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The Great Gani Fawehinmi: His Life, His Legacies & His Frustrations

By Eric Elezuo

If the late sage and legal luminary, Chief Abdul-Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi, had been alive, he would have been celebrating his 80th birthday. Of course, he would have been at the forefront of battling the scourge of government failure that has plagued Nigeria for decades.

The man, who came to be known simply as Gani was born on April 22, 1938 at his family home in Okedasa Street, Ondo Town. He was the only male child out of  six children of his mother. His parentage was of absolute royalty as his father, late Chief Saheed Tugbobo Fawehinmi, a successful Timber merchant,Philanthropist, Seriki Musulumi of Ondo, was one of the famous sons of Late High Chief Lisa Alujannu Fawehinmi of Ondo Kingdom. His mother, Alhaja Muniratu Fawehinmi, on the other hand, was the Iya Olori Egbe Adinni of Ondo Central Mosque, and was the daughter of late Chief Yesufu & Madam Rabiatu Akinnibosun.

An author, publisher, legal icon, human rights and social critics of repute, Gani was the acclaimed Senior Advocate of the Masses and philanthropist.

He started his early education in 1947 at the Ansar-ud-deen Primary School, Yemoja in Ondo, and obtained his first certificate in 1953. He proceeded to Victory College, Ikare-Ekiti in 1954 and graduated in 1958 before attending the Holborn College of Law, University of London from 1961 to 1964 as an external student.

While a college student, Gani developed passionate interest in national, legal and political matters, prompting his mates to nickname him “Nation”. He was also an avid reader of books and journals, was known to love readingDaily Times and the then West African Pilot, which were the most popular newspapers in Nigeria at the time. He then worked briefly as a law clerk in the High Court of Lagos until 1961.

A dark era occurred in Gani’s life when he lost his father while still in the university. Though he encountered a bit of financial difficulty, he managed to complete his course. He was involved in various menial jobs in London, and there developed the spirit of resilience and survival. He even took up a full time job as a toilet cleaner at Russell Square Hotel in Southampton Row, London. 

Gani’s radical approach to life came to the fore while he was in London. It was there that he got acquainted with books of revolutionary or radical figures such as Fidel Castro, Winston Churchill, David Ben-Gurion, Gandhi, Mao Tse Tsung and Karl Marx and the likes. In 1964, he returned to Nigeria and was called to the bar the following year (1965).

He started his career with a stint at his brother, Hon Justice Rasheed Fawehinmi’s law firm, before establishing his own Law Practice, Gani Fawenmi & Co in Lagos. Gani Fawehinmi became a holder of the highest national legal title in September 2001 as Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

Always standing for the downtrodden, Gani gained wide prominence in the legal world and beyond when he took up the case of a factory worker, Bala Abashe who alleged that the Secretary to the Government of the then Benue-Plateau State, Andrew Obeya, had an affair with his wife. He stood for Abashe on pro bono  (free), refusing all entreaties to drop the case, and at the end of the day, the legal process forced Obeya to resign.  However, Fawehinmi was detained for nine months. The publicity of the case catapulted him to the level of total exposure and prominence.

“He was a scourge of oppressive governments and hard zero tolerance for human rights abuse”

Gani continued to grow in leaps and bounds in the legal profession, and by 1971, he was made the National Publicity Secretary of the Nigeria Bar Association. He served till 1973. His rising profile was not without a backlog – in 1981, he was queried by a disciplinary committee and told to explain himself within fourteen days why he was touting himself through advertisements in a weekly publication contrary to the ethics of the bar.

In the case, Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) v. Chief Gani Fawehinmi (1985) the Supreme Court upheld the Appeal Court judgment rendering the LPDC’s proceedings against Chief Fawehinmi ineffective on the basis that the constitution of the LPDC with the Attorney-General as Chairman made him accuser, prosecutor and judge at the same time which breached the principles of natural justice and therefore Chief Fawehinmi’s right to fair hearing. The judgment led to an amendment of the Legal Practitioners’ Act 1975.

Though he won that one, he was soon to run afoul of an NBA directive in 1984, when the NBA under the presidency of Bola Ajibola directed its members not to represent any client in a military tribunal. Fawehinmi flouted the directive because he believed the accused should be always have a right to fair hearing. As a result, his name was placed in NBA’s dishonour roll. He saw as this as a price he had to pay to keep his dreams alive.

