The Gani Fawehinmi Series (1): When a Degree is not who you are by Ayodeji Ogunsola


Gani Fawehinmi was  the best legal mind of his time in Africa but he was not even the best in his University days,  truthfully, he had an ordinary pass in his Law degree, not even a third class degree. He could be classified as “let my people go” in those days.
After Gani left the University and passed his Law School, there was nothing ordinary again in his life; he was the best in everything he touched. He wrote lots of legal books and journals in Nigeria. He visited Courts more than those who made first class in the same school with him or those who became SANs before him.
Gani’s presence in any court was big news to the Press and the nation, he was delightful and reassuring to watch, he spoke the language of his profession like an angel and every judge knew him as a man of integrity.
Gani was the most honorable lawyer Nigeria ever produced. To most Nigerians, particularly the poor and middle class, he was their hope, and epitome of graceful expectations of how to prosecute cases. He made the legal profession honorable.
Gani’s most memorable case, to the Oracle, was against Rotimi Williams over integrity.  He made a mockery of the man Nigeria called Rotimi the Law. He was the Chairman of the 1979 Constitution Drafting Committee of 49 wise men. It was supposed to be 50 wise men until Awolowo pulled out of the committee.
Why? The first appointment given to Rotimi Williams as Attorney General of Western Region was by Awolowo as Premier. It was the mistake of the Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed to think Awolowo could serve under Rotimi and unfortunately, he never consulted Awolowo  before the announcement on the radio.
Rotimi Williams had sued Gani over his integrity and like Shylock he wanted a pound of flesh; the flesh that will show the nation Rotimi was the law. He also wanted an open apology in the court with the press and new radicals of the media like Dan Agbese, Dele Giwa, Yakubu Mohammed and Ogunsanya around. But he got more than what he bargained for.
When Gani stood up, the poor and middle class stood up with him. If Gani had failed, lots of his fans would have cried openly in the Court but he turned things around. He took a few steps towards the Judge and demanded to put Rotimi the Law in the witness stand for cross examination.
No one had ever done that in the history of Nigeria, probably in Africa. Rotimi was not a short man either, probably around 6 feet 2 inches tall and huge with sharp penetrating eyes and broad shoulders. His mere presence took away the oxygen in the room; he was the cynosure of eyes in any Court. He was indeed the Giant of the legal profession.
Rotimi wore his robe like a rag and if the event could be biblically assessed, it was like David standing next to Goliath. Rotimi had everything his profession could offer: fame, money and power. Judges bowed before him and who would not? He wrote the law of the land, if not why would he be called Rotimi the Law?
To the surprise of the nation, the presiding Judge granted the request of Gani to have the man that was greater than life in the cross-examination box. Gani had a mischievous smile on his thin lips; he knew he had Rotimi by the balls and he was going to tear down the wall to show Nigerians how choleric his adversary was.
The hate was glaring, we knew the occasion would be historical as we were about to witness how the David of Nigerian legal profession would defeat the Goliath of the learned colleagues.
Gani asked if Rotimi ever attended the popular High School in Lagos he mentioned. Rotimi had no choice than to confirm he did. Gani told the Court to look at Rotimi Williams as a student of the High School who stole a calculator or so and was sent out for stealing if such a thief had any integrity?
Rotimi never had any integrity, he said. In fact he lost it from his High School days and wondered what he wanted to protect as an adult, Gani Fawehinmi concluded. Rotimi was almost in tears.
The Judge called the two lawyers to his chambers and Rotimi withdrew the case. He never recovered from the bruise of the shame which the press sensationally reviewed on the pages of the newspapers and radio talk shows.
From General Gowon to military President Babangida, they were all scared of Gani Fawehinmi. Gani was a friend of the sick and the poor, a philanthropist with special attention to education where he noted his own weakness. He gave Nigeria his all, energies and commitment to the rule of Law and love for humanity.
If his profession were to be military, Gani would have been more than a four star General. He was indeed what a lawyer could be. To this Oracle, Gani was the Perry Mason of Nigerian law.
The Oracle says what you make out of your University education depends on what you put into the society. Your degree is not a waste, it is a template for you to understand life and contribute meaningfully to the society. The man who made a difference is the one with education to improve his environments not the paper qualifications.
I beseech you my readers to have a renewal of spirit and mind in how you see life, let your goal in life be guided by your contribution to your society and never look down on anyone who came out of the University with ordinary pass. He could be the one to make a difference.


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