Till he breathed his last, the late lawyer and activist, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite didn’t turn away from his patriotic ideology, writes Shola Oyeyipo
In searching for the most appropriate quote to open this piece, non was more succinct than that from Ross by British dramatist and one of England’s most popular mid-twentieth century dramatists, Terence Rattigan, which states: “I will not insult you by trying to tell you that one day you will forget. I know as well as you that you will not. But, at least, in time you will not remember as fiercely as you do now – and I pray that that time may be soon.”
Obviously, going by the expressions of grieve by everyone that loved the late prominent lawyer, politician and human rights activist, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, now that he is no more, his death came a bit too soon and he would no longer be able to remember all that he stood for, except the people choose to keep his fond memories alive in their minds.
If only the dead could hear, it would have been good enough that the late patriot would be evaluating the appreciation of his decision to be good while he was alive. But in any case, when someone dies and very many people come out to say good things about such person, it is always worthy of note because there are always revelations that very many might not have been privy to.
In his life time, Braithwaite took some hard choices that stood him out as a patriot that he was. Take for instance, when the private residence of the late Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-kuti was demolished by the military in 1977, Braithwaite took it upon himself, sued the federal military government and fought the case from the Lagos High Court through to the Supreme Court.
Though the Kuti family eventually lost the case, it however created a precedent because by his action, the apex court eventually pronounced the old-fashioned doctrine of ‘rex potest non peccare’ (the king can do no wrong), illegal and unconstitutional and since then, the courts have always condemned military invasion of communities and awarded monetary damages to victims thereof.
During his presidential campaigns, Braithwaite vowed to wipe out rats and cockroaches in what was a metaphor to fight corrupt politicians. He was one of the few courageous politicians, who challenged the dubious agenda of the late maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha to impose himself on the country as a civilian president.
Stylishly, he sustained his critical positions on issues that bordered on national development and the well-being of Nigerians, and when he eventually died in the early hours of Monday at St. Nicholas Hospital, Lagos, after heart related illness and stroke at 82, everyone who had since reacted had one or two positive things to say about his person.
His second son, Olumide did not see how anyone would start contemplating to wear their father’s shoes, saying, “It’s a big shoe to wear.” His daughter, Omowunmi said how her late father inspired her was his cordial relationship with the media, “most of whom he usually referred to as my son/daughter anytime he was with them. He was a very loving man, who hardly joked with his family despite his busy legal and political schedules.”
Since he died, there has been an almost endless list of commentators. Many have been to his sprawling resident located at Teslim Elias Street, off Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos, said to have built in his late 20s. Those who are yet to come had sent in condolence messages and they all celebrated Braithwaite as a national icon at death.
Some of the notable Nigerians, who had shared their thoughts on his death included President Muhammadu Buhari; former vice president Atiku Abubakar; Nigerian Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka; former Chief of Army Staff and Minister for Agriculture, General Alani Akinriande (rtd), Chief Amos Akingba, and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni.
Also, two Afenifere stalwarts, Chiefs Olaniwun Ajayi and Ayo Adebanjo; Executive Secretary, Nigerian National Summit Group (NNSG), Mr. Tony Uranta, founder of CODER, Chief Ayo Opadokun; Professor of International Law and Jurisprudence, Akin Oyebode and practically all state governments had sent in words of comfort to the family.
Others are Afenifere stalwarts, Chief Olaniwun Ajayi and Chief Ayo Adebanjo; Prof. Adebayo Ninalowo of Department of Sociology University of Lagos; President, Women Arise for Change Initiative and the Campaign for Democracy (CD), Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin; representatives of the Anglican Communion, the Arch Bishop of Province 1, Anglican Communion, Most Rev. Bayo Akinde, Rt. Reverends James Odedeji and Nwosu Nkechi; Group Managing Director, Japol PLC., Mr Jegede Paul, amongst several others.
In a statement issued in Abuja on Monday by the president’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, the President said the passing away of the lawyer, author and politician came at a time that his wisdom, intellectual depth, vast knowledge and experience were sorely needed by the country.
He recalled the immeasurable contributions of the late politician to the development of democracy, rule of law and human rights in Nigeria.
Atiku, on his part referred to him as “a colossus.”
When he visited the family, Soyinka, who disagreed with those who called Braithwaite elder statesman, said rather, he considered him a counter-statesman.
“The word elder statesman meant he was retired but I will refer to him as a counter-statesman who always put government on its toes,” adding that “Dr. Braithwaite was always on the side of the people.” The revered African literary icon, who was Braithwaite’s political ally, worked with him during the days of the defunct National Advance Party, on which platform he contested the 1983 presidential election.
Chief Ajayi described him as someone with whom he shared the same political ideology, particularly as regards the issue of true federalism and the urgent need to restructure Nigeria, irrespective of the fact that he was never a member of Afenifere.
“If he contested election, I would support him. I believe he would have done same to me if I contested election,” he said.
Ajayi seized the occasion to harp on the urgent need for restructuring in the Nigerian body polity in line with the tenets of true federalism, which he said was basically what Braithwaite preached in his lifetime.
Adebanjo said: “Dr. Braithwaite was a consistent, principled and patriotic man. Every Nigerian, especially the youths should follow those principles he had been preaching.”
The National Publicity Secretary of a Pan Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin described Braithwaite as an iconoclastic political leader and social activist.
“Dr. Braithwaite, who died at the age of 82, was renowned as a forthright personality and an outspoken Nigerian, who persistently defended the less privileged Nigerians and contributed to national discourse.”
