Thursday, January 24, 2008

Vol 8 No 14 21st January 2008 'RIBADU-hinmiism 2008'



Since 2005, it has become a sort of ritual for the NBA Ikeja branch a.k.a Tiger branch or simply Tigers to host the public to a festival of ideas on the platform of FAWEHINMIISM, an annual lecture/symposium in honour of Chief Abdul Ganiyu Fawehinmi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and arguably the most prominent human rights activists and social crusader in the last thirty years.

The lecture series started in the Adekunle Ojo chairmanship of the NBA Ikeja in 2005 ostensibly to honour the legendary Gani Fawehinmi, (renowned for his fearlessness, sacrificial patriotism, above all, untainted integrity) while still alive.

Since Gani as Chief Gani Fawehinmi is more popularly and simply known is not a quiet or silent achiever, but a colourful and rambunctious hero, it is natural that his celebration could never be done under the wraps.

Thus, from inception the FAWEHINMIISM Festival has always been an all comers event, with special efforts made to publicise the event, even before it took place and after it ended. To that end, advertisements in various media and forms of the events are done and journalists of all hues and colours cover the programme in their numbers.

A special tactic that guarantees attendance of many people at the festival is the announcement that the very first hundred guests to arrive would receive free, a number of Gani’s publications (law reports and books). This year, the number of beneficiaries of Gani’s benevolence was increased to 200, with each to receive 9 books costing no less than N15, 000.00.

Little wonder then that guests for the Fawehinmiism 2008 festival billed to start by 10.00 a.m. started arriving as early as 5.00 a.m. according to some reports. And by 7.30 a.m., three hundred and ten people were already on the queue to put down their names as participants.

Ironically, for an event organised and advertised as a lecture on ANTI-CORRUPTION, dishonesty manifested early as some people, lawyers inclusive were spotted shunting on the queue to ensure that they also had shares of the Gani freebies.

Fawehinmiism 2008 was different in one important aspect from the earlier festivals - the celebrant was absent.
In the 2005, 2006, 2007 editions, the presence of the lion himself, Gani, at the festival was a delight to so many. His style was to come to the venue quietly and invariably punctually. Then, he would go round humbly greeting and saluting distinguished members of the audience and very warmly too. Invariably, Gani was always the last speaker to address the crowd.

This aspect was what most people in the audience had come for - to hear the legend in that his unique and fascinating forceful manner, where he reels facts and figures so easily to back his contentions. Gani’s shortest speech at Fawehinmiism festivals lasted no less than two hours, and so passionately and emotionally delivered that even a corpse present could have woken up. Gani’s speeches at Fawehinmiism were not a matter of just of “sound and fury” but full of substance and penetrating insights into the problems of the Nigerian polity.

But at this year’s festival, the colossus was missing. The crowd (about one thousand, two hundred strong) was sorely disappointed to hear from Niyi Adewunmi Esq. the master of ceremony, who is also the chairman of the Organising Committee of the festival that due to ill-health, Gani had to be flown post-haste to the United Kingdom for adequate medical attention, just three days before the festival. It will be recalled that for several months earlier Gani, who will turn 70 in April had been battling ill-health in a London Hospital where he had gone for treatment. In fact he only came back home in Nigeria, to be around for FAWEHINMIISM 2008, but as the saying goes - “Man proposes, but God disposes.”

In the absence of Gani, his place was taken by another. That other person was not Gani’s charming and affable representative - Basirat Biobaku his daughter. Rather, it was his self-described protégé Nuhu Ribadu, Assistant Inspector General of Police, and until very recently, boss of the famous or is it notorious Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC.

When the programme kicked off, the master of ceremony invited to the high table, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi the chairman of the occasion, Honourable Justice Olubunmi Oyewole {Special Guest of Honour}, Professor Akin Ibidapo-Obe, Mrs. Basirat Biobaku, Mr. Justice Morenike Onalaja, Professor Yemi Osinbajo S.A.N, Mr. Dele Adesina S.A.N, Mr. Segun Sango Aderemi S.A.N, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, Adekunle Ojo, Barrister Adeleke, a law lecturer with the Lagos State University and the representative of the Dean, LASU Faculty of Law.

It would appear that there was an unconscious conspiracy among the dignitaries on the high table to make Fawehinmi 2008 more of a celebration of the controversial and publicity hungry Nuhu Ribadu, the immediate past chairman of the equally controversial - Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Going by the theme of this year’s festival – “CHALLENGES OF LEGITIMACY IN GOVERNANCE AND THE WAR AGAINST CORRUPTION” a reasonable expectation was that lecturers and discussants would make their intellectual forays in the direction of discussing how corrupt acquisition of political power and authority would enfeeble any government crusade against economic and financial corruption in the polity.

