GANI: CELEBRATING A TRUE HERO AT 70
Precisely on the 22 nd of April, 2008, that remarkable Nigerian, Ganiyu Oyeshola Fawehinmi turned 70. A lot has been written and said about Gani over the years but all these are sometimes an understatement of who Gani really is. No one will be unimpressed by the various celebrations that have been held by different friends and associates of Gani in spite of being away on treatment in London. It shows the measure of peoples’ admiration and goodwill for him. In my humble view, Gani is such a multifaceted personality that it is difficult to capture what he stands for all at once. He is a special breed, one of those human beings God created in the world for a special purpose. I count it a great privilege to have Gani as a personal friend for close to two decades now having been introduced to him by my good friend and brother Femi Falana. Without knowing it, he had actually heard about me before and was looking forward to meeting me. Ever since, Gani has remained a true friend, mentor, and personal hero. I thought it will be a travesty should I fail to write this piece and shower the much deserved encomiums on my dear friend and friend of the underdog, the oppressed, the disadvantaged at age 70.
In an age and a country where there is a dearth of true heroes, it is refreshing and a thing of monumental joy to celebrate Ganiyu Oyeshola Fawehinmi at 70. We live in seemingly hopeless times, when life is gradually ebbing away from the masses of our people. This is truly God’s singular blessing on Gani and his countless admirers all over the world, because all things considered, Gani should not be alive today if the plans of our evil leaders over the years have been allowed to come to fruition. They imprisoned him at will and made sure they cowed him down, but instead of being cowed down, his un-daunting spirit towered over the evil machinations of his enemies who are also enemies of the Nigerian masses. Gani is one heck of a man who deserves to be celebrated any day. He is true to himself and others, a man who is so selfless, passionate, committed to anything he believes in and is prepared to pay the supreme price for his convictions. All of my life, I have never seen any man whose public and private life has impressed me like Gani. From his family life to his professional life, Gani has conducted himself well that you cannot but give it to him that he is the moral president of Nigeria. In spite of being a personal friend and mentor, I have taken some to study so many things about him. He is not one man preaching one thing and doing another. His word is his bond. Several times, he will promise to send me documents from Lagos and he never failed once. His word was “Father, I will send you some documents before 11 a.m tomorrow” and you can be sure there is someone there are the gate from Chief as promised.
On the family level and in spite of being imprisoned several times, Gani brought up a good family. While credit should be given to his wives, Gani deserves far more commendation. Not only did he give his children good education, he gave them good home training. You will never hear that any of his children is involved in one scandal or public disgrace anywhere. Check any of the dailies or soft selling magazines and you will never hear something negative about him or his children unlike some children of a particular false messiah. On the professional level, Gani brought morality to bear on his practice of law. Much as I love law and lawyers, people have always regarded lawyers as liars. I definitely know there are honest and sincere lawyers and I know quite a number in this category. Of them all, Gani is in a class of his own. In his legal career, Gani did not canvass for a point of law but also morality because if morality is lost, then the law has lost its real basis, after all, the law is meant to ensure fairness and justice. He is a man who kept his head above waters in public and in private unlike most of our leaders whose private life cannot be matched with what they say in public.
There is no doubt in my mind that men and women of conscience will continue to celebrate Gani for as long as possible because he has become a trail-blazer in his mould of activism. He has added something of his tenacity of purpose, fearlessness, boldness, courage even fundamentalism to activism in this country. This is why the Great Gani is seen by many young people as a General who can be followed blindfolded to war. Gani is that true son of Ondo, Nigeria, Africa and the world who would walk majestically where angels fear to tread, a man who confronts the barrel of the gun with bare hands only to come out with a resounding moral victory.
Gani was always himself, a man who did not shy away from unpopular positions. He was a kind of Socrates figure who would listen and act in consonance with what his conscience tells him. He is a true son of Ondo land. People misunderstand Ondo people as being proud. Ondo people are not proud but self-confident. An Ondo person will tell you to your face what he thinks about you not minding who you are. It is this attitude coupled with the blood of activism in his family that he has brought to bear on his crusade for a better society. While Gani may be seen as a fire brand, he can feel your pains and empathise with you. My humble self and Gani have so much in common and one of these was the love of our mothers. I remember when my mother died and I told Gani on the phone, apparently realizing my depression and downcast mood, he broke down in tears with me. I will never forget this for the rest of my life. All on his own, he generously donated towards the burial ceremonies and he promised to come personally for the celebration which he did. This is vintage Gani, a man who loves people with his whole heart.
