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The Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series #4

A Meeting of the Minds
(Interview with Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN))
Conversation with Onyeka Onwenu, Part 2

Chinua Achebe Foundation



Chief Gani Fawehinmi Gani Fawehinmi (SAN)was born in 1938 to Saheed Tugbobo and Alhaja Munirat Fawehinmi, the Seriki and Iya Suna of Ondo Moslems respectively, in Ondo town in Nigeria.


He graduated from Holborn College of Law, University of London in 1954 and was called to the bar in 1955. Gani as he is fondly called by the masses, whose interest he has defended all his working life is Nigeria’s foremost Human Rights Lawyer as well as a vocal critic of bad government in the country.


In 2003, Gani Fawehinmi was the presidential flag bearer for the National Conscience Party (NCP). After his unsuccessful bid, he returned to his law practice in Ikeja Lagos from where he has continued to publish the well respected “Nigerian Weekly Law Report”, which he started in 1985.


Although his law practice remains one of the most lucrative in the Nigeria, a large percentage of those cases are done on a pro bono basis as Gani refuses to turn down worthy causes. Also, on a yearly basis, Chief Gani Fawehinmi awards about 30 scholarships to indigent students


In 2001 Chief Gani Fawehinmi was awarded the much deserved title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria SAN but only after a more “meaningful” Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM) given to him by the Nigerian people in compensation for the belated SAN.




Onyeka Onwenu Onyeka Onwenuis a Singer/Songwriter, Journalist and Actress.


She is a graduate of Wellesley College, Wellesley Massachusetts and the New School for Social Research in New York, where she obtained a B.A in International Relations and Communications and a Masters Degree in Media Studies respectively. Onwenu recently veered into politics when she contested the Local Government Chairmanship for Ideato North in Imo State in 2002.


Though unsuccessful in her bid, Ms. Onwenu would seek another opportunity to serve her people at the local government level.





Onyeka:  In view of the N55,000,000.00 (Fifty five million naira) budget enhancement scam in the Senate and House of Assembly which has resulted in the resignation of the Senate President, Adolfus Wabara, and the sacking of the Minister of Education, Dr. Fabian Osuji, what are your comments about the whole affair?


Gani:  It is unfortunate that the pervasiveness of corruption in Nigeria has a deep root in the corridors of power, particularly in the National Assembly and the Executive. It is sad that in six years, we have had five Senate Presidents. Three left under a serious cloud that questioned the integrity of the senate. The exception was Okadigbo, whose real offense was that he was trying to maintain the independence of the Senate. I don’t know why people are surprised about Wabara. He did not win the election that brought him into the Senate. I am conversant with the intrigues of that election because I had offered my services to Elder Imo (Wabara’s opponent). Wabara lost the election but did everything to disrupt the process – and got Justice Egbo of the Appeal Court to rule in his favour. Wabara therefore had a cloud hanging over him. He became morally incapacitated. He thought that the President would always come to his rescue – being the President’s “boy,” and so, he got involved in many untowards conduct. However, he showed his humanity when he tried to maintain a level of independence. The President’s ego was bruised, therefore, when the Senate did not approve funds for the National Political Reforms Conference now going on. That was when the President opened the pandora’s box of Wabara activities.


The second reason why he (The President) moved against his “political toy” was because of pressure from the International Community, the IMF, Transparency International and others – otherwise these things (corruption in the senate) have been going on.


Onyeka:  How far do you think this crackdown will go?


Gani:  Not very far, I am afraid. It is not being done systemically. It is sporadic, and that is dangerous. There is no ideological position or any articulate systematic approach. This crackdown should be across the board, not selective. What about the Abacha regime and the 30 Million Naira gift to his Finance Minister; what about the wealth amassed by his Security Officer Gwarzo, and the rest of them? What about Babangida and the Gulf Oil windfall? People feel that Government is not serious.


