By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa
It is not surprising to have this discourse at this time, when our dear country is in dire need of leadership. The heroes gone by, in times past, had helped to guide Nigeria right, with their struggles of commitment, selfless sacrifices and nation building.
I do humbly urge that we maintain a minute silence in honour of Chief Gani Fawehinmi and all other heroes of our nation.
When I was approached to be the Guest Speaker for this occasion, I felt some sense of unease, arising mainly from my personal disenchantment with the community of activists and pro-democracy campaigners, in regard to all the recent ugly developments in our nation, to which they have either directly acquiesced or indirectly encouraged.
It is now seven years that Chief Gani Fawehinmi (Gani) passed away and I believe that myself and other Nigerians miss him a lot.
WHO WAS GANI?
To be able to understand or speculate on how a person would react in any given situation, one must at least know that person, to some extent. So, the question then is: Who was Gani?
Gani was born as Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi, on Friday, April 22, 1938, into the family of Chief Saheed Tugbogbo Fawehinmi, the Seriki Musulumi of Ondo and Alhaja Muniratu Fawehinmi. He was married in his lifetime to Mrs. Ganiat Ibukun Fawehinmi and Mrs. Abike Fawehinmi, with many children and grand children.
Gani had his early education at Ansar-Ud-Deen Primary School, Iyemaja, Ondo, from 1947-1953 and his secondary school at Victory College, Ikare, from 1954 to 1958. Whilst in the College, he was popularly known as ‘Nation’ because of his passionate interest in national, legal and political affairs of Nigeria.
In January 1959, Gani headed for Lagos and worked as a Clerk in the High Court, Lagos. On 29th of April, 1961, Gani travelled out of Nigeria by Sea to the United Kingdom, where he enrolled in the Holborn College of Law for the LL.B degree of University of London (External) in 1961. He was forced, by the circumstance of the death of his father in 1963, to drop out of the College as a full time student and had to be engaged as Toilet Cleaner in Russell Square Hotel in Southampton Row, London. He also combined this with the job of Sweeper in the old Gatwick Airport, managing to complete his training.
Gani came back to Nigeria in September, 1964 and enrolled at the Nigerian Law School, Lagos. He was called to the Nigerian Bar on 15th of January, 1965.
He practiced briefly with his elder brother, Hon. Justice Rasheed Fawehinmi in Ebute-Metta, before establishing his own Chambers in 1965. In 1974, he moved his Chambers to his house in Surulere. In 1978, he finally moved the Chambers to its permanent site in Anthony Village.
As of 2002, Gani had over 290,000 collection of law and law-related books on various subjects, in his Chambers and had a staff strength of about 201. The notable characteristics of his Chambers include a high sense of responsibility to professional duties, professional ethics, dedication to research, hardwork, truth, honesty, obedience to the rule of law and due process, protection, defence and advancement of fundamental rights.
Between 1965 and 2002, Gani had handled about 5,700 briefs, traversing all courts in virtually all the states of the federation. He was in deep love with the poor and the less privileged, whose cases he handled free of legal charges and whose causes he fought tirelessly.
Gani changed the course of legal practice in Nigeria, with the establishment of the Nigerian Weekly Law Reports, NWLR, IN 1985. He has also published several cases.
Gani used his knowledge and skill of law to fight societal injustice and oppression, following which he filed and prosecuted so many cases in court, amongst which is the famous Fawehinmi v Akilu cases, Fawehinmi v Abacha, Fawehinmi v IGP, Fawehinmi v INEC, etc.
Gani established the National Conscience Party in 1994, principally to rally nationwide support for the activation of the June 12, 1993 election mandate, for the entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria, to provide a platform for genuine change in Nigeria and for the emancipation of the masses from political, economic and socio-cultural enslavement. The NCP had the unique motto of: Abolition of Poverty. He declared his intention to contest election as the presidential candidate of the NCP in April 2002.
His love for the masses and less privileged led him to set up a scholarship scheme since 1971. Every year, scholarships are awarded to brilliant children all over Nigeria, to support their education in various schools.
