Women may not always be given the accolades that they deserve other than the ephemeral remark that “behind every successful man is a successful woman.” Even then, many are quick to point out that a truly successful man would have a woman standing alongside or beside him. That is just the story of the first wife of my late mentor, the iconic legal luminary, Chief Gani Oyesola Fawehinmi, SAN, SAM. Her name? Mrs. Ganiat Ibukun Fawehinmi. The same can be said of Bashiru Lawrence Ali (popularly called Bash Ali), who has already proved himself to be one of the greatest boxers in history, and is still hungry for more successes. Today, his sights are set at becoming the World’s oldest boxing champion. Both Ganiat and Bash Ali are two of a kind in resilience, doggedness, perseverance, courage, tenacity, patience, resoluteness and determination to succeed in the face of all odds.
Mrs. Ganiat Ibukun Fawehinmi (neé Orebela)
Ganiat was born on Thursday, May 26, 1949, to the family of Orebela. She is a native of Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State. She is the first wife of the late Chief Gani, for whom she bore seven children, namely: Mohammed, Saheed, Basirat Biobaku (nee Fawehinmi), Dr. Haufsat Oni (nee Fawehinmi), Kudirat, Simbiat Osho (nee Fawehinmi), and Mubarak. These are great children to make parents happy forever.
Her emergence on the national scene
Ganiat is not as often mentioned as her late husband, Gani. However, it is no small feat to have stood proudly beside the confrontational and sometimes unconventional Gani through all the years he spent, warring against the powers that be, through his constant arrests, detentions, harassments, beatings and humiliation. Knowing the daring life lived by Gani during perilous times, it is undoubted that fear hung over his family like the sword of Damocles. That was not publicly manifest because of the reassuring and fortifying presence of this amazon of a quiet, behind-the-scenes woman.
She has been a great source of succour to downtrodden Nigerians. While her late husband, Gani, was fighting for defenceless Nigerians in the court rooms, on the streets, in prisons and at detention dungeons of the DSS and police, defying tyrants’ guns, manacles, shackles, tortures and violence to his person, she was the silent pillar, housekeeper and encourager.
She remained largely in his shadow, quietly enduring, but managing the loneliness, the anguish, pains, pangs and cries of her children who longed to see their beloved father. In those locust days of military dictatorship, she was valiant, bold, courageous, yet maintained the noblest virtues of a good housewife.
Ganiat stated in one of her many interviews with Nkrumah Bankong-Obi and Simon Ateba of PM News, one of the guerrilla media houses to emerge during the dark days of military juntas, that she has to be a “sheep” as Gani was a “goat.” She was ever the peacemaker, always asking for forgiveness from Gani whenever an argument arose, even if she was right. Hear what Ganiat said:
“When he was angry, I calmed down. Yoruba people say when there is an argument, one party should be agutan (sheep) and the other ewure (goat). The sheep is calm, while the goat is unruly. So, anytime he was angry, I just withdrew and sat somewhere or took a newspaper and read. When he calmed down, I’d go to him and apologise. Sometimes, I knelt down. People said I was a bush woman for doing that. I don’t see it that way. Each time I did that to him, he felt I understood that he was the head of the family and he was happy with me. He was someone who had a forgiving spirit. If you apologised, he accepted it and that was it.”
I agree with these words, as Gani was a human volcano, a moving tornado.
Ganiat’s love, support and belief in her husband through thick and thin never swayed, despite the numerous threats, disgrace and mental and psychological trauma serially forced on the family by successive tyrants.
Even after Gani’s death, Ganiat Fawehinmi has remained relentless in the fight for true democracy and good governance. She is a critic of the government, always sharing her experience, insights, knowledge and wisdom on how the society can be made better. She is a role model to many and a woman’s symbol of loyalty, strength and willpower. She has inspired many to continue the fight for the greater good of humanity.
Ganiat at 70
On May 26, 2019, Ganiat clocked 70, to roaring celebration and festivities. There is always much to say about a virtuous woman. About Gani’s widow, the Buhari presidency released a glowing tribute, as follows:
“The President believes the matriarch of the Fahewinmi family epitomizes the resilience, wisdom and loyalty that drives every nation to greatness, particularly carrying on with the work of charity and sacrifice, and standing by reason, justice and truth that characterized her husband’s life.
“As Mrs. Fawehinmi turns 70, President Buhari affirms that her zeal to see a better life for Nigerians, especially the poor and underprivileged, remains indelible, underscoring the many risks involved, pains suffered and the frustrations she has endured in seeing that the country turns out greater.”
