It was on Easter Monday, a public holiday, for Christians around the world to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That same day, in the morning, a prominent Nigerian whose voice echoes throughout the country anytime he spoke, was at the St. Nicholas Hospital, Lagos. Dr. Tunji Braithwaite breathed his last on a bed where he must have battled, with the usual vigour in him, to stay alive. The 82-year old dreamer and his dreams faded away.
This is not an attempt to eulogise him, but my own little way to dissect his belief in a strong, virile democracy as well as a developed Nigeria that would be the envy of other countries of the world. It is also an attempt to find out if he left this world a happy and fulfilled man, how many Nigerians believed in his opinions, suggestions and solutions to problems facing the country without seeing him as a noisemaker, the way some citizens see many true Nigerians still alive.
I was not close (in the real sense of the word) to him. I only admired him from afar and was always interested in what he, like other notable and serious-minded activists, had to say concerning national issues. He was not my lecturer, yet he taught me; I always got a message from his comments. He taught me passion, sincerity, carriage, love for oneself, neighbour and country. Then he taught me fashion.
I remember clearly in 2012 just after the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan ordered soldiers to take over the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park in the Ojota area of Lagos in the aftermath of the fuel subsidy protest. Braithwaite, with other old men like Professor Ben Nwabueze and younger men too, met in front of the Lagos State House of Assembly for a protest against the decision of Jonathan’s government to detail soldiers in Lagos in a democracy. They were received my some of my colleagues in the House. While Braithwaite said the deployment of soldiers in Lagos was totally unwarranted, Nwabueze said it was unfortunate.
With the title: ‘Defy The Dictator’, these men, who though could afford the luxury of life, but decided to fight for the downtrodden, began a march to the Park in Ojota. They were however stopped by fierce-looking security agents who teargassed them around the 7Up Bottling Company area on the Secretariat Road. What caught my fancy was that rather than run, the protesters sat on the road, refusing to move for many minutes. The protest was scuttled, but they made their point against the government.
His battle for the emancipation of Nigeria did not start today. Over the years, he was an enemy to the successive military governments, standing his ground on issues that affected the masses. He could have kept quiet and allowed Nigerians suffer…No he did not. One of those who benefitted from him was the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Braithwaite was Fela’s lawyer in the 1970s and represented the late singer in 1977 when then Lagos Military administrator, Commodore Adekunle Lawal, set up an Administrative Board of Enquiry, headed by Justice Kalu Anya, to look into the circumstances that led to the burning down of Fela’s Kalakuta Republic by soldiers. He, leading others like Mr. Alao Aka-Bashorun, Dr. Olu Onogoruwa, Oba Ayodele Kale, Mr. Tunde Sanu and Mr. Femi Delumo, also helped Fela fight the case till it reached the Supreme Court but his bid to secure compensation for Fela and his family was turned down by the Supreme court on 28 June, 1985 according to an extract from ‘JUDGE DON BEG ME – The Odyssey of Fela Anikulapo – Kuti’s Encounters With The Law’.
Braithwaite’s love for the rule of law and justice are also seen in his refusal to stand with Fela when the latter married 27 wives. Braithwaite’s argument was that the Afrobeat musician was still legally married to his wife and as a result, he would not support an infringement on the law. Fela then made an Ifa priest conduct the wedding.
The lawyer is reputed to be among those who defended the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in the celebrated Treasonable Felony trial of 1962/63, stood for his client in the case of the State vs Fashoyin and successfully defended his client who faced four separate judges on different counts. He also won in the case of the State vs Olabisi Ajala despite threats and intimidation by members of the military junta.
Even though he contested and lost the 1983 presidential election, he remained a strong advocate for an egalitarian society, defended women and loved his fellow human rights activists. He is known to have played a major role for the rule of law to prevail, just like the Save Nigeria Group, when the country was at crossroads during the illness that led to the death of former President Umar Yar’Adua. He was also a major mouthpiece against the reported third term ambition of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
History will not forget how Braithwaite fought the late Military dictator, Sani Abacha to a standstill. While many politicians and presidential aspirants sold themselves to the bid by Abacha to hold on perpetually to power and publicly endorsed him, Braithwaite and Alhaji MD Yussuf stood against him at the primaries. Even Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, affirms that Braithwaite constantly kept successive governments on their toes.
Some may argue that Braithwaite left this world a fulfilled man. I do not think so. He left when his contributions were most needed, he left when his grey hair brought upon by years of experience would have helped this country at these trying times, he left at a time his years of struggle was almost beginning to yield fruits, he left when the light at the end of the tunnel began to glow brighter.
It would not be enough to immortalise this great man with objects. It would just be satisfying for his principles and beliefs to help us out of the mess the Muhammadu Buhari administration inherited from the now opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Oshun is the representative of Lagos Mainland Constituency 2 and chairman, Committee on Public Account (State) at the Lagos State House of Assembly.