By Ise-Oluwa Ige, Innocent Anaba, Wahab Abdullah, Dayo Johnson & Ola Ajayi
LAGOS â€” Retired Chief Justice of the Nigeria, Justice Muhammed Lawal Uwais, yesterday, revealed how the late human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), based on his strong principles, turned down his advice to take the national honour bestowed on him by the Federal Government.
And in apparent response to the public outcry that due recognition be accorded the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi who died last Saturday, the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIAL), yesterday, stepped out as the first Federal institution to immortalise the legal icon cum rights activist.
Justice Uwais (rtd) who spoke to journalists when he paid a condolence visit to the family of the late legal icon at their Ikeja GRA residence yesterday, said he and the late Gani were friends because of his excellent character and unchallenged principles on issues, affecting the law profession and social justice.
According to him, late Fawehinmi fought mercilessly for the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria and the defence of the common man and legal practice.
Uwais said: â€œMy encounter with him had always been friendly, that of mutual respect. If you remember when I retired in 2006, he had never attended a valedictory session for any retired Justice, but he came to mine. That is the only one on record.
â€œNot only that, he wrote a book in my honour to mark my retirement. In the last two years, his birthday ceremony, he would insist I should chair the occasion, that is as close as I have been to him. As a person, he was well principled; he cared for the poor, for the needy and the oppressed. He had a lot of respect for the judiciary, this is one thing that people may not know.
If you go through, comments, you will never find where he comes out directly to criticised the judiciary.
â€œI will miss his friendship, his kindness; I admired him for being a principled person. Sometimes last year, he was to be honoured and conveyed to him. He called from London to ask for my advice.
And I said, well, Gani this is coming from the people of Nigeria, I think you should accept it, he said alright. The next thing I heard was a press release, that he had rejected it.
â€œThere is a lot that younger ones can learn from him â€” hard work, honesty, and concern for the ordinary people. These are the legacies he left behind.â€
Also, Chairman, DAAR Communications, Dr Raymond Dokpesi, saluted Ganiâ€™s courage in the defence of the defenceless. In his tribute, Dokpesi relived when Gani stood to defend the Independent Broadcasting Association of Nigeria (IBAN) and his organisation in its trying times in court. He said Gani was always out there doing what he believed most.
Dokpesi said â€œHe was a great leader and patriot who always put Nigeria first in anything he does. Chief Gani Fawehinmi was a great patriot, leader and defender of ordinary masses of Nigeria.â€
Valedictory court session for Gani
Meanwhile, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Michael Aondoakaa (SAN), the new Lagos State Chief Judge, Justice Inumidun Akande and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Chief Olarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), yesterday led other lawyers and the Lagos Judiciary to bid the late Gani goodbye.
Dressed in the full ceremonial dress of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Gani was brought to the premises of the Lagos state High Court, Igbosere in ash-coloured Mercedes Benz with registration number â€œGani.â€
The corpse was accompanied by family members, lawyers, politicians, activists and well wishers, who thronged the court to honour the late legal icon.
In his speech, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Michael Aondoakaa declared that he would have loved that Ganiâ€™s body was not committed to mother earth.
â€œIf not for the unpleasant consequences, I would have applied for a restraining order that Ganiâ€™s body should not be committed to mother earth.â€
Aondoakaa, who described Gani as a pride of the legal profession, stressed that the fact that Gani prosecuted more than 5,000 cases free of charge was commendable and a confirmation of his good qualities.
Chief Aondoakaa urged Nigerians to emulate his exemplary lifestyle, which he noted stood him out in the legal profession and in all he ventured into.
In another development, the Police authorities in Ondo state have deployed 1300 policemen as part of plans to beef up security during the burial of the late Gani, next week, in the state.
This is coming as the particular spot where Gani would be buried within his palatial building at Oka Street in Ondo town would be decided tonight by the family members expected from Lagos for an all-inclusive meeting on the burial.
NIAL immortalises Gani
The Director General of the Institute, Prof Epiphany Azinge (SAN) in a statement yesterday, in Abuja, disclosed that NIAL, few weeks before he (Gani) died, planned to establish the Gani Fawehinmi Centre to honour him while still alive but that death outsmarted them.
According to him, â€œprior to his death, we had sent out a letter intimating him of the Instituteâ€™s decision,â€ but that death would not allow them realise the mission while he was still alive. The Institute intends to go on with the establishment of the Gani Fawehinmi Centre for Human Rights.
â€œAlso, a Professorial Chair to be known as Gani Fawehinmi Professor of Human Rights will automatically be established by the Institute. At the appropriate time, the family will be notified of the activities of the centre and the role expected from members of the family,â€ he said.
Nigerians should reflect on Gani- Chief Solanke
Chief Folake Solanke, who described Gani as a rare gift to the country said she was surprised to see the arch-enemies of the lawyer when he was alive shedding crocodile tears at his death. â€œThe nation would never get anyone like Fawehinmi againâ€, she said.
Speaking with newsmen in Ibadan, she said, â€œGani was a very special person. He was unique and people were wondering whether Nigeria can get another Gani but I tell you, we can never get another like him again. He was an extraordinary gift to Nigeria.”
She stressed that Gani had immortalized himself with the meritorious service he had rendered to mankind.
â€œWhen I now see people who were his foes when he was alive suddenly turning to be his friend after his death and shedding crocodile tears in his house, I marveled at the utter depravity of humanity and the decay that human beings can harbour in their hearts. One thing is that Nigerians should reflect on his life to retrace their way back to the path of righteousness, justice, elimination of poverty and scholarship.â€
Lagos Judiciary celebrates Gani
Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Inumidun Akande, who spoke at the valedictory court session in Lagos, said â€œwe come here today (yesterday) not to mourn Gani, but to celebrate him as a legal giant. Talk about a man with great passion and zeal for defence of human rights, democracy and good governance, then we remember Gani.
Talk about a man who stood firmly and consistently on the side of justice, equity and the hapless masses, one name readily comes to mind, and that is Gani. Chief Fawehinmi,Â the man whose life is being celebrated here today (yesterday), stood tall as an accomplished legal luminary, publisher, social critique, defender of the oppressed and voice of the voiceless.”