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The bitternes of Femi Aribisala

A GREEK proverb warns: “don’t hear one and judge two”. This sensible aphorism would appear to have been ignored by Mr. Femi Aribisala in his article of August 21, 2013, in which he bitterly assailed the contribution, character and person of the late Chief R.A. Fani-Kayode in the following terms : “….Like father, like son: That was 48 years ago.

Today, Femi Fani-Kayode, the 53-year-old son of ‘Fani-Power,’ continues in the mischievous tradition of his father: throwing dangerous missiles at the innocent.’ ” Furthermore, the said Mr. Aribisala also made what I thought were wildly inaccurate and dangerous statements about the true nature of Nigeria’s federalism.

I first had the opportunity of meeting the late Chief R.A. Fani-Kayode when I joined the law firm of Fani-Kayode and Sowemimo sometime in 1990. I found him to be a man of elegance and great charm.

Though, he was in semi-retirement and hardly ventured out to the law courts at the time I got to know him, it was, nevertheless, obvious that he possessed an acute analytical mind, a profound knowledge of the law and was very meticulousness in his approach to solving a legal issue.

This was, without doubt, the consequence of an extremely fine intellect which had been refined by a first-rate legal education. I thought, however, that this superlative approach was undermined somewhat by the belligerence and biting sarcasm of his forensic style. In the discharge of his professional duties to his clients, he displayed a high degree of commitment, determination and discipline, which he also expected from his juniors, to who he made himself very accessible.

A legal scholar of Downing College, Cambridge University (like his illustrious father before him), he took his M.A. in 1945 – barely missing a first, he was third on the list in the law tripos – and the LL.B. (which was a masters degree in law at Cambridge), in 1946. A prizeman of the Middle Temple, he was called to the English Bar in 1947.

He rapidly rose to become one of the great commanding figures at the Nigerian Bar by 1960. Sir Olumuyiwa Jibowu, desiring to take him out of politics, had offered him an appointment to the High Court Bench in 1957. In recognition of his abilities, Chief Fani-Kayode was conferred with the rank of Queen’s Counsel in August 1960, making him the third Nigerian to be so honoured – Chiefs H.O. Davies and F.R.A. Williams had earlier taken silk in 1958.

While the late Chief R.A. Fani-Kayode’s legal attainments are generally regarded as incontrovertible, his political career has been the subject of some controversy. His political career can be divided into two phases: First, the period between 1954, when he first entered Parliament, and 1959, when he, as official A.G. candidate for Ife, lost his seat to the late Chief Michael Omisade, who, though he ran as an independent, had the support of the then Ooni of Ife, the late Sir Adesoji Aderemi, who, ironically, was an inveterate A.G. supporter.

Sir Adesoji was at this time involved in a bitter feud with the late Chief Fani-Kayode who was also the Chairman of the Ife District Council. The quarrel arose as a result of differences over the running of the affairs in the District. Till his death, Chief Fani-Kayode believed that Chief Awolowo betrayed him and covertly worked to ensure that he lost to Omisade. Prior to this, there had been what was primarily a personality clash between both men. From this clash arose Chief Fani-Kayode’s bitter resentment of Chief Awolowo and the A.G. This explained his political conduct from 1960.

Whilst he was in the AG Chief Fani-Kayode contributed immensely to the organisation and expansion of that party into other regions, and the forging of its political alliances, particularly in the then Benue and Plateau provinces of the Northern Region. His work, and that of others, assisted in transforming the A.G. into a powerful nationalist movement which played a central role in the struggle for independence.

At this material period, he was idealistic, a nationalist and a progressive who emphasised militant Black racial pride (which culminated in the publication of his book Blackism in 1960), which pre-dated the Black Power Movement of the 1960s in the U.S.A..

During this period, he also nurtured the Youth Wing of the A.G., which he also moulded into a militant organisation. He was arrested at least once and arraigned before Magistrate F.O. Lucas on account of the violent activities of some members of this organisation who took direct action against British businesses. He was also the Assistant Federal Secretary of the A.G., and in that respect played a pivotal role, with the Federal Secretary, the late Chief Ayo Rosiji, in the organisation and administration of the A.G.

He, along with Chiefs Awolowo, S.O. Ighodaro, E.O. Eyo, Adeyemi Lawson and S.G. Ikoku, represented the A.G. at the 1957 London Constitutional Conference.

Chief Fani-Kayode also represented the A.G. as its counsel at the proceedings of the Minorities Commission, headed by Sir Henry Willink, between 1957 and 1958. He, along with Chief F.R.A. Williams, Mr. Justice Fatayi Williams and Chief T.A.B. Oki, representing the government of Western Nigeria, employed their considerable legal abilities at the various sittings of the Commission around the country, as they vainly sought – in the face of narrow-minded and selfish opposition by the N.P.C. and N.C.N.C., which was abetted by the hostility of the British colonial authorities – to argue the government of Western Nigeria and the Action Group’s brief, which advocated the creation of more regions, in order to grant the right of self-determination to the Minority ethnic nationalities; to protect Minority rights and preserve the integrity of the ethnic nationalities; and to achieve the creation of an authentic federation where one of the regions (i.e. the Northern Region) would not be larger in area and population than the others put together, in a cynical attempt to ensure that that region could thereby bend the Federal Government to its will and thus dominate the entire country in perpetuity.

This enlightened brief which sought to ensure an equitable and suitable form of political association for a Nigeria of mutually distrustful and antagonistic ethnic nationalities with often divergent aspirations and interests, would, without doubt, have secured for us a finer quality of national life and prevented the past and present tragedies which continues to afflict this nation on account of the deliberate failure to address the “ethnic nationalities question.” The valiant attempt by Chief Fani-Kayode and his colleagues pre-dated the present struggle – by the Resource Control Movement and those clamouring for the creation of an authentic federation – to re-negotiate the terms of our association by about 42 years.

Mr. AKIN AJOSE ADEOGUN, a commentator on national issues, wrote from  Lagos.


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