Chief Abdul-Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi was a Nigerian author, publisher, philanthropist, social critic, human and civil rights lawyer and politician.
Gani Fawehinmi was born on April 22, 1938 in Ondo State. His father, Chief Saheed Tugbobo Fawehinmi, the Seriki Musulumi of Ondo, was a successful timber trader, philanthropist, civic activist and Muslim chieftain who was reported to have first brought Islam to Ondo Town. Gani's grandfather was Chief Lisa Alujanu Fawehinmi who engaged in several successful battles for and on behalf of the Ondo people during the nineteenth century, earning the appellation Alujanun (meaning 'spirit'). Gani was the first child and only son out of the six children his mother had.
Gani's early education took place at Ansar-Ud-Deen Primary School, Iyemaja from 1947 to 1953. He attended secondary school at Victory College, Ikare from 1954 to 1958 while it was under the leadership of the Late Reverend Akinrele, who urged his father to let Gani study law.
In January 1959, he headed for Lagos to stay with his uncle where he got his first job as a clerk at the High Court. On April 29, 1961 he left Nigeria for the United Kingdom to pursue higher education, arriving in Liverpool and travelling on to London. Gani enrolled at Holborn College in September 1961. While there he was popularly known as "Nation" because of his passionate interest in national, legal and political affairs. He was an avid reader of the Daily Times and West African Pilot, the most popular newspapers in Nigeria at the time. During the second year of his degree programme his father died. He was forced by financial circumstance to drop out of full-time education and take on jobs as a toilet cleaner at the Russell Square Hotel as well as a sweeper at Gatwick Airport.
Gani taught himself the curriculum for the rest of his degree course, sat for and passed all of his examinations. He returned to Nigeria in early September 1964 and enrolled at the Nigerian Law School for a compulsory three-month course which he successfully completed. He was called to the Nigerian Bar on January 15, 1965. Gani was married to Ganiat Ibukun Orebela, a native of Ago-Iwoye in Ijebu, Ogun State, with whom he had eight children. He also had six children with his second wife, Abike Ikuomuyilo.
Gani practised briefly with his elder brother, the Honourable Justice Rasheed Fawehinmi, before establishing his own chambersin April 1965, which were reputed to be the largest in Nigeria. Between 1965 and 2002, his chambers handled about 5700 briefs. The chambers, which had a collection of over 290,000 law and law-related books, were closed down two years after his death
Gani's knowledge of the law was legendary and his ability to remember precedent cases to use in support of ongoing ones earned him the moniker "Authority". He was eager to pass on this skill to other lawyers and also to make legal research easier. He appeared in courts across the length and breadth of the country.
Gani's interest in politics started in 1994 when he formed the National Conscience organisation, a human rights movement committed to fighting for the economic rights of the downtrodden Nigerian masses. The National Conscience became a political party on October 1, 1994 in defiance of the military decrees banning political party formation and was renamed the National Conscience Party (NCP). He and the other party leaders suffered persecution for their political activities. He organised several political rallies on the NCP platform against the government of General Sani Abacha. He and some other party leaders, including its general secretary Femi Aborisade, were charged to court by the military as a result of these rallies.
Gani declared his presidential ambitions on his 64th birthday in 2002. In 2003, he ran unsuccessfully for president as the NCP candidate.
Works and Legacy
Gani did not only practise law but also published it. The Nigerian Weekly Law Report, which he founded on October 1, 1985, was unprecedented in Africa at the time in terms of innovation, content, style and regularity. He served as its editor-in-chief until his death. His many legal works either as author or editor include:
- Nigerian Law of Habeas Corpus (1986)
- Nigerian Law of the Press under the Constitution and the Criminal Law (1987)
- The Bench and the Bar in Nigeria (1987)
- Murder of Dele Giwa: the Right of a Private Prosecutor (1988)
- Courts' System in Nigeria: A Guide (1992)
- Human Rights Law Reports of Africa (1998)
- The Struggle for Genuine Democracy in Nigeria - Thirty Days of Civil Rule in Nigeria (Post-May 29, 1999) What Hope for Democracy? (1999)
Gani had a great passion for marginalised groups in society, which led him to often render his services without charging any fees. He handled more than 1500 briefs free of charge for members of his self-defined constituency – the poor, the cheated, the ignored, the oppressed and the persecuted – for the protection, defence and advancement of the fundamental human rights of Nigerians.
He was known to make clothes for street beggars whenever his family had a celebration and would host a meal for them every last Saturday of the month.
Gani Fawehinmi Scholarship Scheme
Gani instituted his own scholarship scheme in 1971 based on his experience of financial deprivation as a student in London. Since then, more than one thousand Nigerian students from across the country have benefitted from his generosity. The scheme has continued to provide for the economically disadvantaged after his death.
Because of his belief in the provision of free education at all levels, he travelled to many countries to collect research materials in 1973 and 1974 for his book People's Right to Free Education and in 1975, he established the Free Education Association of Nigeria.
Social and Political Critic
Apart from organising peaceful rallies and street demonstrations during the years of military dictatorship using his own personal resources, Gani utilised the law to challenge activities he perceived as illegal and inimical to the interests of the nation right up until his death.
Gani's outspoken criticism of the military regimes made him a victim of persecution. Between 1969 and 1996, he was arrested and detained forty times in twelve jails and detention centres across Nigeria, including the notorious Gashu'a prison in Yobe State. His passport was also seized ten times to bar him from travelling outside the country.
He was physically assaulted by security forces, was the target of several assassination attempts and had his house and offices subjected to searches and attacks many times in order to prevent him from rallying the masses. His books were often confiscated by the government and its agents instituted several criminal charges against him between 1978 and 1995.
He won many national and international accolades, including the Bruno Kriesky Award for his contributions to the defence of human rights in June 1993, the American Bar Association Award for human rights in 1996 and the International Bar Association's Bernard Simons Memorial Award for his contributions to the rule of law in Nigeria in 1998. On July 25, 2001 he was nominated for the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) and was sworn in on September 10, 2001, an event worthy of note as he had initially applied for this title in 1984 but was rejected because of his uncompromising positions on political matters. He was an honorary member of the National Union of Journalistsand a life member of various student organisations.
In 2008, Gani rejected the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) — one of the highest national honours that can be bestowed on a citizen by the Nigerian government — on his sick bed in protest at the many years of misrule since Nigeria's independence in 1960.
Gani died at the age of 71 on September 5, 2009 after a prolonged battle with lung cancer. He was buried on September 15, 2009 in Ondo.