The ex-Nigerian leader in this piece celebrates the life and work of Fasehun both as a medical practitioner and leader. Fasehun: His life, work, and programme by Olusegun Obasanjo
We are gathered here today to honour the memory of Frederick Fasehun. I believe our gathering is not of praise singers and court jesters. I know we have come to turn a bit of searchlight on his life, work and actions that impacted on his family, individually and collectively, locality, community and society. In the course of doing this, I believe that we will not only be celebrating an icon, we will also see what lesson we can learn from his life? Let me congratulate the members of Frederick Fasehun’s family and Prince Osinbote of Reformed OPC, as he described himself to me, for getting us together for this occasion.
Frederick had always been underrated and tended to be written off. From his father who refused to sponsor his early education, to the authorities that stopped his ambition to vie for the Nigerian Presidency, people had this penchant to relegate him to the background. For a start, Frederick Fasehun was unmistakably an Ondo man.
Like me who speaks Queen’s English with Owu accent, Frederick spoke English with Ondo accent. In his autobiography, “Frederick Fasehun – The Son of Oodua”, he stressed his craving for education as the first ambition of his life. He strove, he persisted and he achieved. His polygamous father had determined that he would be responsible for just the firstborns of his 14 wives.
Frederick lost out, being way down in the pecking order of his mother’s line-up of children and because he was always ill as a child, his mother abandoned him so to say with her own mother, Fredrick’s grandmother. Nobody thought it was good investment to send him to school.
At the age of 13, he had to take his own life in his hands. He told his granny that if he doesn’t go to school like his age mates, then he won’t eat again and what is more, he refused to run errands for his grandmother. As a young boy, he knew how to put pressure to get what he wanted.
The family members met and they said, “This young man wants to go to school, who will bell the cat?”
His father who was a rich trader didn’t contribute to his education. However, his mother personally bankrolled his education through primary and secondary school. According to Frederick Fasehun himself, he owed his exemplary educational trajectory to his tenacity and, eventually, to the generosity of his brother.
From being bright and smart at St. Peter’s College and yet being expelled for not being a Roman Catholic to seeking a new opportunity at Ondo Boys’ High School, he never took ‘no’ for an answer as he learned from his Principal at Ondo Boys’ High School, Rev. Emmanuel Odusanwo, “Persistence means Victory”. The Principal had the greatest impact and influence on Frederick. Rev. Odusanwo also prophesied young Fasehun’s greatness while at the same time Fasehun himself was determined to study Medicine.
Throughout school and indeed throughout life, Frederick remained indomitable, unyielding, persistent and perspective. And he said early in life, “What we believe deep within us has a profound effect on our behaviour and circumstance”. Against the odds of inadequate resources, Frederick made his way to the UK to further his studies along the line that he had earlier decided. A soft-spoken man, often his moderate disposition was mistaken for weakness.
On the contrary, he had shown early in life that he was tough as a nail and he lived by his convictions. His good performance in West African School Certificate Examination stood him in good stead to enter Blackburn College of Arts, Science and Technology in the UK to do his GCE Advanced Level in Physics, Chemistry and Biology which he passed at a go in preparation to reading Medicine at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Even though he was on scholarship, he still needed to work to offset his bills. After five years’ stay in Aberdeen, he passed his final examinations as a Medical Doctor.
His relationship with Mojibat, which put her in pregnancy after ten years of courtship and which led to Mojibat’s death after a surgery, made Frederick a widow at a young age of thirty-two. It was his second great blow in life after his expulsion from St Peter’s College.
Home beckoned to him after the death of Mojibat and he returned home to Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Teaching Hospital in Zaria. Fasehun who always stood for justice and fairness saw injustice and unfairness in ABU Zaria with white staff members paying more attention to their recreation than their work in hospital wards. The black staff members did not enjoy such privilege. He spoke against this unfair practice and, according to him; he got the mark of Cain even from the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Ishaya Audu.
Before going to Liverpool on sponsorship of British Oxygen Company in 1972, Frederick got married to Iyabo and separately travelled to Liverpool where he covered his studies in half of the time he had bursary for. Frederick and Iyabo returned home, not to ABU Teaching Hospital but to Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH. And from LUTH, it was a unique opportunity to visit China to study what China is doing with acupuncture which suited his inquisitive mind and spirit of adventure.