Onyeka:  Recently, the Minister for Housing, Mrs. Mobolaji Osomo, was dismissed from office over some irregularities concerning the sale of Federal Government properties in Ikoyi, Lagos. The sales favoured a number of high ranking government officials, top business people, governors, ministers, members of the Judiciary, and members of the First Lady’s family. Surely, this is taking the war on corruption, seriously!


Gani:  The President should not just sack Osomo; we need facts on the whole transaction. Therefore an investigation should be carried out to determine for example, how a Chief Judge who earns below N900,000.00 (Nine Hundred Thousand Naira) per annum, can afford to buy one of the houses for N97,000,000.00 (Ninety Seven Million Naira). It is also time for Government to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding the incorporation of limited liability companies, and the anonymity of some of the people involved. There should be a public inquiry.


Onyeka:  The former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, who has been forced to resign over allegations of corrupt enrichment, has been charged to court. I read your comments about his public humiliation by the wearing of handcuffs at his arraignments in court recently. Thank you for insisting that he be presumed innocent, until proven guilty, and for demanding that the Prosecutor respect his basic human rights.


Gani:  Thank you Onyeka.


Onyeka:  Does his arraignment show some seriousness on the part of Government?


Gani:  The Court process has started, and the seriousness of the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) will be tested. This is a big test for the EFCC. Will they go the whole hog, and publish their findings or give up midway; will Government take the report seriously and act on it? We shall have to wait, and see.


Onyeka:  By sacking two Ministers, and insisting on the resignation of a Senate President, the government may have indeed begun a process by which we may witness the indictment of many others. Has it opened up a Pandora’s box on corruption?


Gani: Perhaps… Gani fawehinmi and Onyeka OnwenuBut the President has assumed a lame duck approach. There should be more public inquiries into many of the corporate scandals that have surfaced in Nigeria; in any other country, they would be investigated, but not in Nigeria. Take for example, ENRON; look at what happened to them in the US. Ken Lay of Enron was charged to court, and was imprisoned. In Nigeria, nothing has been done. Take Halliburton, Pentascope; Government has done nothing to those involved. There are ethical questions to be answered…The President is in just as compromising a position as the Minister for Petroleum; will he investigate himself? Obasanjo had N5.2 Billion Naira contributed to his re-election in 2003. N1.8 Billion came from federal contractors who are still getting contracts from Government.


Onyeka:   But chief -- society, itself, is equally to blame. Because when you get into public office, and you are not stealing fast enough, a delegation will come from your home town to say: “Are you stupid?” So, encouraging people to steal comes from the masses. Also, I remember that when I was growing up, if you came home with a pencil that my mother did not buy, she would spot it immediately, and you would have some explaining to do. In that society, if suddenly you were seen with a lot of money, and you were throwing it around and nobody can identify the source of your wealth, you would be asked questions. But now, we give them the front pew of the Church. They make donations and we lift them up, even though we know that they are 419ners, they are thieves; they are armed robbers… We elevate them and give them respect.


Gani:  Thank you Onyeka. But have you paused to ask yourself this question; who are the people accepting these 419ers, elevating them? They are members of the elite class, not the masses of our people who have no control over the acceptability of the rogues; who really have muted tongues when they are saying “Ole-ole” (thief)… The masses condemn these rogues, but the elites accept them, because it is a share out.


Onyeka:  Let’s talk about oil, the source of our wealth, and the areas in the country from which this oil is gotten. In “Squandering of Riches,” I gave attention to the agitation that was going on in the Niger Delta. I remember being called in for questioning. In my naivety though, I was bold enough to say that the Resource Control issue was a problem that could not be swept under the rug. It will come back to haunt us, as it is indeed doing now. What is your stand on Resource Control, and how can the people of the Niger Delta be assuaged?


Gani:  Let’s look at the history of the agitation of the Niger Delta. It came

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into the fore in
February 24, 1966 with Jasper Adaka-boro, Nodham Dick, and a third person, who seized power in the Niger Delta, and declared the Niger Delta a Republic. They were tried and convicted of murder. They had their own flag; they had everything, and seized the police. You know that Jasper Adaka-boro was a former student leader at Nsukka University? A former police officer… But he saw the poverty of his people, and the wealth surrounding them, and he was appalled.


