By Segun Adesokan
“Dr. Tunji Braithwaite will continue to live in the memories of many Nigerians as a strong advocate of a truly democratic Nigeria and one of the few who had the courage to stand in the opposition during the military regime. I recall our last encounter during which, as a strong believer in the unity of Nigeria, he clamoured for a national dialogue, seeing it as an avenue through which lasting unification of the country could be achieved. He never stopped advocating policies that would improve the quality of lives of Nigerians”
The above excerpts were part of the tribute contained in the condolence letter to Braithwaite family by former President Goodluck Jonathan, following the death of one of Nigeria’s foremost pro-democracy activists and human rights lawyers, late Dr. Tunji Braithwaite. Braithwaite died in Lagos after a brief illness at St Nicholas Hospital on Monday, March 28. 2016.
The No. 9 Beulah Street, Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos home of late Dr. Braithwaite was turned to a Mecca of sorts, as several eminent Nigerians; friends, associates, and well-wishers throng his home. Braithwaite in his life time was an astute politician, resolute activist and elder statesman.
Braithwaite will be warmly remembered by many Nigerians for the several frontline roles he played in Nigeria’s political life. He distinguished himself as an indisputable defender of the Nigeria masses and a voice for the voiceless, owing to his numerous litigations and protest. He used the instrument of the law to drive home his agitation against the government’s inhuman policies.
He not only engaged in agitation for the betterment of the people. He was also a participant in politics. He founded the Nigeria Advance Party (NAP) to contest the 1983 presidential election which he lost.
Born in 1933, the youngest son of eight children, he attended CMS Grammar School, entering the school’s preparatory section in 1949, where he completed his education seven years later.
He gained admission into London University at Kennington College and enrolled in 1957/1958 at the Council of Legal Education in London, having sat for and passed the London A-Level Examination in 1955.
In 1966, he was called to the Bar at Lincolns Inn and thereafter signed into the Rolls of Barristers at the High Court of Justice, London before he later returned to Nigerian to further his legal career.
Late Dr. Braithwaite had a successful legal career upon returning to Nigeria. He shot himself into limelight when he led a team of legal luminaries to plead the case of Beko and Fela Anikulapo Ransome-Kuti, asking the then Federal Government to release the duo unconditionally from detention, as well as seek redress over some human rights abuses from the General Olusegun Obasanjo-led military junta. Although the fought the case through to Supreme Court, he later lost in his bid to get freedom for the duo.
Another instance where Braithwaite’s eventful life would continue to echo in the minds of Nigerians was in his role during the days of NADECO (National Democratic Coalition) in company with other fellow comrades like late Abraham Adesanya, late Pa Alfred Rewane, late Adekunle Ajasin, late Bola Ige, Alani Akinrinade, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, now APC National Leader, Tunde Bakare among other pro-democracy activists. They all stood up to the late Iron-fisted military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha.
NADECO quickly became a symbol of national struggle for the revalidation of the annulled June 12 election and return of Nigeria to democratic rule. The winner of the June 12 election, late Bashorun MKO Abiola was arrested and detained despite several international calls for his unconditional release. Braithwaite and his fellow compatriots fought tirelessly until democracy was returned in Nigeria by Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, who succeeded Gen Sani Abacha, after the demise of the later.
Speaking about the late Braithwaite, the convener of Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER), Mr. Ayo Opadokun, said: “Like many of his ilk, he was an intellectual. He was not one of those who would speak against a government policy in the day and go back to prostrate in the night”.
Another popular activist, Femi Falana, described the late Braithwaite as a committed advocate of the rule of law. Falana said the late Braithwaite had a positive influence on lawyers who stand for integrity. Falana noted that although Braithwaite practiced law for over 50 years, “he operated on a higher pedestal as a lawyer and has never engaged in any sharp practices”.