Chief Ghani Fawehinmi has indeed set a benchmark for all legal practitioners treading the path of Justice and fairness. Despite milestones, he stood firm against all forms of oppression and impunity by power drunk leaders.
He is a hero among the poor and an icon in the legal practice and a philanthropist. Several children of the poor have benefited from his scholarship opportunities to become what they are today.
When Chief Gani’s 14-year old first child asked for his dad’s support to go to the Nigeria Defence Academy taking the NDA’s form to his father to sign, Chief Gani left the form, reached for the cane and flogged the young man for planning to join his tormentors.
From Kaduna prison to Jos prison, from Gombe prison to portharcourt prison, from Kuje prison to Ikoyi prison, Chief Gani Fawehinmi was the most jailed human right activist from Nigeria.
For raising his voice against injustice, his books were confiscated, his library set ablaze, his house and chambers were always raided and he was assaulted on Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way in Lagos by Naval officers.
His travails from security agents never dissuaded him from defending the poor and the weak in the society.
“I defended the students of University of Ibadan in 1971 when one of the students, Kunle Adepeju, was shot dead by the police under Gowon’s regime and the government of the day set up a Commission of enquiry headed by Justice B. O. Kazim and I represented the students for 5 months in that tribunal of enquiry. In 1976, I defended the students of University of Benin against the wrath of the military government. In 1983, under Shehu Shagari, there was a peaceful demonstration by more than 4000 students of the University of Maiduguri against the misdirected high handedness of the leadership of Professor Jubril Aminu, (former Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S.) Several students were expelled and their education illegally truncated. I fought to the Supreme Court to obtain victory. This is just to mention few of my struggles for justice.” Gani recalled.
When he was asked why he was passionate about defending the poor and speaking for the downtrodden, Chief Gani said;
“If you know where I started in my life, you will know why I speak for the poor. I did not start with silver spoon in my mouth. I was born by a rich father that had 17 wives and my mother was number 8 and when my father died while I was a student in London, the source of my maintenance dried up and I was forced as an external student to leave the college where I was pursuing law after my first year. My classmates are now in the Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal, etc. and I had to drop out of college to be a dishwasher, to clean the streets and wash the toilets in Rochester and other places and the office cleaning company in London. I had to teach myself law part II and part III of the LLB, all at the same time working as a cleaner, eating my own bread and butter, sometimes without butter, in the toilet where I clean. I wrote letters to some people to come and help me so that I can graduate and go but not a single reply came. I educated myself. I started getting involved in reading literature on capitalism, non-violence movement, socialism and the cause of the people. When I finished my studies I got back to Nigeria with only two pairs of trousers, three shirts, one pair of shoes, and two ties.”
They always came for him. He was arrested even on his 50th birthday.
“I witnessed one of the times they came to arrest him in the house. They were about armed 20 policemen. It was as if they were coming to take a criminal and they brought a big Black Maria. He told them, ‘Gentlemen how are you? Are you ready?’ He told my mum to take care of us and he followed them” His daughter, Idiat recalled.
Due to incessant arrest Chief Gani always kept a bag with toothpaste, toothbrush and the Qur’an with him-always ready for jail.
When he was asked the possibility of defending Ralph Uwazurike he said:
“If am approached by Uwazurike to take up his case, I will fly straight to wherever he is or, if I cannot go there by air, I will go there by road. If I cannot go there by road, I will trek to defend his right to hold an opinion because freedom of speech is a fundamental right. Because he has the right to pursue any objective and if they feel that his objective is criminal, then he has the right to defend himself in the court of law and we shall defend the issue of his fundamental rights”.
The incorruptible Chief Gani was able to speak truth to powers because he had nothing to hide. He once said;
“I have never got any contracts from any local government, state government or from federal government. I don’t even know the house of ministers. I never met any Head of State in my life. I’ve never met any minister in my life. I’ve never submitted any application for contract anywhere in my life. I have never submitted any application for contract at any level whatsoever.”
Chief Gani was Unbiased, detribalized and unsentimental patriot. When his own daughter was working in his Chambers, she either resumed before/at 7am or be locked outside the gate like any latecomer.
Chief Gani’s lung began to deteriorate while doctors were busy focusing on his heart and blood pressure. It got so bad that he called his cardiologist, Dr Mike Fadayomi, his childhood friend from the age of four. He is one of the best cardiologist in this world. He directed Chief Gani to a radiologist to do the X-ray first. When he (radiologist) came with the wet X-ray and showed it to Gani and Fadayomi, the cardiologist shouted;
“Gani something dangerous is wrong with your left lung. You must run to London. I don’t understand this”
When Chief Gani got to London the doctors told him that he was among the 5% patients in the world who don’t smoke or drink and yet had lung cancer.
Gani narrated his ordeals to the doctors in London and one of them hinted that his “horrible detention” must have triggered the lung failure.
The human right activist was asked to prepare for the worst and Gani wept.
To prevent politicians from “hijacking” his burial, Gani bought his casket while alive and made cash available for his funeral with instructions to his children about how he liked his funeral to be.
Chief Gani Fawehinmi literally lost his voice to the ravaging lung cancer before his Sun finally set on 9th September 2009. And Nigeria hasn’t been able to find a replacement for that voice of justice and courage till date.
Lawyers like him are what Nigeria needs today when Nigeria is governed without any regards to law and order nor respect for constitutional provision and democratic tenets.
It is unfortunate that today the legal practice lacks commuted people with passion that can enlighten Nigerians of their rights freedom and independence.
Let’s celebrate another selfless Nigerian
A legal icon.