Now, Nigeria did not learn a lesson. Then along came a great man called Ken Saro-Wiwa from the ethnic group, Ogoni, numbering about five million. He did not use guns; he used his lips – persuasion, and his pen. Saro Wiwa was arrested in 1995, and tried by a spurious tribunal that was working towards a predetermined conclusion.  And he was convicted with nine other leaders of MOSOP. He was hanged, and the State of Nigeria was not even satisfied with just hanging, they poured acid on his body! Another lesson has been taught the Niger Delta people –that violence, you lose, no violence, you lose!


Now we have all seen what is happening all over the place. Dokubo Asari and others have arisen. The indictment against this government stems from the ruthlessness of past governments, which this government has copied. In November 1999, General Olusegun Obasanjo sent troops to Odi in Bayelsa State, and 3,850 people were massacred, because of 11 or 12 policemen who were missing. But you could see the vengeance in the eyes of General Olusegun Obasanjo, who said “kill at sight, shoot at sight…” and they shot and destroyed on sight. Even one Richard Ajeda, who served the Federal Government in the Radio Corporation for thirty seven years, was affected. The little money from his gratuity and pension, he used to build a house. It was turned into rubbles. Up until today, he has not been given any compensation. The hewers of wood and drawers of water of the Nigerian economy have always been treated like scum in our society. Without the Niger Delta, I mean -- the wealth Nigeria has today, will be gone. They deserve to be well treated!!!


Even before we reached the level of oil exploration in Olobiri in 1956, the ‘Weelin Commission’ which looked into the minority group problems in this country had investigated some of the agitations of their leaders. Headed by late Justice Udo Udoma, formerly of the Supreme Court -- another brilliant Judge -- they recommended that specific things be done, special compensation be given, and a special formula arrived at to assuage, in terms of the share out of the wealth of the nation, the people of the Niger Delta. So far we have turned deaf ears!


Resource control, yes; I am not opposed to it, at all. They are not asking for 100% of the wealth to be given to them; but they are rejecting the 13% that we have in the constitution. It is ungodly, because the President is fond of referring to God, although we know he sermonizes, and pontificates more than the Pope... Yesterday it was full of sermon and sermon and sermon, preaching God’s love! So the Niger Delta people deserve to control their destiny. And in controlling their destiny, they need to be given the substantial part of what is derived from their area, because the oil will not be forever.


Onyeka:  What about the NDDC (the Niger Delta Development Commission)


Gani:  Yes, of course, I shall come to that, shortly. I think quite frankly that the 13% should be reviewed. The Niger Delta is not asking for 100%, but I think that 50% to 60% will not be out of place for the people to go on with their lives.


Now -- the NDDC, the Ompadec; previously, these organizations were not specifically addressing the problems concerning the Niger Delta. They were, more or less, involved in human rights advocacy – free education, free medical services, free housing, free social security, free post graduate scholarships for their children outside the country, if need be. These are the basic things that Government must be interested in! But what exists is a situation where, despite the Niger Delta problems, their Governors have investments outside the Niger Delta and Nigeria. Thus, they loot the treasury of the people, converting the money into foreign currencies, and use the misery of their people for economic, political and financial gain. It is most ungodly!


Onyeka:  There are critics of the Resource Control Debate who blame the problems of the area on the Governors of the Niger Delta States whom they say are not handling well, the funds accruing to these areas. There is an argument that when the North was producing the groundnut pyramids, there was no Resource Control Debate – why bring it up now. There is resistance to this issue from certain sections of the country.


Gani:  The resistance we are seeing in the Niger Delta is a consequence of the bad system we have in the country. In the present structure of the country, social justice is not accorded to those who need it. Secondly, it also arises from the selfishness of the majority groups in this country. I am talking about the Yorubas, the Ibos, and the Hausa/Fulani. The country does not belong to the majority tribes alone, but to all Nigerians!!!


