Olisa Agbakoba (SAN)

By Babafemi Ojudu

I am writing this a bit late as my June 12 tribute to Olisa Agbakoba. I read a short piece written on Olisa by my good friend Richard Akinnola on his Facebook page in commemoration of the heroes of June 12. Olisa deserves this and more . Today I am adding my voice to appreciate this great lawyer and man of conscience.

It is incontrovertible that Olisa was a pioneer or one of the pioneers of human rights campaign in Nigeria. He and his colleagues set up the Civil Liberties Organisation ( CLO ) . The group worked very hard and conscientiously too to popularize the agenda. I feel it is a good thing at this time of his birthday and celebration of June 12 to drop this short piece about this Olisa Agbakoba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria ( SAN ), that I know.

I remember attending one or two meetings at inception of the Civil Liberties Organisation ( CLO ) championed by Olisa.

Somehow I didn’t quite join the group but in the reporting of the group’s activities in the publications I worked in then I and my colleagues contributed a great deal to further the cause of the group and that of human rights in Nigeria. It was through this period my path and that of Olisa crossed.

While I admired Olisa , his group and the other participants in that group such as Richard, Abdul Oroh and Mrs Ayo Obe, I collaborated with Dr Beko Ransome Kuti, Femi Falana and Lance Arogundade to establish Committee for the Defence of Human Rights ( CDHR ).

Activist Femi Aborisade was arrested by the military authorities and detained. We came together and said this must not be allowed to stand. Aborishade must be freed. We came up with the organization Free Femi Aborisade Movement. We had a couple of meetings, issued press statements and printed leaflets. We didn’t stop at that we planned a trip to visit Aborishade’s parents in their village somewhere in Oke Ogun, Oyo State. It was myself, Falana and Beko.

Beko was on the wheels in his ever reliable Volvo( more about Beko and his Volvo in my autobiography). We drove the almost five to six hours trip chatting and nibbling on sandwiches brought along by Beko and downing it with black coffee. As usual Beko never stopped poisoning our lungs with the perpetual smoke coming from his cigarettes.

It was in the course of our chit chatting on this trip we came to the conclusion that since there were many other Nigerians being daily arrested by the military authorities and since we were also potential victims we should, rather than setting up campaigns to free individuals, set up a body to campaign for the right of all whose rights are trampled upon by the then government. This we concluded should include social as well as economic rights.

Senator Babafemi Ojudu

That was how we came up with CDHR. Our first activity was a gathering in Beko’s living room at 8, Imaria Street, Anthony Village. We brought in the University of Lagos law professor, Akin Oyebode to deliver a lecture and he titled his talk They Shall Not Pass.

Subsequently a number of friends colleagues and activists joined us. Dr Balogun was among other medical practitioners Beko brought on board. I also invited my friend and fellow journalist, Sam Omatseye to become a member. I think he later emerged our secretary as well pioneer editor of our occasional publication My Right. Falana too brought in a couple of young lawyers and student activists who all played a great role in popularizing our activities then. Prominent among them was late Bamidele Aturu.

When the government of Ibrahim Babangida introduced the destructive Structural Adjustment Program ( SAP) the students mobilized to resist it across the country. It was a prelude to the June 12 struggles. Many lives were lost and several were arrested detained and tortured.

I remember smuggling myself and a photographer ( Idowu Ogunleye ) into the mortuary in central Lagos under the guise of searching for a missing relative. Idowu secretly snapped away (while I provided cover) at the piles of bodies on ground in the mortuary.

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