GANI'S SON BLASTS, IBB FOR PRESIDENT? GOD FORBID
Even though the irrepressible lawyer and human rights activist, late Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) is no more, his ideals for the common good and the enthronement of democracy would never die. Yes, not with the presence of Mohammed Fawehinmi, his first son and a chip off the old block who is gradually stepping into his father's shoes.
Even though he is temporally confined to a wheel chair following a motor accident, when you behold him, he easily reminds you of his father who apart from having been a SAN had the uncommon status of a Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM).
In this interview conducted on last Democracy Day at the expansive compound of the Ganis in Ikeja, GRA, Mohammed was in his elements exuding his intellectual depth and characteristics of his late father. He bared his mind to Sunday Sun.
What is your take on the state of the nation? How do you feel about the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan and all the politics associated with it?
I am very glad about his emergence. As his name, Goodluck suggests, it is something that I believe has come with a new beginning. First and foremost, dissolving the cabinet and choosing new ones, we have begun to see the competence of these new members of the cabinet, one of which is the Attorney -General and the advice he took, advising the Senate about removing Senator Joy Emordi who the tribunal at the Court of Appeal had decided that she was not fit to be there by virtue of the vote cast and the election which transpired.
So I'm very glad about that. We have had democracy for eleven years and with this rebirth, I have seen that it has given us the opportunity to air views with a bit of rest of mind. The only clog which I see is the incessant death and killing of journalists which my late father spent his entire life trying to curtail because I think he had envisaged a period like this and I would still like journalists to be united. It is crucial because, they are the feeders of information, and with that information, it curtail the activities of people who are in position to do something about it.
The Freedom of Information (FOI) bill which I know is in the House of Representatives, I believe the House should take the interest of Nigerians very seriously by passing that bill into law because I think it has spent so much time over there and without that bill, a lot of things will be hidden. One of which is this $12billion windfall, which Babangida so to speak embezzled; it is the entitlement of Nigerians. $12bn is no small amount of money, it can serve education; provide for adequate healthcare and develop Niger-Delta where this oil comes from. From what I have seen so far, the Niger-Delta people are still the most shortchanged, so this emergence of Goodluck Jonathan, I think we should allow him to do the best he can; and what he is doing now apart from covering up the mistakes when he was Vice President under Yar'Adua.
If most of these things like the healthcare were put in place, I believe that Yar'Adua could still have lived up another ten years, so I think we should give him a chance and see how far he can go. He has one more year to go; within this one year, we could with good planning and proper strategic appreciation of our problems, regional, state, tribe, ethnicity, political, we can still move forward.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that he is going to contest the next presidential election and the fear amongst people is that as someone who has a vested interest that it will be difficult to conduct credible elections even when he has told Nigerians that one of his priority areas is to conduct credible elections.
Of course, I think he should run; he has the capacity to run as he has been in governance for a while all the way from Bayelsa to this level. With what he is doing, I see a bit of positive impact although it is not too apparent but with what he is doing, he will be able to go far. He has stated that by next week, we will know whom he is going to choose as an impartial umpire, not someone that will be tossed up and down. It is possible to choose an impartial umpire and allow the elections go smoothly. Personally, I don't see anything wrong but what scares a lot of people is that he will choose someone like Iwu who will be easily manipulated or someone like Guobadia.
So, he knows what his people have gone through to get up to that level. As he is there, the North is not happy about it, clearly but this same North who are not happy about it, when their own son was there, they couldn't even protect the interest of their son. They have brilliant doctors in the North, which I am aware of, one of which was with my dad in Bauchi prison who is in Saudi Arabia now and several others. But all these people with the presidential aides, Minister of health who came from the South, Prof Osotimehin, they could not proffer proper solution to his health.
And I don't think that what affected him health-wise is something that could not be tackled here; we could import the drugs because we might not have the capacity to produce it, we can run the hospital for our President on generator, we could also invite/ import specialists, at least we know he will be on ground eating the normal type of food that he grew up with and with his people around him, things would have gone smoothly and he could have still been alive. But the carelessness of the North, I see that what they jostled for is just the power, lets just put our son there whether he is dying or not, its not our business, let him just be there. Like what happened after Goodluck took over, oh the person that should be there should be from North west, Shagari's son was put forward, another Yar'Adua was put forward.
