By Rotimi Fasan
AFTER nearly two years of waiting, two nail-biting years during which one dreaded when the news would finally come following the initial announcement of his bodyâ€™s succumbing to the onslaught of an unusual lung cancer for a non-smoker- after this long wait, the news came at last on Saturday, September 5, that the cock had finally crowed for Gani Fawehinmi.
And so ended one rollercoaster of a life that always hung on tenterhooks with loud warnings that it could snap at a momentâ€™s notice.
That same life he had always said he was prepared (not in the fashion of state crooks and self-garlanded bandits who crashed their way into power, through stolen ballot or the gun, cowards whose patriotism lies in the impunity of their rule)Â to give up, fighting for the cause that he believed in, the cause of the Nigerian people that was so much at the heart of his exertions, especially the majority rendered silent, their voice having long ago been stolen- that same life he had many times thrown on the cannibal path of state rulers who, though couldnâ€™t kill him outright, nevertheless, did so by instalments- that very life came to a well-earned peace on that morning that found me shrieking with regret.
But Gani weathered the storm that raged around him far longer than a life like his could have anticipated, living beyond the biblical three score and ten years. In his case, perhaps to the chagrin of his malefactors, he added one and half bonus years to the tally. And so good too, he left in a blaze of glory, his reputation not only intact but grown to mythical proportions.
By the time I got the news about 10 that morning, the lone voice in the wilderness of the mute, one of the very few people not afraid to walk the solitary path of honour, had taken his leave, about three hours before, of a world he sure would have wished to remain in if only for the good of the â€˜poor massesâ€™. Only a couple of days before, I had mulled over an advert in the papers, marking the sixth anniversary of the passing of his mother with my mind going to Gani.
As I write this, five days since his passing and during which I have been at three major events (at his new Galleria and Library, the High Court in Igbosere and the Police College, Lagos) connected with the last rites for him, I can testify to the very high regard that Gani commands, perhaps more now in death than when alive, and the equally high sense of loss that unites Nigerians, friends and foes alike, at the passing of this rare man.
Our grief is perhaps sharpened by a sudden awareness of the enormity of his loss given the state of the nation and the knowledge there is no ready candidate to play his taken-for-granted role.
Maybe for this reason or indeed in spite of it, but there can be no denying there is still that genuineness to the loss many feel at this moment that goes beyond the merely ritualistic or your typical crocodile tears.
True, he had his shortcomings like any other human being and even if you didnâ€™t like his method you couldnâ€™t help admiring and above all respecting the honesty and sincerity behind it.
His integrity, dignity and large heartedness spoke of his love for this country and the good of the people. If he didnâ€™t get the opportunity to translate his desire on a more national level, say as an elected president, it was not for lack of effort. He did more than his bit for Nigerians without regard to ethnic or religious affiliations.
He did a lot in his own way and within the limits imposed on him as a family man with his own personal battles to contend with.
And but for the understanding of his family, especially the quiet efforts and prayers of his late mother, Gani might have died long before now. What people know are the activities of Gani on the national stage, but behind him was a legion of people that believed in him, what he stood for and were prepared to risk so much to achieve their common objective. His mother was one such quiet activist.
I recall several occasions when I was home in Ondo that she would come to confer with my eldest brother, a Gani collaborator, either bringing a message from Gani on how they were to mobilise for whatever battle they were on to at the point in time or catching up on new developments.
On other occasions, she sent her driver down for the same purpose. But quiet and unassuming, she was a constant presence in times that called for action as she sat, wrapped in a muslim shawl, in the back seat of her 505 Peugeot car.
As her son strategised, so did she. She did this diligently in and out of season, but especially whenever Gani was in detention. Many, indeed, are the afflictions of the righteous.
Following in the tradition of Sapara Williams and others of same ilk, Gani in forty odd years defined the essence of law as an instrument for social justice and the common good. As he would himself say, he lived his life practising, publishing and writing law.
His success is attested by the many landmark battles he won in the courts, battles that helped deepened the practice and study of Nigerian jurisprudence. While far wealthier Nigerians were content to use their position in government to corral money from private businesses and government officials to build so-called presidential libraries, Gani put his money literally where his mouth was.
His new Law Galleria and Library, obviously meant for both public and private use, is a resounding testimony and monument to his standing as a lawyer. I last saw him alive about three years ago when the Ikeja Branch of the NBA held its annual Conference/Week and the poet, Odia Ofeimun, was the guest lecturer.
His arrival electrified the hall and even when he wore a drawn look as he came in shaking hands in his usual manner with as many as wanted, he soon animated the gathering with his speech. So, as the Big Masquerade dances home today, memories of such moments are what many would have of this man among men. O seâ€¦Loogun lo, Iba logho, Omo Lisa Alujonu: wo la ni o!