Today, Friends of Femi Falana (FFF) group (which happily includes yours comradely) celebrates Mr. Femi Falana for his recent elevation to the rank of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) with some intellectual grounding of activists and comrades in Ibadan, Oyo State. Professor Chidi Odinkalu, Chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) leads a discussion on the Justiciability of the Social Economic Rights in Nigeria; Reflections on the contributions of Femi Falana.An activist lawyer, a patriot and globally acknowledged human rights campaigner, Femi Falana in his own right has always been a senior advocate of Nigeria and indeed Africa any day. The recent elevation of the human rights activist alongside 24 others to the elite lawyers’ rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, by the Legal Practitioners Privileges committee only formalises what has been long expected and what has always been anyway. In many aspects I share a lot in common with Femi Falana.
For one, we are all proud children of independent Nigeria. Mr. Falana was born on 20 May 1958 at Ilawe, Ekiti State, Nigeria, two years before the British flag was lowered and replaced with Green-White-Green Nigerian flag. He had his primary schooling at St. Michael’s Primary School, Ilawe, between 1963 and 1967. His secondary education was at Sacred Heart Catholic Seminary between 1971 and 1975. He proceeded to the Nigeria Law School, Lagos in 1981 and was called to the bar in 1982. This was indeed a remarkable upward uninterrupted educational mobility of young Femi from relatively ground zero in 1963 to a qualified Anthony of the Federal Republic in 1981.
With the type of independence children like Femi Falana, yours truly, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and all other 50s, who then dare interrogate the benefits of the struggle for independence which featured nationalist heroes like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello and great Zik of Africa, Nmadi Azikwe? Colonialist Lugardian Nigeria built no public primary and secondary schools much less a university and a law school that would throw up the likes of Femi Falana. Walter Rodney was right when he wrote that colonialism had only one hand – “It was a one-armed bandit”. Our great fathers under the heel of colonialism were deliberately denied education that post independent Nigeria generously offered to us. The lesson: no alternative to independence. Obscure.
Mr. Falana enrolled at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University to study law in 1977, same year I enrolled at School of Basic Studies to do my preliminary studies preparatory to studying Economics at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. It was an age of battle of ideological ideas for development not corruption, graft and “religious” obscurantism of recent times. The tripod of ABU, Zaria, University of Ife and University of Ibadan were centres of activist learning and students’ unionism with progressive movements setting patriotic and pan African agenda. It was in the heat of these great struggles of 70s and 80s for nation building that I met Femi Falana. Since then we remain almost on the same page in the struggle for greater Africa and world of equality and justice for humanity.
After the compulsory national youth service, he joined the Chambers of Alao Aka-Bashorun, a renowned progressive legal activist and patriot. Femi could not have elected to serve in another chambers. Aka Bashorun legal chambers at Jebba West in Lagos for almost four decades was Nigeria’s equivalent of legendary Mandela-Oliver legal office at Fox Street, Johannesburg, South Africa which opened doors to justice and fairness for the oppressed and under privileged.
Jebba West was a market place of ideas and activities for freedom, anti-apartheid, democracy and socialism, perceived then as “subversion” by the status quo. Aka Bashorun was a meticulous lawyer who shared traditions with famous progressive lawyers who put law at the service of the oppressed such as South Africa’s late Yusuf Dadoo, Alfred Nzo, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. Though a far more junior partner, he was de facto a co-comrade of the late Aka Bashorun on account of his audacity of hope for a progressive Nigeria. Femi Falana has always been a good follower which explains why he is a tested leader of the civil society today. In 1991, Mr. Falana started his own Chambers, Femi Falana, which later became Falana and Falana Chambers.
Femi Falana became a human rights activist as early as 1983 for which he has paid heavy price in terms undeserved harassments and detentions, especially under the military. For instance, just for standing up for the defence of students’ rights Mr. Falana was almost denied his discharge certificate by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Two decades later, in July 2001, he petitioned the Justice Oputa led human rights panel over his withheld certificate. The certificate was subsequently released to him on live television at the commission’s sitting.
Femi has presided over the affairs of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers and West African Bar Association, WABA, serving as President and Chairman respectively. He legitimately contested and lost the governorship election of Ekiti State in 2007 on the ticket of the National Conscience Party. Falana is qualified to be called a statesman. Though a visible non-state actor, very few statesmen have shown such passion for nation-building in terms of advocacy, legal representation and mass engagement. Just like the late Aka Bashrun and Chief Gani Fawehinmi. Femi who also features at next year’s Daily Trust Dialogue proudly gave out his first daughter, Winnie’s, (born at the height of anti-apartheid struggles of the 80s and named after Winnie Mandela) hand in marriage last Saturday in Lagos in an event that witnessed a remarkable collection of all those committed to a better world. Falana truly stands for something (principle) which explains why he does not fall for anything as many are doing. The unstinting commitment to humanity is undoubtedly the fundamental principle that Falana holds dearly.
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