The 19th century historian, Thomas Carlyle was a promoter of the Great man theory, the philosophical concept that the history of the world was primarily shaped by the individual decisions and orders of great men and personalities. His viewpoint was based on the premise that every event in history stems from the choices made and the acts done by influential individuals who used power in a manner that produced an important historical impression. While the majority of modern day philosophers diverge from this Great man theory with the idea that several world events emerge from a series of separate developments, it goes without saying that those separate developments must have been created by the decisions of individuals. Proponents of this chain of thought tend to attribute a character of inspirational personal attributes and almost a heroism to those individuals that may have shaped history. Among the men who shaped history, it is those that exhibit a sense of decency and struggle for the betterment of the majority that time will inevitably judge as heroes.
One man of such greatness was the late great Chief Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi, who died four year ago on the 5th of September 2009 at age 71. Only a handful of times in recent history was Nigeria thrust into the throws of great grief and mourning than with the passing of this great and wonderful beacon of truth. As we mark the four year anniversary of his passing, Nigerians are still united in despair and desire to pay utmost respect to this ordinary, yet extraordinary man who soared above his peers and dedicated his life to altruism and candour. Like very few in this country, Chief Fawehinmi stood as a brilliant, bright shinning light in a land literally and morally steeped in darkness. He was the very essence of duty, of compassion, of justice and selfless humanity. He represented hope to a people sinking deep in despondency and became the role model of what a good leader and a good Nigerian should be.
For much of his adult life, Chief Fawehinmi stood his ground on all that he believed in. He stood tall and confident against a decayed institution because he was one of the very few Nigerians who actually ‘came to equity with clean hands’. Oh and how solid the ground Chief Fawehinmi stood on was! His ground was his ethics, his knowledge was his power. And he used that power to do good, alot of good, to shun evil and take individual responsibility for his actions. Up till the time he faced death, he never abandoned any of the qualities that made him so great or the elements that were to become the basis of his life and legacy. In many respects, Chief Fawehinmi belonged to an exceptional, almost extinct few, such as Herbert Maculey, Aminu Kano and Micheal Imodu, whom had the creed and represented the remnant of an old specie of true nationalists that stood up for the marginalised and fought for the heart and soul of Nigeria.
There is an old saying that goes; ‘a person never misses the water till the well runs dry”. Whereas this may be the case in most situations where people do not appreciate what they have until it is gone, this wasn’t the case with Chief Fawehinmi. Through his work, from his struggles, due to his sacrifices, we have always known the gem we had in this precious Nigerian son. From the time he took up his first case in 1965, it was evident that he was aware of the need for social justice and he used the rule of law to advance this cause. He was an unrepentant democrat and an advocate of a better Nigeria for the greatest majority of the people. His whole life was given over to helping the poor, the needy, the downtrodden and standing for the truth.
Not only was he largely responsible for the mass registration of political parties in our system by taking INEC to court for failing to register smaller parties, he made giant strides in the legal practice, that was his mainstay in life. The greatest contribution arguably to have been made to Nigerian legal practice is the establishment of the Nigerian Weekly Law Reports, which he researched and developed for the enhancement of the jurisprudence of the practice. But for Chief Fawehinmi’s contribution in this respect, Nigerian court practice would still have been left at the mercy of foreign law reports, which he has always asserted as being not relevant or helpful to the development of our autochthonous case law. Without doubt, Chief Fawehinmi did spectacular things, wonderful things. One wonders what the story of Nigerian legal practice and sincere human rights development will eventually be now that he is gone and one hopes that his contributions to the practice of law and human rights will continue to endure.
This grand commander and defender of human rights did much to advance the cause of Nigerian students throughout his career; even having a rule in his chambers that no student would be charged fees when they came for help. Whenever a student was unjustly expelled for challenging certain policies in our universities, Chief Fawehinmi was always ready to face the institution and enforce the student’s right through the court of law. From the University of Nigeria, NSUKKA, to the the University of Lagos, to the University of Maiduguri, Chief Fawehinmi provided students in distress with the legal, financial and ethical support they needed, and even at a time he converted his chambers into the headquarters of the of National Union of Nigerian Students.
Of all the ironies about the life of Chief Fawehinmi, maybe the greatest was the fact that at the time he died those who disagreed with him ideologically and in principal were the first to position themselves as chief mourners. One can only imagine how Chief Fawehinmi would have felt at the flood of foes and friends that trooped to his residence to pay homage to his memory and eulogize him, especially those that were responisble for his incarceration, persecution and maltreatment while he was in the flesh.
Despite the fact that in his lifetime, he had on one occasion disagreed with the Nigerian Bar Association, he was a staunch and dedicated member of the goals of which the association was established for. The Nigerian Bar Association owes Chief Gani Fawehinmi a compelling obligation to ensure that all the good work he did in his lifetime would not become otiose. The history development and struggle of student unionism cannot be complete without mentioning his unrelenting and unflinching support for them. The leader and lone voice of opposition in Nigeria is well and truely gone! It is our hope that the community of the present day nationalists will not be dismembered due to the exit of this great humanist.
One of the greatest legacies left by Chief Fawehinmi was the path of truth, honesty, nobility, selflessness, patriotism and integrity that he laid for us; that he showed us.
Late chief Gani Fawehinmi belonged to the largest human family, his immediate biological family, the student unions, the Nigerian workers, the courageous voices of the genuine opposition in the political spectrum and the international human rights community that recognised him for his unaloid pursuits of the rights of every human being. As we mark the anniversary of his passing, we thank God for the life of this great Nigerian and it is our hope and prayer another Gani-like personality will continue his legacy. May his soul and the souls of all the faithfully departed rest in perfect peace.
“Chief Gani Fawehinmi, only now that you are gone do we truly appreciate what we are now without. The strength of the message you gave us through your struggles compels us to be grateful that you came along. Without your God-given sense of passion for your beliefs, Nigerians would likely be wrapped up in ignorance and unmitigated deception. Continue to rest in peace, Chief Gani Fawehinmi. You truely did the best you could. Those of us you touched will never forget you. May your friends and family continue to feel God's peace on them and may your legacy help Nigerians change their destiny. We give thanks for your life”.
The critics of Carlyle’s Great Man theory were staunch in their belief that reducing history to the decisions of individuals is utterly primitive reasoning because every man in history was a product of their social environment and before a man can remake his society, his society must make him. Perhaps this is a more likely notion, especially when one considers other aspects of life such as economic, societal and enviromental influences which are just as or more significant to historical change. However, despite one’s view as to what determines history, it is without question that once every so often humanity is blessed with the highest specimen of man. Without more reasoning Chief Gani was truely one of those men. While we don’t have to wait for history to tell us his effect on this country or the legacy he left us with, the general theory is most likely be that, “Chief Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi will simply always be one of the greatest men Nigeria has ever seen!”
Article Written By Hannatu Musawa
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