* His mother of all battles
By Dayo Benson, Emmanuel Aziken, Ise-Oluwa Ige, Wahab Abdullah, Innocent Anaba and Olasunkanmi Akoni
Lagos lawyer, human rights activist and social crusader extra-ordinaire, Chief Abdulganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi, lost his long drawn battle with cancer, yesterday, but vowed to keep on fighting even in his grave for the down-trodden.
He was aged 71 and died on the sixth anniversary of the burial of his mother, Alhaja Munirat. As news of his demise spread, sympathisers began trooping to his residence at Ikeja GRA to commiserate with his widows and children. They eulogised the man who had been a torn in the flesh of successive administrations in the country – military and civilian.
His eldest son, Mohammed, broke the news in a statement saying: â€œChief Gani Fawehinmi, LLD, D.Litt., SAM, SAN, is dead.Â He died at the early hours of today, Saturday, September, 5, 2009, at Lister Medical Centre, Ikeja, Lagos, as a result of cancer of the lung.Â He was aged 71 (22nd April 1938 – 5th September, 2009). â€œWe thank all Nigerians for their strong support during the period of his illness. â€œThe burial arrangements will be communicated to the public as soon as possibleâ€.
His last moments:Â His widow, Ganiyat, who was by his side in the hospital until the last seconds quoted him as saying moments before he died that he had no regret for his activism.
Her words: â€œhe had no regret in doing what he did and said if he comes back to this world and there is still corruption or injustice, he would continue to fight. He also said that he will continue to fight in his grave if he has no opportunity to come back.â€
The tributes: The Federal Government represented by Information Minister, Professor Dora Akunyili condoled the family. She described the deceased as a great human rights activist.
Chief Ganiâ€™s numerous battles, the minister said, â€œled to many positive developments in this country including opening of a political space with the registration of many political parties.â€ Prof Akunyili who pointed out thatÂ the late legal luminary did not just open the political space, but also participated in it said â€œChief Gani raised the bar of the legal profession with his weekly law reportâ€.
Governor Raji Fashola of Lagos State also visited the family. He said Chief Gani Fawehinmi had battled with cancer, but he still left an emptiness that the physical separation had become imminent. People like me have never believed that people like Gani could really die.
The mortality of our essence has come home to take away an icon of this country. Whether you like his style or not, you cannot disagree with his message. His message was about enthroning justice, making government accountable and good. Responding to the people, for whom government held authority; addressing issues that concern the poor.
And so, those are messages that ring through all over the world. They are messages that have formed the charter of development around the world. So, if Gani decided to espouse those messages, in a manner that made some people feel comfortable, that is it. You may not like the messenger, but you canâ€™t ingnore the message. That really was what he about.â€
IBB on Gani: Former President Ibrahim Babangida with whom Gani had a running battle said in his tribute:Â â€œGaniâ€™s criticism put some of us in authority on our toes all the time because anytime we wanted to take a decision; we would always take cognizance of what comments the late critic would say because he used to tear our decisions bit by bit.
â€œLate Gani would not just come to criticize because he did not like your face; he made all his criticism on the point of law and we need more of his like to move Nigeria forward. He made his criticism with facts because whenever he criticized you, he backed it up with facts and figures and not because he did not like your faceâ€.
The immediate past governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, also reacting to the demise of Gani said â€œNigeria has lost a conscience as well as a patriot of the first order.â€ â€œGaniâ€, he noted, â€œwas a patriot to the core.Â And he was courageous too.
While many members of the privileged class that he belonged to watched their comfort zone before commenting on national issues, he always said his mind and damned the consequences.Â That was why he was seen as a champion of the poor, the weak and the oppressed.â€
Eminent Nigerians who thronged the house to sign the condolence register were one time Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Musiliu Smith; one time Minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh; Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd); National Coordinator of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Otunba Gani Adams; Senators Ganiyu Solomon and Femi Okurounmu and Mr Festus Keyamo amongst others.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar described the late Gani Fawehinmi as a defender of the rule of law and of the common man. Abubakar in a statement by his media adviser Mallam Garba Shehu said the late Fawehinmi is irreplaceable.
The NBA too: The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), in its tribute through its president, Chief Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), said, â€œThe sad news of the demise of our indefatigable Gani, after succumbing to a terminal ailment, came to us as an unkind piece at this period.
We are consoled by the quality of his consistent and persistent input to national development. Gani a legal icon and public interest litigator per excellence fought a good fight. His life is an enduring lessonâ€. Justice Tajudeen OdunowoÂ said â€œhe was a very very consistent and rigorous fighter for human rights and he defended what he believed was right, even if he was in the minority.â€
â€œI am sure the whole legal profession will miss him. The only consolation is that we have some thing to always remember him with, particularly his law reports. We will also remember him especially for the noble and charitable course he undertook.
