By Prof Obiora Okafor
II. Between Thought and Action: The Character of Gani Fawehinmi’s Human Rights Praxis
What were the main features and characteristics of Gani’s human rights praxis? In what ways and via what methods exactly did he pursue his human rights activism? What major strategies, approaches, tactics, techniques, and sensibilities featured prominently in his sustained and highly courageous effort to uplift the status of human rights in Nigeria?
These are the major questions with which this section of the paper is concerned. These questions are addressed in the sub-sections below, each of which deals with one of the methods or approaches that characterized and animated Gani’s human rights praxis.
Technical Legal Advocacy
It is fair to state that while a range of symbiotic and mutually reinforcing methods and strategies featured in the rich repertoire of human rights approaches that Gani put to use, the chief approach (i.e. the single most dominant method or strategy)which he adopted, was what will be referred to in this paper as “technical legal advocacy.”
The fact that he placed such a strong accent on this particular approach to human rights activism should not be all that surprising given the fact that Gani was after all engaged in full-time legal practice throughout his professional and natural life.
In any case, as shall become clearer later on in the paper, Gani was a great believer in the rule of law and in its power as an instrument for the attainment of social justice. Deploying various forms of technical legal advocacy (including what some have referred to as public interest litigation or as strategic impact litigation ), Gani relentlessly filed and actively litigated law suits against what he clearly saw as the serious human rights violations perpetrated by almost every military or democratic regime that ruled/governed Nigeria between his return to Nigeria from Englandin the 1960s and his fairly recent death in 2009.
In the result, Gani was either the plaintiff and/or the counsel of record in a massive number of such cases. The number of cases on this list isfar too numerous to recount or deal with in full in a relatively short paper such as this.
However, short skeletal reviews ofa purposive sample of such cases will offer sufficient insight into the broad nature and orientation of the kinds of technical legal advocacy that Gani deployed in his effort to advance the cause of human rights in Nigeria.
In one of the earliest of his many notable human rights law suits, Amakiri v. Iwowari, Gani acted as counsel to the plaintiff, a journalist who had been detained and flogged by the aide-de-camp of the then military governor of the old Rivers State of Nigeria, Alfred Diette-Spiff, in a suit to enforce his fundamental rights to liberty, etc.
The Plaintiff’s “offence” had been that he had published a story on the sorry plight of teachers in the old Rivers State who had been demanding improved salaries and emoluments. In Fawehinmi v. Akilu and Another, he struggled in defense of the right to life when he doggedly and quite courageously fought the then General Babangida-led military regime for the right to privately prosecute two military officers who he had accused of being responsible for the murder via a letter bomb of famed journalist Dele Giwa.
In furtherance, of this particular socio-legal struggle, Ganialso made a prominent showing, some fifteen or so years later, at the Justice Oputa-chaired Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC) set up after the end of military rule in 1999 by the then Obasanjo-led civilian government, and fought doggedly (up to the Supreme Court of Nigeria) seeking to get former military president Ibrahim Babangida and two former military officials of that regime to attend the Commission and testify on oath before it as to their responsibility or otherwise for the murder of Dele Giwa, the famed late founding editor-in-chief of Newswatch magazine. In INEC v. Balarabe Musa, Gani challenged the constitutionality of restrictive guidelines which impaired the freedom to association of Nigerians interms of their right to form or belong to political parties.