The life of Mrs. Fawehinmi is truly worth celebrating. Through this iconic woman, the legacy of the late Gani Fawehinmi certainly lives on. Truer words have never been spoken. She is a complete embodiment of the fighting spirit not only of late Chief Gani, but also of all Nigerians who strive to achieve a better country that secures and safeguards their interests.
Bashiru Lawrence Ali
Bashiru Lawrence Ali, best known as Bash Ali, is a Nigerian boxer. He was born in Lagos, Nigeria, on February 27, 1956. Bash Ali ventured into boxing by “mere coincidence,” as he was previously a wrestler.
Ali’s arrival on the international scene
The very first time Bash Ali would step into the ring as a professional hard-hitter was in 1978 at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, USA. It does not matter that he lost his debut match against Wilbert Albers. A legend had already been born and he was relentless. This first defeat could easily have swayed him off the path of boxing. However, he picked himself up from the ruins and disgrace of the loss, and went on to win several regional and minor titles such as United States Boxing Association (UBSA) Cruiserweight title (1980); USA California State Cruiserweight title (1984); North American Boxing Federation (NABF) Cruiserweight title (1985); WBC International Cruiserweight title (1987); Nigerian Heavyweight title (1988); World Boxing Council (WBC) International Cruiserweight title (1990); and African Boxing Union Heavyweight title (1993).
After gaining worldwide fame upon being bestowed the World Boxing Federation (WBF) Cruiserweight title on September 11, 2000, and August 15, 2004, Ali has since looked onto a different challenge – entering the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest boxer ever. This is an aspiration that started under successive governments, starting with Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency, and thereafter other presidencies.
After several fights, punches, knockout, defeats and victories, Bash finally attained the WBF Cruiserweight title after he defeated Terry Ray with a knock-out on September 9, 2000. He refused to give Terry Ray a return match as he had an even bigger contender in Canada. This refusal caused him to be stripped of his title by the WBF, an act that a court in California deemed unjust and thereby overturned it, stating that Bash could never lose his title unless inside the ring. So, since Bash Ali has not been beaten inside the ring ever since, he remains the WBF Cruiserweight champion.
Ali’s quest to become the oldest boxer
Ali’s quest to become the oldest boxer to have ever fought a competitive match has been halted twice. Even after being inaugurated by two local organizing committees (LOCs), the project has witnessed unnecessary prolongations as a result of corruption. However, Bash Ali has neither refused to succumb to the pressure of corruption, nor has he embraced impossibility as a credo. He still believes that, at over 63, he is more than capable of defeating the 32-year-old International Boxing Union (IBU) boxer from the USA, thereby making him the oldest competitive boxer in history.
Steve Ward, British Cruiserweight champion, currently holds this title at 59. Before him, it was Bernard Hopkins at 49. In 1994, George Foreman had first set the record as the oldest boxer of all time when he won the title at 45. For footballers, it is 35 years for retirement.
The connection between Ganiat and Bash Ali, two pillars of strength
Although being different people from different backgrounds and walks of life, it is certainly obvious that Ganiat and Bash are synonymous with strong will, strength and determination. They are both gunning for the betterment of the country, although through different routes.
Bash Ali has strengthened Nigerians by acting as a role model and showing the spirit of perseverance, endurance and strong will. Even at 63, he believes he is ever so fit. In his interview with Vanguard reporter, Jacob Ajom, Ali said: “I will surprise the world. I am in top shape and ready for the fight. If you doubt me, come watch me train.”
He has on several occasions had hurdles placed on his way. He also faced threats from IBU chairman, Don “Moose” Lewis, who declared that the fight must hold before June 28, 2019. His aging body, which is not as agile as it once was, the provocations, detentions and numerous court appearances have not dissuaded him. Apart from his personal ambition to become a Guinness World Record holder, he is pursuing this fight to bring pride and honour to Nigeria. Hence, his adamant request that the fight must take place in Nigeria. For this, he once rejected a 45 million Euros deal to fight in Germany. That is true patriotism. Nigerians are behind you, Bash. Make us proud when the fight comes up in October 2019.
As Bash Ali seeks to fight for Nigeria, Ganiat seeks to continue the legacy of her husband for a better Nigeria. For both of them, money is not the end game. She once bemoaned the act of some human rights activists who joined government or stopped fighting government because they wanted their “bread and butter.” She admonished them that money was not everything.
In Ganiat and Bash Ali, the world can see shining examples of persons who, each day, take up their fight rather than cower in the face of adversity. They are proof that governments can be opposed, critiqued and fought. They have given their lives, each in their own way, for the betterment of Nigeria.
Thought for the week
“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”