You know, its as if it must be automatic, we must do it this way. Goodluck Jonathan as the president has the capacity to choose who he wants to work with and I think he has chosen the person he wants, so lets allow him to do the job. For me personally, when I looked at the array of candidates, Col Umar was among them, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) was among them and we know the part these gentlemen have played since the advent of democracy, particularly Olisa Agbakoba.
I saw him a day after he was attacked during a rally in Abacha's days when the gun butt was hit on him and his eyes were swollen. Those are the people I believe can appreciate it and he has been involved in a lot of election and petition cases and tribunal. He knows what the problems are and he is a very intelligent man, a SAN. So, I believe he can be an impartial umpire and he is also not new to money, so it is not a question of bribing him, it is something that he knows is the future, it is a name thing, his credibility, his image. If he messes up now, he kills the chances for himself and other people and I believe he will do a good job.
But do you think that without a holistic reform of the electoral system that who occupies the position of the INEC chairman will be the remedy to our electoral problems?
The remedy, for now, a lot of people are saying implement the Uwais panel, implement this and that. First of all, the Uwais recommendations have not been made known to the public, so we don't know what solutions he proffered; I think that should be the first thing. Secondly, why I say that I believe that Olisa Agbakoba if chosen will make a veritable impact. I must inform you that he knows what is in the Uwais report and really, the Uwais report is a collection of ideas from experts who are asked to actually investigate these things. But a participant in the election itself and the conduct of the elections and someone who has seen a bit of the mistakes, I believe he will be able to do a good job, which would correlate with what the Uwais panel report has to say. I think he is on good ground.
Still on the candidature of the INEC chairman, there has been rumour that Prof Dora Akunyili is a likely candidate, what do you think about it?
With all due respect to aunty Dora like we all call her, I don't think she has the capacity. One, in order to be able to become INEC chairman, you must appreciate the use of information, the sourcing of information and the management of information. Prof Dora demonstrated some things during her first regime under late President Yar'Adua that she is not too good a manager of information. She is a politician by virtue of appointment first as NAFDAC chairman, which she did very well, but as Minister of Information, I think she is just still grappling with the tenets of how to manage it. Now INEC chairman is a post that is highly sensitive and very delicate, I don't believe she has the competence to appreciate what goes underneath in terms of electioneering, elections, conduct of elections, selection of the candidates, counting of the votes whether rigged or earned; there are a lot of things which she might not be able to appreciate because she has not fully been involved in it, so I think she should still remain as Minister of Information.
Do you think that the North has been fairly treated in terms of zoning?
I think that the North has been more than fairly treated because if you look at our polity right from the '60s, they have always received their own fair share. Majority of the leaders have always come from the North whether forced or elected. That is why I say it is not all about arguing for power but what have they done with that power. Let us look back to the military era, lets look at Muritala Mohammed who started well, he was cut down in his prime, he did a brilliant job. Gowon who we can't say he is from the North but from the Middle-belt did a brilliant job. Shagari, hmm! I will give him 20%. Buhari, yes!
They did excellently well, because they were there to correct and were correcting the ills of Shagari when they came in. They gave Nigeria that image, regard and respect until Babangida came in and scattered everything. So, Buhari is from the North likewise Babangida and Babangida is the one that has put us in the quagmire that we are in this country. A lot of things that should have been done, a lot of projects and developments, he neglected all that and concentrated on the North, oh! those are the people giving me power, let me develop Abuja. He developed Abuja fantastically but what happens to the other states, to the South-South where the oil is coming from?
What happens to the South-East where erosion is eating daily? So, he was one sided and now this same man wants to come back. Ah! God forbid. I pray everyday by the spirit of my late father and by the spirit of late MKO Abiola that that man should never ever be allowed to contest elections again in this country and I pray that should also be one of the criteria of the Uwais panel. Apart from that, I read in the newspapers that Maitama Sule who is one of the respected politicians, though I'm not a politician but I respect his views; he said that Babangida and Buhari should no longer run. One, they are too old, what are you bringing to the table that you have not exemplified while you were there in office, in power.
I believe in that man's views because they played politics then when politics was politics. There was no politics of killing, it was a fair game; if you see your opponent in another party you greet them. I remember there was a situation when one of Awolowo's aides refused to greet probably Ahmadu Bello or Tafa Balewa and then the incident was reported to Awo and Awo said Ehn! Got his aides and asked him to go back and prostrate and greet him properly. We are fighting; it is not a personal thing but a political thing so we must resolve this thing politically.
