Saturday, September 5, 2009
There are no comets seen when beggars die. Even the heavens blaze forth the death of princes.” The popularly quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar apparently synchronised with the weather in Lagos yesterday as the heavens eventually opened up after months of lethargy to herald the final passage of another great Nigerian, Chief Abdul-Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi.
The country’s most consistent activist and masses lawyer passed on yesterday at 7am at Lister Medical Centre e a private hospital in Lagos. He was aged 71.
The radical lawyer, author, publisher, philanthropist, social critic, human and civil rights lawyer and politician had been on admission for about two weeks before he finally succumbed to death after a protracted battle with lung cancer.
Sunday Sun learnt that he returned to the country about three months ago from London where he was undergoing chemotherapy after it was diagnosed in April 2008.
“He asked to be brought back to Nigeria like the courageous man that he was. Since there was no hope that he was going to live, he decided to return to the country to spend his last moments,” a family source said.
When our reporter saw him about five weeks ago, he was looking very frail but strolling unassisted in his premises at Adebola Close, off Remi Fani-Kayode Street, Ikeja GRA, Lagos.
The family source also informed that the remains of Gani, as he is popularly known, had been moved to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja.
He left burial instructions
The remains of Chief Fawehinmi will not be buried today according Islamic rites. This is because the late legal luminary left instruction that his burial be well planned and is elaborate.
Mr Ayo Akele, a former Labour leader and human right activist confirmed this to our reporter at Gani’s residence.
“Don’t listen to any rumour that Chief (Fawehinmi) would be buried today (Saturday),” he said.
But when reminded that Islamic rite demands that the deceased be buried within 24hours, Akele responded that Gani left instructions that he should be given a well planned and elaborate burial.
“He left instructions before his death that his burial be well planned and elaborate. That it should include everybody irrespective of status. You know he doesn’t discriminate, he wants both the rich and the poor, dredges of the society and icons to be present. He doesn’t want his burial to be rushed. He is not the kind of person whose burial you can rush. He is an international icon and his burial arrangement cannot be limited to the confinement of (his) GRA (residence). The family and human rights community are planning his burial. We will let you know in due course but I cannot tell you anything now,” Akele said.
He however pointed out that Gani’s position is irreplaceable in the human right movement in Nigeria.
He was born on April 22, 1938 into the Fawehinmi family of Ondo in Ondo State.
His father, Chief Saheed Tugbobo Fawehinmi, the Seriki Musulumi of Ondo, was a successful timber magnate, a great philanthropist, an opponent of excessive taxation of the poor and a deeply religious Muslim leader. He was reported to have brought Islam to Ondo Town.
Gani had his early education at Ansar-Ud-Deen Primary School, Iyemaja-Ondo from 1947 to 1953 and his secondary school education at Victory College, Ikare, a Christian school, from 1954 to 1958 under the leadership of the Late Rev. Akinrele where he sat for and passed his West African School Certificate Examination in 1958.
Gani enrolled at the Holborn College of Law, University of London, to read Law in 1961. While at the university, his father died. He completed his degree in London with a measure of difficulty due to lack of funds. He had to do various menial jobs in London to go through school.
While in college, he was popularly known as “Nation” because of his passionate interest in national, legal and political affairs. He was an avid reader of Daily Times and West African Pilot, the most popular newspapers at that time.
In 1993, Fawehinmi was awarded the biennial Bruno Kreisky Prize. This prize, named in honour of Bruno Kreisky, is awarded to international figures who advance human rights causes.
In 1998, he received the International Bar Association’s Bernard Simmons Award in recognition of his human rights and pro-democracy work.
Rejection of National Award
In 2008, he rejected the highest order that can be bestowed on a citizen by the Nigerian government - Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) - in protest of years of misrule since independence.
Opposition to military dictatorship and corruption
In the process of his crusades for the rule of law, the hopes and aspirations of the poor and the oppressed, he fought many battles against military dictatorship, as a result of which he was arrested several times by the military governments and its numerous security agents. He had been dumped in many police cells and detained in several prisons between 1969 and 1996.
His passport was also seized on many occasions. His residence and Chambers were searched several times. He was beaten up many times and was ‘deported’ from one part of the country to another to prevent him from being listened to by the masses.
His books were confiscated by the military government and his library at Surulere, a suburb of Lagos, were set ablaze. Even his Chambers at Anthony Village, Lagos State, was attacked and invaded by persons suspected to be agents of the military government on August 26, 1994 and they shot his Chambers guards, in the process seriously wounding two of them.
His promotion to a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) was delayed as a way to victimise him. Eventually, he got the award in 2003.