Onyeka:  The Ibos are arguing that look; they are turning into a minority group with the way they are being treated; the way they are marginalised, politically and economically.


Gani:  The Ibos are arguing, and they are right. There is no doubt about that. But they have taken a little bite. The Yorubas have taken a chew. Their throat is almost suffocating now (laughter) with the bite they have had at the federal level. The Northerners are having stomach problems with leadership. The Ibos merely had a bite, but the South South has not even had a bite, not even a taste....


Onyeka:  That brings us to the presidential elections in 2007. The South-East is saying that it is their turn to produce the next President of Nigeria. The South South says it is definitely their turn, since they have never held the post. There is ofcourse the North which says that power should revert back to them. Should there be, as Professor Chinua Achebe expressed in his writings, and Dr. Alex Ekwueme proposed at the Constituent Assembly, six zones in Nigeria with a rotational Presidency?


Gani: We cannot continue to maintain the 36 States that were whimsically and capriciously put together by various military heads. We don’t need these 36 States and I don’t think we need 774 Local Government Areas. They are too many, too unwieldy, and they lead to a waste of money and resources. Regions…really I am for regions. If we can convert the six geo-political zones into regions with each region having its own constitution, that would not be out of place. We had the Western Nigerian Constitution, Eastern Nigerian Constitution, Northern Nigerian Constitution, and the Mid-Western Nigerian Constitution. And everything was working well, if I may say so. It was the failure to resolve the problem in Aburi (between Ojukwu and Gowon), and the failure to accord to Aburi, the gentleman’s agreement that was reached, that is the cause of our problems today. We must always treat agreements with the sacredness they deserve. Generally, I think we have to re-structure the country. We cannot go on like this; we just cannot go on like this. We shall crash soonest.


Onyeka: Some are saying, going back to the Political Reforms Conference that the no- go-areas are there for the simple reason that if you start something, and it is not properly handled then you just might dismember the country. There are some sensitive issues that we cannot deal with now, because there is so much disunity, so much oppression, and there is so much angst that if you lay them bare on the table, and the Conference is an all comers affair, this country would break up.


Gani:  That is arrant nonsense, because you allow the same issues to germinate, without being tended! What happened to Yugoslavia? They had Tito who wielded the iron stick and said “Don’t talk to me about the unity of Yugoslavia…leave me alone; we will go on the way we want”. Today, do we have a Yugoslavia; and in what state?


Please let us talk about our oneness in order to solidify our oneness – in order to see the faults in our oneness, and correct them before it gets to the point where we will never have the opportunity to correct them again.


Onyeka: There are rumours and indications here and there that General Ibrahim Babangida would run for the presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2007. Do you think it is possible that he could actually do that, and be elected?


Gani:  What a foolish ambition. I think Babangida is just being very, very naive. Those who think that they are wise; at times, they are like rogues suffering a disconnect in the chain of their activities. Once the point of weakness is identified, the whole chain becomes uncoordinated, and we see into the lack of strength in the chain. Babangida -- if I were in his shoes -- I would not contest this election. Within the elitist group, they will manipulate against him, even within the government today. He must be naïve to think that Obasanjo supports him. He must be very naive.


Onyeka:  What makes you say that?


Gani:  Obasanjo wants his legacy to endure, if not forever. If you look

at Obasanjo in 1979, he put in the land use decree in the constitution, and some other decrees. Now he is telling the confab indirectly to put NEEDS in the constitution to make his socio-economic policies permanent. Obasanjo will not like anyone to come and overshadow his ‘maradonic attitude.’ Obasanjo says what he does not mean, and does not mean what he says. Look at the way he was pontificating yesterday. It was the very opposite of his life, and that is Babangida’s style. He does not want Babangida to undo him. He will never support Babangida to come over, and outmaneuver his methodology and style. That’s number one.


