Africa

When Nigeria said goodbye to Gani

At 3:25pm on Tuesday, September 15, 2009, the man who famously said of himself – “I am not a middle of the road man” – finally came to the end of his road, six feet beneath the earth, in his Oka, Ondo hometown, next to his mother.

The journey to the final resting place for Gani Fawehinmi, fondly called ‘Gani’, had commenced earlier in the day, with a lying-in-state at the Oba Adesanoye Civic Center in Ondo Town.

The roll call

Tuesday turned out to be a day government officials fell over themselves to identify with the late lawyer, to be seen by his side as the world bade him goodbye. Three state governors: Edo’s Adams Oshiomhole, Jigawa’s Sule Lamido and the host governor, Olusegun Mimiko were in attendance. The Osemawe of Ondo, Victor Kiladejo was represented by his wife.

Also present were former presidential aspirant, Olu Falae; Reuben Fasoranti, Frederick Fasheun and Gani Adams of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC); Ledum Mitee, President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP); former Kano State governor, Abubakar Rimi; Publicity Secretary of the Action Congress (Lagos State), Joe Igbokwe and human rights lawyer Femi Falana. Former Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari was represented by Yomi Tokoya.

Gani’s body arrived the Civic Center at 10:34am, in a procession of students, labour activists, National Conscience Party members, lawyers, musicians and family members.

Ten minutes later, Mr Mimiko arrived in an unmarked bus, along with his wife and former minister, Olu Agunloye. Mr Lamido arrived at 11am, closely followed by the flag-waving MOSOP contingent who started a dance procession around the Center.

Homily

At the Ondo Central mosque where some of the funeral rites were held, the Chief Imam, Basiru Alimi advised Nigerians to emulate the commendable life Gani led.

In his words; “Gani has done his own part on earth, let us all be courageous enough to stand against injustice and oppression which was Gani’s hallmark.

“We should all endeavour to always say the truth at any point in our lives, so that people will be able to say good things after our exit.”

Day of tributes

It was essentially a day of tributes, from the Civic Center to the graveside, as all those present paid homage to the departed lawyer, politician and human rights activist.

Adams Oshiomhole, describing himself as a “beneficiary of Gani’s services,” said: “Gani left us with an unfinished business, the business of building a country; one that can provide for all its citizens, one in which the University system cannot be shut down for twenty-four hours because that is locking out the future; one in which no one will throw excess food in the dustbin when there are millions who are starving; one in which no one will be denied justice, merely on account of the fact that he cannot afford legal fees.” Deebari Gbaranor Keeper, spokesperson for MOSOP was profuse in his appreciation of the late Gani’s contributions to the Niger Delta struggle. “This man came, fought for the Ogoni people, stood by us in the time of trauma, when the military under Abacha wanted to crush the Ogoni people… after the death of Ken he continued to support us, till today, so we’ve come all the way from Ogoni to pay him [our] last respects, and we are praying that more people like this who are not hindered by boundaries , who are not limited by their tribes,

who see human beings as human beings, no matter where you come from, more of these should come in Nigeria…” According to him, the relationship between the late Ken Saro Wiwa and Gani was essentially of “a star here [recognising] a star in Ogoniland.”

A rejected leader

Omosolape Fawehinmi, son of the late activist’s elder brother, described his Uncle as “a leader that Nigeria rejected.” “I was at the Akure Township Stadium yesterday (Monday), those people that were fighting him, that did not see any good thing in what he was doing, were the same ones sitting down [in] the VIP [stands]. Shame on them!” He told NEXT of his wish to see people “come up and continue” his uncle’s struggles, adding ruefully, “but a lot of people are cowards, they will not do it…” Against the backdrop of the fact that Gani spent his life fighting the failings of Nigeria’s successive governments, few could resist the temptation to lash out at the current crop of leaders. Constitutional lawyer and professor of law, Itse Sagay, speaking about the ongoing University teachers’ strike described Nigeria’s leaders as “insensitive” and “unreasonable.” “Our present leaders are barbarians and they really have to be compelled to accept the view that without education there is no development. Everything will turn out well – at the end; because the struggle that ASUU is engaged in now is like a do-or-die battle for the survival of education in this country.”

Future of activism

Regarding the future of activism, he was also hopeful. “I remember that when Chief Awolowo died, we were all very depressed, but see what has happened. Great people have come up after him, inspired by him and I think Gani too was one of them. So he has created a spirit of activism, of resistance to injustice, and that spirit lives on. There are many young people who will pick up the fight from where he stopped, I have no doubt about it.” Frederick Fasheun, founder of the Oodua People’s Congress, said: “Every Nigerian knows about the death of Gani Fawehinmi, every Nigerian knows what Gani Fawehinmi was and I’m sure there is a bit of Gani Fawehinmi in every Nigerian by now.”

Buried in tiled grave

The torrent of tributes didn’t cease even as the golden casket lay in the tiled grave, moments away from being sealed.

Gani’s fellow activist and human rights lawyer, Femi Falana assured him that “we shall never betray you. All your dreams shall come to pass…” From the USA, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka sent a wreath and a poetic tribute, AFTER GANI, read on his behalf by Joe Okei Odumakin of the Campaign for Democracy (CD).

“Weighed beneath loss, the people moan: “Who next?” Alas, the streets and pavings cry: Who’s left?” Hours earlier, as though in pre-emptive answer to Soyinka’s fitting query, Adams Oshiomhole had declared, at the Civic Center: “Gani cannot die for as long as a Nigerian lives, because when [a] man lives in the hearts of the people, [for] as long as those people are alive, the man is alive.”

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