He gave out scholarships to indigent students and never made noise about it. He also handled many cases free or charge. As we Muslims believe, I pray that he finds rest in paradise. May his soul rest in peaceâ€, the judge added.
Chief Awa Kalu (SAN), Abia State former attorney general and commissioner for justice and Vanguard Law and Human Rights columnist, said, â€œAs far as I am concerned, it is a very bad development both for the legal profession and the legal community and the entire nation.
The masses have lost their advocate because he was recognised as the Senior Advocate of Nigeria of the masses. A strong social crusader has gone and we will mourn his for a very long time to comeâ€. Chief Solo Akuma (SAN), also Abia State former attorney general and commissioner for justice said, â€œI am shocked to hear the news of the demise of Gani Fawehimni, SAN.
The legal profession will miss Gani. The human rights community will miss him and the entire Nigerian Bar Association will also miss him. Fawehinmi had contributed immensely to the development of law. He revolutionalised law reporting in Nigeria and brought modernity into law reporting.
Fawehinmi is a fearless advocate and a defender of the down-trodden. He is one mane that was not afraid to confront the government, when there is any transgression of the law on the part of government. I pray that God will grant his gentle soul eternal restâ€.
Dr. Frederick Faseun, Founder OPC: There are very few people like Gani in the world, the likes of people like Mandela, Jomo Kenyeta, Obafemi Awolowo. He spent his life fighting for the masses of this country, fighting for the emancipation of Nigeria, fighting against poverty, struggling for democracy and rule of law so that the Nigerian people may begin to think of democracy. He fought against illiteracy, he fought against poverty and if you look at today, the heaven has marked the departure of Fawehinmi.
We have not seen the sun all day, itâ€™s has been raining, there is no better way for heaven to acknowledge the departure of Gani Fawehinmi. May God grant him eternal repose.
Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), former MBA president: In Africa when people die we tend to say weâ€™re mourning but Iâ€™ll take a different view. I think we should celebrate because Chief Gani is over 71 years old. He was terminally ill, he has run the race, he has done all he could for Nigeria.
I think the only sad part of the celebration is that things didnâ€™t change. For me, Iâ€™m a happy man, I have no problems at all. I donâ€™t want to sound like a spiritualist, I actually saw him in a dream two weeks ago in a newspaper and I called the head of chambers to know he was alright and from Adinduâ€™s response to me on phone, I knew that things were very bad.
Former Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Samuel Omotunde Ilori, described the death of Chief Fawehinmi as a great loss to Africa and the legal profession, saying his contribution to the development of law in the country and beyond is matchless.
â€œChief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) contributed so much to the development of law in Nigeria as he was the one that started the Nigeria Weekly Law Report at a time when all law reports in the country had gone comatose at one time or the other. â€œHis Law Report is so popular that it is used not only in Nigeria but in other African countries,â€ he said.
Senators eulogise him: Conservative and left leaning Senators yesterday found common ground in praising the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi as the greatest advocate for justice in contemporary Nigeria.
While former Minister and ambassador, Senator Jibril Aminu described him as a great fighter and only prominent lawyer who spent his money to defend strangers, Senator Victor Ndoma Egba, the only lawyer in the Senate to have been called to the inner bar simply described him as an â€œAuthentic Great.â€
Senator Chris Anyanwu one of only two Senators known to have been imprisoned on account human rights activism while describing him as the greatest fighter of his time, however, regretted that the late legal icon and human rights advocate died in disappointment. The Senate spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze in his official reaction described the late legal icon as an asset to the country who would greatly be missed.
Others who reacted to the death of Fawehinmi yesterday included Senators Joy Emodi (PDP, Anambra North), Abubakar Sodangi (PDP, Nasarawa West), Effiong Bob (PDP, Akwa Ibom Northeast), Dahiru Awaisu Kuta (PDP, Niger) himself a former activist and Grace Bent (PDP, Adamawa South)
Responding to the passage of Chief Fawehinimi they said: Senator Jibril Aminu: We have lost a great man, we have lost a great fighter for the truth and for the underprivileged. He is the only prominent lawyer I could think of who spent his own money to defend somebody that he did not know and he would not work for any return.
I think it is a sad loss to this country today. Senator Abubakar Sodangi: The death of Chief Gani Fawehinmi is a very great loss not only to the legal profession, but also to the human rights community. He was in the vanguard of human rights causes not only within Nigeria but also within the West African sub-region, Africa, and indeed the whole world.