By Olukayode Ajulo
In the historical trajectory of nations, it is as though in the course of events, Providence- that Almighty Hand that ever, in the spirit of benevolence, interrupts the folly and the foibles of men. To right wrongs and set nations on the path of renaissance, often sends avatars, prophets, seers and visioneers to give guidance, warnings or to chart the path for increased liberty for the vast majority.
A cursory glance down recorded history of nations across the world will validate my claims. In Biblical history for instance, we have learnt of the travails under which the Hebrews labored- in servitude to the Egyptians. The servitude continued until Providence intervened in the person of the man Moses, who became liberator and emancipator of his people.
Indeed biblical history is replete with accounts of men and women who, in the role of prophets and seers, emerged time and again, to guide, as it were, the erring ship of the Hebrew nation which was wont to flounder at the hands of rebellious kings of old. The prophets- Jeremiah, Isaiah, Nathan, and a host of many others were fiery, bold and uncompromising in their chastising of royalty and common folk, as they spoke truth to power, guiding the ruler and the ruled alike.
When the nation of Isreal was in disarray and spiritual darkness seemed to permeate the land, when there was hopelessness occasioned by the Roman's occupation of Jerusalem, when Herod Agrippa, the King was playing God over the people, Jesus Christ came like a meteor to be the Messiah. In compassion he made the lame to work, blind to see, the infirm, he made whole, he fed the hungry, set the spiritual captive free. He said of himself, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free....."
Islamic history also reveals how the emergence of Prophet Mohammed ASW brought order, justice, emancipation, and enlightenment to the aboriginal people of the Middle East who hitherto had existed in a state of darkness, anarchy and feudalism.
Secular history also records the role played by avatars- champions of justice, equity, truth, and liberty. This was perhaps first exemplified by the philosopher Socrates who will forever be known as the father of insightful thinking. His teachings on philosophy and integrity were so revolutionary that the elders and powers that be of his era felt so threatened that he was accused of corrupting the youth, tried, found guilty, and was dispatched with a poison drink of hemlock.
Time would not permit me to go into a recital of the many heroes of integrity who have, in our history as a species, held aloft the light of integrity and doing so, illuminated the dark corridors of human society and the dark corners of the human heart. Time would also not permit me to go into the travails that their stand for truth, integrity and righteousness earned them in a world sold on ignorance, duplicity and hypocrisy.
It is not my intention to go into an anthology of the ones who have been a light unto humanity across the six continents of our world; indeed there may be no need for that here.
I however intend to examine the personality of the one who sojourned in our world for 71 years after he came visiting on 22nd day of April, 1938 and was translated to the great beyond on the 5th of September, 2009.
As I give tribute once again to this legend I implore us all to draw lessons from the life and times of this great giant of humanity who in his time, exemplified with true candor, the finer virtues of integrity, courage and compassion.
It is my intention to examine the man who, in his time amongst us, was a light unto our nation- a light that burned fiercely and was a terror to the denizens of darkness who sought to keep us in perpetual bondage, in a web of deceit, oppression and grand larceny. It is my intention to also answer the question “What Would Gani Do?” viz-a-viz our current political realities in Nigeria of today.
The man, Chief Gani Oyesola Fawehinmi, "Nation" "Alujanun Iberu" Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM), Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)- teacher, advocate, crusader, activist, social critic, emancipator, one-time presidential aspirant and Hero Extraordinaire will forever remain an exemplar of what it means to truly be “A Man of The People”, and an Avatar of the ideals of equal rights, justice and liberty.
As we all know, the above mentioned virtues are the enduring foundations of any truly egalitarian society; this was first posited in 1790 by Maximilien Robespierre, a torchbearer of the French Revolution, who devised the democratic ideal for the French republic and suggested as motto, the ideals, “Libertaire, Egalitaire and Fraternitaire” meaning liberty, equality, and fraternity. Like Robespierre, our man, our Guide and our Light, the Gani Fawehinmi esteemed these three values as even dearer than life itself during his earthly sojourn, and he did prove this several times, in his confrontation with the forces of oppression across our land.
Indeed, for Gani, the maxim “The Law must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes; all citizens being equal in its eyes” was holy writ, and his conduct amongst us showed that he believed this with every fibre of his being, and lived it out every day that he drew breath here.
We all agree that the man Gani was an epitome of integrity whose conduct was in total harmony with the words that he spoke-he walked his talk always. He was a stickler for justice who continually championed the cause of justice for Nigerians everywhere, in a bid to prove to the oppressor and the oppressed that everyone can, through relentless determination, pursue and obtain justice regardless of the odds arrayed against us. It is also no exaggeration to say that Chief Gani lived and lived for the common man.
It is often said that only those who have walked in your shoes can have the ability to feel the pain and truly empathize with you. Gani’s path to legal luminescence was paved with much hardship due to lack of financial ability. Regardless of this, he endured and completed his studies in London. Perhaps this informed his love for the under-privileged and his obsessive philanthropy which saw many Nigerians depending on him- for subsistence and for advancement through education.
