The Story Of How Gani Almost Lost His Wig And Gown By Onigegewura

Today is Gani’s birthday. Were the fiery advocate to be alive, he would have been 80 years old today. Of course, you know the Gani I am talking about. While most of us would go through life requiring both our first and last names [or in some cases of extremely famous people, their last names] for proper identification, there are a few people whose first name suffices as their trademark.

Growing up in the ‘80s, there were three Nigerians whose first names were legendary. It was even said at the time that a letter addressed to any of the three with only their first name would certainly be delivered to the right person. The oldest was Tai. Ask anyone who was old enough in the 80s, there was only one Tai. And that was Tai Solarin [August 20, 1922 – July 27,1994]. The youngest was Fela [October 15, 1938 – August 2, 1997]. Till date, the only Fela that most Nigerians know is Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

The third of the trio was Gani, the irrepressible advocate. Mention the name Gani anywhere in Nigeria and the tendency is for most people to assume that you are referring to Abdul Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi. As Iya Agba would have said: A n ki, a n sa, a so pe aladanla, iwo n bere pe se okunrin loku abi obinrin. Se obinrin a ma lo ada ni ile Kaaro oojire ni? [We are praising someone to the left and right, describing the person as the owner of the mighty machete. You are still asking whether the person who died was a man or a woman. Have you ever seen a woman wielding big cutlass in Yorubaland?]

Gani was stuff legends are made of. He was as brilliant as he was fearless. He was as principled as he was generous. He was irrepressible. He was courageous. He was bold. He was brave. And he was Gani! If any testimonial about Gani’s fearlessness is required, IBB was kind enough to provide one when Gani died.

In the words of the former military president: “There was one vivid meeting that has remained in my memory about Gani, and that was in 1984. I was the Chief of Army Staff. Gani, in his characteristic manner, was as fearless as ever when we asked him to relate his own side of a particular issue as he blasted all of us irrespective of the fact that we were all generals in uniform and he was the only civilian among us and all what we did was to clap for him as we appreciated his courage.

That’s Gani for you! O lo aso mo idi, gba ibon lowo omo ojo. [The brave one who while armed with only his loincloth was courageous enough to disarm the coward.]

Gani was a fighter who was not afraid to stand alone. And that’s what he did in this story Onigegewura is about to tell you today. He stood alone against the legal establishment in Nigeria. While the Nigerian Bar was represented by the formidable F. R. A Williams who led other bright stars of the Bar like G. C. M. Onyiuke, SAN; Kehinde Sofola, SAN; E. A. Molajo, SAN; and FRA Williams (jnr), Gani stood on the other side, all alone.

And it started with an advertorial in a weekly newsmagazine.

For other professionals, it would have been just another advert. But for a legal practitioner, it was a cardinal sin. One of the first things you are taught in Law School is that advertisement is against the ethics of the legal profession.

If you look carefully at the first picture above, you would observe that Gani was holding a book. I hope you can see it very well. Can you see the title of the book? You may need to zoom in on the picture. You can see it? Good! That’s Nigerian Constitutional Law Reports. That’s the book that triggered this story you are about to read.

In its March 23, 1981 edition, the West Africa magazine carried an advertorial announcing the publication of Gani’s new book. Yes, the same book in that picture. The magazine is now defunct.

The advertisement ran like this:

A NEW BOOK ON NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION

TITLED

NIGERIAN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW REPORTS

1981 Volume One

Edited by

Chief Gani Fawehinmi

The famous, reputable and controversial Nigerian Lawyer

The legal establishment in Nigeria must have read the advertisement a million times! The famous, reputable and controversial Nigerian Lawyer! What audacity! What insolence! Famous! Reputable! Controversial! Has the Rules of Professional Conduct been amended? Lawyers ran to their libraries to check the RPC. No, it had not been amended. It was still there in black and white. It was in fact Rule 33.

As fate would have it, the National Executive Council of the Nigeria Bar Association was scheduled to meet the following month in Calabar. The President of the NBA at the time was Chief Adetunji Fadayiro while Mrs. Hairat Balogun was the Secretary General. Of course, your guess is right, the issue of Gani’s ‘self-advertisement’ was on top of the agenda. It was at the meeting in Calabar that it was resolved that the conduct of Gani should be referred to the Disciplinary Committee.

Let me tell you about the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee. It is a body established under the Legal Practitioners Act. It serves as lawyers’ court. When a lawyer does something ‘unprofessional’, it is the Committee that will decide his case. In other words, the duty of the LPDC is to consider and determine any case charging a legal practitioner with misbehaviour. That’s where Gani was to be taken to for advertising himself or causing himself to be advertised as famous, reputable, and controversial Nigerian lawyer. And you know what? Gani was less than 17 years at the Bar at the material time.

On December 1, 1981, Gani was in his chambers at Sabiu Ajose Crescent in Surulere when he was served with a letter from the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, Federal Ministry of Justice. At the time, the Ministry was in Ikoyi, Lagos. The letter was signed by Mrs. O. O. Fatunde on behalf of the Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry.