Two weeks of exploring China by land was more instructive than reading twenty books on China. It was both an eye-opener and good preparation for his role in the immediate future. On his return to Lagos, he put into practice what he had learned in China in acupuncture with his Western medicine. He found the LUTH administration too conservative or was it the LUTH administration that found him too adventurous and too much of a risk-taker.
This was the time his ambition to establish a hospital of his own got fired up. Undoubtedly, he wanted to be free of the bureaucracy that attends the running of public institutions in Nigeria. Instead, of remaining in LUTH to bid his time and warm the chair, he resigned honourably. This led to his quitting LUTH to set up Isi-Hope Clinic in 1978 which later became Besthope Hospital. The hospital flourished and grew in popularity. Among the clients was the Dock Workers Union of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC.
His medical prowess included reviving the kidneys of a lady (among several others) whom other doctors had billed for dialysis to be followed by a possible transplant. It took about 10 days at Fasehun’s Besthope Hospital, Mushin area of Lagos, and the kidneys returned to life.
That was in 2004. Shall we speak of women who had their infertility status reversed and came to know the joy of motherhood at Fasehun’s Besthope Hospital? His private hospital became a reference point for best practices in modern Chinese medicine in Africa.
Today, Dr. Fasehun is remembered, venerated and celebrated for the leadership he provided at the level of the political, very few if any recall his numerous contributions as a medical practitioner. More specifically he became synonymous with the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC).
An organization he established as a response mechanism to the challenges of the day. OPC may be described as the culmination of his initial foray into politics during the political programme of General Babangida. He cleverly used his association with the Dock Workers Union to his advantage when NLC decided to form a political party as he emerged as Chairman and later Presidential Candidate of the Party.
However, his political calculus did not envisage a Babangida decreeing into existence a two-party system. Predictably the Labour Party sought accommodation with other so-called progressives in the Social Democratic Party, SDP. The rest of the story of that transition programme is too well known to require being told at this juncture.
With the debacle of Babangida’s political transition programme, Frederick found himself “living a brand new type of nightmare”. He later realized that he had got involved in national politics at a fairly high level which he saw as a mistake. He believed that politics should be started at local and community levels where meetings would be held ‘to deliberate on issues of interest to their area and their race’.
He believed that such meetings should be held among various groups – farmers, hunters, students, women, men, youth, artisans, workers, market women, etc. He believed that was the way Yoruba as a race should go as other races have gone that way in Nigeria. He also believed that but for the Yoruba, unity would have eluded Nigeria much earlier than 1993.
It became imperative for him to find accommodation in a political framework that would enable him to pursue his ideas and ideals. The National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, option became the most attractive option. However, he found his position a bit awkward in NADECO, not being a member of Afenifere which formed the bulk of NADECO.
As a matter of fact, Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin as the leader of Afenifere was also the NADECO leader. But NADECO held within itself elements from Campaign for Democracy, Eastern Mandate Union, Movement for Social and Economic Justice, Middle Belt Forum and Movement for National Reformation. Frederick, by his own account, was a chieftain of the NADECO.
His direct involvement in taking Chief Anthony Enahoro out of the country on NADECO route with his thoughts on Nigerian politics finally shaped his plan for Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, to take off for democracy and freedom. The remote cause for the establishment of OPC was the annulment of June 12, 1993 election and the immediate cause was Abacha’s heavy boot actions to actualise his permanent succession plan and programme.
Frederick put it thus, “A people as numerically strong, educationally powerful and legendarily sophisticated as the Yorubas lost out in the game of evils… It occurred to me that a recurrence must be pre-emptively countervailed”. The idea was to establish a socio-cultural organization as a pressure group. His first meeting was with three market leaders in Mushin – Mrs. Ogunbowale alias Iya Ijebu, Alhaji Ibrahim alias Baba Oja, and Mr. Taiwo.
An unpretentious personality and a good mixer, he quickly immersed himself into the community. His proclivity towards Yoruba culture stood him out. Though he was learned and well-traveled, he thought nothing of freely associating himself with artisans and people, who were beneath his social status.
