In this tribute, Nseobong Okon-Ekong pays tribute to Dr. Frederick Fasehun, founder of the Oodua Peoples’ Congress and advocate of ethnic equality, who passed on last weekend
Aseemingly innocuous incident in the life of Frederick Fasehun, the late medical doctor, hotelier and founder of the Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC), perhaps, best explains his pragmatism. Here was a man, who did whatever was needful and having satisfied self that he had done his best, moved on. He was also one given to excellence.
Having studied science at Blackburn College and furthered his education at Aberdeen University College of Medicine, he also studied at the Liverpool Postgraduate School after which he had a Fellowship at the Royal College of Surgeons.
In 1976, he studied Acupuncture in China under a joint World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Development Scholarship Programme. In 1977, he set up an Acupuncture Unit at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH).
He resigned in 1978 and immediately set up the Besthope Hospital and Acupuncture Centre in Lagos. The Acupuncture Centre once earned a reputation as Africa’s first for the Chinese medical practice.
Taking his leave of a newly established critical unit in one of Nigeria’s centre of excellence in medical practice, barely one year after it was opened, hinted at a man in a hurry to quit the stage, when the ovation was loud. His next step provided another insight into the workings of his mind.
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 and went on to demonstrate what could be done in an organisation like that. His private clinic became a reference of best practices of modern Chinese medicine in Africa.
Originally from Ondo Town in Ondo State, Fasehun was brought to Lagos by his mother as a child. After his medical studies abroad, he returned to Lagos and was encouraged by his friend, who owned a private school in Okoto area of Isolo-Lagos to take up residence there.
An unpretentious personality and good mixer, he quickly immersed himself into the community. His proclivity towards Yoruba culture stood him out. Though he was learned and well-travelled, 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 neighbourhood, at first. As his community engagement increased, a greater responsibility of taking up the fight for the larger Yoruba nation was thrust on him.
Thus, when a group of Yoruba elite met to fashion plans to retrieve the annulled mandate of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, the assumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, the groundswell produced many predictable outcome, one of which was the formation of the OPC, widely acknowledged to be inspired by Fasehun.
Till his recent demise, Fasehun was despised by a select group of the Yoruba intelligentsia who held him responsible for creating what was then seen as monster. However, he was equally revered by a teeming population of his ethnic group and other admirers from all over the country, who saw the good in his advocacy for a country, where all ethnic nationalities are respected and allowed control of their resources.
Fasehun’s place in political struggles and activism in Nigeria is assured through the formation of the OPC and the role the organisation continues to play in the regional and national polity. To Fasehun’s credit, a little known carpenter, Ganiyu Adams, who was in the executive of the group, broke off from the main organisation in 1999, mainly because Fasehun was accused of not being militant enough in his approach to fighting the cause of the Yoruba.
His stance on militancy was clear: “Any Nigerian not licensed to carry arms and is caught with arms will be doing so at his own risks. My members know my position on illegal arms possession. They do not carry arms near me and if they do so, it is at their own risk and not the organisation. We don’t use or carry guns, but in some few cases where you see a members carrying gun, he must have been licensed to do so. You have civilians that have license to their guns and you also find some of these individuals in the group.”
Today, Adams is a hugely improved personality, who has received formal and informal education. He has since assumed one of the highest traditional honours in Yorubaland, as the Aare Ona Kakanfo – the Yoruba Warlord. Fasehun said the selection of Adams by the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, as the 15th Aare Ona Kakanfo, was an attestation and acknowledgement of the performance of OPC.
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 lived by his convictions. An example of this nature was at Saint Peter’s Teacher’s Training College, Akure. Fasehun was thrown out because he didn’t succumb to the Catholic creed. But he was top of his class all the same.
For refusing to denounce activism, Fasehun was imprisoned for 19 months from December 1996 to June 1998 during the military rule of Sani Abacha. He regained freedom 18 days after Abacha’s death. Having suffered such a dreadful fate, became an ardent fighter for those whose rights were deprived, not minding their religious or ethnic background.
Fasehun justified his participation in politics, saying he wanted to improve the life of the ordinary Nigerians. According to him, the medical profession shows you the end result of want, hunger, poverty, suffering, ignorance and superstition. He said he was once a victim of all these and wouldn’t want fellow Nigerians to suffer the same fate.
He was in and out of detention countless times for his active role in street and undercover agitation for good governance. He was one of the three leaders of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), who staged the rally for Abiola after the latter claimed his mandate as President of Nigeria.
He was an executive member of the Campaign for Democracy (CD). In the thick of CD’s crisis in early 1994, several factions put pressures on Fasehun to assume chairmanship. He declined, asserting in characteristic humility that “one can work effectively and successfully for the uplift of any organisation by being in the background.” He then campaigned for Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti to be returned.
In 1993, Fasehun founded the Movement for Social and Economic Justice (MOSEJ), emerging as its National Chairman. He was respected as a quiet but effective negotiator. He was said to have rejected Head of State, Sani Abacha’s request to have him serve in his military dictatorship. Owing to his impeccable relationship with Nigerian workers, he was made presidential standard bearer of the Nigerian Labour Party in 1989.
In the twilight of his years, Fasehun retuned to partisan politics. Shunning the mainstream political parties, he favoured the ideals associated with the late Yoruba icon and sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), which was very popular in the Second Republic.
He however, announced his resignation from active politics on his 80th birthday in 2015. He said at the event that he would like to wear the toga of Elder Statesman. “I give up placard-carrying; every Nigerian is my brother, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo and others. All of us should be committed to bridge-building; henceforth, I will be an advocate of peace to all. “
In the Okota-Lagos neighbourhoood, where he lived till his passing, he was known as one of the pillars of the community, involving in development efforts like building a bridge that connects Oke-Afa to Okota. He was also the proprietor of Century Hotel.