The letter informed Gani that the attention of the Hon. Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice had been drawn to the advertisement in the magazine I told you about. The Honourable Attorney General requested Gani to show cause by way of written explanation why the matter should not be referred to the LPDC for appropriate action.

The ‘famous, reputable, and controversial’ legal practitioner was given 14 days to respond.

However, on December 3, the same Mrs. Fatunde drew up a formal charge against Gani. It was a two-count charge. Under count one, Gani was alleged to have contravened Rule 33 – I have told you about the rule – by commercially advertising the importance of his position as a lawyer in Nigeria by describing himself as “the famous, reputable and controversial Nigerian lawyer.” Under count two, Gani was accused of contravening Rule 34. He was informed that his case would be heard by the LPDC on January 25, 1982.

Now, this is very important. How many days was Gani given to respond to the first letter? 14 days! You are right. Second question, what was the date of the letter? December 1. So by logic of simple arithmetic, Gani ought to have been allowed till December 14 before any action was taken, right?

Gani who was in the process of responding to the initial letter was naturally shocked to receive the charge – two days after the service of the letter. He checked the calendar. He still had more than 10 days! Why the haste? Who was in a hurry to see him in the dock? It was this haste in the framing of the charges which excited his suspicion and put him in fear, leaving him in doubt as to whether his trial would be fair.

The Ondo Chief knew that ijafara lewu [delay could be risky]. He knew that to wait for the January 25 date would be dangerous. Yet, he knew that the matter at hand was like hot soup; he needed to be strategic if he was not to burn his tongue. Like a fighter he was, Gani went to his legal armoury to fortify himself for the coming battle. Sleepless nights were spent researching all the fine points of law.

On January 25, Gani went to the Nigerian Law School in Victoria Island where the LPDC proceedings would take place. Immediately his case was called and he saw that Chief Richard Akinjide, who was the Federal Attorney General, was also the chairman of the LPDC, Gani knew that his hen would never get justice in the court of fox. Chief Akinjide told him that his case would be adjourned to February 22, 1982 when his trial would begin.

On leaving the Law School, Gani did not bother to go home. He headed straight to the Lagos High Court. You know that Gani was clever. He did not alert the other party about what he wanted to do. He filed an ex-parte motion for the enforcement of his fundamental right.

Two days later, he was back in Court to argue his application before My Lord Justice Ademola Candide Johnson. [I have explained the difference between ex-parte application and motion on notice in the MKO Abiola and Afe Babalola’s story.] In arguing his application before His Lordship, Gani submitted that he was doubtful of getting fair hearing before the LPDC. His Lordship listened to the famous, reputable and controversial lawyer. To Gani’s eternal relief, Justice Candide Johnson agreed with him. My Lord was satisfied that there was merit in his application. The court ordered the LPDC to ‘stay further proceedings in respect of the charges against the applicant until Gani’s substantive application was finally determined’.

Gani had scored the first goal!

It was a very proud Gani that went to court the following day to file his motion on notice. This was to formally notify the LPDC that he was challenging its competence to try him on the charges as framed and on the panel as constituted. Upon being served with the order and the application, the LPDC constituted a team of formidable legal practitioners to represent its interest.

On February 25, 1982, the two parties appeared before His Lordship. Gani’s friend and fellow
activist, Dr. Olu Onagoruwa led the counsel appearing for Gani. The LPDC team was led by the legendary FRA Williams. Though the matter was strictly between Gani and the LPDC, almost every lawyer in Lagos was in court on that day. Gani was just seventeen years old at the Bar. His future in the profession hung precariously on the outcome of the suit.

Has Onigegewura told you the grounds upon which Gani was even challenging the competence of LPDC? I haven’t? I will tell you.

Do you recall what Mrs. Fatunde said in her letter to Gani on December 1? She said that “the attention of the Attorney-General…..” You remember? Good. Mrs. Fatunde who drafted the charge was a counsel in the Office of the Attorney General. I hope you are following these fine details. In effect, the Attorney General was, by the letter of December 1, the accuser. The Attorney General, by the charge of December 3, was also the prosecutor. That’s not all. Have I told you that the Attorney General was also the chairman of the LPDC? Yes, the chairman of the LPDC was the Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice, who at the material time, was Chief Richard Akinjide, SAN.

I can see you shaking your head in disbelief.

Gani’s case was therefore straightforward. According to him, “As a result of the part played by the Attorney General of the Federation in bringing the complaint and charges to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, there is a real likelihood of bias on his part as Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee in the consideration and the determination of the said complaint and charges.”

At the hearing before Justice Candide Johnson, both parties put up spirited argument in support of their respective case. At the conclusion of hearing, Justice Johnson decided the case in favour of Gani. That was not all. His Lordship also came down heavily on the composition of the LPDC. In prohibiting the Committee as constituted from proceeding to try Gani, His Lordship found that there was a real likelihood of bias if the Committee was allowed to determine the charges against Gani.