Gani suffered in the hands of the powers that be, having been arrested and detained not less than 32 times in various police stations and prisons across Nigeria. His passport was seized several times, his houses and chambers searched at random and without notice, his books were confiscated and several trumped up criminal charges were filed against him, as a way of silencing him. He was physically assaulted on several occasions, one of which was on Wednesday, October 20, 1999, at the Federal High Court, Lagos, when rented political thugs attempted to kill him, but could only smash the glass of his Pajero Jeep, on account of the case he instituted in court to compel the Inspector-General of Police to investigate allegations of certificate forgery and false declaration, against the former Governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Gani won several laurels and awards, in recognition of his struggle for the masses, amongst which was membership of the Ghandi Foundation in 1971, Senior Advocate of the Masses, 1988, Bruno Kriesky Award for the defence of human rights in 1993, American Bar Association Award for human rights in 1996 and the prestigious Bernard Simons Memorial Award by the International Bar Association in1998. He was voted Man of the Year by several newspapers and organisations. He was elevated to the Inner Bar as Senior Advocate of Nigeria in September, 2001.
Now that we know a bit of Gani, the next thing is to know his principles, as bench mark for determining his likely reaction to events in Nigeria presently.
When Gani declared his presidential bid in April 2002, he lauched THE 10-CARE Programme, which essential deals with:
1. Employment 2. Food Care
3. Health Care 4. Housing Care
5. Education Care 6. Water Care
7. Electricity Care 8. Transportation Care
9. Telecoms Care 10. Security Care
On the platform of the NCP, Gani promised four fundamental action points, to sanitise the Nigerian society.
1. Corruption 2. Unemployment
3. Cost of Funds 4. Exchange Rate Mechanism
STATE OF THE NATION: To be able to discern what Gani would have done in any given situation, it is important to examine and x-ray that situation critically. And this necessarily leads us to the state of the Nigerian nation.
Without any doubt whatsoever, I believe that Nigerians are now united in their opinion that the General Muhammadu Buhari regime is the worst that Nigeria has ever experienced in its national life.
There is palpable hunger, suffering, poverty, inflation and hopelessness, in the land, across Nigeria. It has never been this bad. Let us look at a few examples.
In Ilorin, Kwara State, it was reported that a housewife lamented her situation when she was cooking and went out to fetch some things and her pot of soup had been stolen before she returned.
In Ilesha, Osun State, it was reported that a man used his daughter to deceive a shop owner to release a bag of garri to him and abandoned the child in the process.
In Akwa Ibom State, it was reported that a father of two committed suicide on account of poverty and economic frustration, leaving a suicide note, for Gen Buhari as the cause of his death.
In Lagos last week, a middle-aged man jumped into the Lagos Lagoon, shouting Buhari, Buhari, as the reason for his attempted suicide. The list is almost endless.
In many states of the federation presently, workers are not paid, for months, some are being forced to combine working with farming, by their governors, as a means of short changing them of their legitimate salaries. As a result of this, children are being withdrawn from schools, since their parents cannot pay their school fees, marriages are facing challenges for lack of basic amenities.
The President does not seem to care, truly, given his utterances and actions. He has expressed a preference for the 1984/85 period of doom, whereby Nigerians will be forced to queue for essential commodities, whereby dictatorship and totalitarianism will become the style of governance. In most states presently, democratic governance in the local government system is suspended for caretaker committees, who are nominees and stooges of the governors. Even in Lagos State where the NCP won a court judgment compelling the conduct of local government elections, the government has blatantly refused to obey the judgment of the court, even where there is no order for a stay of execution pending appeal. In the case of Lagos State, executive lawlessness took a new dimension when the Governor, not only dared the court by disobeying the judgment on local government elections but proceeded to appoint new sole administrators, after the judgment of the court, clearly in contravention of section 7 of the 1999 Constitution.
It took the President over six months to constitute his cabinet, as he preferred to be a lone ranger, and this eventually trickled down to the states. In Osun State, Governor Rauf Aregbesola has been a sole administrator for the past two years, ruling the state without a single commissioner, no special advisers, in contravention of section 192 of the 1999 Constitution, that there must be regular meetings of the State Executive Council, consisting of the Governor and his Commissioners. Worst still in Osun, the Osun State House of Assembly has been romancing with the Governor as a dictator, approving yearly budgets prepared and submitted by the Governor as a single individual without commissioners. The Assembly in Osun even approved the creation of LCDAs, in a state without commissioners!
