It was 15th January, 2018. The afternoon was hot and humid. Mr Adesina Ogunlana, NBA’ Ikeja branch Chairman had been on my neck for days to speak at the annual memorial lecture of my late mentor, the irrepressible legend and legal colossus of all times, Chief Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi, who transited on 5th September, 2009.
My programme was quite tight for the day. I would be at the Federal High Court, Lagos, to defend yet another innocent Nigerian citizen being repressed and punished by her traducers. I would also fly to Port Harcourt to handle an appeal at the Court of Appeal, on 16th instant. The lecture time was therefore not conducive, being in serious conflict with these long scheduled cases. But, for Chief Fawehinmi, the fire-eating stormypetrel, who lionized me and helped cut my wisdom tooth in the legal profession, no sacrifice was too much. I must speak at the lecture, whose lecturer, incidentally, was my friend and classmate (1980 OAU and 1981 Law school set), fecund and brilliant Professor Ademola Popoola.
I became more resolute and fortified in my decision to attend the lecture because a day earlier, some hired mob that tagged themselves students (and the likes of whom Professor Wole Soyinka once derisively termed “internet millipedes”), had cheaply taken to online social media, threatening to stop me from attending the lecture.
According to this hired faceless group of less than 20 mobsters (whom I later learnt were rented with mouth-watering sums by my detractors), and who described themselves as students, my “crime” was that I am “defending people accused of corruption”. They surprisingly used the word, “accused”, not “convicted”. They listed such people as the much traduced and vilified former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan; no 3 citizen of Nigeria, the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki; and the one man riot squad and courageous face of democracy, Governor Ayodele Fayose, who has consistently and irrepressibly put this government on its fumbling toes!
To these hirelings, it is a crime for me to defend them. They did not mind that these people are being harassed and persecuted by the present government, using an array of full government coercive apparatchik and employing leading SANs and experienced lawyers for those being prosecuted. They wanted these citizens simply thrown into the dungeon, hands manacled and legs shackled, without any defence whatsoever. Haba!
Because they were hired with filthy lucre and have never known, nor be tutored on the dynamics of the centripetal and centrifugal forces playing out in Nigeria, they threatened fire and brimstone. Because they never cared to know that the Nigerian criminal justice system is accusatorial (Anglo-saxon model that presumes one’s innocence), as against the French inquisitorial model which presumes one’s guilt, they badly goofed.
They have never, perhaps, read the provisions of section 36 of the 1999 Constitution which presumes the innocence of an accused person and his right to be defended by a lawyer of his choice.
When I read of the threat online, I made up my mind to attend and beard the lion in its den. And I did attend it. The hired motley crowd barricaded the entrance to the events hall at Ikeja Airport hotel, singing, under the remote control of some of their faceless handlers who were equally present at the venue.
Their first shock was that being a tested veteran myself, of street protests and anti-bad government demonstrations, which led to my serial detentions during successive military juntas, I joined the protest. I sang and danced with them, mouthing in equal (even stronger measure), their uncouth and infantile expletives. They were perplexed. Mr Ogunlana, and Richard Akinola (one of the six trail-blazing activists who, together with me, founded the Civil Liberty Organization (CLO), the first human rights body in Nigeria, on 15th October, 1987),scolded them for their unruly behavior. The Head of the Gani Fawehinmi Dynasty, Mohammed, kicked against their gross misconduct, telling the audience that his late father was a democrat who accommodated opposing views, and who was never violent.
Mohammed told the audience he was only 9 years old when I was already a counsel in his father, Gani’s chambers. For the records, I had risen to be Gani’s Deputy by 1985, before setting up my practice in 1986.
I became more resolute and fortified in my decision to attend it because a day earlier, some hired mob that tagged themselves “students” (and the likes of whom Professor Wole Soyinka derisively tagged “internet millipedes”), had cheaply taken to online social media, threatening to stop me from attending the lecture.
According to this hired faceless group of less than 20 mobsters (whom I later learnt were rented with mouth-watering sums by my detractors), and described themselves as students, my “crime” was that I am “defending people accused of corruption”. They surprisingly used the word, “accused”, not convicted. They listed such people as much traduced and vilified former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan; No 3 citizen of Nigeria, the Senate President Dr Bukola Saraki; and the stormy petrel and courageous face of democracy, Governor Ayodele Fayose, who consistently and irrepressibly put this government on its fumbling toes.
I was given the microphone. Amidst intermittent ovation and clapping (to the shame and embarrassment of the hirelings), I spoke truth to authority. I recalled the history of my long standing association with Chief Fawehinmi (he fondly called me “Ozek baba”, or “Mobile dictionary”). I recalled how I co-founded with him, the now famous Nigerian Weekly Law Report (NWLR), actually suggesting its name and colours before its launching on 1st October, 1985.
I told the audience that if Gani who fought tyranny and dictatorship across the length and breadth of Nigeria, using law as an instrument of social engineering were alive, he would equally fight this government which engages in much impunity.
