On February 10, 2006, we all woke up to the news of the death of Dr Beko Ransome Kuti. It was indeed unbelievable at first but as the day wore on and as we began to make contacts and visit, the news began to sink in and it dawned on most of us that this unrepentant humanist, terror to terrible people in public life, avid organiser and mobiliser and chronic pursuer of justice at all levels of our social life and a man in whose eyes a corrupt person remained odious, no matter their stature in life, had gone. It is like yesterday but years have truly gone by since the exit of Dr Beko. The vacuum which his exit has created within the progressive movement in Nigeria, of which he was one of the leading lights and in which he played crucial roles has, as we write, remained unfilled. He built bridges across the different divides within the family and was a strong pillar of unity around which the peoples’ movement coalesced. A man that never gave the smallest space for policies he considered negative to the yearnings and aspirations of the majority of Nigerians to go unchallenged and a stickler for agreements, believing that the building of consensus within the movement was at the heart of the struggle against the oppressors of the Nigerian people.
He emphasised the need for continuous solidarity and egalitarianism within the movement believing that it is the sanctity and discipline that we build within ourselves that we can hope to use in transforming the larger society by example. These ideals which he espoused endeared him to most of us who were then youngsters in the movement and gave deep impetus and vibrancy to the activities of the various struggles which the movement engaged in, especially against the military dictators. These struggles he passionately clung to despite all the sacrifices and discomforts it brought to him personally; his immediate family and his associates. We cannot readily remember how many times he was incarcerated in the gulag and how many detention centres had the privilege of hosting his worthy presence. The joke then was that Beko spent more time in jail than he did with his family. He would however joke with some of us, reiterating that the worst captive was the one who had allowed his mind to be held hostage by others or who had been cowed by circumstances to refuse to exercise his God-given power of expression. He told us that as long as his mind remained free, he considered himself free, whether his physical body was in the junta’s detention camp or not.
Such was the strength of the noble thoughts that kept him going and upon which he was able to sustain the struggle to the point that he became inured to the feeling of personal pains and suffering, but was only awakened by the deprivations of the larger society. His life was therefore lived to the full in the service of the downtrodden masses of this country and in the hallowed quest for the enthronement of a just, fair and equitable society built on the desires, expectations and hopes of the Nigerian people. I am completely sure that if there is anything like the world of the dead where all the dead meet to assess each other, Pa and Ma Kuti will welcome their son with pride and a pat on the back for he was truly a scion of that great family. The fire of the noble ideals which they lit in his young heart and the baton of the struggle which they handed over to him and his siblings, he handled courageously and effectively. He was a great patriot and an unrepentant defender of the masses and was always available for the advancement of the numerous causes anchored on it. He left indelible imprints on various sections of our national life and gave birth to several ideological sons, including his own biological children. The depth of this cistern of knowledge and the grit determination to contribute towards the emancipation of the society from the gyres and throes of underdevelopment marked him out and anointed him “father” to many of us within the movement. We are therefore proud to be identified as part of the group that his many struggles and ideals gave birth to and that is why I tell many friends and foes alike that we were sired in the crucible upon the heat of the various struggle to resist impunity, military dictatorship and all guises of contradictory manifestations in our national life. Beko’s tenacity gave us our present tenacity; his determination gave us our courage; his ideals partly gave us our thought processes and his stride gave us our present focus.
As we remember this period when he took his glorious and honourable exit from mother earth, it becomes imperative that we look at the society which he tried to change and the future which he envisioned for us. This examination will assist us in our quest to make our beloved nation a better place for us all. It is useful that we see whether we have made a dent on the ills in public life which Beko saw and which he suffered so much trying to stamp out. Has the level of systemic corruption gone down in Nigeria? Have policies that are contrary to the well-being of the masses been reduced? And has the society become more transparent and egalitarian, including whether the people have increasing access to social services, et cetera. The best way by which we can therefore remember him as a movement and as a people is to insist on being driven by those virtues upon which he built his enviable service to the Nigerian people. It is by furthering the standards which he raised and using it to attain the objectives which he set out for himself and the movement which he led.
I am not sure that he would want us to waste resources celebrating and eulogising him given his very frugal nature and Spartan existence. He would prefer that we spend more time influencing policies that would help in making the lives of the downtrodden better. He would want us to spend our time and resources strategizing and building better and sustainable institutions and platforms for impacting the lives of the populace positively and for continuous social transformation. If he were still alive, I am sure that he would be at the forefront of finding a solution to the present insecurity threatening the existence of our nation. He would have perhaps been able to reach out to the insurgents in his usual characteristics way and getting them to down their arms in exchange for the meeting of some of their demands. Had he been part of the January 2012 struggle, hmm!, that would have been fought to its logical conclusion. I am definitely sure that, that struggle would not have ended the way it did. We indeed miss his deft touches and uncanny strategies in the various trenches and picket lines which he led the masses. We truly miss him all these years and Nigerians also miss him. However, it is the Nigerian nation that misses his contributions the more. It is the march of the nation towards greatness that has suffered setback and it is morality in governance that has become impacted negatively as a result of his passing.
The movement which he led owes it to him to remain cohesive and united in all its activities refusing to be divided. This was what he wanted and what he believed. The present divisions and schisms that I therefore see all over the movement today are not what he would have loved. It does a great disservice to his name the way we have allowed the movement to be infiltrated and dismembered. It does not show the resilience which he never failed to show and stress in the face of daunting challenges when he sees some of us bow to pressures and begin to doublespeak.
Let us all arise in honour of the life which Beko lived and the legacy which he left behind to resolve to build the progressive movement again. Let us resolve to use it to pursue the building of the Nigerian nation that we all will be proud of. This is an opportunity for us to fulfil some of his dreams which he had for our great nation. That is the remembrance that he deserves and the memory which he will want us to have of him.
It is therefore important that I also use this medium to remind, not just members of the progressive movement in Nigeria, but the ruling elite that the only sure way into the good memory of the people is great service. Actions and policies that impact positively the lives of the citizenry can never be forgotten. Fat bank accounts can never replace the place of worthy service to the community and it will surely not supplant and silence voices raised on behalf of the masses.
Beko will continue to be remembered for he achieved immortality. His voice will continue speaking from the grave against all those who have taken it upon themselves to impoverish the masses of our great nation. His ideals will continue offering the battle cry for freedom in this nation and his lifestyle will continue serving as a living example of how best to live our lives.
Dr Bekolari Ransome Kuti, we have missed you, but we are kept hopeful by the legacy which you left behind and are comforted by the vision which you painted for us. Your light will never go off from generation to generation!
Live on Beko! Live a worthy comrade!! Live on a great patriot!!!
- Jimoh represents Apapa II Constituency at the Lagos State House of Assembly.
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