In addition, he is a staunch believer in social justice, and with his boundless energy, he tenaciously and uncompromisingly pursued his beliefs, principles and ideals for the rule of law, undiluted democracy, social justice, protection of fundamental human rights and respect for the hopes and aspirations of the masses who he believed are victims of government’s recklessness.

He was not only dishing out lip service for the downtrodden, he followed it up with the institution of a scholarships and welfare activities. In 1971, he established Scholarships Award and awarded scholarships from then till his death on Saturday September 5, 2009. It is no wonder therefore that he was awarded the Senior Advocate of Masses Obafemi Awolowo University  in 1988. Among other of his awards are the Biennial Bruno Kreisky Prize in 1993, International Bar Association’s Bernard Simmons Award in 1994 and American Bar Association Award 1996.

Arrest and Detention

As a result of his human and civil right crusade, Gani was at various times arrested – 40 times in all, detained, had his passport seized by security agencies on seven different occasions and had his books confiscated. He was also on several occasions charged to court from between 1969 and 1996 under the then Federal Military Government Regimes. He was deported from Port-Harcourt, Rivers State to Lagos State within the Federal Republic of Nigeria soil by the then Abacha’s Regime on August 26, 1995, the first of its kind. He was a scourge of oppressive governments and hard zero tolerance for human rights abuse.

In the course of the many persecutions he suffered, his library at Surulere was set ablaze. His law Chambers at Anthony Village, was invaded by persons suspected to be agents of the government with many of his staff wounded in the aftermath.

Having seen the inside of almost all the notorious cells in the country, his supporters referred to him as “the scourge of irresponsible governments, the veritable conscience of the nation and the champion of the interests and causes of the masses”. He was also called in many quarters the people’s president

Party Politics

It is said that when good men keep quiet, the evil men are enthroned, and evil thrives. Consequently, Gani found it absolutely necessary to delve into politics to help correct the anomalies of the successive governments.

In 2002, with some other notable Nigerians, he formed the National Conscience Party of Nigeria  (NCP) which is still in existence today, and contested the presidential election in 2003 under its umbrella.

Until his death, he was the Seriki Musulumi of Ondo Kingdom, married and blessed with two wives and 14 children.

Gani, who has the most voluminous biography of over 4,300 pages, reportedly dedicated his whole life to the defence of human rights and condemnation of all ill-fated government policies. He also fought the military junta to a standstill. He became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in September 2001 after years of denial.

One of the most interesting aspect if Gani was his no holds barred attitude when it comes to speaking the truth. In sympathizing with former President Obasanjo on the death of his wife and Bellview plane crash both in 2005, he turned around and lambasted the President for his government of ineptitude, especially as it relates to Nigeria’s health system. A part of his condolence message read:

“The events of Saturday and Sunday the 22nd and 23rd October, 2005 which have thrown the country into mourning should never be allowed to repeat themselves. We do not want another plane crash and if you bring in another wife before you constitutionally quit office on 29th May 2007, please do not allow her to go for a cosmetic surgery for beautification again. We cannot afford another death of the President’s wife in Aso Rock.”

Below are some of his memorable quotes:

On the disappearance of Charles Taylor

“The disappearance of Charles Taylor from Nigerian soil is a humiliating disgrace to Nigeria. Obasanjo must explain why this happened.” 

“There is nothing new in the speech. It is the same old wine in new bottles. It’s a disappointing statement. In fact it is a disastrous speech.” 

“I’m not surprised at this result, I’m saddened, not surprised. This government will do anything to keep its power by deceiving the people.” 

 “This is incredible. This is fantastic. This gives us hope that something good will begin to happen soon.” 

In 2008, against all expectation, Gani rejected the Order of the Federal Republic honours; the highest national honour that could be bestowed on a private citizen, in protest of years of misrule. Chinua Achebe was another Nigerian who rejected national honours.

He died in the early hours of September 5, 2009 after a prolonged battle with lung cancer at the age of 71 years old, and was buried on September 15, 2009 in his home town, Ondo.

It will not be out of place to say that Gani Fawehinmi died a disappointed man, because the dream country he constantly clamoured and fought for was never achieved at the time of his death.


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