I have never seen any Nigerian mourned as we have Gani Fawehinmi this past week. I am pleased he has been widely-honoured by Nigerians everywhere.
Gani lived in the open. Everyone knew who he was, and what he was thinking. He was a principled, consistent crusader for Nigeria and its people, a task from which he never took a day off.
He never sought a break from his convictions so that he could help himself to a government contract or a discreet deal, a foreign bank account, or a mansion in Dubai or Abuja. He spent himself and his resources in pursuit of national progress.
Such men are almost impossible to find in Nigeria, and every Nigerian knew it.
Gani garnered a lot of recognition and respect wherever he went. But he never stopped to savor the praise and the applause because he knew the story was not about him, but about his country.
For me, there are two ironies about his death. The first is the notion that he died of cancer, that he fell to a disease that afflicted his body and for which a cure has yet to be found.
But Gani was not a man of his body. It is not about his body that Nigerians are currently in disbelief and shock, but about his heart. It is with his heart—all of it—that he loved Nigeria and wanted to see her rise to the heavens. It was only his heart that could kill him. When you think about it, what Gani really died of is a heart attack.
The second irony about his death is that all of Nigeria seems to have erupted, as one, in acknowledging our fallen star.
Ours? Yes, for the first time in independent Nigeria, a man is in death acknowledged as a Nigerian that was not soiled by ethnicity of crude politics. Nationwide, Gani is acknowledged in death as a Nigerian who believed in, and sought the best for Nigeria.
Gani was an all-season, all-weather fighter, which is why he fought in his primary terrain, the law, and, inevitably, in politics. As a lawyer, he wanted to see just laws; as a politician, he wanted to see social justice.
As Nigeria rotted and grew increasingly more corrupt, Gani challenged governments and institutions (including his own professional body, the Nigeria Bar Association), legislation and public policy. As Nigeria continued to slide backwards, his anger and frustration showed, but his energies never flagged.
He endured threats, intimidation, arrests, beatings and even attempts on his life, but his will never sagged. There was no cowardice in him, and no regrets. He refused to surrender, or to be compromised.
When he passed last week, the power of his character had earned him the respect of all. It also earned him the fear of the few who tried but could neither buy him nor bury him. Everyone wanted to be seen to be “mourning” the great lawyer and humanist; in truth, many were merely mining his reputation and posing for pictures.
Think about it: some of the leaders he questioned and challenged the most were among the first to seize the microphone to try to announce Gani’s greatness. That is akin to telling Pele what football is, or describing to the Pope the sacrament of the communion.
Imagine Ibrahim Babangida, whom Gani combated for years; the “evil genius” who punished the activist with repeated trips to detention, including a four-month stint in the infamous Gashua Prisons in 1989, eulogizing the lawyer as “a sincere critic.” Gani’s criticism, said IBB, put some of us (in government) “on our toes.”
Olusegun Obasanjo picked his words like eggs. Gani “was genuine,” he said. And “civil society groups, the legal profession and the entire country will miss him.”
This is how you know that all mourners are not the same. The mourning of some people is but a sigh of relief. Babangida not only incarcerated the “sincere critic,” he tortured him. Gani often talked about the terrible conditions he endured behind bars, including being injected with unknown substances. Until he died, he believed that IBB had somehow caused his cancer.
Gani accused Obasanjo of all manners of brigandage, constitutional violations, corruption and incompetence. In the end, Obasanjo, by inference, declares Gani to have been right.
These men are not alone. Many senior Nigerian lawyers that have helped to fertilize corruption in Nigeria were falling over themselves last week to praise Gani. Some of them are greedy professional prostitutes who have become wealthy not by being good lawyers, but by providing legal backbone to some of the nation’s most profound thieves. They are two-faced fools who made Gani throw up.
This hypocrisy in high places is why Gani was happier to be known not as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)—a title desecrated by some of his colleagues—but to be known as a Senior (or Superior) Advocate of the Masses (SAM). That is how Nigerians regarded him.
Gani did not live long enough to see Nigeria rise, but it is remarkable that at his passing, the same elements that have held Nigeria back—represented by Babangida and Obasanjo—now praise him as “genuine,” or “sincere”, and a patriot.
Gani would have challenged these people and their parties and supporters to do the right thing. And this is what Nigerians should be asking them, today. If they are themselves genuine or sincere, not only must they apologize for their role in Nigeria’s backwardness and the dehumanization of our people, they must correct them.
They should own up to the malfeasance they have fostered, including the bad laws and terrible deals they made, and the good laws they violated. And they should go further and return to Nigerians what they cornered or stole, and cause their supporters and friends to return what they cornered or stole.
Anyone that is eulogizing Gani Fawehinmi without responding to his life in this way is a liar and a hypocrite. And it is worse to lie to Gani’s memory than to have tried to hurt and humiliate him while he was doing his patriotic duty.
To praise this noble Nigerian for all that he stood and suffered, and yet do nothing radical to change this nation in the direction of his advocacy would be the final betrayal.
Let Nigerians speak out with the same courage with which Gani spoke for them. Let them rise with the same strength and willingness with which Gani rose for them. It is in our hands.