Special Report

September 15, 2009

Military govts and Gani’s 32 detentions

By Adekunle Adekoya
TODAY, the final rites of passage would be completed with interment for an exceptional Nigerian, a man who dedicated his life to the struggle for improvement in all areas of our troubled national life – Chief Abdul-Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi (SAN), better known to the rest of us as Gani.

Looking at the man’s life, and his somewhat immature passing (even at 71), it is near inescapable to equate Gani’s sojourn with detentions for one cause he fought or the other, democratic civil rule in the last 10 years notwithstanding.

For Gani, life, and the living of it was a struggle, at least in Nigeria. It is not unlikely that this icon of our times might not have chosen a life of struggle if his father had not passed on while he was just about halfway through university. For him, scraping to pay school fees in Britain was a turning point experience that would shape his beliefs and define his life of struggles. Of course, this life of struggles inevitably pitted him against the ruling elite – represented by the various military juntas that ruled the nation until 1996, when last he was detained (See box).

Gani detained 6 times during Gowon’s tenure

GANIIIForty years ago, during the thick of the civl war, in 1969, Gani was detained for the first time at Kaduna Police Headquarters; General Yakubu Gowon was then Head of State. The Gowon administration detained him four times that year; at Jos Police station, at Ilorin Police station, and at Police Headquarters in Lagos. There was a breather between 1969 and 1972 when he was detained again at Police Headquarters in Lagos. Altogether, Gani was detained by the Gowon government six of the 32 times he was gaoled.

In detention three times during Obasanjo’s tenure

In the aftermath of the popular student uprising of 1978, the Federal Government banned the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) and rusticated its leadership. Of course, Gani was part of the students’ struggle, for which he was detained at C. I. D. Alagbon, Inter-Centre Detention Outpost, and Ikoyi Police Station, all in Lagos, in 1978.

Detained 17 times during Babangida’s tenure

But by far, the Babangida administration had the singular honour of being the one that detained Gani the most – a record 17 times of the total 32 he was detained. Gani enjoyed relative “peace” after the detentions of 1978; a transition to civil rule programme instituted by the Obasanjo administration ushered in the civilian administration headed by Alhaji Shehu Shagari as President in October 1979.

It was short-lived however, by December 31, 1983, a military putsch which sent Shagari packing saw Geneal Muhammadu Buhari emerging Head of State. Buhari ruled only 20 months; in August 1985 General Ibrahim Babangida succeeded him, and a little over a year after, in 1987, Gani was back on familiar turf – in detention. His first detention under the IBB administration was at the dreaded Panti Police Station in 1987.

After release , the following year, in 1988, Gani was to be detained at the same station three times. By the time Babangida left office in 1993, Gani had been in and out of detention seventeen times, and was detained in various locations from Lagos to Abuja and Maiduguri.

Locked up 6 times during Abacha’s tenure

It is ironical that the late legal icon and rights activist would be detained only six times during the tenure of the nation’s most dreaded military ruler, late General Sani Abacha. When Babangida stepped aside in August 1993, he left Chief Ernest Sonekan, erstwhile chairman of the Transtion Council in charge of the federal administration; Babangida’s stepping aside itself being a fallout of crises surrounding the June 12 1993 election which was annuled by his government.

82 days later, the nation was told that Chief Sonekan had resigned his job, and that General Abacha had emerged the new Head of State. That was November 17, 1993. A few months later, Gani recommmenced his detention run when he was detained again at panti Police station in 1994. Also the same year, he was detained at the Federal Investigations and Intelligence Bureau (FIIB), Alagbon Close, and in 1995 he was back at Panti twice. Later in 1995, he was detained by the SSS at Shangisha, and the following year, 1996, he was also detained by the same outfit in the same place.

In between the initial detentions at the Police stations and security cells, Gani was transferred to other prisons. In 1969 after his initial detention at Kaduna Police station, he was transferred to Gombe Prisons, where he remained gaoled till 1970. Other prisons where Gani had been guests of the ruling junta included Ikoyi Prison, 1978; Gashua Prison, 1989; Nigerian Prison Ikoyi, 1990; Nigerian Prison Kuje, 1992; Nigerian Prison Kuje, 1993 and Nigerian Prison, Bauchi 1996.

