Last week, I gave a little insight into my humble contributions to the struggle for democracy, now being messed up by the present state actors who were never involved. Many of them ran abroad. Many hid behind their wives’ backs. Many carried on their normal business. But, some of us risked our lives, came out and faced the military goons, ranging from military juntas of Generals Buhari, Babangida, Abacha and Abubakar. We (Human Rights Activists) did not discriminate, whether we were minority like me, or of majority ethnic groups. We fought together and snatched Nigeria back from the asphyxiating grip of military fascism. We enthroned democracy!
Titanic Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, SAM, the undoubted leader of the struggles, was badly bruised. He suffered more detentions, humiliation, pains, pangs, tears, sorrow and blood, than any other Nigerian, living or dead. He died of lung cancer on September 5, 2009. He was lucky to have lived for another 10 years after enthronement of democracy, considering what he went through in the hands of the military. Chief M.K.O. Abiola was not that lucky. He won the 1993 Presidential election; was denied the crown and eventually died inside Aso Villa, in suspicious circumstances that pointed to top government conspiracy.
As I said last week, I had begged Gani to apply for his SANship, to enable me do same. He did. He got it in 2001. Mine lasted till 2009 when eventually, I was conferred. The story is long.
But, Gani became uneasy and furious at the delay. When he felt that my being conferred with SANship was lasting forever, he wrote me a personally signed letter dated November 22, 2008 (I have it framed), wherein he said,
“My Dear Ozek,
Shock is the expression of rejection of the refusal by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee to confer the honour or status of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on you this year.
God knows that you more than deserve the award of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
In the year 2009, God will put right the mistakes made by human beings in their failure in 2008 to award Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) to you.
CHIEF GANI FAWEHINMI, LLD, SAN
Yes, Gani was prophetic. I was conferred with the rank of SAN in 2009, the very year he had predicted. I had left Gani’s Chambers a very fulfilled, ambitious young man in December, 1985. I set up my own legal practice in January, 1986. Military dictatorship was then in full bloom. But, we remained close till he died; with a father-son confidante relationship. I was one of the last persons who visited him at his home (GRA, Ikeja, Lagos), after he returned from London, weighed down by lung cancer. Many of the things Gani confided in me before his death (e.g., why he closed down his Chambers, but allowed Nigerian Weekly Law Reports (NWLR) publication to continue), remain in my bossom. My memoirs will reveal all. I had co-founded the now famous NWLR with him. I suggested the name and colours. We launched it on 1st October, 1985. I was Assistant Editor.
MY COLLABORATION IN THE FORMATION OF THE FIRST HUMAN RIGHTS BODY IN NIGERIA – THE “CLO”
There came the urgent need in the 80s to float a virile human rights league of like minds, to fight the military to a standstill; rather than the solo efforts we had been used to. This new thinking gave birth to the first ever human rights body in Nigeria, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), on 15th October, 1987. These were the pioneer drivers: Olisa Agbakoba, SAN (President); Clement Nwakwo (Secretary); Mike Ozekome, SAN (Director of Legal Services); Richard Akinola, then of Vanguard newspapers (Director of Publicity); Abdul Oroh, then of Guardian newspapers (Director of Organisation); Emmanuel Erhakpotobor (Treasurer). We took up pro-masses causes, releasing from Kirikiri and Ikoyi prisons, through the courts, many illegally detained prisoners. Some of them had been so incarcerated for over 15 years without trial, even for minor misdemeanors. It was most horrific. The SAP riots soon came. We dealt with them.
By 1992, I became more restless, more convinced we needed more voices to fight the military. So, I established the Universal Defenders of Democracy (UDD), an international human rights league, launched by late Justice (Dr) Akinola Aguda. Emeka Ihedioha (ex-Governor, Imo State) was Director of Organisation. One Chika Michael, a lawyer, was Treasurer. Pastor Leke Sanusi (now based in London) was Director of Legal services. Pollie Okoronkwo (now of NNPC) was Director of Publicity. Tayo Douglas was Staff Attorney. We protested against the military on the streets; sang; danced; walked; ran; pampheteered; leafleteered; etc. This increased under the umbrella of the Joint Action Committee of Nigeria (JACON), after the mindless annulment of Chief M. K. O. Abiola’s election as President. Gani was the President; I, the Director of Publicity and Publications. We operated from Ikeja, Mushin, Ojota, Ikorodu, Isolo, Igando, Ikotun, Yaba, Iyana-Ipaja, Ebute Metta, Tinubu Square, Ijanikin, Okota, Lawanson, Ijesha, Maryland, etc.
We remained in the trenches for days, weeks, months. Many of us were beaten up, maimed or killed. Many were detained or jailed. Many escaped abroad on self-exile. Some of us stayed put, and dared the military, eyeball-to-eyeball. Some activists journalists went underground, and commenced guerilla journalism. On one occasion at Yaba/Tejuosho busstop, Murtala Mohammed Way, Lagos, the military actually sprayed us tear-gas with hovering helicopters. We used handkerchiefs, soaked with kerosene, to ameliorate the choking effect. Gani, our fearless leader, collapsed due to much inhalation of noxious gas. We rushed him to the hospital. Not a few believe his lung cancer disease emanated from these serial brutalization and dehumanization in the hands of successive military cabals.
