By Ochereome Nnanna
GANI Fawehinmi was a special Nigerian both in life and death. Many people were born to be copycats. They abound everywhere, particularly among so-called opinion leaders. They are unable to produce unique and insightful ideas. But because they have the gift of the gab and the elevated platform to demonstrate it, they pass for intelligent or intellectual people.
Gani was not such a man. Everything about him stood out inimitably. Let us start with the name: Gani. To the average Nigerian, that name belongs to only one man. But in reality, the Muslim name: Abdulganiyu, is bequeathed to millions of people around the world and thousands of Nigerians.
And yet once you say â€œGaniâ€, no one will ask you, â€œwhich Ganiâ€? In Nigeria, â€œGaniâ€ is synonymous with â€œsocial crusader, human rights activist, fearless fighter against oppression, especially from governmental authorities and defender of the massesâ€.
One man in my hometown who sees himself as a fearless fighter for what he believes to be just refers to himself as â€œGani of Abiribaâ€.
I mentioned this when I voted for Gani Fawehinmi as one of my five living Nigerian legends in an article published on this column on Monday, March 30, 2009 when I chose to participate in the Vanguard/Silverbird Television poll.
Even though Gani was away on his sick bed in London, I am glad that he lived to know what I thought of him along with other Nigerians who rated him fourth behind Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, soccer star Nwankwo Kanu and Reverend Enoch Adeboye.
Beyond the obvious things everyone knew about Gani Fawehinmi, it is the understated ones that hit me in the face. Gani Fawehinmi was a Yoruba man. Everybody knew that but it was not obvious because he threw it at you. He kept away from â€œregionalâ€ politicking and mannerisms for which mainstream Yoruba politics is generally known.
The good Yoruba man in him came through by the way he was able to fight for the Ogoni, the Igbo, the Niger Delta and Moshood Abiola based on his unbending principle of confronting oppression and injustice no matter who is being victimised.
Some people see justice only when it concerns themselves or their ethnic group. By so doing they corrupt the concept of justice. Gani chose to polish the concept of justice to shine brilliantly for everyone to see.
Gani was a Moslem. Though his state, Ondo is predominantly Christian, he belongs to a family that is historically Moslem.
Bisi Lawrence, a living legend in our profession, disclosed that Ganiâ€™s grandfather brought Islam to Ondo kingdom and his father was an Islamic cleric. Therefore, his Islamic roots were beyond question. But he did not wear his Islam like a threat to others.
He practised his religion with quiet dignity, ensuring that in the process it did not come between him and adherents of other religions. You will remember the â€œSallah ramâ€ episode in 1997 when Gani rejected a ram gift from Brigadier-General Buba Marwa, the Military Administrator of Lagos, not because Marwa was a bad governor but because he was part of a regime that sought to bury the Nigerian peopleâ€™s mandate given to Abiola.
In the end, Gani chose to be buried as the lawyer and property of the Nigerian people that he was, rather than being rushed into his grave even before people heard he was gone as Moslems usually do.
The weeklong elaborate burial programme (which ends tomorrow with solemn Islamic rites) enabled the Nigerian people to salute the man who spent his productive life to fight for a better Nigeria. A wealthy man who preferred to confront the fiercest of military dictators and rot in prison rather than watch impunity in silence.
A lawyer who handled more than 5,000 pro bono (free of charge) cases for the oppressed who had no one else to run to. A man who so hated corruption that he was willing to tolerate lawlessness to arrest it.
A man who, in spite of his over 40 years of valiant soldiering still lost because the ills of our society are so deeply entrenched, especially at the very top. A man who often decided to go solo in pursuit of his principles than walk in the company of filthy lucre and compromise.
Just look at it. How many people who did not occupy public posts got the number of blackened newspaper front pages like Gani? The Guardian front page went all black last week Monday, an honour it has never accorded anyone, not even Chief Rotimi Williams, who enjoyed a special relationship with the paper and its owners. Beggars and the destitute came in their droves to pay homage.
Perhaps only Malam Aminu Kano had this privilege. The high and mighty fell over themselves to be seen and heard paying their last respects, and this included those who delighted in chucking Gani in prison.
To crown it all, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, the controversial anti-corruption czar whom Gani defended to his grave, popped out of his hiding place, braving arrest by his enemies in the Yarâ€™Adua government, to bid Gani goodbye in person rather than issue a statement from his hiding place.
Gani leaves us with a lesson: people are remembered and honoured for what they gave, not what they took. He has left an unfinished business. Somehow or the other, the mission shall be accomplished and the Nigeria of Ganiâ€™s vision shall emerge.
Thank you, Gani, the Conscience of the nation.