He has been silent for a decade, and his silence is a loud statement on the need for a reinforcement of human rights activism in the country. Dr. Bekolari Ransome-Kuti was until his death at 65 on February 10, 2006, a vigorous voice that could not be ignored in the struggle for a better society.
His work as a human rights activist was a labour of love, for he could easily have taken another path considering his training as a medical doctor. In the end, he was better known for his passionate and consistent expression of social conscience than for his practice of medical science.
A telling tribute by Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode captured the dimensions of his exertions. Ambode said: ”Beko will forever be remembered because he lived a selfless life even when he had the opportunity to live and dine with the rich; he chose to stand in the struggle for the masses.” He also noted that Beko “used his medical facilities to save lives for free, and when he had the opportunity of enriching himself, he never did but stood for justice, humanity and became a hero and motivator for the masses.”
It is a testament to Ransome-Kuti’s recognition that the Lagos State government erected a public statue of him in 2010. Ambode said: “He will forever remain a role model to us because he followed the path of honour and believed that evil done against one is an evil done against all.”
It is noteworthy that others who spoke at ceremonies to mark the 10th anniversary of Ransome-Kuti’s death stayed on the same track as eulogy after eulogy testified to his remarkable service to the cause of the oppressed. Two major events, a public lecture at Airport Hotel, Lagos, and the laying of wreaths at the Beko Ransome-Kuti Cenotaph in Anthony Village, Lagos, highlighted the remembrance.
Significantly, Ransome-Kuti played a key role in the formation of what is regarded as Nigeria’s first human rights organisation, the Campaign for Democracy (CD), which was at the forefront of the opposition to the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha in the 1990s. He was also a major figure in the British Commonwealth’s human rights committee, chair of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights and executive director of the Centre for Constitutional Governance.
Ransome-Kuti demonstrated the courage of conviction, particularly in that dangerous era of military absolutism when voices of opposition were brutally silenced by government agents and many social critics fled into exile. Ransome-Kuti’s 1995 trial by a military tribunal that controversially sentenced him to death for alleged anti-government activities reflected the potency of his opposition to the then government of the day. His adoption as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International at the time showed his relevance and underlined the correctness of his stance against unpopular methods of rule. When in 1998 another military regime freed him following Abacha’s death, it was a victorious liberation.
A striking observation by writer Odia Ofeimum underscored Ransome-Kuti’s legacy of resistance to anti-people governments. In a tribute, Ofeimun said: “I wish it were possible to have a good video of his movements, we need to have the video clippings of where Beko performed as an activist; I believe such clippings will help the younger generation on how to deal with tyrants when they come across one”.
The example of Ransome-Kuti in the fight for progressive ideals is enduring and recommends itself. The country still needs committed fighters for the public good, even in the context of democracy. His type is necessary to keep the government on its toes for the people’s benefit.