A lot has been said against Gani by many who are of the view that Gani is an eccentric, that he is rigid and that he is committing class suicide. Let me say this that Gani’s crusade is a vocation, a divinely-given mission. Gani, no doubt is a strange human being and strange people do strange things. If he is not an eccentric, what else would he have been? Most great people in history especially prophets are eccentrics. Gani has a vision of the kind of society he wants and he is not ready to take no for an answer. Yes, Gani is clearly rigid. But if you are not rigid, then you cannot embark on the kind of battles that he has fought over the years. These battles are not for the faint-hearted. If you are fighting a people who are so evil and bent on impoverishing our people, then you cannot shift ground. You cannot compromise if you are fighting for eternal values such as justice, honesty, probity, integrity, equality and your constituency is that of the disadvantaged, the dispossessed, the cheated, the jobless, the poor and hewers of wood and drawers of water. It is true that Gani is rich, a richness that is largely due to his hard work, resourcefulness and God’s blessing. However, he is convinced that if there is equal opportunity for all, this country will be a better place. He has made a fundamental option to be on the side of the poor because they have no one to plead their cause. Think of how many people Gani have sponsored for over thirty years through his scholarship scheme. As far as I am concerned, Gani has shown them the face of God, because but for Gani, these people would probably have arrived nowhere. Behind the fire-brand activist you see in Gani is a highly compassionate, generous and considerate man. Our elites should borrow a leaf from Gani in his selflessness. Honestly, if we have many more people like Gani in this country, what a wonderful country we shall have. The selfishness and greed of our elite is a major cause of the poverty in this country and this is why Gani has no choice than to commit class suicide.
Gani’s gift as a prophet is all too known to everyone. When he prophesied that the Interim National Government will be a government with the shortest life span in the history of our country, very few believed him. But true to his words, the Interim National Government collapsed but enter the butcher of called Abacha.
Another lesson one must learn from the Gani as he turns 70 is his love of hard work. Even though he is a genius, Gani’s love of hard work is unparalleled. This is attested to by those who have worked with him over the years. He believes that work cannot kill. Brilliance is one thing, hard work another. Without combining hard work with brilliancy, not much can be achieved. All that can be said is that even though Gani was born to be great, he has made himself even greater through hard work.
I have often wondered why Gani has taken so many risks in his life since life has no duplicate. But the simple answer that comes to me is: Gani has conquered the fear of death. He was always prepared to pay the supreme price what he believes in. As far as he is concerned, there is no need for not standing up for what you believe in, because if you do so because of the fear of death, you will still die one day. Talking seriously, we cannot achieve anything remarkable if we live under the fear of death. It is the true mark of a hero to set aside the fear of death to bring about a better tomorrow for others.
I have been more than impressed with the activist community in this country as well as colleagues, friends, family and well-wishers for celebrating Gani at 70 while he is recuperating in London. May God bless them all. Gani will not leave us now not minding what the rumour mongers are saying. He is not going yet. God will grant him good health and long life. Gani’s life is real good news for us in this country where there is an acute shortage of role models. I have personally learnt a lot from Gani’s life through my association with him. I have often asked myself, if a man with a family can fight for his convictions the way that Gani and others are doing, why should I, with no family of my own not do more to build a just and humane society. If we all recall that Gani has never advocated for nor used violence in his many struggles. He is a preacher of non-violent resistance and the use of the law in fighting his campaign for a better society. Even though he has received many international awards for his crusades, I won’t be surprised if Gani is one day given the Nobel prize for peace.
Finally, as we celebrate this great Nigerian at 70, it is noteworthy that Gani has become a phenomenon, an idea, a point of reference, a national icon and a living legend. The German thinker Friedrich Nietzsche once said that ‘I am not a man, I am a dynamite.’ Gani has really become a dynamite because he has exploded into producing many other small Ganis all over the place and the more Ganis we have in this country, the better for us. On a serious note, I think government should be thinking of immortalising this iconic figure by making his birthday a national holiday as it has been done for Martin Luther King Jnr the late African-American civil rights leader. Nothing short of this will be fitting for Gani.
By Fr. Emmanuel Ogundele
Fr. Emmanuel Ogundele is with the Department of Philosophy, Ss. Peter and Paul Seminary, Bodija, Ibadan.