NEWSZENTS: Late Gani Fawehinmi fondly called Gani by all Nigerians was the best legal mind of his time, however, he was not even the best in his University days, truthfully, he had ordinary pass in his Law degree, not even a third class degree. He could be classified as “let my people go” in those days.
Gani Fawehinmi SAN.
After Gani left the University and passed his Law school, there was nothing ordinary again in his life, he was the best in everything he touched. He wrote lots of legal books and journals which became the standard for the law schools in Nigeria and West Africa. He visited Courts more than those who made First class in the same school with him or in the whole country, more than those who even became SAN before him in Africa, the Court was his comfort zone.
Gani’s presence in any court was big news to the Press and the nation, he was colorful, delightful and reassuring to watch, he spoke the language of his profession like an angel and every judge knew him as a man of integrity that was very difficult to compromise in all ways.
FRA Williams SAN
The nation found Gani to be the most honorable lawyer Nigeria ever produced, to most Nigerians, particularly, the poor and middle class, he was their hope, and epitome of graceful expectations of how to prosecute cases, and he made legal profession honorable and evangelical.
Gani’s most memorable case to this writer fondly called the Oracle was against Rotimi Williams over integrity when Gani accused Rotimi of degrading the legal profession. He made a mockery of the man Nigeria called *Rotimi the Law* the Chairman of the 1979 Constitution drafting committee of 49 wise men. It was supposed to be 50 wise men until Chief Obafemi Awolowo pulled out of the committee.
The first legal appointment given to Rotimi William as Attorney General of Western Region was by Chief Obafemi Awolowo when he was the Premier of the region, it was the mistake of then Head of State late General Muritala Mohammed to think Awolowo could serve under Rotimi unfortunately; he never consulted Awolowo before the announcement on the radio, it was not a surprise when Awolowo schooled Gen. Muritala Mohammed how the Yoruba attached value and respect to elders not only in age but everything with moral values.
Rotimi Williams had sued Gani Fawehinmi over his messed up integrity and like Shylock he wanted a pound of flesh, the flesh that will show the nation Rotimi was the law. He also wanted an open apology in the court with the Press and new radicals of media like Dan Agbese, Dele Giwa, Mohamed and Ogunsanya around. He got more than what he bargained for.
When Gani stood up to address the court, the poor and middle class stood up with him, if Gani had failed, lots of his fans would have cried openly in the Court but he turned things around. He took few steps towards the Judge and demanded to put Rotimi the Law on the witness stand for cross examination.
No one had ever done that in the history of Nigeria, probably in Africa. Rotimi was not a short man either probably around 6.2 ft., tall and huge with sharp penetrating eyes, broad shoulders, his presence took away the oxygen in the room, he was the attention in any Court. He was indeed the Giant of legal profession, the first SAN of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Rotimi wore his robe like a rag and if the event could be biblically assessed, it was like David standing next to Goliath. Rotimi had everything his profession could offer, fame, money and power, Judges bowed before him and who would not? He wrote the law of the land and most of them trained in his Lagos chamber. If not, why would he be called *Rotimi the law*
To the surprise of the nation, particularly the busybodies in the court, and amicus curiae (friends of the Court) the presiding Judge granted the request of Gani to have the man that was greater than life on the cross-examination box. It was like putting James Madison who wrote the Electoral College voting system of United States Constitution in 1789 in what he called “the fear of intrigue” on a witness box that will be the best way to describe it.
It was an unbelievable jackpot handed to Gani who had a mischievous smile on his thin lips, he knew he had Rotimi Williams by the balls; he was going to tear down the walls of Jericho around Rotimi Williams to show Nigerians how choleric his adversary was.
The hate between the two legal giants was glaring, the nation knew the occasion would be historical, as those of us with curiosity and probably busybodies of the court were about to witness how David of Nigeria legal profession and a friend of the poor and weak would defeat the Goliath of the learned colleagues a friend of the powerful, it was very stimulating, the feeling was closer to rumble in the jungle when Mohamed Ali defeated George Former in Kinshasa, Zaire on October in 1974 and in anticipation of what to come we waited like kids waiting for candies.