Such was his influence and his contributions to the struggle for a truly free humanity that in 1993, he was awarded the prestigious Bruno Kreisky Prize, instituted for international figures who have worked arduously to advance human rights causes. The International Bar Association also awarded him the Bernard Simmons Award in recognition of his human rights and pro-democracy contributions in 1998. Indeed it is safe to say that without the contributions of the late Gani Fawehinmi and a few others like him, the democracy we have in Nigeria would have remained a mirage, a fantasy, a dream, a fleeting illusion- to be pursued and never attained.
His stance earned him many travails reminiscent of the travails of the Apostle Paul which led him (Paul) to write: “But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in sleeplessness, and in fastings…”. Like the Apostle Paul, Chief Gani was a a servant of Providence and in addition he was also a unique kind of builder- one who sought to build a new society- a new Nigeria founded on the tenets of human rights, justice and equity for all and sundry.
Like that great Examplar of service to humanity, Jesus of Nazareth, the man Gani Fawehinmi in his time, exemplified the twin virtues of Compassion and Courage- virtues which he, Jesus, taught that without which none could lay claim to serving God or humanity. Like the Saviour who rid his Father’s temple of those rogues who sought to turn the house of God into a bureau-de-change, the man Gani fought valiantly without fear to rid Government in Nigeria of looters who masqueraded as leaders, and parasites who disguised as presidents. Like the Christ who embodied compassion, Chief Gani loved Nigeria and Nigerians with all of his heart, often braving detention at the hands of various juntas who sought unsuccessfully, to shut him up.
We are glad that the seeds of struggle for emancipation sown by this great man has paid off. We can look back to where we used to be as a nation- under the jackboots of various military leaders, a pariah amongst the comity of nations, and feel thankful for the sacrifice offered by our avatar. We know we have come a long way from the days of arbitrary rules, decrees, terror, detentions and state-sponsored killings.
We have come a long way from the days of martial music and early morning announcements of “My fellow Nigerians…”. For this, we are grateful to the Almighty, and to those whom he used to lead us out of the dark into the ever-growing light, like He once did when he used Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt towards the promised land Canaan. We are grateful to our own very Moses, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who like that Moses of yore, may have been privately informed by the Divine, that though he had, through the eyes of foresight, perceived the Nigeria of his dreams, he would not enter the land.
As a nation, we know where we are headed, we know where we are. It is however pertinent that we pause, and take stock of the things achieved, and the distance we have to go. I have taken the liberty to attempt to answer this, by asking us all this question:
“What Would Gani Do?”
What would Gani do- in the face of the sometimes comic absurdities foisted upon us by the ones we have elected to legislate and to execute laws on our behalf?
What would Gani do- in the face of a lop-sided war against corruption that appears to target only those so designated.
What would Gani do- in the face of an seeming unfolding agenda by a section of the nation to treat other regions as occupied territory and spoils of war?
What would Gani do- as politics of Ghana-Must-Go continues to trump politics of ideology, thereby relegating to the political background, capable hands who cannot compete with political heavyweights who are armed with filthy lucre pilfered from the state purse?
What would Gani do- as it appears to be increasingly clear that the liberty he fought for as he strove to liberate our land from the clutches of khaki bandits, has been hijacked by equally rapacious bandits clad in suits, agbadas and babarigas?
On this auspicious day that celebrates the life and times of our Legend, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, I make bold to say that the Gani Fawehinmi I know would not merely fold his arms and wail in helplessness. He would not also keep mute in the unfounded hope of some measly appointment or patronage or wait for mobilization fund from international donors and communities as some of our modern day, self styled human rights activists are doing.
I am of the conviction that that fierce crusader, activist and liberator would do only what he knows best to do: renew the fight for the liberty of the land that he loves with the only instrument that he knew how to wield: the Law.
I believe that that unrelenting spirit would not give up or compromise halfway to Zion, as some appear to have done as they have traded the struggle for a quest for a piece of the national cake.
I am persuaded that Chief Gani would want us shout that rallying cry “Aluta Continua, Victoria Ascerta” as we go back to the trenches, armed not with guns or machetes, but with the Constitution and Laws as his ever potent weapons.
On this day, as we honour the man who shone as a light while he walked amidst us, I hereby implore us to reach for that same light that he lifted up so bravely, and continue the good fight- the fight for justice and equity across the land, and fear no darkness.
It was that American statesman, John F. Kennedy, who opined: “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on eternally”. Our hero may have transited to fairer lands but there is no doubt that his ideals, which hold the potential to establish Nigeria as the lands of our dreams, live on.
The onus lies on us who remain, to stretch forth our hands to the plough and carry on the good work of building a just and true Nigeria.
May we find the strength of mind and character of spirit to fulfill the words of our national anthem: “The labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain”.
(Barrister Ajulo is Founder/Chairman, Egalitarian Mission, Africa & National Secretary, Labour Party)