And Awo sat down and they talked, ate and drank together. We saw the advent of that during the last opportunity we had in 1979 when they were five parties UPN, NPN, NPP, GNPP and PRP, they played politics without bitterness, but now it is 'politricking' because everybody is looking for an opportunity to get into there and eat as much as possible because that is where the respect is and for that I blame Nigerians because if a man comes into your area and all of a sudden erects an edifice, they are going everyday there to worship him because he has all the money. Stop him and ask him where he got all the money because we know how he was before. Nigerians themselves should be holding their leaders accountable.
Should we all give our support to the zoning idea?
Zoning, is it not PDP thing? Is it only PDP that should be there? That's why I blame these other political parties; what are you doing? PDP is always coming up and taking the positions. When I was young, 1979, I was 10 when they were doing their politics, Awo clearly dominated the South West, NPP dominated the South East, then PRP took Kaduna that was when Balarabe Musa was governor; NPN took a few of the states, GNPP I think took Gongola. So, they should go and see how these things are done; they have forgotten a lot of politicking, they need to go back to these old guys and ask them because the new ones are not doing anything.
To what extent do you think that the ideals of your late father is being realised in Nigeria?
It is already being realised. Can you remember there was a situation whereby they handcuffed a journalist and on television, he showed up those handcuffs, there was also another journalist who was crying that what kind of thing is this? Immediately, all the other journalists gathered and that handcuff was taken off, that is a step in the right direction. At least Gani wasn't there to tell us everything.
Members of Fourth Estate by virtue of section 22, we have responsibility in this government, it is not as if because you are a magistrate or judge that you have overbearing power; No, everybody has a role to play. But it is a pity those guys- Gani, MKO Abiola are not here to see these ideals transformed but it is working and very soon, I believe that before God and man that those who were involved in the death of Dele Giwa will come out and by the special grace of God and the spirit of my late father, they will be tried. That trial they are running away from, it will happen.
It is about one year your late father died, how have you been managing and carrying on from where he stopped?
It will be one year by September 5 and I must say it is a very Herculean task. A man who is an introvert, who does things appreciating what goes on around him, putting institutions in place, it's not an easy job. Running those institutions the way he saw it fit and making what people deemed impossible possible, that is an exceptional man. One is that he set up the Nigerian Law Publications in 1976, he went on research for close to nine years and produced his first book in 1985, since then we are now celebrating about 25 years of producing it without a hitch and happily, all his key men including me are still around and trying our best to make sure we sustain it.
As for the chambers, a lot of people when he died said I'm going to take my file, Gani is dead, these boys can't handle it. We are still balancing on that. I am the head of chambers, my deputy is Mr Adindu Ibuzo who was a librarian heading the library but attached specially to Chief for close to 20 years before Chief said, you cant be a librarian to a lawyer without being a lawyer, you will just be as a figure head, you must have an input. As if Chief was speaking prophetically, when I had this accident and my deputy then Mr Akpaka left the chambers, with gradual leaving of everybody, Adindu was the one that was left to manage everything because my health wasn't stable initially to be able to cope with it.
He did a good job and he has managed to preserve most of the core practices in the chambers like preservation of the books, newspapers which we bind everyday for record which chief has been doing since 1972 and how we intend to serve the public with it and also go ahead with some of the cases. Some lawyers who have left are helping us out in terms of the cases, so I think we are trying our best.
Would you say you were adequately prepared for the challenge ahead?
Aah! Nobody was prepared; nobody thought that Chief would pass on like that. We thought probably that Chief would survive because we were saying that Chief is a strong man and will bounce back. And you know, Chief did something, after the first year treatment, he went back into office, so we said since it is Gani, he will live up to 80 but that sudden thing threw everyone of us into serious confusion and we had several meetings (the 17 of us) on how to handle these things after the burial. We have picked up well.
What is your greatest regret since he died?
Aah! My greatest regret is that he was not able to open the new building at Agindigbi which for now we are still effecting some repairs because a lot of the contractors noticed that chief could not be there to effectively assert his authority and the MD, Mr Mojeed Ajao was a bit busy trying to handle the construction of that place, managing the Law Publication; book industries and nine branches, so he was overstretched and they took advantage of the fact that chief is not around. There was even a situation where we had to institute an action to bring out one of contractors who was responsible for the tiling.
