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Tribute : In the struggle with Fawehinmi

By Owei Lakemfa

IF a colossus walked through a people’s socio-economic and political life, leaving giant prints in the sands of history and touching positively the lives of the ordinary people, it will be difficult to capture his life in a single piece.

If a man of demonstrable courage and commitment  who wielded enormous moral authority like Nelson Mandela does, were to pass on, it would be impossible to assess his legacy in  one take.

So I decided to examine the inimitable Gani  Fawehinmi from the prism of him as a political activist, a terror to dictatorship, defender of the down trodden and a comrade. But even this has been quite difficult as tears well up in my eyes and high waves of memories rise and crash in my mind blurring my thoughts.

To write of him in the past tense is difficult; we knew that he was in a prolonged war with cancer and that the coward was eating him up. But we refused to accept this fact or the reality that this unmatchable warrior of the people was dying. So when news of his demise floated through on September 5, 2009, it hit like a thunderbolt.

My first work relationship with him was in 1981.The then Shehu Shagari administration whose police  had murdered seven students in Ife wanted to expel some immediate past student leaders of the University of Ife (now OAU) based on the bogus report of Justice Alfa Belgore.

The students decided to  resist the move; they raised a three- person delegation led by me to meet Fawehinmi in Lagos and ask that he took up our case. He readily agreed. The government eventually backed down.

Perhaps, the most perfidious military dictatorship in our history is that of Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. It  not only impose a near- insane Structural Adjustment Programme  on the country but also decreed that there was no alternative to it and that anybody or group that posited an alternative would be guilty of an offence. Fawehinmi pointedly challenged this by organising an “Alternative To SAP Conference.”

The conference was stopped by armed police and he along with veteran Labour leaders, Michael Imodu and Wahab Goodluck  were detained. But a challenge to SAP had been made and an avalanche of challenges followed.

The same fate awaited the dubious Babangida ‘Transition to Civil Rule Programme’ The regime decreed that to challenge that programme was  treasonable. Fawehinmi challenged it and publicly characterised it as a programme suffering from socio-economic AIDS which cannot give birth to an AIDS-free civilian administration.

He was charged with treason but walked out of the lion’s den unscratched. Also, despite the military rascals banning political parties, he publicly launched the National Conscience Party.

To severely punish him , the military regimes in their frequent detentions of Fawehinmi threw him to far flung places; this pushed towns like Gashua, Bama and Kuje into national limelight. I recall that whenever he was detained, a number of us including Femi Ojudu, now of The News  and Osagie Obayuwana, now Edo State Attorney General, would undertake the dangerous task of writing graffiti  on walls, bridges and public places demanding his release.

In July 1993 the pro-democracy mass demonstrations for the actualisation of the June 12 elections began. A sick Fawehinmi missed the first day which had brought millions of people on the country’s streets.

On our way back from the demonstrations in Ikeja, Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti suggested that we go tease Fawehimi. As we entered his compound, he ran out to meet us shouting victory to the people; the CNN had flashed the news with pictures. Beko putting up his usual grin said “ Chief she bi you are sick”  Fawehinmi replied that the protests had healed him, he demanded to be included in the rest of the programme.

A reluctant Beko asked him to address demonstrators the next day at the National Stadium. A sick Fawehinmi did. Some hours later the military junta detained him along with Beko and some leaders of the protests.

In 1990, along with two of my colleagues; Sani Zorro and Funke Fadugba, I  was mischieviously disqualified from contesting the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) national elections. I went to Fawehinmi who immediately asked his then Deputy in the chambers, Ayo Olarenwaju to take up the case. We got an order from Justice Francis Owobiyi which stopped the conference.

Five years later,  following a robbery incident, the police invaded Patani in Delta State  arrested some “suspects” and within hours executed seven of them including my cousin and a 70-year old man. Fawehinmi gave  me one of the lawyers in his chambers, Festus Keyamo and we sued the police at the Bomadi High Court. As usual the case costs including the lawyer’s transportation and accommodation were borne by Fawehinmi.

When on April 22, 1990 the Gideon Orkar coup attempt was made and a veiled reference was made about Fawehinmi in the coup speech, a few of us persuaded him to leave his house so neither the plotters nor the Babangida regime could reach him.

One day I visited him and off hand raised the issue of Ibrahim Dasuki becoming the Sultan of Sokoto, to my shock Fawehinmi started weeping. He wondered how anybody could have made Dasuki the Sultan which automatically made him head of the muslims in the country; and Fawehinmi was a muslim!

For many years I was involved in various struggles with Fawehinmi and other patriots for the emancipation of the Nigerian people and it is an historical honour to have  known and worked with him. Good night.


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