The elitist group, I doubt if they are sincerely in support of Babangida. Secondly, Babangida has amassed so much money -- illegal money. Many of the politicians are broke. They are broke, because if you do not have any meaningful means of livelihood, even if you have one billion naira today, and you don’t add more to it, it goes in no time. They see Babangida as another source of revenue, but it’s not an unlimited source. Thirdly, I doubt if he has the support of the International community because the International community is getting fed up with the cantankerous government of Obasanjo now, and will not tolerate its being supplanted by another cantankerous regime.


Babangida evokes controversy - the controversy of MKO, the controversy of June 12, the controversy of corruption, the controversy of ‘maradonic attitude,’ all sorts of things. I doubt whether the International community that wants a settled international atmosphere will go for Babangida. Fourthly, which ideology does he want to sell now? There is nothing new about him. The masses don’t see any attraction coming from Babangida.


No, there can be nothing new, after eight years. What books has he written that he has articulated a philosophy that we know of that is new? Nothing... This man hardly talks of philosophy; hardly talks of physics, and hardly talks of ideas. He only talks of money. And money in Nigeria today cannot be everything to everybody, only to a few, and not everybody.


Onyeka:  Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, when he was in power was asked why he detained you, and he replied that well, he did so because every regime that came into power has put you in jail (General laughter), and he did not want to miss out on the action. He did declare though, that he had the greatest respect for you for not compromising your beliefs and principles. You have gone to detention so many times; you have put your life at risk, put your family at risk. You’ve done all this for this country called Nigeria. There are very few people like you – and you are not doing it because Nigeria has given you everything you wanted. What can we do so that this country can produce more people like you?


Gani:  I must continue to be consistent. I must ensure that I don’t confuse the next generation, and I must also ensure that I am not misunderstood, so as to serve as a legacy they can copy. So, everyday I feel challenged, and I ask: what am I doing that is out of place? I examine every step, every move, every statement, every write up, every comment, so that I don’t confuse the people. Once, I come to the conclusion that what I am doing is consistent with what I have been doing, I put my heart, my life in it. Because I want others - there may be few; to do better than what I have done…but not to miss the parameter with which I have worked.


Onyeka:  Is there something special about Nigeria that makes you want to commit so much of your energy and compassion, so that if you were born in another country you would not do the same?


Gani:  Well, you have opened a new area, Onyeka; I am a man who believes so much in God. I am not a Christian, but you look at the persistent attitude of Jesus Christ. Even being nailed on the cross and bleeding, He never gave up. You look at the attitude of Prophet Muhammed who was chased out of Mecca to be crucified, and he came back to preach, lost his son, lost everything, but still continued to be persistent. These are people who did not leave any building, they did not leave wealth, they did not leave any riches; yet they are adored all over the world.


In fact, Christ died without a child at the age of thirty-three. Now the old, the young, the beautiful, the ugly, many parts of the world, preach this man’s gospel. There is something wonderful in consistency. I am prepared to go that path, ‘til I die.


Onyeka:  Sometimes, it is scary even for those of us merely following your travails on behalf of our country. It gets really scary, and I say to myself -- does this man never get scared? I get scared (general laughter)…


Gani:  Look Onyeka, let me tell you one thing. Number one; anytime I am arrested and detained, I ask myself -- why am I here, today? Once I come to the conclusion that it is because of my work on behalf of the people, and not because I have been fighting over this…over that…for myself, or that I am accused of any crime that will give me personal glory or personal property, I smile. They reach the flesh very well; they suffocate me, they beat me, and do anything to me. But they never reach my spirit and my conviction, and that’s the main thing that keeps me going, even in the cell.


I remember when Dele Giwa was murdered. I was sitting down here in my office, on that Sunday, about quarter to twelve a.m. Ray Ekpo phoned me, and said “he has been killed.” I said: what do you mean; who? He said “Dele Giwa…he was bombed.” I was preparing a motion to be filed on Monday, the 20th of October 1986. But when I received that call, I rushed to the hospital at Opebi. Doctor Ajayi was the doctor there, and I saw Dele Giwa; I saw his abdomen blown up. I made a promise; I said: “I am prepared to die finding the murderer, whoever he may be.” Ray Ekpo saw that tears were coming down my cheeks. I left the place and I went back to my chambers. Finally, on the second of November, I wrote my will. I brought it to the court on the third of November; the newspapers flashed it “Gani Ready to die”. I said yes; I am ready to die, and that was it.


