JUNE 12” AND MY SUSTAINED STRUGGLES DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA ( 1)
No doubt, High chief Mike Ozekhome SAN fits this tags
In this special epistles sent to World Leaders magazine online, he tells his June 12 struggles and triumph
•“JUNE 12” AND MY SUSTAINED STRUGGLES FOR DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA (PART 1)
IFE AND MY STUDENT’S DAYS STUGGLES
I was one of the leaders of students’ successive struggles at Ife, before, during and after the infamous 1978 “Ali-mon-go” struggle for the emancipation of students’. From 1975 to 1980 at Ife, I struggled.
I led the University of Ife students’ delegation to the University of Benin in January, 1980, to debate and adopt a new Students Union Constitution under a new name – National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) – after the General Olusegun Obasanjo’s banning of the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS), led by late riotously bearded and fire-spitting Students Union leader, Segun Okeowo.
At Ife, I was a Representative at the Students Parliament, called Students Representative Council (SRC). I first represented Faculty of Arts (1975-1978); and later, Faculty of Law (1978-1980). This was after my struggled change of course from Faculty of Arts (English
INTERSHIP WITH HANMI ISOLA-OSOBU
All my law student’s vacation internships were carried out in the busy Chambers of “Peoples lawyer”, Chief Kanmi Isola-Osobu.p0;
CONNECTING WITH THE GREAT GANI FAWEHINMI, SAN, SAM
Upon performing my NYSC assignment in Yola and Lagos, I joined the pro-masses Chambers of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, SAM, as a junior counsel. I rose gradually to become a senior counsel; and later, Deputy Head of Chambers, by 1985. My salary was incredibly jerked up by irrepressible Gani from N400 to N500, a princely and spectacular sum at that time Under Gani (may the soul of this iconic Nigerian prodigy rest in Alijanah Firdausi, amen), I was, at that time, opportuned to handle numerous anti-military cases across virtually every state in Nigeria, thus being exposed to the vagaries of real pro-masses struggle; through the law courts; using law as an instrument of social Engineering (thanks, Prof Dean Roscoe Pound).
GANI IN DEFENCE OF PEOPLE’S CAUSES WITHOUT DISCRIMINATION
Col Peter Obasa was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Chief Kila, jailed for 25 years. General Ibrahim Babangida later released Obasa from prison seven years and fifty-six days later. I still have the picture where myself, Gani, Tayo Oyetibo, SAN, O. A. R. Ogunde, SAN, Justice Abiodun Akinyemi, Michael Phillips and Mr Fumudu, were leaving the military tribunal on a particular day. Gani also led me to defend Chief Isaac Idiong Udoka, an Ikot-Ikpene-based business man, before Justice Emmanuel Effanga’s Military Tribunal Recovery of Stolen Public Properties. We frequented Calabar, the venue, for this hearing. Gani led me to defend Alhaji Ibrahim Dikko before Justice Obi Okoye, then Chief Judge of Plateau state, sitting at the High Court in Jos. Gani also led me to defend Alhaji Majidadi and others, before the General Peter Adomokhai Military Panel on recovery of stolen public properties, that sat in Kaduna, and later then nascent Abuja. We used to stay in Suleija, because there was only one small hotel (Sunny Guest Inn), then in Abuja (1984); and only one major street, Festival road. All these people were accused of corruption, grand larceny of public funds, economic sabotage, etc. Gani, and I and other I listed above are alive, hale and hearty.
GANI AND THE “CAB RANK RULE”
In defending these accused persons, Gani never believed in corruption. Infact, Gani detested and condemned corruption with every fibre in his body. But, he was guided by two key principles: the right of every accused person to be defended by a lawyer of his choice. Then, the “cab-rank rule” which states that a Barrister has an obligation to accept instructions from every client (except where he is conflicted), regardless of negative public perception of that client, or the unpopularity of his cause. Gani had cited section 33, 1979 Constitution (now section 36, 1999 Constitution), at a world press briefing which I attended. I still have Gani’s signed press briefing hard copy. The case of WORSLEY V. RONDEL (1967) 3 WLR 1666, and the immortal words of legendary Lord Denning, no doubt played on Gani’s fecund mind: “A Barrister cannot pick or choose his clients. He is bound to accept a brief from any man who comes before the courts. No matter how great a rascal the man may be… no matter how undeserving or unpopular his cause. The Barrister must defend him to the end… The code which requires a Barrister to do all this is not a code of law. It is a code of honour. If he breaks it, he is offending against the Rules of his profession and is subject to its discipline.” If accused were left undefended because of media trial that already convicts them unheard, many innocent people would go to jail unjustly. It was the famous English Jurist, William Blackstone, who, in his seminal work, “Commentaries on the Laws of England” (1760), once said, “it is better that 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffers”. The second reason Gani gave for accepting the above briefs was that corruption must be fought headlong and routed out. He had therefore disagreed with the NBA which had decreed that no lawyer must defend alleged corrupt politicians of the president Shehu Shagari government, before the draconian military panels and Commissions of Inquiry, which were set up by the Buhari junta to try these Politicians. He reasoned, and rightly too, that such a stance would leave corruption to thrive more, if lawyers were to hide under unacceptable military tribunals to cripple the same tribunals. For this daring step, Gani was blacklisted by the NBA and his name entered in the roll of dishonor. He did not give a damn, because he was convinced he had done no wrong by defending clients who needed his legal services and expertise, to the best of his ability. The NBA was later to erase his name from this roll of dishonor. NBA also lifted Gani’s blacklisting. Gani’s long tangle with the NBA hierarchy made him bluntly refuse, for years, to apply for the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
MY SANSHIP AND GANI’S PREDICTION
In November 2000, I went to meet Gani in his sprawling Anthony Village Chambers where I had cut my legal wisdom teeth. In this “war house”, Gani had nicknamed me variously as “Ozek baba”, “mobile library”; “mobile dictionary”. I begged him on my knees, to apply for the rank of Senior Advocate. I vowed that I would never apply for the rank if he refused to, as I would never one day want to sit in the front role of lawyers (“inner Bar”) in the same court room where Gani would sit behind me (at the “outer Bar”). I wept profusely, like a baby. Gani, a very emotional and humane person (qualities unknown to many Nigerians, who simply viewed him as an unemotional roaring lion, or unfeeling tiger), actually wept with me. He held my hands, dragged me up and said, “Ozek baba, I will apply for the rank next year; but, only because of you; not because I need it for anything”. Gani fulfilled his promise to me. He applied for the rank of SANship in 2001 and was promptly given. Because he was pre-eminently qualified. I was later to achieve the same honour in 2009. Why the delay? [To be continued].
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“Democracy is not the law of the majority but protection of the minority”. (Albert Camus).