Only a few of the speakers and discussants shared this perspective. Some delved more into the socio-political causes and consequences of corruption and gave advice on how the menace of corruption could be tackled while others took the lecture as an opportunity to revisit the already dead and buried controversy whether or not government did right in sending Nuhu Ribadu away from the EFCC as chairman to become an adult student at the School of Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, near Jos.

The chairman of the occasion was the first to go down the Ribadu lane. The Professor and former minister of external affairs, argued that since it is special individuals who build nations and who are remembered in history then, such special individuals are actually indispensable in the affairs of their nations, concluding that government was wrong in taking Ribadu away from the EFCC, an organ he had nurtured so well. As far as Professor Akinyemi was concerned, Ribadu was indispensable to the continuous growth and effectiveness of the EFCC.

The next speaker, Honourable Justice Oyewole steered a rather neutral course as he made his speech, an exhortation to the Nigerian masses to see the crusade against corruption as war to be fought by all.

After the Honourable Judge came Professor Yemi Osinbajo S.A.N. The revered lecturer dedicated his lecture to Nuhu Ribadu and that alone spoke volumes. Osinbajo pointed out that corruption is not only thick in the public sector of the economy but also in the private sector. Osinbajo, famed for his intellectual endowment contended that poverty and impecuniosity are the main causes of the social vices of bribery and corruption. According to the learned silk, under him as the Attorney-General of Lagos State, government made considered improvement on the welfare package or conditions of judges and magistrates to reduce their susceptibility to corruption.

Professor Akin Ibidapo Obe who spoke next traced the pervasive presence of corruption in the society to the abandonment of core cultural values and traditional, moral ethics of Africans. According to Ibidapo-Obe, Africans are not conginentally prone to corruption as some theorists contend, even though in modern times corruption is like a second skin to many Africans.
Just when Dr. Joe Okei Odumakin was about to address the audience, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu quietly walked in. The time was about 1.30 p.m. and the audience was immediately seized with a sudden fever of excitement as roars of applause greeted the entrance of the former EFCC boss.

Many in the audience, especially the law students and young lawyers became agitated. To them the presence of Ribadu was not only sensational but even magical. Even though the man wanted to stay quietly in the crowd, he was forced, so to say to the high table, and equally forced or held to ransom to address the audience.

Of course, Ribadu loved fewer things than addressing appreciative audience. Only last year at the Fawehinmiism 2007 where he participated as the Guest Lecturer, he had used the opportunity to display his ability as a grand-stander. The times have however changed. The political dynamics that governed his elevation to the EFCC top job had altered and he had been, as it were shoved “upstairs” and (at least for now), had become an ex-this as far as the EFCC is concerned. Thus, Ribadu embraced a new found taciturnity, although even then from the few words he spoke at the occasion to wit:

“When I entered into this gathering
I was impressed by the ovation given to me. That to me is a conclusion in itself, so to say. Anything now will be an anti-climax. Let us pray for this country.
I don’t want to talk in view of the prevailing circumstances. My silence itself speaks volume for what is going on in this country. Something is happening to our country.
I want you all to join hands to pray for this country. I leave everything in the hands of God” clearly indicated his bitterness and angst at his removal from the EFCC.

Of course Ribadu did not fail to express intense admiration, even adoration of his self-adopted mentor - Chief Fawehinmi SAN whose good health he prayed for.

Fawehinmiism 2008 was a natural and comfortable haven for A.I.G Nuhu Ribadu to express his views about Gani and in turn get applauded and lauded as a honest government official and anti-corruption fighter. This because, with the possible exception of speakers like Dele Adesina S.A.N and Profesor Yemi Osinbajo SAN, all the other contributors are ardent admirers and followers of the socio-political school of thought that Gani represented.

Speakers such as Dr. Okei- Odumakin, Segun Sango Aderemi, Olasupo Ojo etc. are Gani’s ideological tribesmen and so could not and did not provide any intellectual counter-foil to the credentials of a manipulating and ‘manipulable’ crime fighter like Nuhu Rabadu, who is seen by Gani and his ilks as faultless.

In all, at the end of day the event appeared to be more of a celebration of Nuhu Ribadu, certainly no apostle of strict compliance with legality and due process, than the absent Gani Fawehinmi SAN, who in his numerous battles with forces of political oppression had used and relied on the law and the courts of law as his main weapons. Certainly, Ribadu was the star of the event.

As the programme came to an end at about 3.30 p.m., Mrs. Basirat Biobaku, Gani’s daughter and representative thanked the audience for turning up to honour and celebrate her illustrious father.

Before the curtains finally drew on the programme, the organisers distributed books and law reports as promised to the “first” two hundred participants.

The SQUIB prays that Chief Fawehinmi S.A.N will be hale and hearty for many years to come. Fawehinmiism 2009, here we come!

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