I went home, asked the gateman not to even hold any stick any longer in this place. He used to smoke ganja, I threw it away. I said after 9 o’ clock, throw the gate open. Let them come in. We have two wings in my house I told my family to move out of the wing we were in, and into the other wing. That’s how I started living alone from 1986. I said if they come, I don’t want them to slaughter you while looking for me. I never regretted it. Anytime I was faced with any difficult situation in life, I have never had a problem taking a decision, even if it is going to hurt me, as long as I believe that decision is going to help the larger society, particularly the masses of our people. I have always taken the oppressed; the underdog, the cheated and ostracized members of our society, as my constituency. Some of them don’t even appreciate it, in terms of understanding what one is doing. But once you understand, yourself, that’s enough. I understand what it is I’m fighting for, and that is enough…


Onyeka:  The thing is that they know you understand what you are doing. So, even if they don’t quite understand, it doesn’t matter. You understand, and that is good enough for them.


Gani:  Why I say that they don’t understand is this; you want people out on the streets; you are ready to be in the forefront with them, to confront the authorities. I remember, December 4, 1995 we were in Yaba (Lagos). NADECO called a rally and the chaps were all there. Dosumu was their General Secretary. He didn’t come. So, I first asked: “Were they all there?” They said they were not there. So, I told my people: “let’s move...” I was in my agbada when we got there. I saw Dambaba (Security Officer) and others. He said: “Look…you cannot enter…” I said I would, and I entered the place. So, I saw the tank with the nose pointed at me. I tore my agbada, leaving my chest open. Shoot and kill, and that would be all. I heard Danbaba telling his boys: “Stop! Stop! Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!


The following day, I saw what had happened on the front page of the newspapers. At 7.30 a.m., Justice Oputa phoned me. He used to call me Sonny. He said, “Sonny, why did you do this? I saw you this morning in the newspaper opening your chest to the tank. If they kill you, what will happen? For God’s sake, don’t do it again!” I said, “Baba, I don’t know when I did it; I was not conscious of what I was doing. At times, when I do certain things, I don’t even think of the danger to my safety, or my life.


Onyeka:  You just go ahead and do what you have to do.


Gani:  Yeah!


Onyeka:  Because of the force of your conviction?


Gani:  Yeah! Yeah!


Onyeka:  Nigerians don’t come out to defend themselves. They don’t come out to fight. We would all complain, but then we sit back, and nobody is willing to go out there, and die for the rest of the people. Some people have said that this is the bane of our problems. If we are willing to make that sacrifice, we won’t be where we are today?


Gani:  I agree; you are right. I think there is a saying abroad, that if the Japanese knocked at the door of God, God will quickly open and say, “The Japanese; it must have been an impossible task that they couldn’t overcome. Open the door; I will see what I can do for them.” The same thing would happen with the Germans. God will open the door. Jamaicans will knock, and God opens the door. But Nigerians…when they knock, and God says: “Okay,” they will knock again. “We can’t find the toilet; we can’t find the key hole, the carpet is dirty.” God will say, “Can’t you even try, and save yourself!” This is our problem. We go to church every Sunday with our bible, we have the largest number of churches in Africa; yet our problems continue to multiply. Why is it, that our prayers are not answered? It is because we don’t mean to pray. We mean to ask, and that is why God is not answering our prayers; because we are not seriously asking God to solve the problems, which we have attempted to solve.


Onyeka:  Knowing all you know; what is the future of this country?