Other travails Gani’s international passport had been seized 10 times while his house had been searched 16 times. On May 18, 1987, he was charged before an Ikeja Chief Magistrate’s Court for assault and obstruction against government agents. On March 17, 1988, Gani was charged with Mr. Nojeem Jimoh (then Punch Editor) before an Ikeja Chief Magistrate’s Court for Criminal Defamation against government on March 17, 1988. A particularly celebrated case was when he was charged with Mr. Nduka Irabor for criminal defamation against government before an Ikeja High Court on April 20, 1988. Two days later, April 22, 1988, Gani’s 50th birthday, he was docked before an Ikeja high court, again, for criminal defamation against government.

Later same year, he was before another magistrate in Ikeja for breach of the peace. The following year, in 1989, Gani appeared before Justice Fred anyaegbunam at the Transition to Civil Rule (Anti-sabotage) Tribunal, Lagos for sabotaging the Babangida transition programme, and in 1990, he was charged and imprisoned by late Justice Ayorinde of the Lagos High Court in 1990 for contempt of Court. The Court of Appeal in Lagos however set aside the judgment. In June 1992, Gani was made to answer charges of treason before a Gwagwalada Magistrate’s Court, Abuja, while in 1993, he faced sedition charges before another magistrate’s court in Abuja. All these took place during the Babangida administration.

During the Abacha junta, Gani was charged before another Ikeja magistrate’s court for unlawful assembly against government and forming illegal an political party, while in 1995 he appeared before a Yaba Chief Magistrate’s Court on charges of conducting a political rally without permission. He also faced charges on  holding a political rally against government without permission the same year.

IBB on Gani, June 12

Curiously, General Babangida whose government detained Gani the most is on record as saying he has enormous respect for the fallen activist. His  words: “If there is one man I respect, it is Gani. It sounds strange. I appreciate you that you have a strong conviction and fight for it consistently. This is the context in which I see Gani. I was a consistent “evil” and he was … a dogged fighter and I respect him for this. Infact there are three of them I respect like that. They are Gani, late (Professor) Awojobi and Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman. None of them says anything without doing his homework first.

In addition, General Babangida deployed a curious sense of humour when asked by newsmen why his government detained Gani. His reply: “What kind of question is that? Every Nigerian president arrests Gani Fawehinmi. Why should my turn be different? It’s all in a day’s work. It’s just part of the job description.”

Police Headquarters, Kaduna, 1969
Jos Police Station, 1969
Ilorin Police Station, 1969
Police Headquarters, Lagos, 1969
Police Headquarters, Lagos 1972 (twice)
C. I. D. Alagbon, Lagos, 1978
Inter-Centre Detention Outpost, Lagos, 1978
Ikoyi Police Station,1978
Panti Police Station, Lagos, 1987
Panti Police Station, Lagos, 1988 (three times)
Police Station Ikeja, 1988
Panti Police Station, Lagos, 1989 (twice)
Ikoyi Police Station, 1989
SSS Cell Maiduguri, 1989
SSS Cell Awolowo Road, Ikoyi 1991
C. I. D. Police Station Ikoyi, 1992
Police Station Wuse Abuja, 1992
Inter-Centre Cell, Lagos 1993
SSS Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, 1993
C. I. D. Police Station Ikoyi, 1993
Police Station Wuse Abuja, 1993
Police Headquarters, Abuja, 1993
Panti Police Station, Lagos, 1994
F. I. I. B. Alagbon, Ikoyi, Lagos 1994 (Once)
Panti Police Station, Lagos, 1995 (Twice)
SSS Shangisha Cell Lagos, 1995 (Once)
SSS Shangisha Cell Lagos, 1996 (Once)

Kaduna Prison, 1969
Gombe Prison, 1969 – 1970
Ikoyi Prison, 1978
Gashua Prison, 1989
Nigerian Prison Ikoyi, 1990
Nigerian Prison Kuje, 1992
Nigerian Prison Kuje, 1993 and
Nigerian Prison, Bauchi 1996