REMEMBERING Beko Ransome-Kuti in terms of his legacy to human and civil rights development in Nigeria has been a regular feature of the mass media since the sad event of his death took place a few weeks ago. Given the magnitude of Beko's contribution to the modernisation of Nigerian politics and society, it is expected that thousands of newspaper lines must still be on the way to various media outlets as a mark of the appreciation of Beko's courage, struggle, and consistency by various segments of the Nigerian society.
One thing that should not be eclipsed in the discussion of Beko's ideas and action is his abiding commitment to cultural democracy and a united Nigeria. As several of the commentators on Beko have already acknowledged, he chose to sacrifice a life of luxury and comfort for that of the struggle for the improvement of the life of the common man and woman in Nigeria. He fought with well-chosen words and courageous acts of civil disobedience, as well as appropriate legal contests to ensure respect at each level of government for the rights of all Nigerians, regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation.
Without openly identifying with Marxist or Maoist groups, Beko spoke and acted consistently in favour of economic justice to all people in the society. More than many people in his generation, Beko integrated the message of political justice with that of economic justice, showing at all times a profound understanding of development qua development, rather than as figures and indices determined by statisticians in the employment of the Paris Club or the World Bank.
Beko was not an activist whose commitment to principles was liable to be overwhelmed by personal or ethnic proximity to those in government. He struggled against Shonekan and Obasanjo with the same vigour that he resisted Babangida and Abacha, on issues that pertain to injustice, oppression, repression, and exploitation of the people. He was not morally capable of giving support to anyone that does not deserve it simply because that person is from his ethnic or sub-ethnic pedigree. His notion of justice for the Yoruba is the same as his idea of justice for the Igbo, the Ijaw, the Tivi, or the Hausa. It is not surprising that Beko is being praised for his commitment to justice for all from all corners of Nigeria.
One aspect of Beko's philosophy and praxis that should not be overlooked is his concept of and vision for Nigeria. Without claiming to be an Awoist like some professional politicians, Beko demonstrated more than most professional Awoists a profound understanding of Nigeria's ethnic diversity and the imperative of federalism as the basis for purposive unity in Nigeria. It must be for this reason that Beko put a lot of his energy into the struggle for the restoration of Chief M.K.O. Abiola's mandate and the restructuring of Nigeria's federal system during the years of Abacha's dictatorship and the regimes of Abacha's successors: Abubakar and Obasanjo.
Beko struggled along with NADECO chieftains at home and abroad for a new federal constitution that would be conducive to sustainable democracy, because he understood as clearly as Chief Obafemi Awolowo did, that unity in a country of ethnic diversity cannot be achieved through intimidation of representatives of sections of the country, manipulation of the populace, or denial of the existence of cultural and religious differences where such differences are palpable. It is instructive that PRONACO, a congress of representatives of the different nationalities and interest groups that constitute Nigeria is the last major initiative that got Beko's public attention.
Beko believed until the end that a system that fails to respect and encourage the various constituent nations in Nigeria to have unfettered freedom in the pursuit of their development is bound to fail and flounder. Beko spent most of his productive life to struggle for a system that accords human rights to every citizen in Nigeria and cultural rights to every nation in he country. Without writing tons of books on political theory, Beko left Nigerians with a legacy, such as people like Nehru, Washington, Gorbachev, and Awolowo left for India, the United States, the nations of the former Soviet Union, and Nigeria.
Beko did not on a personal level have the inhibitions of myopic people who think that it is only their ethnic or religious community that can produce good citizens and good leaders. He also did not have the phobia of people who think that unity and justice can grow only in a country that is "programmed" by political and intellectual leaders to deny the existence of differences in a country of nationalities in search of peace and stability. Unlike many thinkers in his generation, Beko did not propagate the culture of intellectual mimicry. He did not think that the existence of a melting pot in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries or the existence of a unitary government in Britain until 10 years ago is automatically the best model for Nigeria. He insisted on creative thinking that recognises total commitment to human and cultural rights as the minimum condition for democratic governance in a multinational political space.
Beko Ransome-Kuti came, thought critically, and worked diligently for the citizens and nations of Nigeria. He deserves to enjoy his premature membership of the world of ancestors.