We were in the newsroom when respected lawyer Gani Fawehinmi’s call came in that reporters should be sent to his Oduduwa Crescent, GRA, Ikeja residence. A drama was in the offing. Gani was news, any time, any day. Within a jiffy, reporters from different media houses stormed his abode. It was a day to the Ileya festival and two rams were tied to the stakes in his compound. Gani pointed at the two animals, alleging that they were sent as Ileya presents to him by the then military administrator of Lagos.
Fawehinmi said emphatically that the MILAD, who is a Muslim did not know the tenets of Islam as Ileya meat and gift is to be shared with the poor, not the rich like him. Cameras flashed as Gani granted an interview, turning the animals to four-legged celebrities. The enfant terrible loaded the animals into a truck and returned it to the Alausa office of the governor, with the message that Gani would never accept any such Greek gift.
Gani was war. Uncompromising. And the MILAD dared not try him. But the MILAD was also fond of him. He later approved that the road leading to Gani’s house be tarred. Gani had no objection. He told the press why. “The MILAD only used taxpayers’ money to tar the road and not his compound and he could not prevent other people living in the same street from enjoying the product of their tax. Chikena!
When Gani was inaugurating his GRA residence, if you had thought that the high and mighty would be used as chairpersons you are wrong. Gani assembled beggars, and they were the important dignitaries that cut the tape. Many beggars were on his payroll, with their children on scholarships. Gani was a friend of the poor.
The Guardian newspapers reported the story of a widow, whose son was having an infirmity, with one of the eyeballs almost popping out of the socket. After reading the story, Gani linked up with The Guardian. The poor family, including the mother, with the child were invited into the Ikeja home of the Fawehinmis. Gani was granting journalists an interview when they arrived. Immediately Gani sighted them, and saw the terrible growth on the boy’s face, he burst out crying like a baby. He immediately made provisions that the surgery be carried out at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Oyo State, and also granted full scholarships to the four children of the family, up to university level. Gani was full of compassion.
Gani was a walking encyclopedia. Call him on phone anytime in the day and in the night, Gani would dish out past events with dates and time as well as venue. I loved calling Gani. Though he was a threat to corrupt leaders, Gani was extremely humble and friendly.
I loved interviewing him. His door was always ajar, no matter how busy. Gani never denied me an interview, even on the phone, without prior appointment. Whenever there was a burning issue, Gani would never mind walking into any media establishment to grant interviews, apart from issuing press statements. When you run into libel in respect of Gani’s interview or story, he was ready to follow you to court.
One day, he came into the office of The News personally and granted an interview. He did not hide his disdain for a past military head of state, who he described as “The ugliest man in the universe” and wondered how a woman could be bold enough to be calling such an ‘ugly man’ her husband. “A lot of women are shameless. If not shameless how can… be calling such … her husband?” The interview was published and the former military Head of State, who later became a civilian president, could not dare Gani.
Gani applied to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria several times but was denied because of his activism, though he was highly qualified. As compensation, the students of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, gave him the prestigious award of Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM), which he so treasured. Eventually, he was awarded the SAN title and an open rally was organised in his honour at Ikeja to mark his attaining SANship. On the day of the programme, Gani, in his characteristic manner lambasted the Nigerian state and the legal body that awarded him the honour. He wore his SAM regalia, before wearing the new SAN attire on it. He was untouchable.
When Gani was detained, some of his contemporaries and followers in the human rights and pro-democracy space decided to solicit funds from the public to fight his cause. However, when he was released, he denounced their action and rejected the gesture, mandating them to return the money collected from the public. As a matter of fact, Gani was tagged a lone ranger. He resigned as the Joint Action Committee leader on principles.
Gani was always ready for detention and anywhere he went, he had his detention suitcase packed with necessary accessories and personal effects.
At home, Gani was a father. He loved his mother passionately and valued his family. He told us his mother was next to his creator in hierarchy. As a matter of fact, he said long before he died that he should be buried beside his mother. He valued Ondo dialect. In his house, Ondo dialect was the first language, then Yoruba, and then English. He also permitted members of his family to belong to any religion of their choice, which explains why there are Muslims and Christians in his family.
He told us during one of the interview sessions, “I swore to uphold the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and I cannot prevent the members of my family from enjoying their right to freedom of religion.” Explaining why he maintained a polygamous home, he said during the interview, “I have high libido and it would be difficult for only one woman to withstand my high libido.” He also noted that his decision on polygamy had the blessing of his wife, Ganiyat.
He also told us how his wife came about the name Ganiyat. According to him, Ganiyat comes from a Christian family. When they had their first born, Mohammed, of blessed memory, the Islamic clerics that came insisted that the wife must be given a Muslim name before the ceremony could continue. Suddenly the idea of Ganiyat, the feminine form of Gani struck him. There and then, he declared that his wife would be Ganiyat. The name stuck.
He led an uncompromising life even till the end. When his clock of life was coming to a close, Gani gave instructions on how he should be celebrated. Though a Muslim, Gani said he should not be buried in a hurry as he was a man of the people. Even though the members of his religious fold did not like it, he gave no other alternative. The family had to respect his wishes by observing a lying-in-state for him.
Gani detested corruption. In fact, he vowed to ‘rise from the grave and fight’ whoever uses the name of his chambers to handle a case for any corrupt politician. As a matter of fact, he directed that the famous Gani Fawehinmi Chambers be closed a year after his death to prevent his legacy from being dragged in the mud. Gani lived and died, crusading for a better society, which has yet to manifest. Definitely, Gani, who died on September 5, 2009 is on the right side of history.
*Ale, a journalist and lawyer writes from Lagos
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