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Nobody has been to jail as Gani, says childhood friend

By Ebun Babalola
For Alhaji Yekini Adelabu, a childhood friend of  Chief Gani Fawehinmi.. In this interview with Saturday vanguard,, he spoke on their friendship from childhood till the time, Gani died. For him, Gani was generous, honest, truthful and his passion for humanity led him into Nigerian politics. Excerpt

When did you meet Gani?

Gani and I  met first at Ansar-ud-deen School Ondo in standard 6A. But, it was my surname that attracted Gani andlater in their house, they abbreviated my name to “Delabu”. And that was how we became intimate friends.

But the only thing was that, Gani and his family members supported the NCNC. and the late Adelabu of Ibadan, Oyo State was in NCNC. It was that political spirit that made us  friends. Although, I wasn’t a politician then, but because I was bearing Adelabu, that name made us come together.

So, politics was in his blood?

Yes, because while, we were in secondary school in Ikare, he used to buy one magazine, “West  African Pilots by late Zik. There was a particular vendor callled, “Pa Bada” who used to bring those magazines on a bike. And anytime, he comes to Ikare, he would  hold the magazine and say, “One Nation, One Country” because that was the slogan of that magazine.

And Gani used to reserve money for that magazine. And whenever he bought  it, he raised  his hand and say, “One Nation, One Country” From there, all his juniors in school were calling him, “Senior Nation”. That was how the world “Nation” came to being.

We only spent one year together in the elementary school. We were in the boarding school when our principal, Reverend Akinrinde  encouraged Gani to study Law.  We were 40 students from Ondo State who were attending Victory College Ikare, Akoko, Ondo.

You are his childhood friend. How would you describe him?

Gani was very generous. At that time, nobody  ever thought of being a politician. But Gani was very bold and he challenged  any senior that tended   to cheat the junior ones. So, they saw him as someone who was too confrontational and never gave room for cheating.

And because of whom he was, we sneaked out of the boarding school. We never knew that the game master saw us. So, when we got back to school, the game master rang the bell at one dinner and called us out. Then, he said, because we came to Owo without permission and that we were not athletes, we were going  to be punished.

So, he said, we should wash plates for two weeks.  We were in the boarding school  until  1958 when he had his senior secondary school examination with the 1958 set.

Did Gani  have this spirit of activism right from his childhood?

That time, we never knew what was activism. The only thing was that he was like his mum, who would not cheat. He was intelligent. He was very generous. He called me , “Delabu let’s go and eat”. He paid for food and moi-moi almost everyday but that didn’t  mean, we didn’t fight.

At times, his jokes were, “You are Delabu but not the Adelabu of Ibadan”. Then I would  say, “that is your own business, that doesn’t mean that I am not Adelabu.  I am from Oshogbo. Don’t worry me.  You are Fawehinmi and so what?”.

But everything was a joke. It was our intimacy that made our mothers became friends. This friendship grew so wide  to the extent that  he was generous to all my family members.

Was he also generous to the female folks?

He was generous to everybody but to an extent. He was never a loose person,. He was very serious with his education and the passion for the weak paved way for him. Many people never knew Gani until he came back from abroad.

We lost contact after we left secondary school  but  we came together again miraculously through his cousin who was in the same ministry with me in Ibadan, Oyo State.

That day, we ate together and discussed life extensively. And because, he was supposed  to catch a flight that day, we couldn’t stay for long. On our way to the Airport, Gani gave a baby who was in his mother’s hand some money.

So, how did you come together again?

His elder brother, the then Justice of Osun State, Justice Rasheed Fawehinmi who brought me from Ibadan told me that, his brother Gani was to come back to Nigeria in three days time.

Gani  introduced you to him before this time?

No, it was just co-incidence. I saw him wrote his name on a paper and when I saw, “Fawehinmi”, I quickly asked, “Are you by any chance related to Gani Fawehinmi?”, that, I was his friend in Victory College, Ikare.” Then, the man said, “I am his elder brother”.

That was how we came together again and since  then, we were  together. So, he started asking me if, I wasn’t interested in traveling  Overseas, but I answered, “if, it is my destiny, why not”. So, in 1964, I traveled to United Kingdom to read Accountancy.

When I was in UK, I joined the then  UPN because I had interest in politics. Gani used to see my name in West African magazine while I also read him in the press.

What was Gani’s role?

When my brother, R.O. Yusuf was to be appointed, Gani gave him a recommendation that he was in his chambers and was very working, honest, intelligent and it was part of Gani’s recommendation that secured that position for him.  I connected both of them and since then, they were friends.

When he was going into politics what was your own stand?

When I came back from abroad, Gani discouraged me from  playing  full politics in Nigeria.  Hence I went to Civil Service.

But  when he was about taking to politics, he called a press conference, we never knew  it was going to result into a serious thing. He asked  us to pay N10 and everybody did. It was later, I discovered that, he was going into full time politics. And whenever he was going to organise any event, he would  invite me.

So, I called  him to order that, “you never told me, you were going into politics, what is the meaning of that?” But he replied and said, “I am going into politics to save the poor and the weak and make the society better”.

But, I told him  he wouldn’t make it, that the oppressors in the country would  not allow his aspiration come to pass, that he should stay put on his activism and I was blunt about the issue but we wouldn’t listen. So, he beckoned me to join his party, NCP but I refused and told him, nothing would make me leave the UPN.

Why

Because I don’t see him winning the party because of the oppressors in the country. I told him, “nobody will give you power in Nigeria because you are too blunt. Continue with your activism”.

Although, he wasn’t too happy because of my response but that is me. Despite that, our friendship never ceased.
Our friendship wasn’t determined by the party.

Although, I know him as an activist,  I was expecting more than that from him. He knew from his heart that, I was telling him the truth but maybe because of the people around him, he never took to my words. There were  other advice I gave  him that  he took to but certainly not the politics thing.

Would you say his experience  in jail was what gave him ill-health?

Of course, that was one big reason why he  had a serious health problem. Because nobody who had such experience  remained  normal. It must affect his health and no doctor would  be able to treat such individual. I have not seen any Nigerian that have been  to jail more than Gani Fawehinmi in this country.

He is gone…

But his spirit is still with us. He is only gone in body but his spirit is still living with us. It is now left to other activists to take after him. But will these people be as honest as Gani? Gani never collected contract from anybody. He never owe anybody kobo before he died. He never solicited for favour from any government.

Can other activists do the same thing.?  I’m waiting to see  how Nigerian government would immortalise his name.  For  me, I have my way of going about it and I will discuss it with his family first.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.