Gani: Bleak, bleak. You know when Obasanjo first came in 1976, he showed his military fangs, dealt with students in 1978. Remember “Ali must go” (Ali Mongo). I was the students’ lawyer. I was tried, jailed, and put into detention. He (Obasanjo) rolled out the tanks against the students, killed some of them, dismissed professors and lecturers. He dealt with the workers and passed a law removing workers from union activism - Pa Imodu, S.O Bassey, Wahab Goodluck, Igwe and others. This man showed his fangs.


Then he came as a civilian leader, and nobody knew his intentions. He was calm for the first four years, we thought he had changed. He got the second term then we saw his true colours. Mr. Know it all; no other person matters. He has answers for everything, and knows nothing about everything. So, we are at the crossroads. The question now is -- why are African leaders intoxicated with power? They got intoxicated with power in Sierra Leone, and look at where it ended. They got intoxicated with power in Liberia; look where it ended. They got intoxicated in Congo; look at where it got them. I am afraid that the same thing will happen in Nigeria, and it will be a global disaster. Why? Nigeria has a population of 140 to 150 million people. Once that problem starts here, our neighbouring countries would be gone. With the refugee problem, they will be finished.


But we don’t learn from history. This is my biggest worry - that we have leaders who only want to plunge us into catastrophe. As I said earlier, the ship of state of Nigeria is seriously moving towards a huge rock. If it is not diverted, and steered away from its present course, there is no way we can escape the catastrophe that is before this country, and we will all pay dearly for it.


Onyeka:  What can the people do…reading this interview?


Gani:  Many out there are very helpless. Those who are not helpless are selfish, and think that by taking everything outside this country, they are assured of safety and comfort. They are living in a Fools Paradise because they will be touched one way or the other, and their wealth will be meaningless, their future will be compromised, and their children will weep.


Onyeka:  When General Buhari said: “This is the only country we can call our own, let’s us salvage it together,” this was probably what he meant. Talking about Buhari; you went against the NBA (Nigerian Bar Association) at the time, to defend those who were accused of stealing government money.


Gani: There was a decree; Gani fawehinmi and Onyeka OnwenuNumber 3 of 1984, called Recovery of Public Properties from politicians who stole money. When the regime toppled politicians on 31st December 1983, a law was passed in early 1984 called decree number 3. By then, corruption was just ten percent of what it is now, but people were still angry. Everyone thought that things were so bad. So decree number 3 was passed, and the tribunal was set up with a military man at the head. Then my colleagues said we should not appear; we should call their bluff. I said no, we cannot do that.


We met at the law school, and I moved a motion against the general motion. I was defeated 74 against 19. I said no; I would not accept it. This is not defeat, this is an elitist defeat to help the politicians who have taken so much from the people, and stolen so much. I would not agree. The second aspect was how to show my revulsion against their decision. I then found the solution under Article J of the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association that said: “Lawyers are free to appear before any court or tribunal, in defense of the rights of accused persons.” So, I latched on to that, although my main reason was to fight the opposition to decree number 3, because the decree was to recover the properties of the people which the politicians had stolen.


They put me on the black list. They opened a record, and I was number one on the black list. I said you can put me on black hell; I believe you are wrong. I still believe they were wrong, because corruption has worsened. When I was detained in 1989, however, and they saw my activities, they said: “For God’s sake, they cannot maintain this role of dishonour against Gani Fawehinmi. They struck it out. Many of them still continued to oppose me, and said that not in their life time will I get the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). So, the students were very angry, they gave me the Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM). Then, I received an honour of the International Bar Association (IBA), which is the highest in the world, in Vancouver, Canada, where all the notable Lawyers of the world converged. I was the only person honoured with that award and the citation was so moving that I did not know how to wipe off the tears. They (NBA) then sent Professor Nwabueze to me, that I should sign the document for SAN. I said no... They have denied me it for so many years. Eventually, they gave it to me on September 10 2001, after 38 years in the profession.


