It has been seven years since Chief GaniFawehinmi answered the call of nature. Peter Uzoho examines the life and times of this rare SAN and human rights activist
Exactly September 5, 2016 was seven years that Chief Abdul-Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi popularly known and referred to as ‘Gani’ kissed the earth goodbye. But till date, the shock, sorrow and pain of his demise have not vanished from the minds of many, who are not just his immediate family, but the vast majority of the defenseless poor masses in Nigeria. The death of Fawehinmi continues to elicit questions from those he stood and fought for. Who will stand for us? Who will take over from our advocate? Where lies our future and fate in the hands of those in government? The questions are numerous, yet no hope of an answer.
Gani’s life reflected selflessness, sacrifice and patriotism. While many would see their entrance into the legal profession as a way to make wealth for their individual pleasure and comfort, Gani had a different perception. In his four decades of legal practice, he was at one time or the other championing the cause of the poor masses. He confronted several governments without fear and most times risked his life just to ensure that justice reigned supreme in the country.
Among his supporters, mainly the poor and less-privileged masses; he was known as ‘The People’s Advocate’ or ‘Senior Advocate of the Masses’, a major adversary of repressive governments, the veritable conscience of the nation and the champion of the interests and causes of the masses’.
In the process of his crusades for the rule of law, the hopes and aspirations of the poor and the oppressed, he fought many battles against military dictatorship. Consequently, he was arrested several times by the military regimes and their numerous security agents. Many times he was dumped in police cells and detained in several prisons, especially between 1969 and 1996.
With his boundless energy he tenaciously and uncompromisingly pursued his beliefs, principles and ideals for the unrestrained rule of law, undiluted democracy, all- embracing and expansive social justice protection of fundamental human rights and respect for the hopes and aspirations of the masses who are victims of misrule of the affairs of the nation.
As a result of his activities, Gani was arrested, detained and charged to court several times. His international passport was seized on many occasions and his residence and Chambers were searched several times. He was beaten up time after time and was deported from one part of the country to another to prevent him from being able to effectively reach out to the masses among whom he was popular. His books were confiscated by the Military regime and his library at Surulere, a suburb of Lagos, were set ablaze. His law Chambers at Anthony Village, Lagos State, were invaded by persons suspected to be agents of the government. The guards were shot, two of them seriously wounded. However, Gani was never deterred, but remained resolute and focused in fighting the cause of justice and equity.
Gani was born on 22 April 1938 to Saheed and MuniratFawehinmi of Ondo, in Ondo State. He had his early education at Ansar-Ud-Deen Primary School, Iyemaja, Ondo from 1947 to 1953 and his secondary school education at Victory College Ikare, a Christian School from 1954 to 1958, under the leadership of the Late Rev. Akinrele where he sat for and passed his West African School Certificate Examination in 1958.
While in college, he was popularly known as “Nation” because of his passion in national, legal and political affairs. He then worked briefly as a law clerk in the High Court of Lagos until 1961. Gani enrolled at the Holborn College of Law,University of London,to read law in 1961. While at University, he lost his father. Notwithstanding, he completed his academic degree in London with a measure of difficulty due to lack of funds as he had to engage in doing various menial jobs. He returned to Nigeria in 1964 and was called to the bar the following year. Gani worked briefly at the law firm of his brother, SaheedFawehinmi before branching out on his own.
Growing rapidly in legal profession, he became the national publicity secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) between 1971 to 1973. On 11 June 1993 Gani was awarded the biennial Bruno Kreisky Prize, a prize named in honour of Bruno Kreisky, is awarded to international figures who advance Human rights causes. In 1998, he received the International Bar Association’s ‘Bernard Simmons Award’ in recognition of his human-rights and pro-democracy work. In 1994 he and some other notable Nigerians formed the National Conscience Party of Nigeria which exists till today and he stood for a presidential election in 2003 under the umbrella of the National Conscience Party.
In September 2001, Gani was elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the highest legal title in Nigeria.
While in London, he was acquainted with books of revolutionary or radical figures such as Fidel Castro, Winston Churchill, David Ben-Gurion, Gandhi, Mao TseTsung and Karl Marx.
He reigned as a Nigerian author, publisher, philanthropist, social critic, human and civil rights lawyer, politician and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. He was an avid reader of Daily Times and West African Pilot, the most popular newspapers in Nigeria at the time
Gani, as he was fondly called, died in the early hours of 5 September 2009 after a prolonged battle with lung cancer, at the age of 71. He died as a disappointed man, because of the state of his country at the time of his death.
In his sick bed, he rejected one of the highest national honours that can be bestowed on a citizen by the Nigerian government- Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) in protest of the many years of misrule since Nigeria’s independence.
While Gani rests in God’s bosom, his numerous fans continue to show their love and appreciation for standing for them against all odds.