Gani walked around the court like a gentle and a calculating cat, his shoes were knocking the marble floor of the court like a pin, and the court was silent like a graveyard except for the sound of Gani’s shoes and those in the Court wondered what Gani was up to, he turned around as if he was going towards the Judge, two steps were all he had to move to touch the bench with a complete attention of the Judge himself, when Gani sharply turned to face Chief Rotimi Williams, he removed his eye glasses, he placed his right hand into his side pocket, he took out the handkerchief to clean it, the waiting was too much for the massive weight of Rotimi Williams on his legs, he looked around as if he could be given a seat, none was given or offered
Gani was the master of suspension strategy , he took his time, but his eyes never left Rotimi Williams, he was patient like a vulture, his mischievous smile was still hanging on his lips when he asked the man he hated, the most revealing question no one ever thought he could.
“Did you attend CMS High School in Lagos and Olowogbowo?” Gani asked.
Chief Rotimi Williams, the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in the largest black nation in Africa had no choice than to confirm he did.
Gani told the Court to take a second even a third look at Rotimi Williams if Rotimi as a student of the High School who stole a calculator or so and who was sent out for stealing, if such a thief had any integrity?
“Rotimi never had any integrity” Gani said,
“In fact he lost his funny integrity from his High School days and wondered what he wanted to protect as an adult”. Gani Fawehinmi concluded
From then on he never even addressed Rotimi as a Chief or Senior, he treated him like a thief in the Court, he lectured the court on the santity and clarity of law to human dignity, to him Rotimi belonged to the dustin of history such a man must never be seen as heroes of legal profession.
Rotimi Williams, the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria was almost in tears, he could no longer stand, and his legs were weak, and despite his weakness, the opinions of the court bystanders or the busybodies in the court was unified, like the Yoruba adage says be careful when you look for those who borrowed money from you late father, otherwise, you may run into those your late father owes a large sum of money too.
It was indeed a mistake for Rotimi Williams to think he could use the court to get at Gani Fawehinmi, the court was his playground and comfort zone.
The Judge saw how the mighty shoulders and legs of the man who made lawyers crumbled in his court, he called the two Lawyers to his inner chambers and whatever they discussed in the secret chamber was never mentioned outside some said Gani warned Rotimi, it should be the last time he ever crossed his part again.
Whatever happened or discussed in chamber of the Judge would remain a secret forever, somehow, Rotimi withdrew the case, but he never recovered from the bruised of the shame which the Press sensationally reviewed on the pages of the newspapers and talk radio for weeks even comedians like Aderupoko, Papalolo and Jacob were not left behind in joke on Rotimi the Law, in the Molue and Oluwole buses in Lagos, those selling local medication had their say, on the streets
of Ibadan,it was the use of “Eri nkan bi” that was used to describe the victory of the people’s Lawyer, it was funny and the poor were relieved and happy because Gani again never failed them.
From the Head of State General Gowon 1967-1975 to the Military President Babangida 1985-1993, they were all scared of Gani Fawehinmi in and out of Court, Gani was a friend of the sick and the poor, a philanthropist with special attention to education, probably, where he noted his own initial weakness; he gave Nigeria his all, his energies and commitment to the rule of Law and love for humanity.
If his profession were to be Military, Gani would be more than a four star General. He was indeed what the best Lawyer could be, to this Oracle; Gani was the Perry Mason of Nigeria law, several years later Cancer visited Gani Fawehinmi, he withdrew more into himself and the prayers of the nation kept him on for many years until he died in September 5, 2009 four years after Rotimi William died in March 2005, there was no record of both of them made it up even if they did, it was difficult to think Gani ever associated with those without integrity.
*The Oracle says what you make out of your University education depends on what you put into the society. Your degree is not a waste either, it is a template for you to understand life better and contribute meaningfully to the society, the man who made a difference is the one with education to improve his environments not the paper qualifications, I beseech you my readers to have a renewal of spirit and mind in how you see life, let your goal in life be guided with your positive contributions to your society and never look down on anyone who came out of the University with ordinary pass. He could be the one to make a difference.
Zents Kunle Sowunmi is a Brooklyn, New York based writer and author “Unequally Yoking” “The Vultures and the Vulnerable” “Before the journey became Home” Coming soon “Mischievous Widow” “The return of the Oracle” “When your enemy is your hero” “The Secret of Gabriel”