In Grecian mythology, Frederick Fasehun’s heroism could effortlessly earn him a place in the pantheon of the demigods. He lived a life of which folktales are made. Relatives and schoolmates saw him grow up as a fragile, sickly child and a bespectacled bookworm who realised his ambition to become a Medical Doctor. But they have always considered it the eighth wonder of the world how that studious young boy quickly transmogrified into the leader of a band of daredevil warriors and militants at the unlikely age of 59.
Frederick had always been underrated and written off. From his father who refused to sponsor his early education, to the authorities that stopped his ambition to vie for the Nigerian presidency, people had this penchant to relegate him to the background. His polygamous father had determined that he would be responsible for just the firstborns of his 14 wives. Fred lost out, being way down in the pecking order of his mother’s lineup of children. However, his mother (who herself once angrily flung him into the raging waters of an Ondo river after years tending to his unabated sicknesses) personally bankrolled his education through primary school and secondary school. He travelled out to Aberdeen, Scotland to read Medicine. When he returned in 1969, he took up employment at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria. He left there for the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). A United Nations scholarship took him to China for acupuncture studies, making him the first African Acupuncturist, a feat for which he is seldom credited. In 1979, he founded Besthope Hospital, a private concern he ran.
Ironically, not many knew that Fasehun was, as someone once described him, “a damn good Doctor!” In fact, several dismiss the Dr. attached to his name as either an honorary appellation or the shortened form of a “witchdoctor.” But this Doctor was good! He often wondered aloud why “wealthy Nigerians go abroad and submit themselves to be treated by foreign doctors whom we beat and outshone in class when we went to their country to study.” His medical prowess included reviving the kidneys of a lady (among several others) whom other doctors had billed for dialysis to be followed by a possible transplant. It took about 10 days at Fasehun’s Besthope Hospital, Mushin area of Lagos, and the kidneys returned to life. That was in 2004. Over 14 years later, the lady is alive with no sign she ever passed through such a condition. Shall we speak of women who had their infertility status reversed and came to know the joy of motherhood at Fasehun’s Besthope Hospital? A Doctor in the hospital said of Besthope, “What we achieve here, I can confidently say we can beat LUTH hands down!”
And those who know wouldn’t gainsay that submission! When he established Besthope in 1979, Fasehun built it into a one-stop shop for healthcare solutions. With over 30 wards, 30 nurses and tens of doctors, Besthope came equipped with departments like: Dentistry, Acupuncture, Pediatrics, and Radiology with full a complement of x-ray machines, Laboratory, etc. Staffing included Nigerians as well as Ghanaians. It had Europeans doctors too. Chinese doctors dispensed acupuncture treatment there. Besthope was a 24-hour beehive that bristled with patients and staffers. Several government establishments including NEPA, Nigeria Labour Congress, banks and other private concerns retained Besthope for staffs and their families. The hospital prospered.
However, the glowing fortunes of Besthope nosedived after its proprietor embraced politics. Today, what Dr. Fasehun is known for is not for being the quintessential Medical Practitioner that he was, but for founding the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC). OPC came as a culmination of his initial foray into politics as Chairman and later Presidential Candidate of the Nigerian Labour Party, founded by the umbrella workers’ movement. He went on to become a presidential aspirant in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) but dropped out in protest at the exorbitant monetisation of the process by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida. After Babangida invalidated the June 12 presidential poll, Fasehun founded OPC in 1994 and became one of the pioneers of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). He became in 2013 National Chairman of the renascent Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) originally founded by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1978. However, all this paled in significance to his role in OPC.
Dr. Fasehun had founded OPC as a response to the belligerence of the Military. Established in 1994, the congress began with just four people whom the great Doctor called together to assist in finding a solution to the insult poured by the military on the country’s political class, and especially his Yoruba people. The group later grew reputedly into over 2 million members. Its ranks would later include the likes of: The Late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, Dr. Doyin Okupe, Professor Amos Akingba, Honourable Wale Oshun and other eminent Yoruba sons and daughters. Fasehun had envisioned OPC as a movement to battle the Military for the resuscitation of the June 12 mandate of Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. MKO, being a Yoruba man, Fasehun felt that the Yoruba should lead the fight for the restoration of the politician’s mandate. Several Yoruba people felt that way too. But who would bell the cat?
The likes of Afenifere then under Chief Adekunle Ajasin, Campaign for Democracy (CD) under Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti and JACON under Chief Gani Fawehinmi all embarked on a campaign of advocacy, pamphleteering, media statements and international lobbying; but none of these fazed the Interim National Government (ING) of Chief Ernest Shonekan and later the government of General Sani Abacha, both of whom showed a determination to bury June 12. Against such unyielding recalcitrance by Abacha, some felt the Yoruba would chicken out and live up to their billing as a people “full of bark and no bite.” It soon became clear it would take more than talk and street demonstrations to root the dictators out of Aso Rock. Something more pungent was called for. Dr. Fasehun proffered his solution.
