Tears flow as late human rights lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, begins home journey

At a colloquium held near his home, friends and colleagues described the late human rights lawyer as a humble person who fought for the poor masses.

Dozens of lawyers, human rights and civil society activists gathered in Lagos, Tuesday, to pay tributes to late Bamidele Aturu as his week-long funeral ceremony begins.

Mr. Aturu, 49, died July 9 after a brief illness.

At the colloquium held near his home, friends and colleagues described the late human rights lawyer as a humble person who fought for the poor masses.

“No news has, in recent times, jolted the labour and civil society like the death of BF (as the deceased was fondly known),” said Lanre Arogundade, member of the BF Burial Media and Publication Committee.

“Within hours, his law chamber became a beehive of activities. The sheer number of people that trooped there served as a testimony to the kind of person he was,” Mr. Arogundade added.

Tuesday’s colloquium was slated for 1 p.m., but by midday, Mr. Aturu’s chamber had been overwhelmed by guests, some of whom had come to sign the condolence register.

“There will never be another like you,” one sympathizer wrote.

Another sympathizer wrote: “You fought for the poor, my comrade. You fought for me.”

Adjacent the condolence register in the hall, and framed on the wall, a newspaper cutting from the May 20th edition of Sunday Mirror with the headline ‘Lagos State should review the way it treats the poor – Aturu’ loomed large.

Outside the compound, banners from almost a dozen civil society groups adorned the street, including one from a commercial motorcyclist group for whom he went to court to protest their ban by the Lagos State government, and another from the church where he worshipped, The Redeemed Christian Church of God.

He had led the Sunday Praise and Worship session of his church’s local branch three days before his death.

When the guests at the colloquium stood up to commence the day’s event with a chanting of solidarity songs, Bimpe, Mr. Aturu’s widow, who was joined by her two sons, maintained a poker face. But the atmosphere was too much for a gentleman near her who broke down and cried.

“It is sad. It is hard for us to believe that we are gathered here for the burial of BF,” said Femi Aborishade, human rights activist and senior lecturer at The Polytechnic, Ibadan.

“We have to mourn the untimely death of Comrade BF and at the same time mobilize to ensure that his dreams are actualized,” he added.

A fighter and a friend

Tributes continued to pour in at the colloquium, with Mr. Aborishade narrating how the late lawyer stood by him in 2012 when there were threats to his life and that of his family.

“On the strength of personal experience, this is a painful loss. We shall not forget you,” he added.

Isa Aremu, Vice President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, said that the death of Mr. Aturu was not just a loss for his family but the entire nation and continent as well.

“He was our lawyer. Now we are more or less defenceless without him,” Mr. Aremu added.

While he was alive, Mr. Aturu “defended in one way or the other” all the 42 unions affiliated to the NLC, according to Mr. Aremu.

“He had defended a good number of them without collecting a kobo,” Mr. Aremu said.

“I’m from the Textile section, he was shuttling between Lagos and Kaduna for a lawsuit between us and our Asian employers,” he added.

Mr. Aremu, who is a delegate at the ongoing National Conference, said that although the deceased turned down the federal government’s invitation to be part of the deliberation, he was with them “in spirit.”

“Labour came under attack at the conference. There were attempts to remove Labour from the exclusive list. All the authorities we used to defend our position came from Mr. Aturu’s book, The Nigerian Labour Law,” Mr. Aremu said.

For Benedict Kanyip, a judge at the National Industrial Court, Lagos, Mr. Aturu was a close friend as well as a confidante.

“At my wife’s younger brother’s wedding in Abuja, he flew all the way from Lagos to Abuja just for the wedding,” Mr. Kanyip said.

“Bamidele has lost more cases before me than he had won. Yet he will tell you that that does not define the relationship.

“After arguing and arguing and losing, he’ll call you the very next day discussing something else. Even on opposing sides, you can always count on Bamidele as a friend,” Mr. Kanyip added.

Princewill Alozie, the lead speaker at the colloquium, described Mr. Aturu’s passing as the loss of a “very great intellectual.”

“The path Aturu had taken is a very important one, because the struggle for social justice is either you do it or you are out of planet earth,” said Mr. Alozie, a Professor of Philosophy.

“He defended the poor without charges. The likes of him are very few. And he was a deeply religious man,” Mr. Alozie added.

Mr. Aturu’s funeral ceremony continues on Wednesday with a Service of Songs by The Redeemed Christian Church of God at Millennium Secondary School, opposite his Chambers, followed by Candlelight Procession/Solidarity Night.

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