Looking at the African society, when the head of the family dies, there is always the problem with the Will and people were expecting that Chief's will would have created such kind of problem but the opposite was the case, why was it so?
Yes, Chief I will say is an extraordinary man and I pray that when I die, I'll also do it the way he did it, he is exceptional. His spelt out everything; who to give what to, how to conduct this or that and the people to be involved, and like I said when I was first interviewed, everyone got what they wanted so there was no grumbling.
There was however a newspaper I saw, regarding the girl that gave birth for him, that is my last sister Aisha that she was neglected and things like that. When the trustees took over, they have their own method and peculiarity of running things, so they had this policy of separating the office from the family and other personal issues, that was where I believed they erred because at that time, we were about to pay salaries and allowances that were to be given to the wives and also the young lady as well as the extended family.
So, I believed that if they had allowed us to do that, there wouldn't be the avenue for that kind of publication to come up but in any event, I was listening to City people and Seye Kehinde actually put it that this is what Gani actually left for the three wives and children. But we know within our hearts that the man had done more than enough for everybody, so we are able to accommodate what he wants and with the cooperation of all my siblings and the wives, we would be able to go forward.
Our concern mostly is how to maintain that place and not a question of Will because no one has time for quarrelling over will. The man ran his family in an exceptional way and I think is the only person that could have run it that way. Any other person brought in will only be interfering and scattering things.
At least we are all glad with the way he put it and when we continue with that, we would be able to sustain the profitability and corporate image of the Law Publications; the chambers to a reasonable extent and the book industries which are the three key components. The gallery where we are moving to now is a separate entity, which will house everything and has its own special and dynamic way which would have still been the way Chief would have run it because I know that if he was alive, I would have still been sleeping by now.
A recent publication has it that you inherited a jeep, what do you think could be the reason he gave that to you or was it what you were craving for?
He knows that I have been eyeing that jeep. That man knows that I am crazy about cars. You see, I wasn't given anything like landed property because I can't appreciate things like that. If I'm going to have it, I will buy it on my own, but cars, even the day after my rehabilitation because I had my operation in England September 27 while the accident was September 23 and the nurse asked if there was anything I would like and chief said yes, he needs to be reading literature so he can upkeep himself but I asked for carmac.
He called my mum aside and said to her: are you sure this thing did not affect his brain up till now, he is still talking about car, I think there is a problem with this boy, let me leave this place. Later, my mum asked me why I asked for car and I said to her that it was the only thing I could think of now but she said I shouldn't have said that in front of him. I asked her to apologise on my behalf and she should help me bring books. That was when Chief smiled and said: yes, the boy is now thinking straight. He knows that I appreciate cars and for me I am not a greedy person, I wait till I am able to earn what I can and then pick what I want.
Would you have wanted to become a lawyer or chief had a hand in making you read law?
Ehn! It is partial because of chief's influence and also what I saw with my friends. My own idea of a lawyer was go to court, when you win, they pick you up and lock you up somewhere or you are eating with your family after winning a case, you are happy and when you are still talking, they come and arrest you at night. So, I didn't appreciate the course itself but I also noticed that there were some friends when I visited their chambers, they were so relaxed, eat sophisticated food for lunch and then I said to them that they were lawyers but why weren't they arrested?
That means they weren't doing well but they said it is not every lawyer that does theirs like your dad, your dad's is of the extreme. And you know he is a human rights crusader and are antagonizing the government and when the government sees that you have struck a cord, they will want to cut it so that the populace do not have appreciation of what you are talking about or get to know what you are talking about. I also saw that lawyers have prestige like late chief Rotimi Williams (SAN); I saw he was always using Rolls Royce.
When I also went to the archives, I saw Oputa taking pictures with his Roll Royce as a young barrister but chief was always buying volkswagen beetle. He bought more than 12 and when it developed fault because he didn't have time for them, he buys another and moreover they were cheap. It was when they ran out that he started buying 504, 505; he wasn't a flamboyant person. That was what I grew up on, at least I learnt one thing from him that if you want a particular lifestyle, you must be able to earn your keep to be able to fund and feed that craving for that lifestyle.