Gani Fawehinmi: A fitting recognition for a legal colossus
I received with joy the unexpected news of the posthumous award of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) to my mentor and inspiration, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN; the incomparable legal titan, dogged advocate for human rights and fundamental freedoms, the scourge of military dictators, defender and protector of the downtrodden and philanthropist of distinction.
The “Senior Advocate of the Masses” as he was fondly called redefined legal advocacy in Nigeria. He clearly showed that with sheer determination, creativity and consistency, the law can effectively be deployed as a tool for socio-economic and political engineering. Even at the risk of being misunderstood or alienated by his professional colleagues, he never wavered in his belief in the rule of law and due process. For him, self – help was not an option. The wheel of justice may be slow, but in the end justice will be served. Through legal advocacy, ground – breaking research and mentoring of numerous lawyers, he advanced the frontiers of the law in Nigeria.
Gani Fawehinmi’s contributions to the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria are immeasurable. He was a thorn in the flesh of successive military dictators. He sacrificed his personal freedom and comfort for the greater good of Nigeria and Nigerians. For many years the prison was his first home.
Gani led the Joint Action Committee of Nigeria (JACON), a coalition of pro-democracy groups that waged a relentless and principled battle against military authoritarianism. I was privileged to serve as the National Vice Chairman of JACON. I struck a strategic partnership with Chief Gani and in no time extended the struggle against the military to Northern Nigeria.
With democracy firmly in place and in my capacity as the Deputy National Chairman (North), Of National Conscience Party ( NCP) l joined Chief Gani and Femi Aborishade as plaintiffs in the suit for the expansion of the political space in Nigeria; one that sought to stop the electoral management body from deregistering any political party and also giving opportunity to smaller political parties to register in order to broaden the democracy which we now enjoy in the present day Nigeria. The case was fought from the lower court to the Supreme Court. In the end the Supreme Court gave a landmark judgement stating that the conditions for registering political parties is clearly set out in the constitution and that the electoral management body cannot deregister any political party.
Chief Gani was a Pan Nigeria who worked assiduously to touch the lives of Nigerian wherever they may be. Chief Gani had a scholarship scheme which was being enjoyed by the entire country but as one of his close allies and scholarship committee member, I was able to convince him to institute a major scholarship scheme for brilliant but indigent university students in Northern Nigeria because education was lagging in that region as at that time. The scholarship which was initiated in year 2000 under my chairmanship succeeded in giving scholarships to over 1,000 indigent students. In fact, some beneficiaries of this humanitarian gesture are now Medical doctors, Lawyers and doctorate degree holders in various fields making positive contributions to national development.
The posthumous award of GCON on the inimitable legal and pro – democracy icon is therefore a fitting recognition for a man who gave his all so that Nigeria can be a better place.
On declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day, I must say that late Chief MKO Abiola duely deserved the posthumous honor given him as he is an icon of democracy, recipient of the freest and fairest election in the history of Nigeria.
I commend our dear President, Muhammadu Buhari for giving honour to this worthy sons of Nigeria and Africa. May the gentle soul of Chief MKO Abiola GCFR and Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, GCON continue to rest in perfect peace.
Sani is special adviser, political and intergovernmental affairs to the governor of Kaduna state