Late Gani Fawehinmi, exactly seven years ago, died after a protracted battle with cancer. It was the demise of an astute lawyer and activist, whom the ‘masses’ and his admirers from the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) adorned with the title ‘Senior Advocate of the Masses’.
Fawehinmi, who began practising law in 1965, had been on the side of the masses for so long, championing human right causes, several of them, pro bono, before, in 2001, he was finally made a Senior Advocate of Nigerian (SAN) in September, the month of his death.
The talk making rounds at the time was that Fawehinmi’s numerous, often harsh criticisms and clashes with the (military) government delayed his receiving the SAN title, the most revered award for lawyers in Nigeria.
Fawehinmi was fierce, a rumbustious advocate who led several street protests, famous among them being the nationwide rally for the actualisation of June 12, the election that threw up late politician, Moshood Abiola, as the winner.
This rally and the motive set up the stage for the Fawehinmi’s formation of the National Conscience Party (NCP) in 1994.
Fawehinmi thought to end the military and introduce his idea of democracy. He also wanted a platform for the masses to seek political and even economic freedom.
The party was popular and recognised as a possible source of liberation for Nigeria, mostly among the poor who became members of the party .
He was arrested for daring to form a political party that defied a military order and blatantly rejected the Abacha transition programmes that he described as illegal, immoral and unconstitutional.
The arrest did not deter Fawehinmi, as he was discharged and acquitted from court, he and other members of his party staged a huge protest commencing from the court.
It had not been his first arrest anyways, he had been arrested, detained, charged to court too many times — all of 40 times — to be fazed. To prevent him from travelling, his international passport was seized seven times, his residence and chambers ransacked 16 times, while he was assaulted six times.
Fawehinmi rejected the national honour, Order of the Federal Republic (OFR), in 2008 — one year before his death. He was protesting Nigeria’s bad governance.
He was a man of many parts. He wrote, published, founded the Nigerian law weekly reports and was a philanthropist who offered scholarships to over 800 students. He was admired by many and fought many battles on behalf of the masses.
But on September 5, 2009, at the age of 71, the curtains fell for Fawehinmi; he gave in to a fatal bout of cancer he had been battling for two years. Fawehinmi attributed his cancer to his many arrests and imprisonment.
The curtains also fell for a lot of his admirers and workers after, even in death, Gani Fawehinmi still courted controversy, ordering the closure of his chambers in Lagos. On January 15, 2011, as his will instructed, his chambers was shut.