Confined to a wheelchair for 18 years following a tragic accident, Gani’s heir passed on last Wednesday aged 52. ADEBISI ONANUGA and ROBERT EGBE chronicle the life and times of the heir to the Gani Fawehinmi legal dynasty.
Nobody messed with famed human rights activist and legal luminary Chief Gani Fawehinmi; not even his first son, Mohammed. But Mohammed, in the exuberance of youth, often tried. Like the day he tried to drive his dad’s car without permission at their Ikeja GRA, Lagos home. The scene must have made some on-lookers chuckle, but it alarmed a few elderly women who knew the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)’s legendary temper and disciplinarian side.
Elufowora Eluyemi Lateef shared the story on his Facebook wall on Thursday.
He said “Chief” as Gani was fondly called chased Mohammed about while old women shouted,”‘Cheeeifuuu e fiii le ooo.’ Chief, leave him alone ooo”.
Mohammed, younger, energetic and fit as a fiddle, often sped beyond his dad’s reach, sweating as he bobbed and weaved.
That energy, which often caused him to sweat profusely, served him well again, when, at 14, he wanted to become an army general…of all the professions in the world.
He got a form for the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), hurriedly filled it and naively, excitedly sought his father’s signature.
Such was chief’s anger that it took four lawyers, including OAR Ogunde (SAN), Tayo Oyetibo (now SAN) and Mike Philips – to hold him down that day, while Mohammed sprinted away. Of course, that didn’t stop the chief from waking him up at 2:30 am the next morning for some thorough disciplining for wanting to join the military, his father’s enemy.
Apparently, he had forgotten that he was born while his father was being held in illegal detention in Kaduna Prison under the State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No 24 of 1967 during the regime of General Yakubu Gowon.
Ironically, those were some of Mohammed’s good old days.
A lawyer, Chinyere Iwuala Obi-Obasi, recalled some of them again last Thursday, in a tribute titled ‘Tribute to Mohammed Fawehinmi (Son of Gani) @52’.
She said: “Many years ago when I practised law in Lagos under Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), there was no way you would not notice Gani’s son. He was agile and took a flight of stairs at once. He was always sweating as he went from one court to another handling his cases. His father had already set the pace for activism and we knew that he would be greater than his father (chip of the old block).”
The man ‘Mannix’ Mohammed
He was born on February 21, 1969, to Fawehinmi and his wife Alhaja Ganiyat.
He attended Kotun Memorial Primary School, Surulere, Lagos, and had his secondary school education at Federal Government College, Sokoto.
He was a 1991 graduate of Business Administration from the University of Lagos. He obtained an LL.B degree from the University of Buckingham, England and was called to Nigerian Bar in 1998.
On September 23, 2003, while returning from his father’s law firm, Mohammed had a lone car accident that confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Until his death last Wednesday, he was Head, Mohammed Fawehinmi’s Chambers, Director, Nigerian Law Publications Ltd, Director, Books Industries Nigeria Ltd, and Director, Gani Fawehinmi Library and Gallery Ltd.
Somewhere on his life’s journey, he picked up the nicknames ‘General,’ ‘Mannix,’ and ‘Eghin Moh.’ But it is Mannix that stuck with most of his close friends.
The accident that rendered Mohammed a paraplegic was not just a tragedy for him, but also shattered his father’s dreams. Obi-Obasi explained that Chief had already penciled Mohammed as his heir, but that was not to be following the severity of his injuries.
She said: “We admired his tenacity then one day there was a tragedy. He had this very horrible car accident. He was flown abroad and yes he lost the use of his legs and became wheelchair-bound.
“Naturally it was a difficult time for Gani because he had the dream of this boy taking over. He lamented how in the whole of Nigeria there was hardly an MRI machine and that delay wreaked havoc. Meanwhile according to him in a small hospital in London, they had an uncountable number of MRI machines.
Mohammed told his accident story three years ago. It happened on September 23, 2003, five years after his call to the Bar.
He explained that the crash occurred at about 9:48 pm as he drove home in a Mercedes Benz E320 to Ajao Estate from his dad’s law firm.
As he took the airport route to connect Ikeja, he felt an unusual urge to pray. It was something he had not done before. Soon after, his car skidded off the road and leapt into a filling station. The front airbag opened, pinning him to the seat while the side airbag opened and broke his neck. After struggling for about a minute to burst the airbag, his body went numb. Thankfully, a naval officer stopped to rescue him from the car before it caught fire from the petrol that was already spilling from the vehicle.
After two hospitals couldn’t handle his injuries, he was referred to the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi. Two days later, his father secured a visa and moved him to England for further treatment.
The specialist surgeon in England noted after an operation that Mohammed could have been walking the following week after the accident if not for the way he was handled at the hospitals in Nigeria. He said the particular spot where the injury occurred should have been frozen with a special spray after the accident rather than being handled anyhow. That spray cost about N8,000 when converted to our local currency, but many hospitals did not have it in Nigeria.
Mohammed never married, despite his strong desire to do so. He was about 32 when he had that accident and had an Igbo lady he wanted to marry. Even after the accident, she still wanted to stay with him, but he advised her to move on, fearing that she would not be able to cope with the demands of his new condition. He was dependent on others for his survival and didn’t want that burden on her. She went away disappointed.
Nevertheless, women never stopped flocking around him, but he didn’t want anyone to marry him out of pity, so he turned them down.
Stigma of a paraplegic
Despite being born to a notable father, Mohammed suffered stigmatisation due to his health condition. He often lamented being treated like a leper on account of his condition.
Successful law practice
Two years after Gani’s death on September 4, 2009, at 71 years, Mohammed, as head of the Chambers, wound up his father’s law firm as stipulated in his father’s will.
He paid off and disengaged all the lawyers in the Chambers, including himself, with effect from January 15, 2009, to fulfil the instructions contained in the Will. He then established his own law firm. But the closure did not affect other staff of the chambers, and the other companies owned by his father. Many of them were engaged in the new Fawehinmi Library and Gallery located in the Nigerian Law Publication House at CBD, Alausa, Ikeja.
His resolve spurred him on and he set up Mohammed Fawehinmi Chambers where he began a successful law practice.
Fire of activism
His injury notwithstanding, Mohammed kept the fire of activism, nurtured while his father was alive, burning.
Activist-lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) said this in his tribute to Mohammed: “Notwithstanding his physical challenge Mohammed was ever prepared to join other patriots in confronting the forces of oppression and exploitation.
“The late Mohammed Fawehinmi fought forces of oppression and exploitation in the country.
“A chip off the old block, Mohammed was courageous, dedicated, knowledgeable and committed to the liberation of the Nigerian people from the shackle of injustice in all its ramifications.
“Despite the challenge of insecurity, poverty and underdevelopment plaguing the nation Mohammed strongly believed that a new Nigeria was possible.”
Mohammed’s family have kept mum on the cause of his death. But there have been suggestions that he died of breathing difficulties at about 9 am on Wednesday, in a Lagos hospital.
His family announced on Thursday that he would be buried following an autopsy and other necessary arrangements.
Mrs. Basirat Fawehinmi-Biobaku, eldest child of Gani Fawehinmi, who spoke on behalf of the family, said they could not talk about the cause of his death until release of the autopsy result.
She added that the deceased would be buried once the family concluded necessary arrangements.
Fawehinmi-Biobaku added that they were also waiting for the younger brother of the deceased, Mr. Saheed Fawehinmi, to return from the U.S.
She said the family, though still saddened and in shock, would announce his funeral arrangements in due course.
“This is after consultations with all relevant stakeholders, both in the country and outside the country,” she said.
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