This dictatorship is replicated in Oyo State and indeed in many other States. Only last week, it was reported that the Governor of Rivers State, sacked four of his commissioners, including the State Accountant General, for alleged indiscipline. They all follow the body language of dictatorship.
The present administration has great hatred and contempt for the judiciary, whose orders and judgments are never obeyed. Since March 2014, the Federal High Court in Lagos, declared the collection of toll fees illegal, but the Lagos State Government has continued to collect the tolls; in 2015, the same Federal High Court declared the restriction of movement for the monthly environmental sanitation in Lagos State as illegal, but the government has continued to force people indoors, despite the judgment. The same Federal High Court had restrained the federal government from implementing the callous electricity tariff increase, but the government has wantonly disobeyed the order of the court and has continued to force consumers to pay the new tariff.
The judiciary generally, is under some form of siege from the Buhari administration, as so many judges have been sacked in very controversial circumstances, including Justice Oloyede, in Osun State, who was booted out of office for allegedly confronting the Governor of the State. Judges are being intimidated directly, through the agencies of government, like the EFCC and the ICPC. It is worse for lawyers and activists alike, all of whose life are now in great danger. Just last week, human rights lawyer, Ken Atsuwete, was murdered in cold blood. Telephone lines of most defence lawyers have been hacked into and bugged by the agencies of government, denying them of any privacy, as guaranteed by the Constitution. The intolerance of the Buhari regime climbed to the roof last month, when a young man, Fortunatus Chinakwe, was arrested, locked up and eventually arraigned in court, for daring to give a name to his dog, that resembled the name of the President. He ended up in prison custody, and his life has been in danger, ever since.
CORRUPTION: Yes, Gen Buhari claims to be fighting corruption, as his main programme of action. Yes again, Gani hated corruption with all his veins. So he promised to set up a Ministry of Anti-Corruption, MAC, which will compile the names of all past leaders, their assets and publish them publicly. So, without any doubt, Gani would have supported the anti-corruption war of the Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (Retd.) administration, in all its ramifications. He held on tightly, to section 15 (5) of the 1999 Constitution which enjoins the State to “abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of powers”.
However, Gani being a stickler for the rule of law and due process would have disagreed with the operational methodology of the anti-corruption campaign, which is presently lopsided and selective. He would have put pressure on Gen Buhari first to probe his campaign funds and all members of his own political party who have held power in the past. By now, Gani would have filed several cases in court to compel all public officers to declare their assets publicly, in line with the campaign promises of the President.
And we know that the so-called fight against corruption by the General Buhari regime, is part and parcel of the hidden agenda, to perpetuate himself in power, beyond 2019, even in the face of his dwindling popularity. Opponents of government, members of the opposition party, and even business rivals of those in government, indigenes of ethnic groups different from the ones preferred by those who are in power, are the ones that end up in court or in the custody of the agencies of government. The anti-corruption war is simply a game of giving a dog a bad name to hang it, solely for the purpose of frustrating the electoral fortunes of opposition candidates, who may likely stand against those candidates of the ruling party.
The dictatorship is then extended to the Legislature, where the leaders of parliament, who emerged contrary to the preferred candidates of the President and his party, have been the subject of criminal trials, all in an attempt to remove them from office. The latest one is that of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, whom we are told will now be arraigned in court, in consequence of the incompetence of the President, who signed the Appropriation Bill into law, after months of his acclaimed scrutiny and then turn around to claim that it was padded. So, with the judiciary and the legislature under lock and key, with watchers breathing down on them daily, the atmosphere of dictatorship has finally ripened.
Let us now examine other possible ways that Gani would have reacted to the state of our nation presently, were he to be alive today.
ECONOMY: Gani believed in a liberal transparent exchange rate policy that is consistent. He believed that the exchange rate is determined by a combination of corruption in the banks and in the corridors of power. He would have kicked against the present system whereby only a few people determine the destiny of the economy of Nigeria.
FUEL PRICE INCREASE: Without any doubt, Gani would have opposed and mobilized Nigerians to resist the recent increase in fuel prices. He did so on all previous occasions.
