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Remembering The Senior Advocate Of The Masses

Posted: Sep 4, 2015 at 2:58 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Tomorrow, Saturday, 5th September 2015, will make it the sixth year anniversary of the death of political gadfly, Chief Abdul-Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi, fondly referred to as ‘the conscience of the nation.’ His death was caused by lung cancer.

After his demise, it has been difficult to find another Nigerian that could step into his human rights shoes. Those, like Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti and Attorney Alao Aka-Bashorun, cast in the same mold like Gani, have also died.

If there is no credible rallying point for the civil society at this time of Nigeria’s fledgling democracy, one begins to wonder if Gani came ahead of his time. This is even greater concern because the tribe of Nigerian civil activists had experienced some fissure even before Gani bowed out.   

Gani was his own man, who danced to his own music. He openly disagreed with his friend and civil activist colleague, Dr. Olu Onagoruwa, for accepting to be Minister of Justice under the government of military despot, General Sani Abacha. In 1984, he defied, and even challenged the legality of the directive by the Nigeria Bar Association, asking lawyers to boycott the proceedings of the Special Military Tribunals set up by the Buhari military regime. 

Gani has been likened to a few of Nigeria’s political colossus like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello. This comparison is not misplaced when you consider the political influence that Gani wielded among the masses of Nigeria. There is no doubt that Gani loved what he was doing, and so could afford to be selfless, dogged, and offer no apologies.

Gani stood out among his peers for many reasons: He was no only involved in civil activism, he handled many milestone litigation cases for pressure groups like National Association of Nigerian Students without charging fees; published the seminal law reports that no serious legal practitioner in Nigeria could ignore; and awarded scholarships to scores of indigent students all over the country.

As someone in the vanguard of law reform, he belonged to the naturalist school of thought that prefers that the law must always protect the weak. He was a community leader who defended the right of others. He once stood against grandees of his own extended family who wanted to appropriate community land in Ondo town for private use. Gani could not be bought, because he had independent economic means. He could not be cowed by his adversaries either. His courage was legendary.

His Will that has been described as a locus classicus is extremely detailed and comprehensive. He clearly identified all his assets, and what was due to each beneficiary who was properly identified. His law publication firm was set up on proper legal and operation framework so that it will endure. 

He took care of his family, including his mother, to whom he was an only son. He even blamed himself for the unfortunate health condition of his son, Mohammed, who is confined to a wheelchair. Though he was a Muslim, he requested to be buried, not in a Muslim shroud, but in the traditional Yoruba ‘aso oke’ to reflect his cultural heritage.

Gani was clearly not an establishment person. He himself went through harsh times to obtain the proverbial Golden Fleece. He provided lifelines for others. He realized that he was news worthy, and readily granted interviews to newspapers or tabloids that needed a good copy to sell.

Evidently, there will be no other Gani Fawehinmi. It is therefore necessary to etch his name in the memory of the living. The civil society could compile a corpus of the words of Gani into a memento that could be given to visitors at the Freedom Park on Lagos Island, for instance.

Because of his copious contribution to law research and legal advocacy, a professorial chair of law could be endowed in his name in the faculty of law of any of the foremost Nigerian universities or even the Nigerian Law School.   

Gani was a giant that passed through the political landscape of Nigeria, and the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park at Ojota, Lagos, cannot be the ultimate monument to celebrate him. But if those who should do something about it fail, Gani’s contribution to Nigeria’s political development cannot be erased.

His memory will always rest in the hearts of the man on the streets,  who bestowed upon him the  honour of ‘Senior Advocate of the Masses,’ before his learned friends at the Bar thought it fit to belatedly award him the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, which he deserved more than most of them.