With the UDD, I secured reprieve through Justice Morenike Onalaja of the Lagos High Court, a stay of execution of the death sentence passed on General Zamani Lekwot, who had been sentenced to death by an IBB military panel over the Zangon-Kataf riots. I never knew or met him before then. We only met for the first time in 2014, 21 years later, where we were both delegates at the National Conference. He thanked me profusely. I used the human rights league to get the court to declare illegal, the arrest and detention of the “Kuje 5” – Gani Fawehinmi, Beko- Ransome Kuti, Baba Omojola, Femi Falana and Olusegun Maiyegun (then NANS president). And many more.
THE EMERGENCE OF “JACON”
We later discovered that going solo with our various human rights leagues was not enough. We needed an umbrella body. My UDD (now Universal Defenders of Justice Initiative [UDJI]), Gani’s National Conscience Party (NCP), the CLO, National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Agbakoba’s United Action for Democracy (UAD), Nwankwo’s Constitutional Rights Projects (CRP), Beko’s Campaign for Democracy (CD), Falana’s Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Dr Tunji Abayomi’s group, and 16 other pro-democracy and human rights organizations merged together to create a new organization, the Joint Action Committee of Nigeria (JACON). On 29th of April, 1998. These organizations finally sent the military packing.
Many JACON members were arrested and detained. JACON instituted several court actions against General Abubakar, General Olusegun Obasanjo, and against the annulment of the June 12 elections won squarely by Nigeria’s iconic democratic matyr, Abiola, who shed his precious blood in messianic redemption. Justice Dolapo Akinsanya of the Lagos High Court was later to declare illegal, the Interim National Government (ING), set up by Babangida, and headed by former U.A.C Chairman, Chief Ernest Sonekan. For some details of the struggle, please see: page 33, CLO’s 1990 Annual Report on Human Rights in Nigeria. See also NY, USA-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights Report (issued 27th June, 1989), titled “In Defence of Rights: Attacks on Lawyers and Judges” (https://www.iej. See generally, https:books.google.com.ng); https://www.inigerian.com/june-12-and-the-hypocrisies-of-a-junta/; https://rhbooks.com.ng/product/heroes-of-democracy/; https://thenationonlineng.net/heroes-of-june-12/; https://www.facebook.com/nigeriansinusa/posts/heroes-of-june-12posted-by-emmanuel-oladesu-on-june-8-2018-the-nationhuman-right/1012615088892120/; https://diplomaticwatch.com/june-12-as-nigerias-democracy-day-president-buhari-has-done-the-right-thing-for-which-history-will-remember-him-ozekhome-san/.
Read also Joe Igbokwe’s epic chronicle in his book, “Heroes of Democracy”, published in 1999. That yours sincerely, from a humble background, was considered fit and proper by God Almighty, to be inducted into the pantheon and Hall of Fame of “Heroes of Democracy in Nigeria”, is one thing I cherish forever. I am grateful to God.
MY SWEAT, TEARS, PAINS AND PANGS
In my years of struggles, I was beaten; humiliated; tear-gassed; detained several times; terrorized; my phones bugged; declared persona non-gratia to briefs of government institutions (MDAs); etc.
Let me recall just a few. On one occasion, SSS men threw tear gas canister into my Ogunlana Drive, Surulere, Lagos office, to smoke out myself and members of the UDD, as we used my office address as UDD secretariat. For detailed narration, see Tayo Douglas, https://www.marketwatch.com/pressrelease). My first detention experience was actually by the State Security Service (SSS, now DSS), at Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, in April 1986. I was later to be detained also at Alagbon Close, Ikoyi, Lagos, and many other cells.
On another occasion after the April 22, 1990 Gideon Orka Coup, I was arrested by two lorry-load of fierce and fully armed soldiers from my Ajao Road, Surulere, Lagos, office. I mocked the officers for wasting precious manpower and time, over “small” me, with an armada of fully armed personnel as if going to war. I lectured them that a mere invitation by letter, or through my landline, would have achieved the same objective.
I was whisked away and detained at a dungeon, near an open, smelly toilet, with maggots wriggling out. It was owned by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), headed by Brigadier General Ibrahim Sabo, at Child Avenue, Apapa, Lagos. I met Olisa Agbakoba there (see https:www.amnesty.org). I thank God I am alive.
May God bless the martyrs of the struggles: Chief M.K.O. Abiola; Kudirat Abiola, Beko Ransome-Kuti, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Chima Ubani, Bagauda Kaltho, etc. May God grant them eternal life, and bless the living heroes and heroines of the struggle. I am happy to have been a part of it. The struggle continues. Even now. No retreat, no surrender. Aluta continua! Victoria Acerta.
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“You need an immense amount of courage to stay the course and struggle even when you are almost ready to give up on life, so take courage and don’t let go till you win” (Anonymous)
Fellow compatriots, continue to read my weekly disquisition through the Nigerian Project, by Chief Mike A. A. Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, Ph.D, FCIArb, LL.D. God bless Nigeria.