THEME: FREE, FAIR AND CREDIBLE ELECTION AS INDISPENSABLE TOOL FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
15 January 2023
- I welcome you all to the 19th edition of the Gani Fawehinmi Annual Lecture. I thank the Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association for according me the honour of being the Host of today’s programme being held in honour of a phenomenal lawyer – one of the great legal minds that ever emerged from the Commonwealth.
- Before I proceed, permit me to commend the Ikeja Branch for sustaining these series of very important annual lectures over the years. The Branch has rightly earned its much- deserved appellation as the Tiger Branch, and you all deserve a pat on the back for this laudable achievement. While Gani was privileged to have been alive to witness the first five editions of the Lectures, the last fourteen have been held in his memory and in his honour. This, itself, is telling. For a programme of this nature to have, not only to have outlived the person in honour of whom it is being held but, continued to wax stronger year in year out, is a testimonial to the exemplary life Gani lived.
- If Gani were to be alive today, the legendary senior advocate would have been 85 years old. He would have, no doubt, continued to enrich our jurisprudence and encourage us to interrogate each and every policy of government for the purpose of getting the best for the Nigerian people. I am certain that if Gani was here with us today, he would have wholeheartedly endorsed the theme of this year’s lecture: Free, Fair and Credible Election as an Indispensable Tool for National Development, as it aptly encapsulates some of the values he spent most of his life fighting for.
- Your Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, you may have noticed that I have been referring to the man in whose honour we are all gathered this afternoon by his first name. It is deliberate. I have read somewhere that in Nigeria, there are three Nigerians who have, by their devotion to the cause they stood for, earned the exclusive privilege of being identified only by their first name. Mention their first name anywhere in this country and even beyond, and people will instantly know who you are referring to. Fela – the iconoclastic legendary Afrobeat King is one. The second is Tai and I know that the only Tai that we have in Nigeria is no other than Tai Solarin. The third of the trio is the indefatigable advocate, the fiery legal practitioner, the fearless and irrepressible activist, our one and only Chief Gani Fewehinmi, GCON, SAN. Gani was referred to by his supporters as “the scourge of sphygmomanometer with which the blood pressure of dictators is gauged, the veritable conscience of the nation and the champion of the interests and causes of the masses”. You would also find Nigerians calling him the
People’s President. Little wonder, he was first recognized as a Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM)
- When the duo of Dr. Muiz Banire SAN, the Chairman of this year’s Lecture, and Seyi Olawunmi, the Chairman of Ikeja Branch, invited me to attend the programme, I had no hesitations rescheduling my other engagements to make room for me to be here today. The Annual Gani Lecture is not another ‘talk-shop’; it has indeed become a foremost think-tank where issues affecting our collective national interests are critically analysed and intelligently interrogated. I am therefore confident that our Keynote Speaker, Charlotte Kesson-Smith Osei – the United Nations International Elections Commissioner will do justice to the theme of this year’s programme.
- On my way from the Airport, I could not but notice the billboards and posters of many political parties vying for one elective office or another. I observed the same thing in Ibadan, Kebbi, Ilorin, Sokoto, Abuja, yesterday in Maiduguri and all other cities I have recently visited. I recall that in 1999 when this present Republic started, Nigerians were limited to only three parties. If you did not want any of Alliance for Democracy, the All Peoples Party or the Peoples Democratic Party, you would have no other choice.
- Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, today when Nigerians celebrate the freedom to join any political party of their choice, what many of us – particularly the younger generations, who are likely to be having their first voting experience next month – might not know is that that freedom is one of Gani’s legacy gifts for generations yet unborn. Today, Nigerians are spoilt for choice when it comes to political party, with no less than 18 candidates vying for the exalted office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
- You may recall that in 2002, the Independent National Electoral Commission issued certain guidelines to regulate registration of political parties in the country. The guidelines imposed certain conditions on associations that wanted to apply for registration as political parties. Gani’s National Conscience Party (NCP) was one of the associations that applied, but were on the basis of the guidelines, denied registration by INEC. Balarabe Musa’s People Redemption Party as well as Movement for Democracy and Justice were also denied registration.
- As usual, the irrepressible Gani could not be deterred, he went to Court to challenge the constitutionality of the guidelines. From the Federal High Court, through the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court, Gani argued that the guidelines were inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 relating to the registration of political parties. It was the contention of Gani that registration of political parties was governed by the provisions of the Constitution and that INEC could not prescribe guidelines for the registration of political parties outside the conditions stipulated in the Constitution.
- This led to the case of INEC & Anor. v. Balarabe Musa & 4 Ors. (Chief Gani Fawehenmi on behalf of National Conscience Party, was the 5th Respondent)  3 NWLR [Pt. 806] 72. The Supreme Court, in agreeing with Gani, held per Ayoola, JSC at page 150, paragraphs E – F, thus:
“Political parties are essential organs of the democratic system. They are organs of political discussion and of formulation of ideas, policies and programmes. Plurality of parties widens the channel of political discussion and discourse, engenders plurality of political issues, promotes the formulation of competing ideas, policies and programmes and generally provides the citizen with a choice of forum for participation in governance, whether as a member of the party in government or of a party in opposition, thereby ensuring the reality of government by discussion which democracy is all about in the final analysis. Unduly to restrict the formation of political parties or stifle their growth, ultimately, weakens the democratic culture.”
