|Biographical detail : ||Nigeria’s lawyer and human rights campaigner
A man for whom silence was never an option, Gani Fawehinmi was one of the most famous figures of his country. For more than 40 years he played the role of national gadfly, constantly provoking over-mighty rulers and defending their victims. He used his position and resources in fighting for justice for 150m of his countrymen.
For over three decades Gani endured imprisonment, harassment and the climate of assassination created by the successive military regimes in battling causes, which served to focus national and international attention.
He contributed avidly to newspapers, believed in media freedoms and often adopted journalists’ cases. One of Gani’s most notable fights was the mysterious killing of Nigeria’s leading newspaper editor Dele Giwa by a parcel bomb in 1986. He openly accused the ruling military junta of General Ibrahim Babagida of being complicit in the murder. Gani took the case through to the Nigerian apex court, the Supreme Court, but lost.
Gani’s passport was seized on many times; his residence and chambers were ransacked. He was beaten up repeatedly and was exiled from one part of the country to another to prevent him from being listened to by the masses. Some of his books were confiscated. Yet he was undaunted and until his death he continued to take on the ruling class.
Born Abdul Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi to a prosperous family in the town of Ondo, western Nigeria. His father a timber merchant was celebrated locally for having brought Islam to the town. Gani later travelled to Britain in 1961 to read law. He returned to his country in 1964. In Lagos, he worked in the chambers of his elder brother before setting up his own practice in 1974.
Gani revolutionised law reportage in Nigeria through the Nigerian Weekly Law Reports, which he founded in 1986. The publication became a valuable tool for law students and practitioners alike.
He was awarded the biennial Bruno Kreisky Prize (1993), an honour given to international figures, who advanced human rights causes and International Bar Association’s Bernard Simmons Award (1998), in recognition of his human rights and pro-democracy work.
Gani along with other formed the National Conscience Party of Nigeria, in 1994, and although he had no chance of winning because of Nigeria’s patrimonial politics, and yet he was making a statement about injustices of his country’s politics and society.
Gani was elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the highest legal title in Nigeria in 2001.
The wave of emotion that swept Nigeria on the news of Gani Fawehinmi’s death, and the extravagant statements from across the political spectrum indicated his wide popularity.