It is not unkind to say that there’s barely a handful of people in all of Nigeria today, I mean, men and women of conscience and conviction, people who stand for something noble. For many politicians, it’s all about today, not tomorrow. Many of them have sold their own conscience cheaper than popcorn. In times of crises, when the nation is on the brink, you need men and women of principle, who you can take at their words. Conscience is a higher authority. When matters of principle take the back seat, and what matters is where the next meal is coming from, that county is in deep trouble. That’s where Nigeria is today.
In this trouble state of affairs, it’s easy to lose perspective in a moment, and not remember one of the best of his generation, the iconic human rights activist and uncommon and committed lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who passed on 12 years ago, exactly on September 5, 2009. Looking back, Gani was the answer to the challenge of what we face today: bad governance across the country. He was the personification of the idea that government is a human enterprise, and those who govern should see it as a privilege, a public trust of a lifetime, and should not squander that trust on the altar of personal aggrandizement. For him, holding on to a noble principle keeps those in government on their toes not to abuse the privilege, while the rule of law remains paramount – even, or especially, when it touches on our core democratic processes and our most powerful officials. The death, at the weekend, of former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr. Obadiah Malaifia, adds to the misery of such powerful voices that we need, but have missed, at this period of national challenge, who can fight our causes. When Gani’s eldest son, Mohammed, died last month, the flicker of light was extinguished, but the legacy of his irrepressible father lives on.
Though we knew from the day Gani Fawehinmi disclosed to the public that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, possibly of the worst type, it was almost certain, baring divine intervention, that his days on earth were numbered. Even people with uncommon natural chemistry to calm down when faced with adverse circunstances, the deepest of despair, were in pain that we were about to lose him. And we did. Undoubtedly, Gani’s life and times are not some of those stories untold. He was charismatic and combative.
Also, his passions are not areas unexplored. They are well known to many of us. Neither are we unfamiliar with some of the things that could get his attention, things that he loved and hated. He loved to pursue good causes and hates injustice of whatever manner. He wore his heart on his sleeves. He fought for the concerns of the ordinary people in the society. He hated sit-on- the -pant kind of politicians. How would he feel today, seeing this present band of “stomach infrastructure” politicians? I suspect he would have worn the weight of a lonely man, so riled and bitter with the unending killings that have made Nigeria a cemetery of sorts. His harshest words perhaps would have gone to the unscrupulous politicians. If the dead could hear, Gani Fawehinmi would be squirming in his grave.
Remembering Gani Fawehinmi is to understand the things that make many to miss him, and while some people never liked his gut. He was a product of his background. His liberal disposition, his concern for the downtrodden, he once told me, was something he inherited from his father, Chief Saheed Fawehinmi. Then was the time when influence was not measured in cash, but by once contributions to a common good. Today, it’s to his legacy that he cared, and carried that burden, till he died. Anyone who had met him as I did in the cause of my journalism endeavours, will be inspired by his fearless commitment to things he believed in. My encounter with him was limited, but very interesting. He spoke from the heart.
I still recollect vividly, two events. One, as Editor, Sunday Champion (2000-2005), Gani was our guest on April 21, 2001. It was a day before his 63rd birthday. He was then the Presidential Candidate of his party, the National Conscience Party (NCP). It was a time of high-octaned debate across the country over planned hike in the pump price of petrol by the Obasanjo administration. I remember asking him what his opinion was on the matter. Visibly upset, with his two hands in the air, he described the government as “wondering in the wilderness of confusion, totally ungodly and unfocused”. He asked the Champion Editorial Board (which I was also a member) to record him as saying that “Nigeria may be approaching a doomsday”, if the government continues to increase prices of petroleum products”.
Clearly not a fan of Obasanjo, Gani said he foresaw an ignominious exit of the former President. Did Obasanjo leave in a cloud of confusion? You answer. If he was alive today, how would Gani Fawehinmi have reacted to the present situation in the country under the leadership of President Buhari?. I am sure he would have spared no harsh words to describe the terrifying situation across the country, insecurity, economy, inequality, etc. Perhaps he would have spearheaded the row over VAT collection now before the courts.
Like him, or hate him, Chief Fawehinmi was a fearless man, highly principled, always for higher purpose. And he liked courageous people who tell truth to power. That reminds me of one unforgettable experience. The day was August 17, 2003. I was one of the four journalists who interviewed President Olusegun Obasanjo, live on NTA programme, “The President Explains”. On journalists were Mahmud Jega, Gbemiga Ogunleye, while Mrs. Eugenia Abu, anchored the interview. Many Nigerians watched as President Obasanjo, in a fit of anger, descended on me for asking him these questions:” Mr. President, why did you support the election of Adolphus Wabara as Senate President even when u had in an interview published in NEWSWATCH Magazine, congratulated his opponent in that senatorial election in Abia state. Secondly, “why did you support the election of Sen. Iyiola Omisore who is in prison as a suspect for the alleged murder of your friend, Chief Bola Ige”?
Gani said he was one of those who watched the live TV interview and the President’s attack on me. Few days letter, I received a well-crafted, two-page commendation letter. He wrote, “My dear Dan, I like your calmness and courage in the face of attack. I am proud of you. You have made your profession proud. You asked questions that many Nigerians had in mind. Keep it up. God bless you”. In a corner of my house is a laminated copy of that letter. I treasure it so much. From there on, our friendship began. He urged me to feel free to ask him anything. I took that as a compliment and never abused that respect.
Sometime in 2004, I was looking for an exclusive story to lead the Sunday Champion. Gani, always, was an interviewer’s delight. When I called him, he said he was on his way to his hometown in Ondo State, but that the interview could go ahead while in the car. Midway through the interview, network became bad. But, he did call back later, apologizing, saying, “I am sorry, let’s complete the interview”. That’s the human spirit in him. He didn’t think too much of himself. He continued with this liberal, kindred and excellent mind till he passed away. He cared for people. He made our problems, his concern. Finding a niche in life is what sets one fellow from other folks. Gani found his niche in law, and he used that skill to fight for good causes. Taken together, if life is a marathon, Chief Gani Fawehinmi ran the whole distance with dignity and panache.