In his last book, OPC And The Rise Of Ethnic Militancy In Nigeria (working title), yet to be released and a sequel to about 10 other books, the learned Doctor and his followers gave graphic details of the factors that goaded OPC into militancy. The group and its members faced a barrage of attacks from the Police and Army in 1995. In reaction, OPC members decided that rather than become cannon-fodder to the guns and bullets of the State, they must exhume and rediscover the native solutions that fortified their fathers and made them formidable in ancient wars like Kiriji, Agbekoya and Ilorin. It led to a renaissance of what Chief Olusegun Obasanjo called the “BLACK BOMB” a euphemism for juju and Black Power. Feelingfortified, Yoruba militants threw caution to the wind. Confrontations with Police and Army became common place. This came with a bitter price. Hundreds of emboldened OPC warriors died not just in the field of battle, but mostly from extra-judicial killings perpetrated by security agencies. The true figure of casualties from that era may never be known.
Meanwhile, OPC soon splintered. OPC-on-OPC violence became the order of the day. The groups that splintered further splintered and the centre could no longer hold.
Through it all, Fasehun displayed grit as well as tenacity. He proved a man of character. He could be gentle yet tough just as he was amiable and yet controversial. He was longsuffering but he did not suffer fools lightly. He was rich and yet descended to mix with the lowest of men. He had his door open to all manner of men. In short, As Shakespeare said of Brutus,
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, ‘This was a man!’
However, being no angel, Fasehun had his flaws, several you will find, if you related closely to him. And one character flaw, for which fellow activists like Wole Soyinka and Ayo Opadokun faulted him, had to do with his relationship with Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to General Abacha, whose regime had variously detained Fasehun. In fact, Fasehun’s last detention, lasting 19 months, only ended when death fortuitously claimed Abacha in 1998. Fasehun’s kinsmen and pro-democracy constituency could not fathom, and perhaps failed to forgive, his dalliance with Mustapha. But Fasehun, in defending this “strange romance,” said he had always stood against injustice and it did not matter that the victim of injustice was the Devil himself, Fasehun would stand with him. He felt 15 years was too long to hold a man for a questionable trial. Sentenced to death controversially by a Lagos High Court in 2012, Mustapha escaped the hangman’s noose courtesy of a Court of Appeal ruling the following year, a ruling that inexorably justified Fasehun’s support for the persecuted soldier all along.
Outside politics, and OPC, Fasehun remained a busy bee. Is there any Nigerian alive who has issued more press statements and held press conferences on national issues in his private capacity? This prolific Social Commentator authored at least 10 books. He had a private philosophy for work that he lived by: “Did they not say heaven is a place of rest? So there is enough time for rest when you die. Now that you are alive, you should busy yourself working.”
So he bristled with ideas. One of these saw him laying the groundwork for his pet and biggest project yet, the University of Security, Management and Technology, in his native Ondo town. He singlehandedly built a toll bridge to link several communities in Isolo. He ran the Century Hotel as a private enterprise. The Yoruba Education Trust Fund (YETFUND) was his brainchild, although it had as Chairman former CBN Governor, the late Mr. Ola Vincent, and lately Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye. He founded a Century Lotto in Ibadan. He ran the Oodua Barefoot College as a skills acquisition institution although it later went moribund. He spoke about founding a newspaper called AMEN. He founded the Social Security Cooperative Society to dispense money to small-scale businesses with a capital outlay of N32 million that he personally provided. His last project was an abattoir to take butchers displaced by urbanisation at Oke-Ifa, Isolo Council where he lived. He lived a life of philanthropy that saw him bringing succour to the downtrodden needing school fees, rents, medical treatment, foreign trips, burial and christening ceremonies and other personal needs.
For all Fasehun’s kindness and his heroism, men and women adored him.
If, like the Greek, the Yoruba race had a pantheon for their demigods, on December 1 that Yoruba pantheon welcomed a newcomer with the English name of Fred. Even if there were no pantheons anywhere with small “g” gods belching thunder and fire, no one will deny that Fasehun made his bed with the greats. When his mortality embraced the sunset in Lagos on December 1, 2018, Dr. Frederick Isiotan Fasehun died an Elder Statesman. He died unforgettable. He died a Legend.
FELIX OBOAGWINA, MEDIA CONSULTANT AND PUBLISHER TO THE LATE DR. FREDERICK FASEHUN, IS A JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR