In November 2014, I visited Ranti Bosede Daudu (RBD), whose mortal remains will be committed to earth in her beloved Kaduna this week-end. It was part of a regular ritual of solidarity with an invaluable colleague on the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which I chaired.
We met in her office at the All Children Charity International Foundation (ACCIF), which she founded. Sometime in the afternoon, she asked that I accompany her somewhere, suggesting I would be interested in the visit. I could not say no.
After a drive of about ten minutes, we ended up in a location demarcated by corrugated roofing sheets. I followed her as she got down from the car. As we walked to the entrance of what proved to be a sprawling settlement, she motioned to me and explained that this was a commune for persons with disabilities in Kaduna. She wanted me to see her people, she said.
Gidan Nakasasu, Sabon Gida in Kaduna swarmed with humanity, all of them united in different forms of disability, mostly of sight or of mobility, but much more besides. She instructed that we should begin by locating the Sarki. The sight of RBD, meanwhile, brought the place to life. They bustled to greet and touch her.
It wasn’t easy making our way to the Sarki amidst this sea of humanity but she insisted that we had to as an act of respect for the community. She knew pretty much everyone in the place by name and there were hundreds of them. She knew their families, including what their children did. They approached her like she was one of them. Indeed, as Nigeria’s first Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Vulnerable Persons and Persons with Disabilities, she was.
These were truly her people and she was theirs. They knew her as Gimbiyan Nakasasu (Queen of the Disabled).
On Nigeria’s current challenges of national coexistence, she recently asked me: “my brother, these people, where do they want people like me to go?” It was a question inspired by a life and background that made her home to nearly every part of Nigeria and reflected in the way she took to people without airs, discrimination or division.
With her Dad from Osun, her Mum from Igbo-speaking Delta, near Asaba, a life formed and lived in Kaduna and Katsina, and marital connections in Kogi, RBD embodied Nigeria and all that is good in it. She spoke Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba fluently. For good measure, she could conduct business in French too.
Ranti Bosede Jolasinmi was born on 2 September 1962 to a father who made Zariah is home. After completing her primary education in St. Bartholomew’s Primary School in Wusasa, Zaria, RBD went to Government Girls Secondary School, Kankia, in Katsina State for her high school.
Thereafter she returned to Zaria where she undertook her higher education, receiving her first degree in political science from the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria in 1986. The struggles of early marital life did not dim her ambitions as she chose to return to ABU in 1987 for another degree, this time, in law. In 1995, a mother many times over, RBD was admitted to the Nigerian Bar.
RBD was one of life’s best kept secrets and Nigeria’s most committed defender of vulnerable persons. It belied her own struggles and may in fact have been inspired by them.
In 2006, she founded ACCIF in Kaduna and threw all she had into building a support network for its vocation. Former Defence Minister, Gen. T.Y Danjuma, one of ACCIF’s staunchest supporters.Another was the late Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State. She mourned his untimely passing deeply.
At the NHRC, where our paths were joined by Providence, RBD was an embodiment of rare virtue; a close colleague. It was in this capacity that I came in contact with a part of her story around which we forged a bond in struggle. It was nearly five years ago. We’d visited a senior public officer in one of the North-Central States to discuss human rights issues arising from the terror campaign of Boko Haram.
At the head of the delegation, I introduced my remarks by arguing that a government that was unable to deal with terror in the home (such as domestic violence) could not cope with the terror of the streets. As my remarks proceeded, I noticed RBD, who sat three seats to my left, dabbing her eyes regularly. By the end of the encounter, she was nearly inconsolable.
I came to discover that those tears embodied the cumulative trauma of many years, even decades, of living with cruel and unspeakable violence. I could empathise, and not only because around the same time, I was recovering from the trauma of rescuing my sister from attempted murder at the hands of a man in her life.
Over the next four years,we forged a bond of solidarity in her quiet but determined battle against domestic violence. It took her to many places within and outside Nigeria and into astonishing recesses of self-discovery.
Later, the same person who was most responsible for the violence – domestic violence usually has many enablers – decided that her contact with the NHRC had changed her and gave her an ultimatum to abdicate from the Governing Council. She resolutely declined.As she put it: “I have learnt to say no!” It was a courageous decision for which unforgiving reprisal followed.
RBD’s life was defined by sacrificial care, compassion, and empathy – three virtues that belied her personal turmoil. Far from diminishing her, public acknowledgement of the struggles and abuse she confronted surely elevates her, putting her true legacy into rarefied context.
A woman of deep faith, RBD was philosophical about the chronic complicity of faith communities in domestic violence, which often abandons women without support and force-feeds them with the belief that it’s a religious obligation to return to their abusers or to venerate their traducers.
RBD’s battle in court over her divorce was an added source of stress. She worried in one of our most recent conversations: “I’m not sure how long I may stay even if there is no medal to win, bro.” She may well have seen the future.
On Wednesday, 5 July, the day before she died, she sent a message to a few close friends and family: “tomorrow is the hearing, pray for me.” Those who could, she invited to also join her in fasting. She was scheduled to spend part of the day with her counsel in preparation for sharing her remarkable story. The preparation was interrupted by the onset of ill-health. Her day ended in hospital and fate decreed that she would not live to see her vindication:she died on the day that she was to testify.
RBD’s ACCIF ran a school for children with Autism in Kaduna in a location she acquired for that purpose. It was an incredible sacrifice from a woman who, unknown to most, knew first hand and, for most of her adult life, lived with not having any advocate or interlocutor.
To her memory, we owe a duty to speak the truth. It requires us to admit that domestic violence is committed by and against people we know. By cloaking it with denial, we enable it.
We must also preserve her legacy of care for vulnerable persons by ensuring ACCIF doesn’t die with her.
Above all, we must acknowledge an incredible woman of rare compassion and exceptional courage who gave everything for others, even when lesser mortals would have surrendered to the untold suffering that she endured. In her death, the community of persons living with disabilities in Nigeria lost their ablest defender and advocate, an incurable optimist about what is good about humanity and about Nigeria, the unforgettable RBD, Gimbiyan Nakasasu!
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