He stood out as a beacon of hope for the less-privileged in that neighborhood, at first. As his community engagement increased, a greater responsibility of taking up the fight for the larger Yoruba nation was thrust on him. Two weeks later, he had another meeting to bring more market women and men on board and, on that occasion, popular vote chose Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, as the name of the new organisation.
The first difficulty of the organization was the membership process which initially hit the brick wall but was somehow surmounted. Some more educated individuals who wanted to join felt discouraged by the low literacy of the pioneer members.
With Frederick and Beko Ransoke-Kuti both of Campaign for Democracy working together, more educated people like Barrister Omodele, Baba Omojola and Barrister Femi Falana in addition to some students from University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU) joined the Congress. Apart from seeking to protect, to defend and to promote Yoruba interest, OPC, as established by Frederick had no subversive, violent or treasonable programmes or plans, rather it expanded its demands to include issues like Sovereign National Conference and change in revenue allocation formula to embrace derivation principle.
It was surely not an insurgent organization. With such noble and attractive objectives, important personalities like Kudirat Abiola, Alhaja Kudirat Alao Aka-Bashorun and Tunji Braithwaite joined. OPC was thriving and with Frederick as a vocal member of Campaign for Democracy, a member of NADECO, founder of OPC, refusing to serve in Abacha’s Committee which Professor Sam Aluko, a distinguished economist, chaired, he was marked out for destruction.
After a Lecture titled, “Nigeria, Party Politics and Agenda for the Fourth Republic” at Ilorin in 1996, Dr. Fasehun’s hospital was stormed and he was taken away for interrogation on December 18, 1996.
He had anticipated that it would come to that especially with Obasanjo, Shehu Yar’Adua, Beko Ransome-Kuti, Christ Anyanwu and Shehu Sani already put in jail. After ransacking the hospital, the SSS boys took him away for interrogation. After that, they put him in the Intercentre, a special SSS detention outfit at Ikoyi, the experience of which I had in 1995.
His detention went from one month to two and from two to three. And no end yet, rather he was taken before Zakari Biu, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, who showed him a bit of police brutality before he was asked to write all he knew about NADECO, Wole Soyinka, Alani Akinrinade and Chief Enahoro.
By the time the detention was over after the death of Abacha, the damage has been done to the detainee’s property, psyche, and whatever he was supervising or over-sighting which have been left unattended or left in the wrong hand. That was my own personal experience and situation as well when I was imprisoned by Abacha. With Frederick, OPC suffered from his detention. Taiwo, who was one of the pioneer members, tried his best to run the outfit but he was overwhelmed. During that period, Ganiyu Adam joined up and under him, a brand of young hot-heads came together to form a youth wing in the OPC. Quality has been sacrificed for alloy. Disorder pervaded instead of orderliness. Gani Adam cashed in and Frederick came home to a divided OPC between Taiwo and Ogunbowale group and Gani Adam group. As Frederick saw, “Both groups wore the toga of illiteracy for different reasons…
Discussions revolved on what charms to wear to confront law-enforcement agents, how to wear them, how to hold them in place and so on”. Frederick precisely described the OPC that I found when I became elected President in 1999 and I kept my distance from them. I would have nothing to do with such a group. And that remained my position until Prince Osibote came to me about the end of 2019 to tell me that it is now a new OPC that is following the objectives and programmes of Dr. Fasehun.
Frederick could not accept and live with what he met of OPC when he came back from detention and he was not able to change and reform it before he died, although he tried to seek employment for some of them. As a Christian, he abhorred what he met which was not in line with his objectives and purposes. But I must say that there is still room and need for the type of OPC that Dr. Fasehun originally established with relevant modification of objectives in light of present-day Nigerian situation.
Dr. Fasehun made three cogent political points about OPC. One, agitating for Sovereign National Conference is not meant to break Nigeria up but to strengthen its unity on the basis of justice, equity, mutual respect and healthy competition among the constituent units.
Two,with MKO Abiola’s death in detention, the agitation by OPC for Abiola to be released to take office as elected President was buried. Three, he also alleged that Chief Gani Fawehinmi working in collaboration with Dupe Onitiri-Abiola made a contribution to the fractionalization of OPC. On most of the occasions that Dr. Fasehun came to me to unburden his mind about Nigerian situation, he left me in no doubt for his patriotism and concern for Nigeria which is vividly brought out in poetry – ‘My Country’ by him. Fasehun was gentle and meek but irrepressible as far as national issues were concerned.
When Abacha unleashed his reign of terror and began his mad self-succession programme, even great nationalist like Bola Ige got fed up with a ridiculous situation where five political parties nominated the same candidate – Abacha as their candidate for the election which Bola described as five leprous fingers and adopted ‘sidon look’ attitude, Fasehun stood up with Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, to confront and fight the menace of Abacha.
Let me put myself in the position of Dr. Fasehun today if he were alive and only on two current issues of national importance – security and political structure. When he was alive, both were of great concern to him. What I say from now on could be attributed to him if he were alive or could be shared by both of us as he unburdened his mind to me on a number of occasions when he was here with us.
The first duty and responsibility of a leader of any human community or organization is the security of life and property of all the members of the community, the organization or the society. From time immemorial, this started as individual, developed into the family, settlement, community, national, multi-national and alliances. These are all to strengthen, enhance and guarantee total security. For every individual or family, there are layers of security apparatus and arrangement. They are complementary and supplementary.
The inadequate ones are buoyed up by others to ensure the adequacy of security. There is no doubt that the national security architecture, apparatus, system and arrangements in Nigeria today have failed to measure up to the needs of the citizens in different parts of the country.
Hon. Yakubu Dogara, with his understanding as a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, on February 6, 2020, put it graphically, “From Boko Haram-ISWAP led by Al-Barnawi, Boko Haram led by Shekau and Ansaru insurgency to farmers/herders conflict, banditry, kidnappings, ethno-religious conflicts, cattle rustling, etc, we are confronted with a crisis that is unparalleled in our history. The death spiral appears unstoppable.” Even the President himself confessed that he was shocked to come to know that things are that bad.
The Governors in different States of the country as the Chief Security Officers of their respective States were taking measures to enhance and buoy up security for their citizens. These measures vary from paying off bandits, to hunting them down with vigilantes and hunters and to innovative joint efforts like Amotekun. What these Governors have shown was that they were concerned and they cared.
I would not know if any of them was shocked but most of them took steps as they deemed fit to enhance the security of life and property for their citizens and to augment the failing and inadequate security provided at the national level.
Whatever we may feel individually or collectively by these different measures, these Governors must be commended and where necessary, they should be helped to refine and make robust and efficient the effective measures they have taken, from Katsina to Zamfara, from Adamawa to Benue and from South East to South West. From my personal observation as I talked to people and people across the board talked to me, nothing has united the people of South West like Amotekun since independence except independence itself. Not even the civil war was such a unifier.
I commend the Governors of South West for their bold and courageous measure taken beyond political party affiliation to improve security architecture and care for their citizens.
I particularly commend Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State for his leadership on this matter and for sharing their thinking with me. Security measures are never static and security is the responsibility of all of us but by appointment and elections, some have more responsibility than others.
It is instructive to note that the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), under the leadership of Sultan of Sokoto, became extremely worried about the level of insecurity in the country and then called on President Buhari to declare a state of emergency for security in the country.
The NSCIA has followed the line of other organisations, institutions and individuals who have expressed dismay and disappointment at the level of insecurity and criminality all over the country as if there is no government in charge in this country.
Calling for an emergency is a wake-up call for the Federal Government to know the magnitude of the level of insecurity and to take effective measure or measures to stem the tide. The Northern Elders Forum has spoken out on the pervasive insecurity in the nation. The Governor of Borno, Babagana Umara Zulum, has pointed out that in his eight months in office, Auno, a community in his State, has been attacked six times. The questions the apologists of Buhari’s administration must answer honesty are as follows:
1. Are these points not true?
2. Are all these people speaking the truth enemies of the government?
3. Are apologists just telling the President what they believe he wants to hear?
4. Do they believe that they are being fair to Nigerians and indeed to President Buhari?
5. Do they remember that there is a day of judgement when they have to render account before God?
6. I know for sure that God has the best in stock for Nigeria. And do they consider the present situation as the best for Nigeria?
