Gani: Salute to Courage

Recently, the community of social rights activists gathered in Lagos to mark the 70th birthday of a man who has been silent of late on account of ill – health but who will, nevertheless, go down in the history of this beleaguered nation as an unwavering defender of truth and justice, an irrepressible gadfly that pricked the conscience of successive regimes, a trenchant voice of the voiceless, and a courageous man that repeatedly placed his life on the line in an unending battle for the public good. In the last four decades, Chief Abdul-Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi (SAN) popularly known as Gani has represented many things to many people nationwide: lawyer, social critic and human rights activist, prolific writer and publisher, philanthropist and politician.

Born April 22, 1938, Gani son of Chief Saheed Tugbobo Fawehinmi, a timber merchant, muslim leader and philanthropist of Ondo Town in Ondo State attended Ansar-Ud-Deen Primary School, Iyemaja – Ondo and Victory College Ikare, where he took the West African School Certificate Examination in 1958. As a student, Gani took delight in current affairs. He liked to read newspapers especially the Daily Times and the West African Pilot which were the popular tabloids of the time and he was noted for his passionate views on matters of national, legal and political interest which earned him the nickname “Nation”. After working briefly as a clerk in the High Court in Lagos between 1959 and 1961, he proceeded to London where he enrolled as a law student at the Holborn College of Law for the LL.B degree of the University of London. Despite the loss of his father in his sophomore year and having to carry out a range of odd jobs to fend for himself, Gani graduated and returned to Nigeria to attend the Nigerian Law School and was called to the bar in January 1965.

As a lawyer, Gani became L’enfant terrible: his legal practice has led to numerous rulings regarded as locus classicus in the Nigerian legal system. He used the courts to challenge bad laws, bad government and abuse of power under both military and civilian regimes. In a career life that has been characterized by career and life threatening legal acrobatics, Gani has remained consistent and uncompromising. He transforms the courtroom into a stage, courts the press and excites public interest with ample theatricals that often border on exhibitionism. But he never looses sight of the goal: and his goal is usually to defend or to assert the rights of an individual or the rights of the people. Gani has been involved in or handled some of the most controversial and, sometimes, the most dangerous cases in Nigeria. Top on the list of such cases are the Dele Giwa case, the Ken Saro Wiwa case, his cases against the Disciplinary Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association, Chief FRA Williams, Maryam Abacha and her Family Support Programme, etc.

Gani’s social criticism and unrelenting human rights activism, and his eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations with political power especially the infamous variety known as military rule are legendary. If there is any man alive in Nigeria today that can be said to have fought suicidal battles on the side of justice and good governance like a one–man riot squad, that man is Gani Fawehinmi. For his courage, his battles against injustice and his rallies against anti–people policies, Gani has been hounded, harassed, arrested, detained, tortured and arraigned in court several times between 1969 and 1996. His office and home have been besieged, attacked, and ransacked many times. Through these travails the legal combatant remained undaunted and fiery as ever. Even on the sick bed to which he has been confined in London, Gani manages to place his position on issues of public interest in the public domain.

As a prolific writer and publisher, Gani’s publications including the hugely popular Nigerian Weekly Law Reports serve as invaluable tools for generations of lawyers. Some of the books authored by him are popular handbooks for students, researchers, journalists, historians and jurists. Among these are Nigerian Law of Habeas Corpus, Law of Contempt in Nigeria, Murder of Dele Giwa: the Right of a Private Prosecutor, June 12 Crisis-the Illegality of Shonekan’s Government, Peoples Right to Free Education, The Bench and the Bar in Nigeria, Court System in Nigeria – A Guide, Petrol Price Increases In Nigeria: The Truth You Must Know, Obasanjo: The Absentee President of Nigeria, among others. Gani’s books portray him as a man with a passion for chronology and details. In a country where data collection and record keeping are treated with levity, Gani embodies rigour, thoroughness and mental acuity.

As a philanthropist, freely defends and empowers indigent persons and the downtrodden; and as a politician, his uncompromising style through his National Conscience Party (NCP) has paved the way for conscientious politics that places the interest of the people above pecuniary interests.

Gani has suffered persecution and prosecution for the emergence of a better society in which equal rights, justice and the rule of law reign. He has fought the cause of the common man with uncommon dedication without counting cost or return, and without loosing his integrity. Although he is yet to receive a national honour in Nigeria, his positive contributions to society have earned him the Bruno Kreisky Prize (1993) – a recognition for international figures who advance the cause of human rights. He has also won the Bernard Simon’s Award of the International Bar Association (1996). In 2001 he won the Ondo State merit award and the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) was bestowed on him rather belatedly by the Body of Benchers – thirteen years after students of the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) had in youthful expression of public angst over the continued omission of Gani’s name in the list of SANs defiantly decorated him as Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM). Over the years, Gani has been named “Man of the Year” at one time or the other by practically every newspaper or newsmagazine of note in Nigeria.

Enigma, rebel, maverick, radical, eccentric, or nonconformist, it is not easy to find any one adjective that sufficiently describes Gani. But one thing is sure: Gani Fawehinmi who clocked three scores and ten on Tuesday, April 22, 2008 is a man of uncommon courage.

Written by
Uche Ohia
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