The wind of activism blew round the nooks and crannies of the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria on the twenty second of April, 1938, that it appeared undoubtedly that the yet to be independent nation baptised Nigeria has been uniquely blessed with the birth of an uncompromising advocate: an unrelenting Human Rights Crusader: and one of the Crème de la Crème in the legal profession of all times, who shall pursue unapologetically, unwaveringly, and unrelentingly the course of social justice, strict adherence and religious compliance to the rule of law, and good governance in spite of incarcerations, intimidations and victimisations.. Truly, the blessing was indeed, exceptionally sui generic and axiomatic in the life of Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAM, SAN, GCON) both in his ingress and egress out of the world, a stride that baptised him plenitudes of nomenclatures such as: “the Nation”, “the Senior Advocate of the Masses”, “the meddlesome interloper”, “the busy body”, “the conscience of the nation” and so on.
As a prolegomenon to this discourse, and in commemoration of the 82nd posthumous birthday of the Late Legal Icon, this writer, a student of law who is exceedingly resolute and unapologetically firm in his belief and commitment to the philosophies of the Late Legal Icon felt compelled to celebrate the uncommon gallantry, and his boundless, and sometimes suicidal energy with which he tenaciously and cantankerously crusaded his beliefs, principles and ideals for the untrammeled rule of law, undiluted democracy and an expansive social justice.
HIS INEXORABLE LEGAL ACTIVISM
The genesis of his contributions to humanity emanated from his inexorable legal activism, and the zest with which he advocated for public interest litigation. This was due to his zero tolerance for injustices, and warm reception of equitable dispensation of resources, most especially for the downtrodden. This giant stride featured him in over 7000 plus cases among which are locus classicus on divergent areas of our Nigerian Jurisprudence.
In Amakiri V Iwowari (1974) 1 RSLR 5 he brilliantly advocated for the modification of the defunct common law rule in Smith V Selwyn (1914) 3 KB 98 which renders unenforceable a civil action until the final dispensation of the criminal prosecution.
In Senator Abraham Adesanya V President, FRN (1981) 5 SC 69 he unsuccessfully argued for the locus standi of the Appellant to challenged the appointment of Justice Ovie Whiskey, though, he was ruled against on the basis of the age-long, barbaric, archaic and primitive interpretation of the doctrine.
In Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee V Fawehinmi (1985) NWLR Part 7 at Page 300, he successfully invoked the Nemo Judex in causa sua rule against the then Attorney General for being the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge in a case against him pursuant to the Legal Practitioners Act. The action led to the amendment of the Act, and since then, the case has been the locus classicus on the rule against bias constitutionally entrenched by Section 36(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
In Fawehinmi V Halilu Akilu (1987) 4 NWLR (Pt. 67) 797, he exceptionally argued for the entrenchment of the liberal approach to the doctrine of locus standi in the case which bothers on the suspicion manner in which Late Dele Giwa was killed. Agreeing with his brilliant arguments, the Supreme Court affirmed that, on the basis of friendship, we are our brother’s keeper. Consequently, he was held to be blessed with the locus to challenge the unusual death of his friend, and accordingly, the liberal approach to the doctrine of locus standi was espoused.
In Garba V University of Maiduguri (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt. 18) 559, as a counsel, he successfully argued for the enforcement of the Right to Fair Hearing of the Students Appellants of the University of Maiduguri on the basis of the rule against bias couched in the latin Nemo Judex in causa sua, and that the Panel set up to investigate the students rampage and subsequently disciplined them was chaired by the Deputy Vice Chancellor, who himself was a victim of the rampage.
In Fawehinmi V Nigerian Bar Association No 2 (1989) 2 NWLR (Pt.105), his action against the Nigerian Bar Association and The General Bar Council challenging their resolution that no legal practitioner should appear at the Tribunal set up by the Military Government led to the registration of the NBA after the Supreme Court pronounced it a non legal entity.
In General Sani Abacha V Fawehinmi (2001) 51 WRN 29, the Supreme Court upheld his argument that since the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights has been domesticated in our Organic law, it is enforceable in Nigeria.
In Fawehinmi V Inspector General of Police (2002) 7 NWLR (Pt. 767) 606, his contention that though, the Executives adumbrated under Section 308 are conferred with immunity, nevertheless, they are still subject to investigation was upheld by the Supreme Court.
In Balarabe Musa V Independent National Electoral Commission (2003) 1 SCNJ 1, he successfully led the struggle with other political parties to challenged the stringent conditions imposed by the Respondent on new political parties.
In Fawehinmi V President, FRN (2007) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1054) 275, he successfully challenged the prodigal way of paying the then Ministers, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina and Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala in foreign currencies contrary to the Constitution.
In these and fleet of other cases, the Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi demonstrated his all-time distaste for injustice and his undisturbed bias for the entrenchment of social justice and good governance.
HIS REVOLUTION OF LAW REPORTAGE IN NIGERIA
Prior to the 80s, it was a sad and seemingly unchallengeable situation for young lawyers in practice in the country due to the inability to get handy the latest judgments of the courts. Putting it more correctly, these judgments were only available to the top echelon lawyers who monopolized it to the prejudice of the young wigs. Noting this lacuna, the ‘meddlesome interloper’ launched the first private owned Law Reports in Nigeria acronym NWLR, the Nigerian Weekly Law Reports to improve and strengthen the concept of judicial precedents in our legal system. As at today, his Law Report can boast of nearly three decades of meaningful impacts to the Nigerian Jurisprudence.
Aside his unrivalled contributions to development of law in Nigeria, the late ‘conscience of the nation’ also stood out by awarding scholarships to indigents Nigerian students across the country without discrimination. This year would marked 11 years since his demise on September 5, 2009 that the Gani Fawehinmi Annual Scholarship Awards has been bringing succor to the lives of the indigents Nigerian students. A stride that even the existing government at all levels has not been living up to.
In conclusion, the time-honored saying of Julius Caesar exigently need to be brought to bear that, ‘Veni, vidi, vici” translating, “I came, I saw, I conquered” Like the famous saying, it is crystal clear, audible to the deaf and visible to the blind that the Late Chief Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi SAM, SAN, GCON came, saw and conquered as he left his indelible marks forever in our hearts. Fawehinmism is the way.
Owolabi, Yusuf Olatunji is a law student of Lagos State University, and can be reached through +2349077554966 (WhatsApp) and firstname.lastname@example.org.