor – which made it an affirmation of the first act of excision.
“Every page – demography, contours, fauna and flora, aerial view, lateral view, oceanographic map, etc, had been authenticated, and that the line of division between Nigeria and the Cameroon enclosed the Bakassi islands within the acknowledged geographical boundary of the Cameroons,” he said.
Soyinka stated that, “my intervention was a necessary act of citizen testimony, of sharing facts, since very few Nigerians would have laid their eyes on that atlas even while they were singing jingoistic national anthems. I therefore could not understand how the government had hoped to succeed in the International Court at the Hague on the terms on which the Nigerian case was argued.
“However –and here we come to the crux– I asked the pertinent question, were the wishes of the people who actually inhabit that space taken into consideration when that head of state appended his signature thereon? Were representatives of the indigenes invited to The Hague to testify? The answer was No, thus vitiating whatever judgment that learned body chose to pass, and no matter how many topographic maps the Heads of the Nigerian state and the Cameroons had signed.
“The world no longer lives in a feudal fiefdom. The rights of minorities and indigenous peoples are encoded in the statutes of the United Nations. The human deficit inserted into the Bakassi decision is now plagued with unpredictable scenarios. Land does not speak, nor does it agitate.
When it does agitate, we all know what that means – convulsion. Well, human beings also share some characteristics with Nature. Not in every aspect, thank goodness, but certainly in matters of self-knowledge, deserving, and self-fulfillment. The chickens have come to roost and the natives are restless.”
“The crucial question that the International Court does not appear to have considered remains this: what do the people of Bakassi want for themselves? To become Cameroonians? To become Nigerians? Or simply to remain Bakassians? Bakassi became a focus of interest and desire only because of her oil reserves and the greed of state corporations – presented as national interest.
“So, let the next act commence. The final date of appeal is still ahead. It is within legitimate rights that the Nigerian corporation should appeal the judgment. This time round however, let the suppressed voice of Bakassi’s humanity be heard. There is a certain procedure known as Plebiscite. Simple, straightforward, and full of precedents–a time-tested reversal of the pattern of human deficit! Let us give voice to the people of Bakassi,” he added.
The celebrant, Braithwaite thanked his well wishers, but noted that the aim of coming to this world was to help others and that anything short of this would mean an aimless life.
“Fela did it in many ways. Joe Odumakin, Nelson Mandela and others did it. There is need for us to emulate our heroes. In a country like this, you must see yourself as having the capacity to challenge oppression.
“If those protests against fuel subsidy in January were not carried out, there would not have been a probe committee and you will not be hearing the fraud that goes on among those who were supposed to supply the fuel to us.
“There is a trend to sweep the findings of the probe under the carpet. We should challenge evil and corruption. Go out and fight for yourself. The people you are fighting are not all that strong. We need more protests and more challenge,” he stated.