Date Published: 09/15/09
THE CHIEF GANI FAWEHINMI I KNEW (1) By Moshood Fayemiwo
It was in 1984. I was an undergraduate student at the University of Lagos. I had written an open letter/article to the then Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Akin Adesola on serious issues confronting the university. The issues were weighty enough that he reacted personally to the open letter rather than reply through Ms. Begho his private secretary. That year, I was “marked down” by the university authorities and Adesola himself had the prescient inkling we would butt heads if I became the student’s union helmsman. And we did have it rough eventually but first, his administration explored all avenues to stop me from emerging as ULSU president.
On the national scene, the Buhari-Idiagbon military junta had just removed the civilian varmints of the so-called Second Republic (1979-1983) and was desperately trying to clean up the stench left by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN)-led by the kleptomaniac Shehu Shagari political rascals. One of the draconian policies of the government was removing the federal government subsidy on student feeding in all Nigerian universities which was violently resisted through student demonstrations across the nation. At the University of Lagos, the then student union government led by Mr. Wole Omogoroye barely raised a whimper which compelled some of us in the “radical camp” to organize demonstrations inside and outside the campus. If I could remember, some of the “ring leaders” were me, Abubakar Momoh (now a professor at Lagos State University-LASU), late Bala Jibrin Muhammed (who later became a professor of Mass Communication at Bayero University, Kano-BUK before his death), Femi Akomolede (who later went to OGBC-Abeokuta), Dayo “Aluta” Onabanjo, Tokunbo Afikuyomi (senator and now Commissioner for Tourism and Intergovernmental affairs, Lagos State), Oye Alademehin (now Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Ondo State), Niyi Akinsiju, Niran Sule (now Commissioner for Special Duties, Ondo State), Abdul Ganiyu (former Press Secretary to Abubakar Hashidu, Federal Minister of Water Resources under Babangida and former Governor of Gombe State), Biodun Sowunmi (now in London), Anthony Olukayode and few others.
The Adesola administration seized the opportunity to “deal” with those of us considered the ring leaders of the demonstrations by setting up a Kangaroo Commission of Inquiry into UNILAG Student Disturbances of 1984 led by Prof. Fajana of the Department of Economics. At the stage-managed inquiry, the commission wanted to know if I would be contesting the ULSU presidency and I told the commission pointblank that it was none of their business. When the commission eventually turned its report to Adesola, its paymaster, it recommended I be barred from participating in students’ union activities on campus.
I considered it highly egregious that a bona-fide student in an academic community could be barred from exercising his/her civic responsibility within that community and decided to fight back. I had some lecturers as “informal “advisers in those days and I went to three of them: Prof. Akin Oyebode of the School of Law (who later became Vice-Chancellor, University of Ado-Ekiti), Prof. Funsho Akingbade of School of Business Administration (then ASUU President) and the late Prof. Campbell Shittu (Ceess) Momoh of the Department of Philosophy. I also consulted extensively with some of my colleagues on how to react to the ban.
After much deliberations and strategizing, two options were clearly mapped out: either I instituted a legal action against the authorities of the University of Lagos for disenfranchising me or pursue administrative channel within the system by appealing to Akin Adesola to rescind the decision. I decided to pursue both options. Adesola invited me for a talk and declared matter-of-factly he would not reverse what his pipers had recommended. I told him I would make the campus ungovernable for him and also sue him. He dared me. Next, I went to see Segun Okeowo, former ULSU President and National President of the then Nigerian Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) under which ashes the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) grew after it was proscribed by the Obasanjo military junta. The fiery Okeowo had led Nigerian students during the famous Ali Must Go episode of 1978 against Col. Ahmadu Ali, the Federal Commissioner for Education under Obasanjo military junta (who was later brought by the same Obasanjo to become Chairman of PDP). Okeowo was then a school principal at Ogijo Secondary School, near Shagamu. He welcomed me and we discussed for almost five hours. He reminiscence on his years at the University of Lagos, and told me about the circumstances surrounding the unfortunate death of Akintunde Ojo on April 18, 1978 at Unilag campus during unarguably the deadliest and most violent student riots/demonstrations in Nigerian history. The root cause of the mayhem was the arbitrary increase in tuition fees in the only 13 universities then in Nigeria by the Obasanjo military thugs led by Ahmadu Ali and the National Union of Nigeria Students (NUNS) under the able leadership of Okeowo resisted the move. The Obasanjo administration sent soldiers into the university campuses to quell the kerfuffle and ten undergraduate students were senselessly butchered by the “zombies:” Lasisi Abubakr, Mohammed Najib Daura, Gwusu Khasai, Amuda Nuhu Yusuf, and Nicholas Amai all from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, an unidentified student at the University of Ife, Akintunde Ojo and a pregnant office worker at the University of Lagos. In his philistine hatred for the Ivory Tower, General Olusegun Aremu Okikiolu Obasanjo fired Profs. Iya Abubakar and Ade Ajayi, both Vice-Chancellors of ABU and UNILAG and some of the finest lecturers in Nigerian universities suffered similar fate among them, Dr Edwin Madunagu and his wife, a fellow academician, Dr Bede Madunagu both of UNICAL; Dr. Laoye Sanda of Ibadan Polytechnic and the late Drs. Ola Oni, Bade Onimode, Omafune Onoge of the University of Ibadan including Drs. Akin Ojo and Wale Adeniran (UI). Okeowo was later went to the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) to complete his studies in 1981. Other student union leaders rusticated with Okeowo were: Messrs Bukar Mbaha, Ekpein Appah and Oqua Offiong, Presidents of the Students unions of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, University of Benin and University of Calabar respectively.
It would be recalled that Okeowo was the first and only Nigerian student leader to be appointed to the Constituent Assembly chaired by the late Justice Udo Udoma which fashioned out the 1979 Nigerian Constitution. He told me how he was able to survive when he was expelled from UNILAG and how he succeeded to enter UNIFE against all obstacles mounted by the Obasanjo military junta to make sure he was not admitted into any Nigeria university because of his radical leadership of NUONS. And then the Name crept up in his narrative: GANI!
“Moshood, you must see Chief Gani immediately if you are planning to sue the authorities of the University of Lagos,” was Segun Okeowo’s admonition. And I did meet THE GREAT ONE.
I met a quick-witted, cerebral, well-informed and tough-minded man full of thought-provoking and incisive ideas. He charmed me almost instantly. He was very professorial as if I had come for tutoring. He offered shibboleth-shattering prognoses to the sundry issues confronting Nigeria and instantly enlisted me into the vanguard of rescuing a dying nation. I asked him why was he supporting the Buhari-Idiagbon military junta and he lectured me on why Nigeria needed such a high-handed regime. He explained the pros and cons of waging a legal battle against the UNILAG authorities and informed me he would represent me pro bono but I should go and sleep over my action and then get back to him. I thanked the great one ad returned back to the University of Lagos. It is on record that the Buhari-Idiagbon regime was the only military administration that did not harass, intimidate or jail Gani of all the military juntas that misgoverned Nigeria.
I went back to campus and later became the president of the student union but from that encounter twenty five years ago, I had been going back and forth, to and fro from his law chambers at Ajao Estate, Antony Village, Lagos. I am sure I still have some lawsuits pending at his law chambers especially during my ordeal in the hands of the Luciferous-to borrow Chief Gani’s coinage-of the Sani Abacha murderous regime.
Next Week: Chief Fawehinmi, his support for Razor magazine and my relocation to the United States of America.