For more details about Newswire Law&Events Magazine, kindly reach out to us on 08039218044, 09070309355. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You will be glad you did
- This is one of the many legacies of Gani. He lived and worked for democracy. The least we can all therefore do to immortalize such a legend, is to ensure that those democratic ideals and egalitarian principles which he fought are not compromised. As members of the Nigerian Bar Association and as patriotic Nigerians who cherish the memory of Gani, it is our duty to ensure that the forthcoming elections are free, fair, and credible. That’s the least we can do to honour Gani – our unforgettable hero of democracy. In my inaugural address on the 26 August 2022, I did say that:
“the ultimate outcome of the election will largely depend on the interface between the Bench, the Bar and the Political gladiators. As members of the Legal Profession, serving either on the Bench or at the Bar, we owe Nigerians sincere and honest participation in the process. We must do all that is legitimately within our abilities, motivated by the desire to serve the course of justice, to ensure that the relevant laws and rules, properly interpreted and applied, remain the guiding principles for our involvement in the process.”
- Beyond ensuring free, fair and credible elections in the forthcoming elections, we should work towards improving the democratic process in Nigeria. Gani worked to ensure that we have more political parties to choose from, we can take it a notch higher by seeking constitutional amendment to recognise and provide for independent candidacy. Most of us are aware of what happened in the last primaries across the political parties, and it is from these flawed processes that candidates have emerged, from whom we must select our next leaders. Independent candidacy expands our choices and ensures that we are not denied some of the best materials, just because their political parties, for some less-than- wholesome reasons, decided not to pick them as flagbearers. This I think, is one of the ways we can advance the causes of our heroes past, one of whom is our own dear Gani.
- I must not conclude these brief remarks without mentioning something I discovered while putting down my thoughts for this address. When Dr. Banire, SAN informed me of the date of the Annual Lecture, I recalled that the 2022 Lecture was also held on January 15. I also discovered that the others in the series were invariably held on January 15. Why January 15? I began to ponder. I know that Gani was born in April, and he passed in September. So, why January 15? Was Gani one of the fallen heroes of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Certainly not! Gani was never in the military. It can only be a coincidence that we have been holding this event on the same day as the Armed Forces Remembrance Day. But can this be a coincidence? I do not think so. I do not
believe in coincidences. There must be a connection between the life of Gani and the Armed Forces Remembrance Day.
- Without any iota of doubt, no member of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will be worth his salt, if he/she does not remember Gani Fawehinmi. Gani was one who fearlessly deployed his God-given talent, intellect and resources and consistently “fought” the military for the democracy we now enjoy. He is, I also submit, a fallen hero of the military in the sense of one who fought the military decrees to get the Armed Forces confined to its constitutional responsibilities which the military now cherishes. On 14 December 2022, I paid a courtesy call on the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General LEO Irabor, CFR, where we discussed the 2023 general elections and other matters of National importance. The leadership focus of the CDS is “to foster a Professional Armed Forces Capable of Effectively Meeting Constitutional Imperatives”. I dare to say that implicit in this declaration is an acknowledgement of the efforts of our own fallen hero, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, GCON, SAN.
- While we remember and honour our fallen heroes on this day, we do no less for our own Gani. But how did he achieve this? Perhaps this is where we find the connection between the Gani, our fallen hero and 15 January. It was on 15 January 1965 that Gani was called to the Nigerian Bar, same as the Armed Forces Remembrance Day. And how did Gani fight the military decrees to get the Armed Forces back to the barracks? The answer can be found in the statement by the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland QC, who described lawyers in the following words:
“We lawyers are a dangerous breed; we challenge, we refuse to let anarchy and unfairness and inequity reign. We stand in the gap. We refuse to be silent. We fight. Not with arms, but with words. We use the law as our weapon, and we wield it with skill and determination. We must teach the next generation to do the same… you play a central role in setting the parameters for the next generation of lawyers who will have the formidable task of safeguarding the rule of law in the new and challenging context in which we now live.”
- What a way to celebrate the man who from the day he became a lawyer did nothing else but the pursuit of Justice, using the instrumentality of the legal profession and observance of the highest ethical and professional standards. In conclusion, as one who is privileged to lead the Bar at this time, I commend all of us to God, first and foremost, and to the exemplary professional life of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, GCON, SAN. And always remember that the weapons of our warfare as lawyers are not “carnal”; not the guns – AK47, AK49 or the scud missiles, they are mighty – allowing the gift of legal practice we are privileged to have, to find expression towards the attainment of justice to the people.
- For me, the gift I received from Gani on 2 October 2001, at the venue of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (Oputa Panel) sitting in Abuja at the Women Centre, is a constant reminder to me to devote attention to the promotion of the rule of law, protection of the integrity of the Bar, the independence of the Judiciary, and this I shall do, so help me God. On that day, Chief gave me an autographed copy of PART 665 of the NWLR, where the case of Fawehinmi v. IGP was reported.
- May I therefore congratulate Chief Gani Fawehinmi, GCON, SAN on the posthumous 58th Anniversary of his Call to the Bar.
- I thank you all for listening and I wish us all productive deliberations in today’s lectures