The transition of Patrick Naagbanton to the fabled great beyond, on Saturday, September 21, 2019, has thrown the human rights community in Nigeria and beyond into serious confusion, sorrow, lamentations and endless tears. And where there is death, there is heaviness of heart and outpouring of stories about the life and times of the deceased.
Welcome to a season of heavy hearts and story-telling, with Patrick Barigbalo Naagbanton as the focal point. Since the sad and devastating news was broken, stories, in form of tributes and lamentations have been flowing endlessly; stories of his fearlessness, boldness and courage; stories of how he placed his life on the line to rescue the masses from chains of oppression; stories of the many dangerous places he delved into in search of truth, stories of his love for the masses, service to humanity, intellectual prowess and love for poetry; stories of his great impacts, huge legacies and indelible footprints and stories of the inevitability of man’s transition to eternity. People are pouring out their minds.
The tragedy has forced activists from different parts of Nigeria and beyond into a mental journey down memory lane, reflecting on the various struggles for the emancipation of mankind they were involved in with Patrick and other selfless agents of change. It is indeed a sad moment of sober reflection evoking poignant memories. Even those who have left the struggle after selling their conscience to tyrant Bullhari are not left out in this sad reflection.
Encomiums have continued to flow endlessly, as people take their turns to talk about the enigma called Patrick, the town crier.
Pall bearers bear Patrick’s body
Sadly, the reflections have thrown up sad realities of the meaninglessness and vanities of this life as many of those who placed their lives on the line for the betterment of the society in those hey days of military tyrannies have been plucked out by death. They have become part of history!
Where are social justice crusaders like Chima Ubani, Gani Fawehinmi, Bamidele Aturu, Ola Oni, Tai Solari, Fela and many other dependable activists who worked together to give military tyrants, including Gen Bullhari nightmares?
News of the death of Patrick, an accomplished investigative journalist, a human rights crusader and renowned environmental rights activist is a real bad news, not only to the human rights community, but also to the Nigerian society. I felt like exploding on hearing the sad story. Why Patrick who had been labouring for the good of the masses? Why another social justice crusader? How inconsiderate has death proved to be! The death of this town crier has kept me thinking and wondering how unfair death has been to the society.
I was almost tempted to complain, as if such complaint can change anything. I wanted to complain that death has been foolish and senseless for continuously paying unwelcomed visits to the human rights community while avoiding the camp of the evil doers, the enemies of humanity, principalities and powers and animals in human skin who have been working tirelessly to keep the masses and overwhelming majority of Nigerians in perpetual suffering.
Any time death visits this camp, it would get accolades spontaneously. These are the evil minds who led the country into genocidal civil war that consumed millions of people. They annulled June 12 election won by Abiola, killed him, his wife and many of his kinsmen and protesters for daring to challenge the annulment. They created Frankenstein monsters and conditions that give mankind restless days and nights in form of insecurity; they soak themselves with the blood of the innocent. They demolished communities, killing community members for daring to complain over rulership-induced hardships in the society. Ogoni, Odi, Odioma, Tiv, Umuechem will never forget in a hurry the scars of tragedies brought upon them by these animals in human skin when they ruled the country like conquerors. They are the reasons why the society is in seemingly endless crises.
Lying in state at Patrick’s Father family home
Their misbehaviour is the reason why nationalities are agitating for secession. Inspite of their atrocities, they have continued to wax stronger, healthier and more audacious, holding onto the mantle of rulership tenaciously and playing God. Their population has continued to expand. When will death begin to visit this undesirable camp to depopulate it? We are tempted to ask why death turns its pangs away from the camp of these enemies of humanity butit continues to consume good people. Oftentimes, people go to bed and hope to be woken up by news of tragedy in the camp of the conscienceless principalities in high places. Unfortunately, when it strikes, it is the good people that are consumed.
Over the years, death has contributed to the depletion of the population of the human rights community the same way human activities have contributed and are still contributing, to the continuous depletion of the ozone layer. And this portends danger for the society. We have lost gadflies like Chima Ubani, Gani Fawehinmi, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Bamidele Aturu, Ola Oni, Baba Omojola, Emma Ezeazu, Oby Nwankwo, Comrade Don, Kingsley Kpea, and many others. These were victims of the ozone layer-like depletion of the CSOs community.
Cross section of mourners at the funeral event at St. Patrick’s church grounds
By the way, ozone layer is a region of the stratosphere that protects the earth and mankind from being destroyed by excessive heat from the sun. Scientists say it absorbs 97 to 99 percent of the Sun’s ultraviolet light which otherwise would potentially damage exposed life forms near the surface.
We have been told that without the ozone layer, the earth would melt away. Climate change problems, which have manifested in diverse forms, including desert encroachment, ocean surge, flooding, temperature rise, excessive heat, etc, have been attributed to ozone layer depletion caused by emissions of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere among others.
I have good reasons to liken the depletion of the population of the human rights community in Nigeria to the depletion of the ozone layer. As the ozone layer depletion constitutes grave dangers to mother earth and all therein, so does the depletion of the human rights community amount to grave danger to Nigeria and any other society for that matter. A society without an active community of social justice crusaders, social critics, pro-democracy activists, human rights defenders, is doomed. This group labours greatly not only to checkmate the excesses of enemies of humanity who masquerade as God-sent born-to-rule rulers, but also to ameliorate the suffering and burdens of mis-governance on the masses. They also struggle to save mother earth from climate change.
They are the conscience of every society; the hope of the masses; gadflies on the skins of bad juntas such as the one Nigeria has today. They sacrifice their comfort and place their lives on the line in the interest of the masses.
