Beko’s Intervention In The Struggle For The Right To Health In Nigeria

Beko’s Intervention In The Struggle For The Right To Health In Nigeria

Sunday, February 12, 2017 7:28 pm

Femi Falana

By Femi Falana

In the 30s, 40s and 50s the Reverend Isaac Oladotun Ransome-Kuti and his wife, Olufunmilayo, were in the forefront of the struggle of the Nigerian people against British colonial autocracy. Their Abeokuta home served as the secretariat of the Nigerian Union of Teachers and the Nigerian Union of Women founded and led by the Kutis. Bekololari was born in 1940 by the Kutis with a silver spoon in his mouth. But like his elder brother, Fela, he never used the spoon. Early in life both of them were nurtured in the struggle against injustice and oppression. Both Beko and Fela witnessed the formation of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun in their home in 1944.

They also took part in the several street protests led by their mother which culminated in the abdication of the throne by the Alake, Oba Ladapo Ademola in 1947. The Alake had been accused of collaborating with the colonial forces to collect excessive taxation from the Egba people. Notwithstanding that they attended their mother’s primary school and the Abeokuta Grammar School headed by their father they enjoyed no preferential treatment. Even though their father died while they were young, their mother brought them up together with their elder brother, Olikoye and sister, Dolu.

Beko studied Medicine at the University of Manchester while Fela studied Music at the Trinity College, University of London. As undergraduates in the United Kingdom they took active part in the struggle for the decolonization of the African continent.

Upon their return to Nigeria in the 60s Beko worked briefly in the civil service before setting up his own clinic at Mushin, a stone’s throw from Fela’s Kalakuta Republic. His involvement in the Nigerian Medical Association radicalized the erstwhile docile body. He was elected the Chairman of the Lagos Branch and later deputy President of the Nigerian Medical Association. He influenced the Nigerian Medical Association to compel government to fund the health sector in the 1980s. Not unexpectedly, he was victimized and detained on many occasions as he was always held vicariously liable for doctors’ industrial actions.

Beko Ransome-Kuti

Upon coming to the conclusion that the regular campaign for individual comrades who were detained without trial by military dictators was not sufficient Beko and other allies decided to establish the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR). As his first president he laid a solid foundation for the human rights body. He also led the Campaign for Democracy, a coalition of human rights and pro-democracy organisations which effectively coordinated the campaign which culminated in the termination of military rule. He was detained by the Buhari and Babangida regimes while he was jailed by the Sani Abacha junta.

When we were detained in Kuje prison in 1992 and 1993 the late Chief Gani Fawehiinmi SAN was always advising Dr. Beko Ransome-kuti to stop smoking to avoid possible cancer of the lung. As predicted, Dr. Ransome-kuti died of cancer of the lung at the age of 65. Strangely, Chief Fawehinmi too died of cancer of the lung at the age of 71. Both of them could have lived much longer if the country had efficient medical facilities.

Now that Beko, Gani and other committed comrades are no longer with us the greatest tribute that we can pay them is to rededicate ourselves to the struggle against underdevelopment and the re-colonization of Nigeria by imperialism.

The progressive extraction of the civil society must quickly link up with the working class to arrest the on-going descent to anarchy and chaos by mobilizing Nigerians to take their political destiny in their own hands. This will require the urgent formation of a broad political movement of all progressive and democratic forces led by the labour movement.

Health condition of President Buhari

Buhari with Aisha in London

Tinubu, Buhari and Akande

Last year, President Buhari announced that he was proceeding on medical leave to treat ear infection in the United Kingdom. In line with Section 45 of the Constitution the President handed over powers to the Vice President. The nation wished the President well but not a few Nigerians called on the federal government to fix the local hospitals. Although the President announced that he would undergo another medical check-up during a 10-day vacation in the UK there have been wild speculations over his state of health. The leave has since been extended on the advice of the President’s doctors, fueling more speculations. Some mischievous people have rumored the death of the President.

No doubt, a full disclosure of the President’s state of health would have put paid to the speculations but no law has been violated by the presidency. Indeed, Section 14 of the Freedom of Information Act excludes disclosure of the medical record of any citizen. However, there can therefore be no justification for the action of some irresponsible elements who have used the social media to announce the death of the President.

However, this is not surprising since one of them had actually published an advertorial during the electioneering campaign wherein he predicted that the President would die in office!

In the obituaries published daily in our newspapers our loved ones usually die after a “brief illness”. Majority of African people were indeed surprised when the late President Mandela announced that his first son had died of HIV.

When Fela Anikulapo-Kuti died of HIV in 1997 his children were strenuously opposed to the decision of his elder brother, Professor Koye Ransome-kuti to announce the cause of the death. As he could not convince his nephews and nieces the former minister of health assured them that he would not announce the cause of their father’s death but that of his own brother! Thus, at the press conference held by Professor Ransome-kuti at the Afrika Shrine at Ikeja, Lagos he tersely said, “Gentlemen of the press, I wish to disclose that my brother, Fela Anikulapo-kuti, who I loved dearly has just died of complications arising from HIV/AIDS.”

Until the authoritative pronouncement of Professor Ransome-kuti majority of Nigerian youths never believed that HIV was real. Although the dangerous disease has claimed thousands of lives no other family has had the courage to emulate the example of Mandela and Ransome-kuti. Indeed, for many families whose loved ones are killed by the disease or cancer it is always a case of the “enemies have done their worst.” The same hypocrisy is demonstrated when people are sick. Hence, it is not uncommon for Nigerians to say that they are very strong when they are indisposed.

Our religions and culture find a justification for promoting the superstitious belief that it is a taboo to disclose one’s state of health.

Our experience as a nation calls for an amendment of the Constitution so that the medical reports on the state of health of contestants are submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission.

Having regard to the unprecedented scale of looting of the public treasury by the ruling class the mental state of contestants ought to be examined by psychiatrists.

Accordingly, the Freedom of Information Act should be amended to allow interested members of the public to obtain medical records of public officers.

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