“Aturu was very courageous and he was ready to confront anybody no matter how crooked.”
The human right community has expressed shock over what they say is the unexpected death of one of Nigeria’s foremost human rights lawyer and activist, Bamidele Aturu, on Wednesday.
“This is one of the greatest loss that that Nigeria is going to suffer,” said Olarenwaju Suraju, the Chairman of The Civil Society Network Against Corruption, CSNAC.
Mr. Suraju, who has been a friend of Mr. Aturu for about 20 years, said the deceased dedicated his life to the oppressed and towards transforming Nigeria to a country everyone would be proud of.
“He so much believed in Nigeria. We’ve had cause to work closely together for over 20 years. This is someone that is driven by his commitment to changing Nigeria. I’m sure as at the time he was breathing his last breath he would be thinking of Nigeria. That is one thing that preoccupies his mind.
“For me, this is just too devastating. It is difficult to comprehend. I’m still hoping I would wake up from a kind of nightmare and discover that this not actually happening.”
Mr. Suraju said he would remember late Mr. Aturu, who died at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, mostly for his resourcefulness.
Highlighting Mr. Aturu’s bigheartedness, Mr. Suraju said recently, Mr. Aturu had agreed to help prosecute some of the Freedom Information Act (FOIA) litigation for CSNAC free of charge.
Mr. Aturu excelled in FOIA litigations and secured some landmarked rulings in the area. Chief among them was his FOI request that compelled the immediate past Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, to disclose his salary and other official pecks.
“Aturu was very courageous and he was ready to confront anybody no matter how crooked,” said the Chairman of The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), Debo Adeniran.
“He was a human rights lawyer par excellence. He was ready to take up cases that concern indigent members of the society without charging a kobo. He was a community person and a man of collectives.”
Mr. Adeniran said that late Mr. Aturu was a visionary and was “passionate about the masses and fought all his life to free ordinary Nigerian of psychological, social and economic enslavement that the system has subjected Nigerians to.”
He described him as the “carbon copy” of the late human rights lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi.
“He should have been the one that would replace Gani. He is even more in the collective than Gani. Everything that Gani stood for he copied it bits by bits and was making a success of it before death cut his life short.”
Mr. Adeniran described his death as a “devastating blow” to the human rights community.
“Aturu was a lover of women liberation in Nigeria. In everything he does he respects the rights of women and believes that there shouldn’t be any discrimination in the rights of both male and female. By his death we would find out that we have lost a part of us. Nigeria is the worst for it,” he said.
Overtaken by emotion, the President of Women Arise for Change initiative, Joe Odumakin, could barely find the words to describe Mr Aturu.
“The news of his death is a rude shock. I still spoke to Aturu yesterday (Tuesday). This is so devastating and unbelievable,” she said in a shaky voice.
“He devoted the better part of his years serving worthy causes for the promotion of human dignity and defence for human rights. He was an organiser of men and women. He was always organising the critical mass to confront injustice. It is extremely difficult to talk of Aturu in the past having known him for over 28 years.”
Mrs. Odumakin, who described Mr. Aturu as a “great livewire of the human rights and prodemocracy movement”, said the she will remember him for his courage in confronting military dictators and refusal to back down during the June 12 protests even as soldiers were using life bullets to disperse protesters.
Human rights lawyer, Ebun Adegoruwa, who is also a close friend of Mr. Aturu, said Mr. Aturu’s death is “a great loss to Nigeria, the civil liberty community and to the body of Christ.”
Mr. Aturu came to limelight after he refused to shake hands with the military administrator of Niger State, Lawan Gwadabe, in 1988 during his national Youth Service Corps (NYSC) passing out parade because the military had caused great harm to the actualisation of democracy in the country. For that gesture of defiance, he was not given his passing out certificate.
He was the beacon of student unionism both at the Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education and Obafemi Awolowo University. He was arrested and placed in custody during the anti Structural Adjustment Programme SAP riots during the Ibrahim Babangida regime.
In 2003, he contested for the governorship of Lagos State as the candidate of the defunct Democratic Alternative. Mr Aturu was an ordained pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. He would have been 50 on October 16. He is survived by his wife, Adebimpe, and three children.