He recalled that at his last major outing as a member of the 2014 National Conference, “He stoutly canvassed a confederal arrangement as the best constitutional order for Nigeria,” bemoaning that “His death has brought a closure to a rich era of political sagacity and social crusading,” and that “He would always be remembered for his consistency, tenacity and intellectual fecundity.
Akinrinade, on his part, described him as a “mentor everyone will miss.” Opadokun said the death of Braithwaite was “the vanishing end of the true fighters of the liberty of the masses,” stressing that “Unlike many of his types, he was an intellectual. He was not one of those who will speak against government policy in the day and go back to prostrate in the night.
Prof. Oyebode said Braithwaite was an exemplary patriot, who jettisoned his noble birth and gave his life to the common people.
Also, sharing his perspective on Braithwaite, Ninalowo said not only his family will miss his departure but Nigeria at large and the whole world. To Okei-Odumakin, the late self-styled politician was “a great revolutionist and the life-wire of human rights activism in Nigeria.”
In the words of the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Owoseni, who also represented the Inspector General of Police “Dr. Braithwaite actually lived his life for the people and for the development of the country.”
Osun State Governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, said Braithwaite’s death was a huge loss to the nation. He tagged the late legal luminary as a “patriot and die-in-the-wool believer of Nigeria, who did everything to make sure the political ship of the nation gets back on the right track.
“We will continue to remember him, not just for his contributions to the legal profession, but also to the development of democratic ideals in Nigeria. His contribution to national discourse and political development will not be forgotten,” Aregbesola said.
Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State Governor described Braithwaite’s death as “a great loss,” and said “He will be remembered, not just for his contributions to the legal profession, but also to the development of democratic ethos in Nigeria.”
Another renowned Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said Dr. Braithwaite was a consistent fighter for justice and fairplay.
“As a man of strong principles, he never compromised throughout his life time. He was a solid legal scholar and a committed advocate for the rule of law.
“As a lawyer, he operated on a higher moral pedestal as he never engaged in sharp practice. Even though he practised law for over 50 years, Dr. Braithwaite was a positive influence on all lawyers, who stood for integrity. He was critical of the reactionary legal establishment. Whenever he found the court room too narrow for the struggle for social justice, Dr. Braithwaite never hesitated to participate in street protests,” Falana said.
Falana, however, noted that though some of Braithwaite’s political views were controversial, he held tenaciously to them and was ever prepared to defend them, stating: “Even though he did not achieve his ambition to rule the country, Dr. Braithwaite contributed his quota to nation building.”
Reliving his courtroom encounter with Braithwaite, former National Secretary and Chairman, Egalitarian Mission Africa, Dr. Kayode Ajulo also showered encomium on him as an example of a great lawyer.
“I was privileged to appear against the senior lawyer at Lagos State High Court, Ikeja where he represented Mrs. Maiden Alex-Ibru while my humble-self represented E.K. Clark, Ambassador A. B. Clark and Prof. J. P. Clark. He was full of wits and gifted with rare technicalities, his dressing was elegant even with the traditional wig and gown but I was surprised that he wore a slip-on black shoe instead of a formal Oxford shoe.
“Despite my fierce opposition during our arguments that went personal, after the court session, he extended hands of fellowship to me, offered words of advice and heartily commended me. He was a good man,” Ajulo recalled.
Uranta said Nigeria can only move forward if the country adopts the principles of the late Braithwaite. Quoting Williams Shakespeare, Uranta said: “Dr. Braithwaite was as firm as the Northern star of who true feature, there is none. He was a man of enormous courage. A great Nigerian; he kept fighting for the same principle. He was peaceful, humble, honest and very committed. He lived for truth, equity, rule of law, respect for our diversity, gender and religion.
“He was a father. So many people called him daddy. I called him daddy and I’m glad to be able to call him daddy. I wish he had been allowed to be president of the country. So as not to offend the Awolowo family, I would say he was the next best president we never had,” he opined.
“In Braithwaite’s death I have lost a fellow soldier,” said Fasehun, who noted that the former presidential candidate of (NAP) was a “personal friend and fellow democrat.” He added that “Braithwaite had an unparalleled passion for the development of Yoruba land and people in particular and Nigeria in general. He was a legal luminary, human rights gladiator, constructive commentator and selfless philanthropist.”
Recounting how Braithwaite came about his unique style of dressing, his fashion designer, Mrs. Shade Thomas Fad, who has known him for well over 35 years, said: “He asked us to design a particular style of outfit that would identify or associate him with the masses. That was how we came about the Aso Oke and the style he used to wear until his exit.”
Braithwaite was unique in many ways. His life was like a book with many interesting and controversial chapters and even now that he is dead, his associates and Nigerians are expected to always revisit his stance in the nation’s quest for nationhood.
Tunji Braithwaite was born in 1933. He was the youngest son of eight children. He was educated at the prestigious C.M.S Grammar School, entering the school’s preparatory section in 1946 and completing his education there in 1953.
He proceeded to sit for his A Levels at the London University at Kennington College in 1955 and enrolled in 1957/58 as a Law student at the Council of Legal Education, London. He was admitted into Lincoln’s Inn that same year and graduated as a barrister in 1960.
He founded the National Advance Party during the Second Republic and used the party to propagate his ideas of progressivism. He married his childhood sweetheart; Grace S. Falade in 1956 while they were undergraduates. They have five children and many grandchildren.