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Charged with Contempt of Court By Femi Falana

January 1, 2009

Image removed.After seizing power from the Buhari/Idiagbon junta in August 1985, Babangida took some populist actions in order to gain acceptance. The anti-media decree was repealed. Convicted politicians and detained political activists were released from custody. While he was still enjoying public support IBB took quick steps to consolidate his hold on power. Unlike his predecessors who were satisfied with the title of ''Head of State'', he chose to be addressed as ''President''. Babangida stunned the nation when he dissolved the AFRC.  

Sensing that the fellow was going to engage in the manipulation of the polity to suit his whims and caprices Gani invited me to a meeting. We examined the implications of Decree No 17 of 1985 and resolved to challenge the case in Court. Two colleagues and I were to be Plaintiffs while Gani would be our lawyer. The case challenged the power of IBB to dissolve the ruling council of which he was the leading member.

Even through the regime had no reply to Gani's well-researched submissions the case was struck out for lack of locus standi on the part of the Plaintiffs. The judge, Ligali Ayorinde who was then the acting Chief Judge of Lagos proceeded to describe IBB as the Kabiyesi of the Republic.

 The press seriously joined issue with Ayorinde for saying that IBB was above reproach in a law court. When asked to justify his position in a newspaper interview the judge described Gani and other radical lawyers as a bunch of ''terrorists'' who was out to use the judiciary to intimidate the government. Hence, when Gani filed another case against the IBB regime he asked his lordship to re-assign the case to another judge in the Lagos State High Court.
His Lordship considered the application contemptuous and without Gani equariecation Ayomide convicted Gani of contempt of court. At the stage of allocotus Gani showed defiance. Instead of asking for lenience he made it clear to the judge that his conviction and sentence would strengthen his commitment to the light against dictatorship in the land. In passing a sentence on Gani, the judge forgot that the maximum punishment for the offence was 3 months. He slammed 12-month imprisonment on the convict. As soon as Gani landed Ikoyi prison he prepared a Notice of appeal at the Appeal Court. It was filed together with an appeal of bail pending appeal. Aka Bashorun led a team of lawyers which included Professor Itse Sagay, Yinka Fayokun, Dr Osagie Obayuwana, Tayo Oyetibo Esq to agree the bail application. Dr Olu Onagoruwa, Ayo Apadoka, Mike Ozekhome,Femi Lanlehin. Gani was granted bail on ground of health and because he wanted to handle the substantive appeal personally. Condemning the excessive sentence Awogu                           F.D Awogu this to say ..............
''An aspect of this application to do so ''
Apart from taking part in public protests, unpopular government policies, Gani provided legal support for individual activists and pro-democracy organizations involved in the struggle against military dictatorship. He also used the front not necessarily to win but to draw attention to the corrupt practices and abuse power associated with military rule. In other to check the diversion of public funds to the illegal office of the First Lady he sued Mrs. Maryam Babangida. Gani also sued the Federal government to account for public funds spent on the FCT, the Central Bank to justify the devaluation of the National currency, and the NNPC to render an account of the…  during the Gulf War in 1991.
Sometimes in 1995 Chief Ajasin was seriously ill. When it was disclosed that NADECO leader had accepted the offer of the Abacha junta to have him treated abroad, Gani demurred. In a public statement issued by him he condemned the acceptance of the Greek gift by the respected elder statesman. In a…  critique of Gani's position, Kayode Fayemi conceded that many who did not support the Greek gift had decided to keep silent in order to limit the damage and   not make NADECO the butt of attack of the enemy. (TEMPO, October 5,1995)
TARKA v SKETCH (1978) 2CCHCJ 263
The sketch had published a front page story titled ''ALLEGATION OF CORRUPTION AGAINST TARKA '' following the serious revelations made by Mr Godwin Daboh, against Mr J.S.Tarka, then the Federal Commissioner for Communications under the Yakubu Gowon regime. Chief FRA Williams was Tarka's lawyer while Gani stood for sketch .In dismissing the case the learned trial judge, Ademola Candid-Johnson J (as he then was) upheld Gani's plea of justification and fair comment. Though Gani did not succeed in his application for mandamus to have Governor Tinubu prosecuted by the Inspector General of police the case resolved some fundamental constitutional issues. One of such principles is that notwithstanding the immunity conferred on the President, Vice President, governors and Deputy governors, while in office they can be investigated while in office. The decision has tremendously assisted the EFFC and ICPC in the fight against corruption in Nigeria.
On March 22, I visited Gani in his London flat where he is recuperating after undergoing surgery for heart crisis. In spite of my conscious efforts not to put pressure on his failing health, my visit provided an opportunity for him to set an update on the state of the nation. As usual he was abreast of development at home. After our discussions he pleaded with me to take time off to have a comprehensive medical check up in London.


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By Femi Falana

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