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Visions of the Alfa Talakawa, from the Proletariat...Nigeria, as I see it

Friday, September 11, 2009


On Saturday, the 5th of September, 2009, a man died of Stage 3B Lung Cancer. It is considered inoperable, but treatable.

He never smoked, never was a factory worker, nor lived in an aerially polluted environment.

He had the chance to go abroad when Nigerian Doctors, within the limits of available facilities and an unreadable chest x-ray, diagnosed ‘Heart-Failure’ (same way they traced my friend’s partial paralysis to tuberculosis, whereas all he did when he had to travel abroad was undergo some therapy that had the use of his limbs restored); rather he stayed back, till it was ‘too late’.

This is a man whose death and mourning made week-long headlines, who was mourned in every part of the nation, a man that commercial motorcyclists (they played an active role in his unsuccessful Presidential bid) and beggars mourned openly.

He was not a President, no, Nigeria has a remarkable ability to fail when it comes with crowning their best in their life-time, he held no political office, he never enrolled in the Army; yet, we may never find someone else who fought to improve the plight of the citizenry, and whose passing away at the age of 71 evoked tears and inspired so many articles like he did.

I am talking of AbdulGaniyu Oyesola Fawehinmi (Gani).

Had I the opportunity to be the one to write the epitaph of this author, publisher, philanthropist, social critic, human and civil rights lawyer, politician, Senior Advocate of the Masses and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN, the equivalent of the rank of Queen's Counsel in the United Kingdom), I would write:

‘Here lies the man to whom the health of Nigeria meant more to him than his own’

Someone once remarked: ‘If you want a letter to get to Gani, send it to the Nigerian Prisons, he is either in, recently out, or on his way to one’

If you believed nothing changed in Nigeria since the end of Military rule in 1999, one thing at least changed: Nigeria’s MOST JAILED lodged more at home (instead of prison) from then.

With a jail record of 32 times (including the dreaded Gashua Prison) that would have made him a certified multi-platinum hip hop album seller if he had been a Queens Bridge, New-York native, one would be tempted to say Nigeria deserves every ridicule that has come her way till date.

Treasury looters get federal honors and receive court injunctions that keep them from arrest and prosecution, but someone got locked up 32 times for standing for what he believed in.

Going by what he said himself, the 1989 Gashua one year incarceration would be what took him down the path to the only battle he would lose: The battle against Cancer. With several tear-gas inhalations in several rallies, and the spraying of his cell in Gashua with undisclosed substances, it is actually a miracle that he made it to 71.

Prison wardens were warned to make sure he had nothing to read, by the time he was out, he could recite what was written on the label of a particular beverage because that was the only ‘readable’ material a sympathetic prison warden could sneak in for him. I shudder to think of what will happen if I were in his shoes.

A lot has been said of this man this week alone, and I sincerely do not want this to be just one of them, but for a man I got to know of and admired all through the Dele Giwa murder saga, the Ken Saro Wiwa mockery of a trial which he had to pull out of because staying on the case is to lend credibility to a trial whose results had been pre-determined, up to his rejection of the OFR national award in his dying days.

I have heard lawyers who would never have been one had it not been for Gani, I have heard scholars who would have been something else if they had not benefited from his Scholarship awards. If there ever would be a man close to the ‘Died Empty’ honor, it is this man. He virtually poured himself out till he was empty for this Country.

At this point, I proceed to slap myself and hope my tear stung eyes resonate in your minds; WAKE UP NIGERIA!!!

If health-care remains as it is and we lose our gems to poor diagnosis, Gani died in vain. If the next elections get rigged and everyone goes on as if nothing happened, if you keep paying water and light bills for non-existent services, if Banks keep giving you silly excuses for not giving you your hard earned money upon demand, if you ever tolerate any form of injustice, if you still urge a bus driver to allow the Policeman extort him so that you all can ‘go’, Gani must be the most stupid person that ever lived and his words ‘stand for the truth, even if you are standing alone’ would be mere ranting of the deranged.

