After about four months on active duty in the Far- Eastern country of Afghanistan and returning home to the warm embrace of family and friends, the just ended holy month of Ramadan was an opportunity to reflect again on our past and the future of our country.
What struck me most in the recurring discourses was how everyone found a way to anchor their reflections in pain and regret that the great solicitor and advocate, Chief Gani Oyesola Fawehinmi, SAN, is no more. Especially at this time when the judiciary, touted as the last hope of the common man, has allowed itself to be mired in avoidable and needless controversies.
The belief was strong that if Gani Fawehinmi were with us today, all the dimness of vision regarding how to push our fortunes forward as a nation will not be here. This generous outpouring of Gani-feelings allowed me to see clearly what the wisdom of our fathers meant when they said: 'an honorable person is the majority of one.'
The truth is that for those who project Gani Fawehinmi today in all their dreams of progress, and in all their expectations of a solution, the simple message is that: the one who is not forgotten is not dead.
As I write this very personal tribute, my thoughts jerk back to some of the many words of wisdom I picked from him in our years of association. Gani, for me, represented what I could call an ‘anecdotal imagination,’always spicing our discussions with anecdotes and wise cracks all laced in lessons of life.
One of such thoughts grips me today as it did the day it was offered in 2003, before commencing my assignment as the pioneer Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, as Gani held me to a corner muttering that 'if one man guards a narrow pass, ten thousand others cannot get in.” This thought, that he kept repeating till he became very ill, meant to him that a day would make a week, that a tree would make a forest, and that the challenge, always, is to construct the logic of progress in a strategic way to make the achievement of the impossible seem easy.
The truth about Gani’s situation, however, is that although the man who passed away represented our armor against injustice, our shield against evil, he left a legacy of honour and hope that is best captured in saying that “when a leopard dies he leaves his coat, when a man dies he leaves his name.” Today in many homes, schools, institutions, law offices and courts across the country, the name of Gani is a daily sacrament, and a reminder of a flame destined to glow eternally.
Today again, as on the first day that I met this titan and enigma, I doff my hat and salute someone who cheerfully mentored me, a man who many Nigerians remember for his extraordinary strength, versatility and character, for his passion, love and service to the poor, his genuine compassion, intelligence, transparent honesty, thoughtfulness, thoroughness; a man with a heart of gold!
Gani’s family and friends will remember him for different things, but as a youthful NYSC pupil lawyer my memory of Gani goes back to 1984. I first met him during the Special Military Tribunals of 1984-85, when I worked on the prosecution team. The then NBA had ordered the boycott of the tribunals, but Gani, full of daring as ever, defied the order, and in one of his appearances, openly thundered what struck my youthful imagination as an ethic of valued living. 'If you are standing upright, do not be concerned if your shadow is crooked', Gani said, reiterating that if one stands upright, always, posterity will judge one rightly.
Later in my legal career, I appeared three times against Gani in court. In one of the appearances, before the late Justice Junaid, of the Federal High Court in Lagos, after what turned out to be a knockout session, Gani turned kindly to me and said ‘Nuhu, to chop a tree quickly spend twice the time sharpening your axe' stressing the value of preparation to me and confessing that 'I am always extra prepared before any court appearance.' That would become an abiding advice that helped me greatly in my future court responsibilities.
Evidence of a connected principle in our fate came by way of our appearance before Justice Okeke, also of the FHC. We were part of a team led by the former Inspector General of Police, Sunday Ehindero, in a case where Gani was leading a young partner, Adegboruwa. Although we won the case at the High Court and the Court of Appeal, Gani eventually gave us a bloody nose at the Supreme Court. Ironically, however, it was his victory that I later relied on to investigate serving Governors and other constitutionally immuned public office holders when I led the EFCC.
Years later, when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was set up, it was the same Gani who offered the philosophical template to guide our work. 'To move a big mountain begins by removing the small stones and with diligence and purpose you will achieve the impossible' he told me.
Towards his very last days, Kayode komolafe and I visited him at the terminal stage of his illness in London. For us it was a visit of homage, appreciation and honor but Gani still spared time to care. This was during my days in exile and it was so kind to hear him lift my spirit. As he looked up and spoke softly, his thoughts were deep as ever: 'A paper tiger can not bear a close scrutiny' he said, dismissing those who build a career to malign me, urging me humorously to write in the sand the bad things done to me, but carve in stones the good things I want to remember.
Today in homage to the man I truly regard as a master, I say in response to your charge, it is your thoughts and vision that I have chosen to carve in stones. To this rare and true Nigerian hero, while wishing you eternal rest, I want to say, ‘sleep well, sir.’