According to His Lordship: “…neither the members of the Executive Committee present at the meeting held at Calabar on the 25th of April, 1981 nor the Attorney General of the Federation is competent to sit on the Disciplinary Committee if the provision of section 33(1) of the Constitution is to be preserved and enforced.”

Gani had scored the second goal!

Naturally, the LPDC and its parent body, the NBA, were not happy with the judgment. Their legal team was instructed to challenge the decision at the Court of Appeal.

The Appeal was heard by five Lord Justices: My Lords Nasir, Kazeem, Nnaemeka-Agu, Mohammed and Kutigi. On behalf of LPDC, it was contended that to the extent that the Legal Practitioners Act did not make the decision of the Committee final and conclusive, Gani’s rights were not infringed under the Constitution. The trial court’s decision was also faulted on the ground that His Lordship made a finding on the truth or otherwise of Gani’s affidavit when Gani was not cross-examined.

The Panel listened to the parties and in a unanimous and considered judgment, all the five Lord Justices dismissed the appeal as being without merit. In holding that the appeal failed, My Lord Nasir ordered that “the Attorney General of the Federation, (Chief Akinjide) and the three members of the Disciplinary Committee against whom complaint has been made are prohibited from taking part in any future proceedings as members of the Disciplinary Committee…”

Gani had scored the third goal. But the match was not yet over.

LPDC decided to drag Gani to the Supreme Court for the Mother of All Battles. Having regard to the constitutional importance of the case, seven Lord Justices were empanelled to hear the appeal.

Chief FRA Williams who led three other senior advocates and one junior put up brilliant and creative arguments before the apex Court. According to the former Attorney General of the Western Region, the function of the LPDC was to set the ball of disciplinary proceedings in motion, and this was basically an administrative function. The foremost legal practitioner cited many landmark decisions from the House of Lords in the United Kingdom as well as from the Supreme Court of the United States in order to persuade the Court to upturn the decisions of the lower courts. In particular, FRA Williams urged the Court to avoid what Lord Wilberforce of Britain had referred to as “the austerity of tabulated legalism” in interpreting the Constitution.

It was an impressive submission. My Lords were impressed with the quality of advocacy of the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria [awarded on April 3, 1975, along with Dr. Nabo Bekinbo Graham-Douglas].

Gani who appeared for himself responded to the Chief’s argument in his characteristic forensic and analytical manner. He contended that contrary to FRA’s submission, there were two different and distinct bodies dealing with discipline under the Legal Practitioners Act, namely the Legal Practitioners Investigating Panel and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal. He argued that the latter had power of trial and punishment. And it was before the Tribunal that he was brought. The Tribunal must therefore observe rules of fair hearing. Like FRA, Gani also cited authorities which went as far back as 1890 as well as decisions from even the Hong Kong Law Report!

 

It was equally an impressive submission. My Lords were impressed with the quality of advocacy of the relatively young advocate who would not become a Senior Advocate until 2001.

In resolving the issue before it, the Supreme Court said that one of the cases cited by Gani was very proximate to the matter before it. That’s the case of Re Godden where a medical doctor who had examined a police officer and had formed opinion about his mental state was later requested to be the doctor to issue a report when a formal proceeding was to be taken.

Having considered all the arguments canvassed by both LPDC and Gani in the light of the facts of the case, My Lords placed the matter on the invisible scale of justice. Slowly and slowly, the scale began to tilt in favour of Gani. And finally, My Lord Aniagolu pronounced the magic words: “In the result, this appeal by the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal must fail, and hereby fails.”

In dismissing the appeal, His Lordship held that: “In the instant appeal, Chief Richard Akinjide, by reason of the way he handled the Respondent’s (Gani) matter was in like, although not exact, positions as Dr. B in Re Godden…. his behavior seemed to portray him as having arrived at a conclusion on the guilt of the Respondent, Gani, thus rendering him unfit to sit again, in judgment over the case…”

His Lordship was not alone in throwing out the appeal. Justice Obaseki also held that: “Chief R. O. Akinjide and members of the National Executive of the Nigerian Bar Association cannot play the role of prosecutor and adjudicator at the same time.”

Justice Esho also concurred with their Lordships and held that: “Nothing could be worse than the instant case in seeking an example of breach of natural justice. The accusers are not just merely the judges but they are in fact impatient accuser judges; and undisguisedly so.” Other Justices on the panel, My Lords Irikefe, Uwais, Karibi-Whyte, and Oputa also did not hesitate to dismiss the appeal filed by LPDC.

The appeal was not only dismissed, the apex Court also directed LPDC to pay Gani the costs of the appeal which was assessed at the princely sum of N300 [Three Hundred Naira only].

Gani had scored the fourth and final goal of the legal match!

The Supreme Court blew the final whistle!

Match Over!!!

May Almighty Allah forgive Gani’s shortcomings and continue to grant him aljannat fridaus.

What is your fondest memory of Gani, the famous, reputable, and controversial Nigerian lawyer?

I thank you for your time.

Olanrewaju Onigegewura©

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