I recollected to the audience that in fighting tyranny and oppression, Gani in 1983 (during General Muhammadu Buhari’s military government), defiled the NBA (for which he was initially blacklisted by the NBA, which later recanted), and led me to defend so called corrupt politicians. Not because he was supporting corruption or believed in it, but because he believed in upholding constitutional provisions guaranteeing fair hearing and presumption of innocence to accuse persons. Consequently, Gani led me and others to defend Colonel Obasa and Chief Kila, who were accused of misappropriation of funds.
Gani had, during his life time, exhibited his legal wits during encounters in the courts with the best lawyers in Nigeria. One of such epochal cases in which he appeared is recorded as Gani Fawehinmi vs NBA (1). In this case, Fawehinmi had dragged the NBA to court in 1984 over the Association’s decision, directing lawyers to boycott the Special Military Tribunals (SMT), established by the General Buhari military regime. To the Ondo-born late activist per excellence, he had a constitutional duty to defend any client. As a result, he shunned the NBA’s order and appeared for his client, Col. Peter Obasa (rtd), a former DG NYSC, then standing trial before the military tribunal. Distinctly defiant Gani subsequently instituted an action against the NBA, the General Council of the Bar and three elders of the Bar, Chief F.R.A Williams, Mr. Kehinde Sofola and Chief E.A Molajo all of blessed memory.
Specifically, Fawehinmi, whose uncommon bravery, was traceable to his late grand father, Lisa Aluyonu (literally, invisible spirit), had in the suit asked the court to determine whether his appearance before the SMT Lagos zone was legally and professionally justifiable within the context of the 1979 Constitution as amended by Decree No 1 of 1984, the LPC 1975 and the rules of professional conduct in the legal profession made by the GCB. He also prayed the court to declare that the decision of the NBA taken at its NEC meeting in April 1984 and ratified at an emergency meeting on May 8, 1984, in Lagos, that its members must not appear before the SMTs established under Decree No 3 of 1984, was unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.
So, when did it become a crime for a lawyer to defend persons who are merely accused of corruption, and whom the government is prosecuting, using the best legal hands it could hire? When has it become a crime for a lawyer to work hard and accomplish his objectives by winning his cases, since the rented crowd accused me of allegedly using my deep knowledge of the law and expertise to “free accused looters”? who adjudged them looters? Do we no longer have courts of law to adjudicate on matters?
Guess what, by the time I completed my speech, and the hired hands witnessed the lengthy standing ovation accorded me by the distinguished audience, they were silenced. Like cowardly dogs with tails between their legs, they vanished into thin air, never again to be seen. They probably could not wait to stomach prestigious the award that was later given to me by the NBA. They were roundly dejected and disappointed that I refused to be intimidated that and called them “rented crowd” and “paid hirelings” to their face.
Such is the Nigeria we now live in. A country where dissenting opinions, plurality of views, objective critique of government actions and freedom of speech are regarded as treason. God, don’t get tired of being a Nigerian and rescuing us. Stay with us. I beg you, baba, on bended kneels.
Nigeria: A funny country where the life of a cow is more precious than that of a human being (1)
As I write this, my heart bleeds. I weep for Nigeria, my country, where everything has been turned upside down. A country where the life of a cow is more valued and better priced than that of a human being. A cow is an animal that walks on all fours. A cow is defined as a fully grown animal of a domesticated breed of ox, kept to produce milk or beef. A human being like you and I, is defined as a man, woman or child of the species Homo Sapiens, distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech and upright stance. A cow is therefore of a lower specie than a human being, created by God in His own image and likeness (Gen 1:26-27).
When bunched in large number, cows form cattle. But, in Nigeria, a cow is, shockingly, more valued than a human being. It is literally worshipped, pampered and allowed to roam leisurely, the beautiful landscaped streets of Abuja and other major cities in Nigeria, including highways, while human beings take cover for their dear lives. At their pleasure, the cattle are led into farmlands by their automatic gun-wielding herders, to eat, damage, destroy and occupy the crop farms and their territories.
In Nigeria, herdsmen murder human beings in gruesome circumstances that depict Stone Age barbarism and cruelty, in place of allegedly stolen or killed cows. Such daylight butchery has been going on continuously and infamously in towns, villages and hamlets in Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Borno, Nasarawa, Kaduna, and Bauchi States. This is done with the brute savagery and primeval primitivity that would make green with envy from their oven graves, such historical human monsters as Nero, Empero Hirohito, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Kim II Sung, Saddem Hussein, Joseph Mengele, Tolat Pasha, Elizabeth Bathory, Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler, Adolph Eichmann, Idi Amin, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Vlad Dracular, Ivan the Terrible and Atila the Hun, amongst other beastly creatures.
Thought for the week
“We know from our own history, and that of our neighbours, that where conflicts and disagreements are not resolved peacefully, the suffering and bloodshed that follows and the collapse of economic and social development leads to tragic consequences”. (Mwai Kibaki).