In the evening of the morning in which Nigeria’s pre-eminent and much revered Senior Advocate of the Masses passed on to higher ground, I felt a strong urge to step outdoors to espy the night skies, in the fervent, but furtive hope of catching a glimpse – however fleeting – of the ascent in celestial skies of that great soul which for 71 years animated and embodied the flesh of the man we came to know, admire, and respect as Chief Gani Fawehinmi.
For did not the great bard, William Shakespeare, declare through the voice of Calpurnia in Julius Caesar that:
“When beggars die there are no comets seen;
the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”
Indeed, in the estimation of the Nigerian masses, Chief Gani Fawehinmi was a prince amongst men; he was royalty; notwithstanding the small matter of his chieftaincy tile. He wore his crown as a champion of the masses and the rule of law with distinction and dignity, and with selflessness and single-minded devotion. He was their redoubtable champ; one who dwarfed and often thumped and trumped the many establishment chumps who sought to trample upon their rights.
One sad feature of his passing on to higher ground at this time is that the ever diminishing stock of authentic Nigerian heroes is further depleted, and unlikely to be replenished by anyone of comparable stature or devotion. In a real sense, the moral compass of the masses has lost its magnetic needle. And it now remains to be seen, whether anyone will step forward to replace and re-orient this critical needle in the direction of progress.
Although it was common knowledge that Chief Gani Fawehinmi had been suffering from a life threatening illness for some time, many in Nigeria held the hope that he would overcome this trial, just as he had many others – legal and otherwise – during his lifetime. But, alas, this time was to be different. For the time had come for him to cross the great divide which separates mortals from the immortal. But in his crossing of that divide, he can rest safely in the assurance that he is adjudged by his constituency to have fought a good fight and run a good race. It is no surprise that he has promised to continue the fight from beyond the grave.
Just over a year ago, on the anniversary of his 70th birthday, I joined others in eulogising his contributions to Nigeria. None of us, who wrote at the time, were to know that he had just over a year left to live, beyond the attainment of his platinum milestone. One is grateful to have been able to applaud him while he was still with us.
In writing back then (Chief Gani Fawehinmi: Praise for an Authentic Nigerian Hero) I declared that:
If, or, when the history of the Nigerian nation is recorded for the benefit of posterity; I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Chief Gani Fawehinmi will receive a positive and honourable mention in such chronicles.
I remain persuaded of this fact. And if the quantum and tenor of the tributes being paid to him at this time, are an indication of the estimation in which he was held, then one can safely say that when the historical telling of his contributions to Nigeria is told – what a remarkable telling it will be. For in his several actions against various oppressive regimes, he came to represent the apotheosis of courage.
In my tribute to him last year, I also expressed the desire that he would find it in himself to effect a rapprochement with Dr. Olu Onagoruwa over their falling out on a matter of principle. It is pleasing to note – according to Dr. Onagoruwa’s recent testimony – that such reconciliation was indeed achieved in the few months preceding his demise.
Although much of what Chief Gani Fawehinmi fought for has yet to be realised, his huge constituency can rest assured, secure in the knowledge, that his labours were not in vain, and that the rich seeds which he planted in Nigerian soils will germinate and accrue to great harvest in their proper season.
It is gratifying to note that during his lifetime he received many deserved awards in recognition of his labours; all of which, I am certain he treasured dearly. But one award, which I imagine, he must have treasured, above all others, was that of Senior Advocate of the Masses. The honorific title conferred upon him by the radical Students’ Union of the great University of Ife in the late 1980s. It is the one award, in my view, which best sums up, his lifetime of service, and the one by which he will be fondly remembered.
In eulogising the great man’s tremendous achievements, it is easy to overlook the contributions of his immediate family to his life’s work. That ever present bulwark of support. They, more than all others, know only too well the dire effects of the constant intimidation, harassment, and incarcerations on his and their lives. In this regard, one commends them for their deep forbearance over the many years and for their generosity in sharing his life with Nigerians. May the Most High comfort them in their bereavement.
Chief Gani Fawehinmi’s passing marks the end of an era. By his demise, the Legal Profession has lost one of its best practitioners and law publishers; the Nigerian Bar has lost one of its finest advocates; the Nigerian masses have lost their champion; the field of Human Rights has lost a tremendous activist; and Nigeria has lost one of its greatest sons.
Today, as his bodily remains are committed to the bosom of Mother Earth, we thank the Most High for the gift of his life to Nigeria. And we thank Chief Gani Fawehinmi for his extraordinary and exemplary life of service and we bless his memory.
Farewell, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Senior Advocate of the Masses; May your soul rest in perfect peace.
ODIGBA OKUNRIN META; SUN RE O.