REMEMBERING DR. BEKO RANSOME – KUTI
By: Denja Yaqub
February 10th 2006, six years ago, not a few were woken up across the world with the shocking news of the passing of a great Nigerian, a very progressive medical doctor, and an internationalist who brought the humaneness of the medical profession to fore with his selfless commitment to the struggle for social justice, human rights and democracy in Nigeria.
Late Dr. Bekololari Ransome – Kuti, pioneer President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights; founding Chairperson of the Campaign for Democracy; pioneer co-Chairman of the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO); former Vice President (1984/85) of the Nigerian Medical Association; co-Convener of the botched 1990 National Conference died after a courageous battle with lung cancer in the early hours of February 10 2006.
Beko, as both the young and old around him, including yours sincerely, called him was one of the finest humanists, patriot, committed human rights and pro – democracy activists Nigeria ever had.
In 1984, few weeks after the military truncated civilian rule in Nigeria, Beko and other leaders of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) and the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) organized a very successful strike to demand for better condition of service for medical doctor in Nigeria. In fact, the General Mohammadu Buhari military junta got their first confrontation from the doctors, led by Dr. Thompson Akpabio, late Dr. Michael Ekpo, Beko and several others. Even as the military threatened the striking doctors, they remained resolute. The action of the doctors exposed the potency of collective action in the struggle for workers rights, even under the harshest dictatorship. The success of that strike encouraged students under the aegis of the National Association of Nigerian Students led by Lanre Arogundade to embark on mass protests and boycott of lectures across tertiary institutions in Nigeria against the regime’s plan to commercialise education, which the Minister of Education at the time, Alhaji Yerima Abdullahi had announced.
The doctors’ strike of 1984 was what brought the activist part of Beko more seriously to public domain. Otherwise, he was best known as a humanist medical practitioner whose Junction Clinic at Idi-Oro, Mushin, Lagos was home for indigent patients to whom he was always compassionate enough to extend his services without charging what the patient cannot afford. Not a few were treated free of charge.
When the General Ibrahim Babangida military regime rolled out series of anti people, pro imperialist economic policies, of course, Nigerians in their millions reacted with mass protests. That regime was the first to attempt removing subsidy on petroleum. This was accompanied with the infamous Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), a programme forced on under developed economies by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The mass protests led to killings, maiming, arrests and detention of some protesters and their leaders, among them is Femi Aborisade, a very committed trade unionist of the Marxian extraction. The long detention of Femi led to the formation of the Free Femi Aborisade Committee by Beko, Lanre Arogundade, Femi Ojudu (now a Senator), Owei Lakemfa, Sam Omatseye, and several others including this writer. The committee was formed early 1989 in Beko’s living room at number 6, Imaria Street, Anthony Village, Lagos.
As the struggle against SAP progressed, more people were picked and clamped under harsh conditions in detention. Among them were student leaders. Gbenga Olawepo, Gbenga Komolafe, Olaitan Oyerinde etc. Journalists were not left out.
With the growing number of detainees, and the need to create a more radical and membership driven mass organization with focus on human rights abuses, which had become synonymous with the military junta, the committee was refocused, transformed, enlarged and its name was consequently changed to the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR). This was also in Beko’s living room on the same location in Anthony Village. Beko became the pioneer President with Sam Omatseye as Secretary General (he later resigned and Debo Adeniran replaced him).
Before the advent of the CDHR, Olisa Agbakoba, Clement Nwankwo, Emma Ezeazu, Abdul Oroh (then of African Concord), Richard Akinnola, Innocent Chukwuma etc had formed the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), which had good funding and was well known enough locally and internationally. The CDHR didn’t have the kind of resources needed to engage in massive campaigns against human rights abuses as required. Beko instantly made available his house, clinic and funds to run the organization until funds from membership dues and funded projects started trickling in.
Today, no one can ever disconnect Beko from the history of CDHR as well as human rights and pro democracy struggles in Nigeria as he led us through the trenches of mass protests on the streets of Lagos, Ibadan, Ile Ife, Benin City etc.
Beko was a fragile frail looking but strong man, but never got intimidated by anyone, not even hefty fire arm bearing security agents who regularly came for him. On one of such occasions, Beko and Femi Falana were arrested in a manner that can best be described as kidnap by security agents. They were picked simultaneously in their homes before day break and dumped in separate locations. When they finally found their ways back home, late Prof. Olikoye Ransome – Kuti, Beko’s elder brother who was then Babangida’s Health Minister came to see Beko in his house and asked if he would reduce his activism. As usual, and expectedly, Beko gave his usual disarming smile and replied “This struggle is not a tea party”.
The rare commitment of Beko was shocking to younger activists who dreamt of a revolution that must consume the bourgeois and their lackeys as well as petty bourgeois elements considered to have a robust elite background. Beko fell in the latter category and some of us were suspicious of his involvement in the struggle. He proved everyone wrong. He indeed proved to us that revolutions don’t come suddenly. The state has to be regularly engaged as it unleashes several forms of infractions against the rights of the people and that our collective commitment to confronting the state will eventually lead to changes that will midwife a revolution.
Beko was a colossal unifying personality in the human rights community in Nigeria. Beko was a major facilitator in the unification of labour and the human rights community, which is epitomed in the formation and sustenance of the Labour and Civil Society Coalition. He was co-Chairperson until his death.
As we remember Beko, six years after, we remember a strict time conscious activist; we remember a medical doctor that threw off his stethoscope for the struggles of humanity; we remember a man with robust privileged background who had to leave almost all of his adult life serving and loving the underprivileged; we remember a true hero of the Nigerian struggle whose labour we must never allow to go in vain.
Again, Dr. Bekololari Ransome –Kuti, may your patriotic soul rest in the most perfect peace.