Between Fawehinmi and Ozekhome by Carl Umegboro

FIRST and foremost, I salute the quintessential social justice crusader, late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) for his extraordinary, inimitabile and altruistic life while on earth. The Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM) as Gani was splendidly christened lives on in the hearts of the people despite his transition to the great beyond in 2009. Almost a decade counting, the vacuum Fawehinmi left is yet to be adequately filled. The masses still mourn.
On the other hand, corruption hops dimensionally knowing that its core enemy is no more. The youths voluntarily acknowledged Fawehinmi’s selfless services to the society with the title of ‘SAM’ which connotes a defender and voice of the people. It is understandable, therefore why Fawehinmi’s families, colleagues, fans and the masses including students converge annually to commemorate his death with public symposium among other activities.
Incidentally, the recent 14th edition of Gani Fawehinmi Annual Memorial Lecture/Symposium organized by the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja branch turned dramatic with face-to-face accusations and counter-accusations alongside defenses. At the venue, mammoth crowd of great personalities and the youths gathered to pay homage as usual. But the unprecedented episode that more or less interrupted the event was the aggressive refusal of the youths and students to allow Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) have access to the venue as a guest-speaker. The youths discourteously blocked his way and accused him of aiding and abetting corruption by spryly, delightedly holding briefs on many corruption cases thereby frustrating the anti-corruption crusade of the federal government. In their argument, Fawehinmi’s ideologies are incompatible with backing treasury looters. As a result, countless unprintable names were unrestrainedly, sarcastically thundered, echoed and thrown at Ozekhome. 
Luckily, a prominent activist and lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) came to his rescue and calmed the protesting youths. Reacting, visibly in an angry manner, Ozekhome lambasted the federal government and his detractors over the opprobrium and tagged the dramatis personae as ‘rented miscreants’. But seriously, could the same crowds that bestowed titles without restrictions including ‘SAM’ to Fawehinmi metamorphose overnight to ‘rented miscreants’ or perhaps, a different group? Two salient points emanate from the quagmire; first, is there any sense in the youth’s nonsense? In all probabilities, the youths’ specification for the highly-treasured event was exclusively ‘Fawehinmism’.
Second, could a lawyer hold briefs for any accused persons including those on corruption related cases? A thousand times yes. For instance, a suspect arrested for kidnapping and other felonies, through his lawyers brought several claims against the Police recently challenging his detention and also seizure of his chattels. That’s legal profession in action. However, life is all about choices and two options always exist. The discretion to hold any briefs remains the choice of lawyers.
Undeniably, late Gani Fawehinmi required no introduction to anyone of age during his lifetime. Fawehinmi gallantly prioritized public interests above personal benefits. As a lawyer that believed in legal justice, he never allowed social justice to take a second position but measured side by side on corruption matters. To him, any public officeholder convincingly accused of corruption with substantial evidences cannot escape justice despite plethora of flaws in the legal regime.
Relatively, Fawehinmi would not pray the court to dismiss allegations with evidences rather would supportively fight tooth and nail to recover diverted-funds stressfully traced to bank accounts by security agencies? This irrefutably accounted for the cordial relationship he enjoyed with Nuhu Ribadu during his tenure as EFCC helmsman. Was Ribadu’s tenure flawless? Emphatically NO. Remarkably, Fawehinmi contested presidential election against Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on the platform his National Conscience Party, NCP and lost, and therefore belonged to the opposition. Yet, Fawehinmi overwhelmingly cheered and complemented the efforts of government’s security agencies on corruption.
As far as Fawehinmi was concerned, corruption must be confronted squarely and extraordinarily, and his heartbeat on social justice was clear; salvage all looted funds and no scheming under the cloak of technicalities and lacunas. That was the red line of Fawehinmi’s activism. Simply put, stealing, looting and other corrupt practices are serious crimes. Again, Fawehinmi wouldn’t denunciate government as tyrannical where there are evidences of corruption let alone giving cover to tracked stolen funds merely for procedural defects, at the detriments of the suffering masses? Clearly, Fawehinmi’s activism underscored objectivity and triumphed exceptionally on a maxim, ‘he who comes to equity must come with clean hands’.
Emphatically, late Gani Fawehinmi symbolizes self-abnegation, integrity and nationalism, precisely the masses well-being. Above all, Fawehinmi’s high profile was dedicated to societal good, and not even political ambition made him soft-pedal to ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ slogan. To the legal icon, all looted public funds until recovered were tantamount to social injustice and oppression of the people.
To conclude, whether a government is fit or inept will neither justify anyone accused of corruption to escape justice under any guise. Thus, the weird approach notwithstanding, the voice of the people is the voice of God, ‘vox populi, vox dei’.
Umegboro, public affairs analyst writes from Lagos / umegborocarl@gmail.com / 07057101974 (SMS only)

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