CDHR @ 30: Translating Idea into Action

By Lanre Arogundade

By selfless and committed comrades and activists.

The tradition we met, the tradition of principled activism we must pass over devoid of opportunism and self centeredness. Congratulations and Solidarity.

Thanks Lanre Arogundade for this short trip to history:

30 years of CDHR

The jury is still out there on whether civil society organisations are still what they are supposed to be - organisations that mobilise, protest, advocate and fight for the rights of the people and in the process serving as their conscience.

Whatever the verdict may be and despite the fact that the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) has sometimes been consumed by discomforting internal wrangling, the fact remains that it is a pioneer when it comes to human rights agitation and defence in Nigeria. Its slogan or motto, my right is my right is my right, vividly captures the essence of human rights, especially as enshrined in various international, regional and national declarations, conventions as well as legislations.

The focus here however is to help set the record straight as far as the history of the organisation is concerned. It all began with the prolonged detention in 1988/1989 of Comrade Femi Aborisade, the pioneer editor of 'Labour Militant' a socialist pro-workers' newspaper, which has since metamorphosed into Socialist Democracy as published by the Democratic Socialist Movement today. Aborisade's 'offence' was to have had the audacity of editing a special Labour Militant statement, which condemned the undemocratic dissolution of the executives of the Nigeria Labour Congress by the then Ibrahim Babagida junta. Aborisade was first held for couple of days. He was released only to be rearrested. When days turned to weeks and weeks to months, it was apparent that the campaign for his release would have to be stepped up. One of the suggestions in this regard by the Labour Militant comrades was to approach Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti who had become a renowned activist by virtue of his role as a leader of the Nigeria Medical Association for support and intervention.

Saddled with the responsibility, I met with Beko who immediately agreed to be involved in the campaign and came up with the initial idea that himself and myself should carry free Aborisade placards, go to Broad Street in Lagos and sit in the middle of the road. He believed doing so would cause traffic jam, draw attention of motorists and passers by and bring to public and media knowledge Aborisade's plight.

Reporting back the comrades felt while doing that would constitute act of heroism, it might end up drawing more attention to Beko as against the intended objective - freeing Aborisade from unjust incarceration.

After some back and forth, The Free Femi Aborisade Committee was formed to serve as a coordinating platform for fighting for Aborisade's release. Dr. Wale Balogun quickly designed the logo of the committee and a small exco was put in place: Beko as chairman, Loremikan Shina, with whom I worked in The Republic Newspapers as Publicity Secretary and myself, Secretary. The committee quickly expanded, regularly met in Beko's Anthony Lagos residence and helped to popularise Aborisade's case, up to and including his conferment as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

But it turned out that many more Nigerians were being arrested and detained as IBB intensified his war against Nigerian people as it prepared grounds for deceitful political transition programme, institutionalisation of corruption and self perpetuation in power. Thus, at one of the meetings of the committee Femi Falana said the time had come to expand its scope through a change of name so it can equally fight for other detained Nigerians. There was general agreement and Beko wondered what the name would be. Falana promptly responded with a suggestion that was invariably agreed upon - Committee for the Defence of Human Rights. This was how CDHR was born in Beko's living room and apart from Falana and Beko some of the other participants in that birth and pioneer meeting included Loremikan Shina, Tokunboh Oloruntola, Femi Ojudu, etc.

Ever selfless, the activities of CDHR in those early days were mostly funded by Beko and it was much later that CDHR became a formal civil society organisation receiving donor funding support.

On this special occasion, one can only salute the pioneers and all those who have contributed to the making of CDHR.