On the morning of Saturday, September 5, 2009, the world woke up to the desperately sad news that Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the foremost name in Nigeria’s post-Independence human rights activism has passed on. We, members of Respect Nigerians Coalition (RNC) join Nigerians and well-wishers of Nigeria in mourning the loss of this great patriot.
In a way, there are those who would say Gani’s death was not unexpected, especially as we had witnessed the rapid deterioration in his health in the last two and half years as he waged a mortal battle against cancer. Yet because of the huge place he occupied in national consciousness, his death was difficult to contemplate by those who know that he was a rare breed – a principled Nigerian who would go to any length to speak truth to power. It wasn’t so much denial, but hope in a miracle to save this selfless soul who gave his all for the good of his country and its people. Indeed, if there was one man who articulately encapsulated the anger, courage, dignity and resilience of the ordinary Nigerian in the face of failed governments, that man, without a doubt, was Gani Fawehinmi.
It is instructive that as he was ravaged by illness, he kept on working, kept on talking, kept on fighting bad governments and their agents everywhere, taking no time to stop and think of his own obviously imminent mortality. For him, it was not a difficult decision. He didn’t know how he came here, so he never bothered when or how he would go. He was only concerned about here and now and what he can do to better the lot of the Nigerian masses. Thus, in his public activism and personal charitable engagements, duty and conscience rated higher than the fear of death. Gani, the inimitable Conscience of the Nation died standing! Gani, the mighty warrior died with his boots on!
For Respect Nigerians Coalition (RNC), Gani’s death is bigger than the loss of the individual, the human being, the father, husband, son, friend, uncle, neighbour, lawyer or compatriot. Gani was a living spirit that touched even those that never met him. From the late sixties up till his death, he dominated national discourse like no other, setting examples in doggedness, courage, scholarship, philanthropy and patriotism. Gani’s enemies feared and hated him as much as they secretly respected him, and his enemies are the enemies of the Nigerian people - those who think they can use their positions in authority or as controllers of state instruments of violence and terror to torture and repress other Nigerians. Gani was always there to hold their legs to the fire and to throw himself forward as the punching bag of their frustrations. Pummeled to a pulp, he still would not go cower in his corner! He was always there, in their face, telling them that all he owed them was one bullet! Indeed, the most recurrent decimal in Nigeria’s political life in the past four decades has been Gani always throwing the book at those he regarded as political brigands masquerading as leaders, while they in turn would predictably beat him up, attack his home or office, threaten to cut off his source of livelihood and daily bread or haul him off to cool his heels in one prison or the other. In the age of “Settlement” and “Ghana-Must-Go”, Gani had no price! His consistent attempts to use the temple of justice to name and shame the tormentors of the Nigerian people have produced some of the most compelling aspects of our national jurisprudence and have equally helped in no small way to educate and sensitize fellow countrymen and women on their constitutional rights and their inestimable value as citizens.
Inevitably, there are those who think Gani was able to accomplish so much in national consciousness only because he was a lawyer. Perhaps, that’s true. Yet, if we consider the unbridled passion with which he confronted the establishment, there is every indication that even if he weren’t a lawyer, he still would have put the people at the centre of his universe and used whatever professional calling he found himself to bring succour to the downtrodden. Law was just a vehicle; but men like Gani would have used any vehicle because professional circumscription couldn’t have been an issue with such an indefatigable and boundless freedom fighter. Law did not define Gani; instead, Gani used law to define the struggle, defend the people and attack the people’s enemies.
To us, Gani is not dead. We are indeed celebrating his life! Those who are dead leave no mark behind; they leave no inspiration or worthy ideals that live after them. When those who are really dead die, Death celebrates his kill; but with Gani, the Grim Reaper is covering his hideous face in shame because he knows he’s reaping where he did not sow! But Gani has sown ideas and inspiration in the minds of millions of people, young and old, and as he sleeps, these millions shall rise to give meaning to the ideas and principles he lived and fought for! Yes, they will rise and fight like their hero because they know that the darkness he fought against is still there to be confronted by men and women of courage and integrity just like him. We are proud to say that members of Respect Nigerians Coalition take huge inspiration from the great life of the Father of Nigerian post-Independence political and human rights activism! We are standing to be counted!
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, we are aware that lots of things have been said about Chief Fawehinmi by way of eulogies and a lot would still be said. But for us, words cannot really do justice to who he was. We can, like others, reel out several of the man’s engaging public battles and contributions; but of what use is that when he lived his life like an open book? Every conscious Nigerian knows what Gani represents and it is no surprise that his death is felt deeply at home and abroad. However, we are calling on Nigerians to not only mourn, but to act. Indeed, we are calling on them to mourn creatively. We are calling on them to use the death of this great Nigerian to send a message to the nation-looters and heartless mongrels that have ruined our nation in the name of leadership.
Conscious Nigerians everywhere should adopt a bit of Gani into their lives. You should do your bit to immortalize this honest man of the people, because here is a piece of great national history moving on! So, let us not wait for the government to name a street, an airport or building after him; let us keep Gani alive in our own little ways. He was a fighter for the people; so, let the people show that his fight on their behalf is not in vain! Let the people do something to encourage other Ganis in the making to see that fighting for the people is a worthy cause!
On our part, we have already put machineries in place to immortalize Chief Gani Fawehinmi through a series of actions. One is the hosting of an Annual RNC-Gani Fawehinmi Memorial Lecture, which shall have its first outing on or around the 22nd of April next year – 22nd of April being the birthday of this great man. We call on other individuals, groups and civil society organizations to use this opportunity of the man’s death to showcase his ideals to more Nigerians and well wishers of Nigeria. Gani must be deliberately woven by the people into the folklore of the nation, because our children and their children must grow up knowing him. What he fought for was their future and when that future comes, history must remember Gani glowingly, not only because professional historians have written about him in books, but because the people are keeping his memory alive as a tribute to everyone who fights to defend their dignity.
Long live the ideals of Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi! Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Chidi Okorie ,Tosin Awotesu ,Ayodeji Omotade