The death of the late icon and legend Gani Fawehinmi came to me as a rude shock even though I knew it would come one day being fully aware of the
His conviction and the power of ideals and ideas have largely fuelled my interest in opposing injustice wherever I found it. His ideals were those promoted by the great religions of Christianity and Islam. Which ever angle you look at him, Gani was an extraordinary human being. He was God’s special gift to humanity, the purest of humans you could ever get. He was a multi-layered and multi-dimensional personality: a first class advocate, father, family man, human rights activist, politician, publisher, philanthropist, friend and champion of the poor and defenceless and so on. But he played all these roles in the most admirable way possible. He had a touch of excellence and was a perfectionist to the core.
Gani lived for others and always told me that life has no meaning if we could not add to the happiness of others most especially the have-nots. Having experienced riches and then poverty, he knew the ravaging effects of want, poverty and misery. He had a choice to make and he chose to stay perpetually on the side of the poor. This was a fundamental option which was to prove costly, a price which he was ready to pay. Gani was an aristocrat by all standards who became rich by dint of hard work in practicing and publishing law and not through any government contracts or dirty briefs, but he hated the values of the aristocrats who rob the poor and impose poverty on them through unjust systems and practices.
He could live a life of comfort if he wished (and he had the resources to do so) but chose one that was fraught with dangers and land mines, all because of his primary constituency of the poor, the cheated, the abused and marginalized of our society. No wonder he was always accused of committing class suicide. For him, it was a suicide worth committing. Interestingly enough, even though the oppressors did not like his guts, they secretly admired his many struggles. For me Gani stood for the finest of human qualities. He embodied in himself the ideals of Nigeria. He was a true citizen of the world and a patriot per excellent. He hated the power wielders of this world who have turned Nigeria into a wasteland and created incredible poverty in the midst of plenty. In his words, free education, free health care, good roads, uninterrupted power supply and many more should be fundamental human rights. In his thinking, the motley crowd of the rich in Nigeria has made the Nigerian project unworkable. He always told me that the elites of this country are enemies of the people and until they mend their ways and stop corruption nothing will improve. This was why he supported any serious effort to confront the monster of corruption which has become almost untamed-able in our land today. While his peers will revel in throwing elaborate parties clinking glasses all over the place, his was a Stoic and Socratic figure who abandoned passing pleasure to follow the voice of his conscience. Gani was not just a revolutionary figure, he was a revolution and this will become more evident as time goes on. In all honesty, I have never seen anyone with the milk of human kindness like Gani.
He was generous to a fault. He could not bear suffering and injustice no matter how little. He was extremely compassionate, altruistic and empathetic. It was his compassion that moved him to take up most of the struggles of his life. His hatred for cheating challenged him to handle so many pro-bono cases. His existence in a land where people ask no questions propelled him to take up countless public-interest litigations. His scholarship scheme which covered all the universities in Nigeria was borne out of his compassion for disadvantaged to give hope to indigent students who have no lifeline of any sort. The beggars, the blind, the lame knew that in him they have a trusted, dependable and reliable friend. Like everything he did, Gani loved people sincerely and passionately. He was a loyal friend you could count on in good and bad times. We were both soul mates but we also had another passion beyond the vision of a better society. It was the love of our mothers. I remember when I told him that my mother died, he broke down in tears knowing how heartbroken I was. The likes of Gani are difficult to come by, they come once in a while and we must consider ourselves fortunate that he came our way. His boldness, courage, integrity, honesty, sincerity, industry, commitment, love for the poor cannot be rivaled.
Even though he was very proud to be an Ondo man, he was a totally detribalized Nigerians. Of course, we all knew that he was a genius, a highly cerebral and intelligent public intellectual, lawyer and critic. Nevertheless, he was down to earth and well-informed about the goings-on in the streets. He knew the price of Gari or rice or beans and other staple food on a daily basis. His was also humble, respectful and a perfect gentleman. In spite of being a fiery and firebrand activist, he was very human, his sense of humour infectious. Gani was also a prophet. I took everything he said seriously because most of it did come to pass. His intuition was unbelievable. Gani will never be forgotten. In fact, he will be bigger in death than in life. He worked so hard to build a better society and we, members of his family and the rest of us his larger family must make sure we do not give up the struggle. He had a family that was proud of him and should even be more proud of him today.
Those who held power yesterday and yester-years that detained and imprisoned Gani for daring to point out the flaws of their evil governments should spare us all their empty praises. If they had listened to what he was saying, Nigeria will be a lot better today than the dysfunctional and failed state it has become. What we owe Gani as a people and I hope all our political leaders are listening, is that we must pull ourselves back from the path of destruction we are treading and stop the present free-fall. The Federal government must adopt the Uwais panel reports in its entirety and execute it to the letter. Secondly, we must convoke a sovereign national conference which Gani passionately campaigned for so that we can start building a true nation afresh. Gani believed in the unity of Nigeria but told me several times that why people are calling for restructuring is because of the bad leadership we have had for so long. He believed that our unity should be based on justice, fair-play and equality. My greatest regret is that Gani never had an opportunity to serve in public office before his death. When he contested for the presidency in 2003 under his party NCP I fully supported him even though people thought it was a non-starter knowing the bizarre nature of elections in Nigeria. But having known Gani personally, I knew he would have made an excellent president because all he needed to do was to transfer what he has done in his private life into the management of the state. But look and behold, the election was rigged and Gani was only allocated figures. I know I always called him the moral president of Nigeria but to be honest, there goes another fine president we never had. Gani, you believed in God and worked for him in your service to the poor and humanity while here on earth, may you rest in perfect peace in the bosom of the Lord. Fr. Emmanuel Ogundele is with the Department of Philosophy, Ss. Peter and Paul Seminary, Bodija, Ibadan.Culled from NVS