The Buhari Gani did not know
On Sunday, April 22, 1990, soldiers sought to arrest Chief Gani Fawehinmi, famous human right lawyer and activist. His offence? April 22 was his birthday and that was when Major Gideon Orkar and his gang struck in a bloody coup attempt to topple General Ibrahim Babangida. The coup was said to have been financed by a wealthy fish-monger, Great Ogboru. One of the investigators got a brain-wave that the coup makers may have been dreaming of making Fawehinmi the head of a revolutionary government.
The coup collapsed and the Babangida regime wobbled on to its inglorious end. Fawehinmi was spared the ordeal that time. He had already won too many medals from almost all the prisons in Nigeria in his fight against misrule, especially military misrule. On Sunday April 22, this week, the family and friends of Fawehinmi marked his 80th post-humus birthday. That Sunday, his widow, the unconquerable Mrs Ganiat Bukola Fawehinmi, led us at a thanksgiving service to honour her late husband at the Archbishop Vining Memorial Church Cathedral, Ikeja. There were other activities, including a symposium and the unveiling of a new statue of Fawehinmi in Ojota. What was missing was the fiery speech from Gani who would have used the opportunity to rail against the injustices in the current dispensation under our aging, almost tired, but not yet retired captain, President Muhammadu Buhari.
About 48 hours after Fawehinmi post-humus birthday thanksgiving at the AVMCC, a less boisterous worship was going on at a village church in Benue State. It was a morning mass at Saint Ignatius Quasi parish church in Ukpon-Mbaloam village at Gwer East Local Government Area. At the early hour of Tuesday, April 24, the faithful moved to the church for the morning mass at 5 a.m. They did not know that some children of the devil were lurking in the darkness. By 5.30 a.m., the evil men, armed with automatic weapons, descended on the worshippers, killing 19 instantly. They were not done yet. They moved into the village and set fire on houses.
How would Fawehinmi have reacted to such outrage and regular bloodletting, especially in his assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari? Only two military regimes, since the time of the first coup in 1966, did not detain Fawehinmi. These two were General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi and General Muhammadu Buhari. While other lawyers were lampooning Buhari military regime of 1984 for its flagrant violation of human rights, Fawehinmi welcomed it for its relentless fight against corruption. Now, Buhari is back and he is increasingly failing in his primary constitutional duty of protecting lives and property.
Reverend Father Moses Iorapuu, the Director of Communications, Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, blamed the Benue massacre on suspected Fulani herdsmen and jihadists, who in the past one year have descended on the Benue valley with a vengeance, killing hundreds of people. In the latest outrage, two reverend fathers, Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolaha, were among those killed. Among the slain were also two primary school headmasters and one secondary school principals. Under the watch of Muhammadu Buhari, the Benue valley has become a killing field. There are also almost 200,000 people in refugee camps. If this is not war, what is it?
Fawehinmi was a conditional democrat who believes that it is better to have a patriotic dictatorship than for the nation to be burdened by a corrupt oligarchy masquerading as a democratically elected government. Therefore when the junta of Buhari and his deputy, Major-General Babatunde Idiagbon unveiled its agenda in 1984, Fawehinmi was one of its supporters. The politicians have been swept into prisons and the few that escaped were living in fear. One of them, Alhaji Umarru Dikko, who was the chairman of the Presidential Task Force on the Importation of Rice during President Shehu Shagari regime, was kidnapped on the streets of London by suspected agents of the Nigerian military government and only the vigilance of the British intelligence service saved him from arriving in Lagos in a crate
If Fawehinmi is with us today, he would ask about the vigilance of the Nigerian intelligence services. Everyday, we hear news of massacres across the land, of ravaging bands of suspected Fulani herdsmen and free-wheeling jihadists and yet the security chiefs are receiving accolades and new medals from their Commander-in-Chief. When those red-cap chiefs of the military, the police and the intelligence community meet the C-in-C at the Villa, do they congratulate themselves for a job well done? Are they satisfied that they are doing a good job as Nigerians continue to die violent death in the hands of terrorists?
I am not sure that Fawehinmi would agree with the powerful man in Aso Rock Villa today who appears powerless before the rampaging terrorists of the Benue Valley. The man who earned the respect of Fawehinmi was the ramrod soldier who imposed War against Indiscipline, WAI, and insisted that Nigerians must learn to live orderly lives, devoid of corruption and the bane of indolence in public space. He was spare and ramrod; a man of few words but demonstrative action who imposed orderliness on his country. He passed laws that many considered draconian and took steps that many considered were unnecessary and self-serving. But on the whole, he was considered patriotic, industrious, incorruptible and firm. Today, Buhari is still everything we read about in our history books, but we know, history is the study of the past. What has happened to Buhari that he has become unwilling or unable to impose order on our country and keep his oath of office to safeguard the life and property of Nigerians. Why should our land become a land of blood and tears?
When Fawehinmi supported Buhari in 1984 and ‘85, he was almost alone among the senior lawyers. The Buhari regime set up military tribunals where high court judges were made to serve on the panel while military men were presiding. Gani had gone to the military tribunal to defend Colonel Peter Obasa, the erstwhile Director of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, who was accused of corruption. This was a time when the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, under the leadership of Prince Bola Ajibola, ordered all lawyers to boycott the military tribunals. Gani defied the NBA and he lost the Obasa case to a young lawyer, Folashade Adetiba, who was the prosecuting counsel. Despite his loss, Gani was full of praise for the military tribunal.
“Experience has shown that corruption in public life in Nigeria cannot be obliterated by mere probes and commissions of enquiry or by the invocation of the criminal Code of under the ordinary legal system,” Gani said in a public statement. “The compelling need, therefore, arose to evolve and devise a system of justice swift enough, fair enough and serious enough to deal a lethal blow on corruption in public places.”
Gani felt Buhari was on the right track in his fight against corruption despite the obvious human right abuses of that era. Buhari main apparatus was the omnipresent Nigerian Security Organization, NSO, under the leadership of Mohammed Rafindadi and everyone felt its reach. Since then, the NSO had become the State Security Service, SSS and now the Department of State Security, DSS. What is happening in Benue is an indication that the Buhari of old is now old and so different from the friend of Gani Fawehinmi.
The Federal Government has a duty to unravel the mystery men who have been wrecking havoc in Benue and other parts of Nigeria. That is what Gani would demand from his friend if he were alive today. That is also what the living expects from Buhari the friend of Gani Fawehinmi.
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