As a matter of fact, Gani’s peculiar life had a spawn, a concept called “Fawehinmiism” as a phenomenon representing what he lived and died for.
We are marking this week the fifth year celebration of the demise of this legend, Gani, who died on September 5, 2009, having succumbed to cancer after a two-year struggle.
Gani stood out larger than life for most part of his adult life on accounts of altruistic pursuits of making the life better for mankind.
It was the Nigerian journalists who invented the unorthodox style of referring to this legal icon by his first name “Gani” instead of his long surname, Fawehinmi. It was an expedient initiative since the surname was considered too long for headline purposes and Gani was always making the headlines!
Born on Friday, April 22nd, 1938, Gani lost his father midway into his tertiary education and stinted his way through engagement in menial works, including washing toilets in London! Driven by determination to make a success of his life, he seared through all the difficulties with unbridled enthusiasm and peerless courage and eventually obtained the object of his desire – a licence to practice law. He was called to the Bar on January 15, 1965.
Right from the time he established his chambers. Gani Fawehinmi & Co in Lagos, this unusual man set for himself the selfless task of reforming his society through utilisation of law as an instrument of socio-political and economic reformation.
A human and civil rights lawyer par excellence, he was the most vociferous agitator for the rule of law, due process, constitutionalism and liberal democracy. He had a pathological hatred for all forms of corruption. Gani had been known to flatly reject lucrative briefs that were contrary to his principles.
He was the first Nigerian to start publishing a law report, debuting at a time when most lawyers relied on foreign law reports. The Nigerian Weekly Law Reports which he started on October 1st 1985 still exists till today.
Gani was a barbed thorn in the flesh of successive Nigerian governments, especially the military. He was a firebrand that spat venom against the broadside of governmental highhandedness and man’s inhumanity to man.
Gani was arrested, incarcerated and even imprisoned countless number of times all on accounts of his outspokenness and vitriolic criticisms of governments’ aberrations of rule of law. The following simple statistics tells a lot – He was locked in security cells 32 times and imprisoned eight times by different military governments!
But his spirit remained irrepressible throughout his life. It was only somebody like Gani that would be released from prison and still go to public arena moments later to organise another rally against the same military government!
Gani himself summarised his philosophic orientation simply thus: “I am not a middle-of-the road man, what I believe in, I pursue intensely.”
It is these attributes of Gani that made the former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, (1993–1997) Mr. Walter Carrington, to say “Gani’s chamber is the shrine of democracy and rule of law!”
For reasons probably not unconnected with his vibrant outspokenness, principled stance and often unconventional approaches to issues, the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee did not consider him fit to be awarded the prestigious honour of Senior Advocate of Nigeria for many decades.
By the time he was belatedly given the SAN award in 2001? Gani had grown to such a phenomenal colossus that his name was even an honour to the award rather than the other way round! His inclusion in the rank of SAN was simply a beatification of that rank!
The late retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Kayode Eso, described him as “one of the greatest advocates to have worn the silk.”
Some people were surprised when even his putative number one adversary, former President Ibrahim Babangida, once showered him with adulatory epithets and described him as the only social critic and human rights crusader he most respected.
Space would not permit a faithful recollection of most of his accomplishments; suffice it to say Gani Fawehinmi would live forever in the minds of Nigerians who appreciate his contributions to make Nigeria a better country.
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