When they cough, tyrants, irrespective of weapons of mass destruction at their disposal, quaver and when they sneeze, evil rulers and their agents catch cold. Their major calling is to struggle to make society a better place for human habitation.
They are a kind of gift to mankind. A society without a human rights community and courageous critics has no future and no conscience. I guess that Hobbesian state of nature where life is nasty, short and simple will be better than such a society. It is simply unimaginable what Nigeria would have become if there were no crusaders thrown up to challenge military tyrannies during the dark era of military occupation. Perhaps, Abacha, IBB and Bullhari, the worst elements that ruled Nigeria as soldiers, would have transformed to human dragons, feeding on the flesh of Nigerians and using human blood to quench their thirst.
Nigeria is in a big mess today because there are no Ganis, Chima Ubanis and Felas to checkmate the excesses of Bullhari and his gang of marauders, and bark them to order. As a matter of fact, Bullhari’s second coming would have been an impossible mission for there would have been no CSO ladder with which he would have climbed to power if crusaders like Fela, Gani and Chima Ubani had not been uprooted by death. We miss these genuine consciences of the nation. Bullhari and his fellow bandits have today, returned Nigeria into full blown tyranny while the human rights community fold its hands to watch as if under the influence of a powerful spell.
Patrick, until his painful exit, was among the very few genuine crusaders in the shrinking camp of activists who have been crying against the excesses and hypocrisies of this regime.
He was a fire spitting radical like Gani, Chima Ubani, Escor Tuoyo or Ola Oni of blessed memories, and has made remarkable contributions in the seemingly endless struggle for the respect, promotion and protection of human rights. He was a world recognized champion of the struggle for social justice, human rights and environment and has played remarkable and indispensable roles in the Ogoni struggle, Ijaw struggle, pro- democracy struggle and Niger Delta struggle. He devoted his life time to the service of humanity, fearlessly stepping into places where many heavily armed soldiers would fear to enter in search of solutions to rulership-induced problems of mankind.
Patrick must have died an angry man not minding the huge impacts he made and the giant footprints he left behind. In a paper entitled ‘Umuechem in Memoriam,’ which he presented at Umuechem Community, Etche LGA of Rivers State on Wednesday 27, September 2017 marking the 27th anniversary of the massacre of Umuechem people by Shell and the ‘kill and go’ agents of the Nigerian State, Patrick shouted out:
“I am an angry man, angry at the depth of injustice and conspiracy against the helpless and poor Umuechem people and others in Niger Delta communities by the Nigerian state in conjunction with the oil and gas corporations and their allies. These unresolved issues of injustice and exploitation had left the communities in more confused state and violent state. I am here to encourage the traumatized and cheated Umuechem people to continue to stand up to fight non-violently for their rights”.
By the time he bowed out, the issues that made him angry were not yet resolved. Many Niger Delta communities are still helpless and traumatized.
Patrick was born into a world filled with injustices which he detested. He placed his life on the line to fight these injustices and make life worth living for the masses; he desired to see a society where human rights and freedom rule. Unfortunately, by the time he bowed out, virtually all the gains recorded during the pro-democracy, Niger Delta and other struggles for the emancipation of the society from enslavement, were speedily vanishing. Patrick, bowed out when the society is still in chains and when oil companies, aided by soldiers of occupation, are desperately struggling to resume oil extractions in Ogoni, extractions which have been stopped as a result of the concerted struggles of the people. And some Ogonis and other Niger Deltans are aiding these oil scavengers.
The vestiges of military dictatorships and all that made the military dictatorship evil are back in full swing. Orchestrated assaults on the liberties of people have continued to rise. Hunger, suffering, abject poverty, man’s inhumanity to man, and suffering amidst plenty have become the order of the day.
On a daily basis, the lawless ruling junta churns out anti-people policies and strategies aimed at extorting money from already impoverished and suffering citizens, caging the citizens and taking away what is left of their freedom. The only thing the junta thinks about is how to repress and suppress the citizens’ voices and multiply their suffering.
It has no doubt become a tradition that when loved ones die, people cry, weep, wail, mourn and shed tears profusely. And here we are, doing all of them for Patrick. But do we really have to cry for Patrick, another shinning light of the Niger Delta struggle suddenly blown out? Patrick has exited from the society where conditions that made him angry abound. In death, he has conquered fear, including the fear of death and the fear of the dooms planned by the Nigerian state against the society. I think that while we mourn the living, we should preserve our tears and cries for those still living in this conquered territory called Nigeria.
A country that is speedily becoming a jungle deserves to be wept for. A society where injustices and evil stomp the land like a colossus deserves to be cried for. Those who dwell in such a society even deserve to be cried for more. Hence, rather than weeping for Patrick and other departed agents of positive change, we should begin to think of how to ensure the ideals for which Patrick lived and died are sustained. He once advised, “Communities and beyond must set aside their greed, in-fighting, hatred and perceptions and unite. You must be well organized and avoid distractions. You must network with other organizations and communities on how to struggle to get justice. Fight on comrades; you will certainly get justice one day.”
Let us heed the advice. It is an advice of a crusading town crier who meant well for humanity.
Patrick Barigbalo Naagbanton, a shinning light from the tribe of Ogoni, who hailed from Bodo city in Gokana Local government Area of Rivers state was knocked down by a reckless driver in Port Harcourt on Friday, September 13, 2019. He died on September 21 at the age of 49, after being in coma for about 9 days.
REST ON, MY BELOVED FRIEND AND BROTHER.