The Governors of South West acted, believing that Amotekun is one of the necessary measures. And most people of the South West support them.
I will strongly advise that Amotekun and other measures put in place should continue to be refined and improved upon to serve as adequate complement and enhancer of present, disappointing and inadequate, national security architecture and provision. We must learn from the past particularly from Native Authority Police. Professionalism and adequate equipment for the job are imperative for a serious security apparatus. Security is the foundation of all human development and progress. Common assured security should lead to common and shared prosperity and development.
There has been embarrassing paralysis and katakata in the present nation’s security house as if we have nobody in charge. If it had happened before, it was not so brazenly in the public domain. This type of situation cannot do credit to us as Nigerians and it can only sap confidence in the security architecture for people to say, ‘no wonder’.
The President must accept the challenge and responsibility. This year 2020, is the year set aside by the African Union, AU, in its agenda to silence the guns. If we don’t silence the guns in our own land as a contribution to AU agenda, guns will continue to silence us individually and collectively. Let our leaders particularly be bridge builders rather than wall builders, more of peace-makers than peace-talkers.
War-mongering, conflict-encouragement, threats and intimidation, exclusion rather than inclusion and lack of justice, harmony, wholesomeness, cooperation, security, well-being, and common prosperity can only lead to our being piecemeal looted, consumed and destroyed. Let me move to the second currently germane and raging issue of our political structure and arrangement which if Dr. Fasehun were here would have been of great interest and concern to him. He showed concern about this issue when he was alive.
The agitation at the end of the last century was for ‘true federalism’ substantially brought about by Abacha’s autocratic and pernicious rule and self-succession and perpetuation and the process by which the democratic Constitution emerged. My administration was an inheritor of part of that agitation.
The product of the political conference set up to address the agitation in part, if not in full, and which was personally handed over to the National Assembly was not advanced to conclusion by the National Assembly. President Jonathan’s efforts of a National Conference did not even get to the National Assembly. Today, the agitation has moved up to restructuring. Thanks to Buhari’s administration and its impunity and all.
With the fractional political division, poor management of the economy, the non-protecting security and the politics of uncertainty in the land, we should not allow the restructuring agitation to degenerate to self-determination agitation. There is still a window of opportunity for us to nip in the bud a possible and indeed likely agitation for self-determination that will be violent, destructive and all-empowering. We have descended to lack of civility bordering on uncivilisation, indignity, mutual disrespect and crudity in the language of our debate, dialogue, discourse, address, comments and remarks across tribe, section, religion, region, ethnicity and community.
If not halted, it will degenerate and poison the atmosphere to the tipping point or point of no return. If the issue becomes conceptualised as an issue of freedom or liberation, there will be no wall or gate to effectively prevail against it. Some well-meaning Nigerians are worried and understandingly so. Threats and intimidation do not build a community, they rather destroy.
The language of love, knowledge, understanding, appreciation, consideration, compassion, cooperation, forgiveness and accommodation should be the language to build our nation. We should be honest and courageous enough to tell ourselves home truth for self-education and for edification of our country. If we shirk our duties to our country because we are afraid of threat, intimidation, blackmail or being called names, we are not worthy of being called patriots or nationalists. I do know and appreciate that many Nigerians have made and are making sacrifice for this country.
But let me as an individual who has made some sacrifice for Nigeria and who will make more if required for the unity, equity, development and progress of Nigeria say here and now and for avoidance of doubt that no individual Nigerian, tribe, ethnic group, community, religious group, social group or any other Nigerian group for that matter should be seen, identified, treated, called, stigmatised as slave or inferior to other or others and to be exploited, oppressed, discriminated against and/or dominated. Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians on the basis of freedom, equality, equity, justice, fairness, peace, security, cooperation, mutual dignity, respect, shared values and shared prosperity. If these factors are removed, Nigeria falls to pieces.