At this time that politicians and political-jobbers are seeking to out-perform each other in eulogizing this man, even though a good number of them contributed to his eventual death and some are inwardly heaving a sigh of relief that their ‘accuser’ is gone, there is no amount of ‘verbal contortion’ that would suffice to honor what he lived and died for.

I am yet to hear someone speak so passionately about Nigeria like he did. His was the plight of a committed husband to an unfaithful bride.

A man with a widowed mother (by the time his mother passed on, his worst ordeals were over) and children eventually numbering up to fourteen (14) does not fit the bill for a risk taker. A man who has made substantial income from Law Report Publications would not strike you as a man willing to go everywhere with his toothpaste and brush in anticipation of arrest and detention. His profile represented that of the Average Nigerian Coward (ANC): Yoruba (I am from that tribe myself), financially ‘comfortable’, mother (optional), wife and kids (or hopes to have some soon), yet, one word you can never use to describe the late icon is COWARD.

He was a Mai Surutu (trouble maker), who took his fight to the Temple of Justice armed with one weapon that the worst dictators feared: HIS VOICE; and it hurts that one thing the Cancer took away before he eventually bowed out was that same voice.

I really don’t give a hoot if you have the most mellifluous baritone in the world or you sound like a nightingale, if your voice has done nothing to improve the plight of those who cannot speak for themselves, I really wonder what you are doing on this planet.

Is it not a shame that Forbes billio-debtor-naires did (and still (will) do) nothing for their community and some still had the nerve to dissuade people from accepting the scholarships this man single-handedly awarded? He benefited from no government-induced-lucre, yet he GAVE.

At this point, I am seriously considering the existence of an incurable African malaise: OPTHALOCASHAEMIA. Now, don’t Google yet, I invented this term to describe the desire to have cash just for the purpose of feasting your eyes on it. How else would one explain why looted funds by individuals are to the tune of billions? One would think they hope to be buried in some Gothic mausoleum or mummified a la Pharaoh Tutankhamen (King Tut), please don’t give me that crap that they are stashing it for their descendants, because it is extremely dumb to stash for a generation yet unborn when by their actions, a generation immediately before them might just as well be annihilated.

I say this because I have been on the same project with the son of one who earned notoriety for a mortgaged conscience. I noted the appearance of armed security detail that disappeared soon as the boy had to change hotels. Before my very eyes, the boy denied his father, even though the surname is a very uncommon surname in Nigeria (in spite of the fact that his father came around physically to make plans for his son). God forbid my name becomes a liability to my descendants! (Have you noticed that most of them do not have a John Doe type of surname? You don’t just pick an Abacha surname on the streets, for instance).

One other rare trait I found in this man was the fact that when it came to issues dear to his heart, he had neither permanent friends nor enemies.

From taking sides with the Military Regime of Buhari when tribunals were set up to try civilians and a decree which attracted death penalty for narcotics peddlers was backdated to execute Benard Ogedegbe, Bathlomew Owoh and Akanni Ojuolape (this caused a rift between Gani and the Nigerian Bar Association), to being the thorn in the flesh of the same tribunal (compare this to his pulling out of Ken Saro Wiwa’s trial and you will understand the difference between Buhari and Abacha).

Even his long time ally, late Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti came under his vocal hammer when he received foreign funding. Olu Onagoruwa was not spared either when he chose to serve under Abacha’s despotic regime.

I cannot forget how he took up Bola Tinubu on the ‘University-of-Chicago-Chicago-State-University-are-you-kidding-me-which-is-which?’ drama (Salisu-Buhari-Toronto-Certificate, anyone?).

I read a well-meaning (I presume) remark by Retired General Muhammadu Buhari that Gani should be given a post-humous award, now that he is in no position to reject it. My only reservation about that is what Gani himself said when he turned down the OFR (Officer of the Federal Republic):

“…..In the light of the above, I cannot accept the ‘honour’ of OFR. WHETHER NOW OR IN THE LIFE BEYOND. How can I wake up in the morning and look at the insignia of honour bestowed on me under a government that persecutes anti-corruption effort, particularly those of Nuhu Ribadu? (Emphasis mine)”

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