By Kayode Ketefe
Chief Gani Fawehinmi
Today September 5, 2013, marked the fourth anniversary of the demise of the legal legend, Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN. The late Chief belonged to the exclusive group of Nigerians (dead and living) whose lives are so much woven round and deeply embedded in some concepts that their very names evoke the essences depicted by the respective concepts. They are inexorably linked with some ideas or phenomena advanced to such seemingly superhuman height that history readily accords a place to them.
Gani was steeped in social reformation via the invocation of the composite endeavours of criticisms, legal advocacy, and public interest litigation was his forte. As a matter of fact, Gani’s peculiar life had a spawn a concept called “Fawehinmiism”. He lived and died for it.
Today, the nation is standing still to celebrate this legend. 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 local 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.
One of the criticisms his adversaries levelled against him was that Gani was stubborn and unyielding. Whether or not this is true is matter of perception. But his famed obstinacy, to many objective minds, stemmed from unrepentant stance on his personal convictions – a quality wanting in many Nigerians today including most of our leaders!
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. He 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 tell 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! He 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 that made the former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Walter Carrington (1993–1997) 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! 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. But such was the virtues of Gani that even when you antagonised him, you would nonetheless recognise that his own battle was a more conscientious one, based on higher moral pedestal.
It is 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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