But for now, we can still make hay while the sun shines. While the unity and integrity of Nigeria will be defended with all that I can muster but surely not at the expense of my liberty, human dignity, freedom of choice, and human rights. I will not relent by exerting effort, ability, and capability to make a contribution to the development and progress of my land of birth.
If I allowed myself to be enslaved in Nigeria, I would have left a shameful legacy for my children and their succeeding generation forever. May God forbid! In that way, my existence in life would amount to naught.
“If the hands cannot be swung”, the saying goes, “they are better held above the head perpetually”. My services to my country and to humanity would have ended in total failure as I would have lived not to carry out the divine mission of making better what I found. If I fought racial and tribal injustice and oppression in South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Sudan tenaciously and successfully, it will be remiss of me to do any less in Nigeria. It is a divine duty and responsibility which must be attended to, if necessary.
It would appear that the National Assembly is fully aware of the lurking danger and wants to be proactive which is commendable. But the Nigerian Constitution does not give the National Assembly the power to write a new Constitution but the power to amend existing one. What is required is a new Constitution to meet the agitation and aspiration of all Nigerians and to allay all fears.
The executive and the legislature need to work together to establish a constituent assembly. The exercise must not be compromised like the present constitution; it must have full legitimacy of ‘we the people’. Talking of a new Constitution, maybe we should try a hybrid Constitution of President and Prime Minister sharing executive power in a Presidential cum Parliamentary system.
And before we descend any further, let me warn, from experience, those who are beating the drums of war and domination from all quarters. I joined late Bisalla, under General Hassan Katsina, to write the appreciation and the operational instruction for the Civil War. We estimated that the federal government would suppress the Biafran rebellion within three months.
To make allowances for the unforeseen, we allowed six months. But it took us thirty months, five times what we allowed for, and what is more, we nearly lost the war. And as a Field Commander at the end of the war, I can attest that we fought with all Nigerian tribes including Igbos against Biafra.
And if after over ten years of fighting Boko Haram, the terrorist group is still waxing strong, let nobody out of self-delusion think that a war of self-determination by one or more geopolitical zones of Nigeria with the present disenchantment would be easily suppressed by the rest of what may remain of the country.
Some will fight to the last drop of the blood of their group rather than suffer the indignity of slavery, oppression, domination and atrocious injustice in the land of their birth and the only one that they can call their country. If Boko Haram can get outside support, any geo-political zone opting for self-determination may equally get external support.
War may not necessarily go as planned, estimated and predicted. Everything must, therefore, be put in place to avoid a war, the end of which no one can precisely predict. There is no assurance that Nigeria can survive a second civil war. But rather, we should seek a political solution and avoid a destructive civil war.
Most of the assumptions in our constitution have been found to be unrealistic and unrealisable in practice by any administration that wishes to put them in the rubbish bin. This is the situation today. Let us put our experiences to work and fashion out a political order and arrangement that will strengthen our togetherness while making room for healthy and useful competition within the one entity, Nigeria.
We need not go the way of Yugoslavia or Sudan and certainly not the way of Rwanda and Somalia.
But none of these countries knew the avoidable and divisive end from the beginning. Let us learn from the experience of others and of our founding fathers who resolved their political differences through dialogue and debate without resorting to violence and separation but accommodation, telling themselves hard truth, tolerance, and give-and-take spirit. That was the foundation of Nigeria at independence and let it continue to be.
If all we are interested in is power and not holding the country together harmoniously and wholesomely, we may hold the mirage of power and lose the nation or the country bequeathed to us by our founding fathers.
Today, we can still collectively debate, dialogue and lead our country to where by consensus we will want it to be as a united, strong, harmonious, dynamic, fast-developing, productive, fast-growing and progressing nation with sufficient leeway for autonomous development and management by component units on the basis of healthy competition, mutual respect, caring and sharing for one another, within one nation and one destiny, with shared values, common goals, and venerated diversity.
There are still people of goodwill who can speak up and speak out and take effective and positive actions individually and collectively that will corporately save the country from rudderlessness and disintegration. We must allow a stitch in time to save nine, so that we are not pushed to the realm of the unknown and which may be for all of us, undesirable. May God save and keep Nigeria and make it what the likes of Frederick Fasehun had wanted it to be. Thank you all.