The two things that seem to determine the economy of Nigeria are the price of petroleum products and the exchange rate of our currency. So Gani always wanted a system that would guaranty a friendly package for all the masses of our people. These two items determine the rate of inflation, and now that they are both out of reach of the ordinary people, Nigerians have been thrown into unprecedented suffering, whilst our leaders go about in luxury and opulence, in their jets and convoys. Whether we like it or not, with this sliding exchange rate, the price of petroleum products will be increased soon.
THE POLITY: The present administration has wrecked the political landscape of Nigeria. The electoral umpire is now INCONCLUSIVE National Electoral Commission (INEC), as most elections are inconclusive, due mainly to the overbearing influence of the ruling party on the agency. It has been stated by Dr. Junaid that most of the senior officers of INEC are relatives and adopted children of the President, over whom he has tremendous influence. Most of the key members of the staff working in the Presidency are said to be related to the President in one way or the other. The level of nepotism in appointments is so great, against section 14 of the 1999 Constitution on federal character.
Unofficially, we are in a one party state presently, with only APC as the ruling party and at the same time the opposition. The party that should play the role of the opposition, PDP, has been bugged with sponsored internal crisis and most of its prominent officers have been harassed into silence by the government, the hidden agenda being to give a soft landing to all the candidates of the APC in all coming elections.
This can only explain the reason why the government has been ruling as if the people do not matter. Except it has perfected the process of its transition to power, to perpetuate itself, no reasonable government that seeks to win a free and fair election, can proceed to be implementing the anti-people policies of this government.
TRANSPORTATION: The manifesto of the APC talks about constructing at least 3,500 kilometres of national highways every year, but no single road has been commissioned so far. Our people die daily in avoidable road crashes.
The Kaduna-Abuja rail that was recently commissioned was a project started by the previous administration.
Air transportation has more or less collapsed, presently, with local airlines such as AERO, 1st Nation, etc. , packing up. Flights are cancelled abruptly or delayed unduly, due to the absence of aviation fue, and the exchange rate has forced many foreign airlines to close shop and relocate to other countries. The same goes for admiralty as most shipping companies have since wound up their businesses.
EDUCATION: This is topmost priority for Gani as he devoted his life and resources to promote education. The President had promised to feed school children during his campaign but after the election, he has denied the helpless pupils.
Admission into unity schools has been highly politicised, making the expensive private schools the best option for education at that level. University admission has become elusive, with inconsistent policies of the government. Government interference in the autonomy of the universities has stagnated the progress of these institutions, whose governing councils are dissolved at will, contrary to law. The universities are not funded to achieve research and academic excellence, resulting mostly in the exodus of students to neighbouring countries such as Ghana, Kenya, South Africa.
And when students eventually graduate in the face of these hiccups, they are confronted with unemployment, inflation and violence.
GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL UNITY: Without any doubt, Gani would have called for a broad-based government of national unity, wherein all talented and experienced Nigerians would be encouraged to contribute to our national development, given that the APC-led government has more or less loss its sense of direction, thereby running the economy aground.
Gani would have mobilized the human rights community and civil society and labour to embark upon peaceful protests, all over the land, to reject the poverty and suffering that this government has imposed upon the people of Nigeria.
We can no longer leave our national destinies in the hands of the politicians alone; we must all come together and rescue our land from predators, promise breakers and clueless leaders.
RESTRUCTURING: Upon the establishment of the Government of National Unity, Gani would have advocated for a proper restructuring of Nigeria, into a proper federation, with the devolution of power to the regions and the local governments. With Gani, the courts would have been agog with a myriad of cases on the countless acts of impunity that we have been forced to put up with in this country.
Adieu, Gani, for Nigeria can never have another gadfly, another stormy petrel, another enigma, like you.
Gani’s personal motto, which he published boldly in his chambers, was: “Stand up for what is right, even if you stand alone.”
Adieu Gani, and all our past heroes.
Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, Esq.
(Being text of paper delivered at the 7th Year Memorial Programme for late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, LL.D, SAN, SAM, on Monday, September 5, 2016 at the International Event Centre, Igbatoro Parliament Road, Alagbaka, Akure, Ondo State)