Onyeka:  Nigeria has a pivotal role to play in Africa. You talked about Liberia. It has cost us so much in material and men, to keep the peace there. There is Sierra Leone, we were involved too. We are also involved in negotiations for peace in Ivory Coast, and now there is Togo and Sudan. We are keeping the peace in Africa, and we are doing that quite well, indeed. That’s why you said that Nigeria’s break up will be catastrophic. Is it possible with this scenario you painted, that a coup could still take place in Nigeria?


Gani:  Nothing can be ruled out in Nigerian affairs. As long as we have coups, and as long as we have had democracy, before, we could always have a democracy, again, and we can always have a coup, again. Nothing could be ruled out in this country. The only way you can rule out the absurd and the politically sublime is to govern the people right, and think about their welfare. That is the only insurance against coups and counter coups in Nigeria.


Onyeka: Some believe that the West supports instability in Africa by providing havens for our politicians to stash away stolen money…


Gani:  I believe there is no justification for the West to allow our Leaders to siphon money into their countries. They use these funds to provide jobs for their own people, and at the same time they protect those leaders who rob their own people to pay their (the West) citizens abroad.


Onyeka:  What  are your thoughts on the issue of debt forgiveness?


Gani:  There are two consequences that will arise from the debt issue -- whether to forgive or not to forgive. I am sorry; I am not for debt forgiveness. I don’t support forgiveness. Why? Because the money we have taken from our lenders has not been used for the people. A substantial part of this money has been taken back to the lenders through various means – into their vaults and banks all over the Paris Club countries.


Instead of forgiveness, they should repatriate all that they have taken, all that the leaders have taken from us. That’s why I look at the Abacha thing as a drop in the mighty ocean. There are more Abachas who still have accounts in those countries, and they know. So please don’t forgive our debts, repatriate our money. It is more than the debts. How much is the debt -- thirty-two billion dollars. The money they have siphoned from this country through projects emanating from the West, the East, and taken to Paris Club countries is lying gracefully in their vaults. It should be repatriated. It is more than 200 billion dollars!!!


Onyeka:  They may not want to do that…


Gani:  If they do that, we give them part of it - that is 32 billion, and keep the remaining 168 billion. That is my attitude towards the debts, and the culpability of the West, in this respect.


Onyeka:  That’s a novel approach, quite unique. Thank you very much for stating it so clearly. This is the very last question; when I see men who love their mothers, I just feel that they are very special, indeed. I know you adored your mother. You loved her. I know you must miss her. That woman had such a protective influence over you. I mean spiritually, in her utterances, she would always state that “No one can kill Gani…” That woman stood with you throughout every ordeal. How are you going to commemorate who she was to you, and the rest of Nigeria?


 Gani:  Well, when my mother died, she took a part of me. My life has never been the same, and it will never be (emotions rising). Please don’t raise this emotion again. I don’t want to ….. so please……..


Onyeka:  It is well. I want to thank you on behalf of Nigerian women for

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loving her so much.


Gani:  Thank you very much. I am grateful.


Onyeka:  If you die, and go to heaven, and God wants to send you back to earth, and He says, “Gani my son, look at all these countries, which one should I send you to,” which country would you choose?


Gani:  I rather prefer to remain with Him there in heaven.


Onyeka:  That’s a good one. But if He decides that He must send you back to earth, will you come back to Nigeria?


Gani:  I hope Nigeria will not be as horrible as what I have experienced so far. It is by His providence, His grace, that I have gone this far. It has not been easy at all. Can you imagine at the age of 66, waking up and sitting on the side of the bed at times 4 o’ clock in the morning, crying and sobbing, and you wonder whether you are losing your sanity? You keep asking what type of country is this; what type of people are these? That sums the whole thing up. Thank you. Onyeka…thanks a lot.


Onyeka:  Thank you. God bless you, I can’t thank you enough.



Disclaimer: The views expressed in the interview are not necessarily those of the Chinua Achebe Foundation. The Chinua Achebe Foundation, an intellectual and cultural organization, believes in the right of every Nigerian to express their opinion.

Nigeria: A Meeting of the Minds: Interview with Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) (Conversation with Onyeka Onwenu), Part 2