This possibility could be because as early as 2.00a.m on Thursday 15th January 2009, people had started grouping in front of the Oranmiyan Hall of the Airport Hotel. From all indications it would appear that some actually kept a night vigil in the place. Interestingly these midnight guests arrived their destination ahead of a programme scheduled to kick-off by 10:00a.m, some seven hours later.
By 4.30a.m, the number of these early birds had grown to a hundred and by 5:15a.m, more than one hundred and fifty persons had arrived. When it was 6:30a.m, the number of arrives had grown beyond three hundred and fifty.
The event that the “congregation” came for was the 5th Gani Fawehinmiism Annual Lecture organized by the Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Association. Tagged “FAWEHINMIISM”, the lecture started in 2004 in the administration of Adekunle Ojo Esq and is to celebrate and immortalise the great contributions of Gani Fawehinmi the fiery legal practitioner and crusader to the socio-political development of Nigeria. Gani as Fawehinmi is more popularly known, was called to the Bar in January 15 1965.
Since the inception of the programme, Gani had always been given out books to the first one hundred people, lawyer or no, to come for the programme. This year was no exception. Those who did not want to miss out of Gani’s largesse this year arrived very early indeed. Interestingly only about 3% of those who made the first 100 arrivees were legal practitioners, law students constituted about 25% while the rest were artisans, technicians, bookseller etc.
This fact became known at the end of the programme when the books were presented to those who qualified to receive same. The time then was about 5.00p.m.
The programme started at exactly 11.15am, seventy-five minutes later than scheduled. The delay was caused by the waiting for the chairman of the occasion, Alfa Modibo Belgore, the former Chief Justice of Nigeria to arrive the hall. Belgore’s flight from Abuja had suffered delay in taking off and it also took his lordship sometime to get to Airport Hotel Ikeja from the Lagos Airport, upon arrival from Abuja.
By the time the programme started the hall was filled beyond capacity, as more people continued to pour in. At about 12.00p.m the crowd could not have been less than a thousand people. The star attraction of the lecture was the surprisingly delectable and almost vivacious Dora Akunyili, the lady who transformed the hitherto slumbering anonymous and in effectual National Agency for Food Drug, Administration and Central NAFDAC to an internationally respected agency and a dread to fake drug dealers and merchants.
Akunyili now minister of Information came into the hall in a fitted but comfortable, happy blue Ankara dress, with a matching blue headgear. She was all smiles as she gracefully but simply came into the hall. Through-out her stay (about three hours) she was the cynosure of all eyes.
Like the chairman of the Ikeja branch who praised Gani’s courage and consistency, Akunyili who was the Special Guest of Honour, heaped praises on Gani whom she referred to as ‘uncle Gani’ and “the Iroko of the wig profession”. According to Akunyili Gani is a fighter against oppression, corruption and human rights abuses and is also a check against the excesses of government.
Akunyili used the opportunity of her speech to praise the Yar’adua administration’s interest in electoral law reforms and constitution review. She also dwelt at some length on the Yar’adua’s administration’s preference for the rule of law and to shun executive lawlessness.
The next speaker, Femi Falana president of the West African Bar Association, which some people consider the “Baba Kekere” of social activism in Nigeria, presented a paper which sharply criticised the Yar’adua’s government stance on the fight against corruption, observance on the rule of law, proper management of the nation’s economy etc.
Falana was unsparing in his criticism and which was so masterfully delivered that the applause that greeted it nearly brought the house down. All the time of Falana’s fussilade, Akunyili was certainly un comfortable. Interestingly, Falana’s paper made no mention of Gani at all, either for good or ill, an indication, perhaps of the business like mind of the author.
Even though Falana’s paper was the best received paper, a portion of it was criticised by Justice Alfa Belgore, the chairman of the occasion. Falana had condemned the judgement of the Supreme Court which upheld the election of president Yar’adua in the April 2007 election as “an unprogressive decision” in the face of the facts before the court. In the Buhari vs Yar’adua’s case. Belgore C.J.N however was of the view that the Supreme Court did well in endorsing Yar’adua’s election, because according to the former C.J.N, the petitioner did not prove the allegations he made against the respondents beyond reasonable doubt as demanded by the law.
As for Mrs. Ayo Obe another guest lecturer, her delivery was quite rich and concentrated. But because it was served coolly and gently, it didn’t catch fire with the crowd. Obe described Gani as a “moral compass of the Nigerian public life” and went on examining constitution making in Nigeria. According to Obe who talked on the June 12 1993 election crisis, the General Sanni Abacha junta the 1999 constitution was a bastardised version of the 1999 constitution.
The last speaker, Professor Ralph Akinfeleye, like most of former speakers had kind words for Gani. Akinfeleye was brought in to replace Coloner Abubakar Umar, who could not grace the occasion.
After the lecturers had finished their duties, responses in the form of questions and comments from the floor and even from the high table burst like a flood. Of all the “responders” (most of whom praised Gani and condemned the government and the (elite) the one who got the biggest applause was the man who complained about the organization of the lecture specifically as it affected having information regarding how to qualify to collect the book gifts from Gani.
Though it had been quite a long day (from about 3.00am to 5.00pm) nobody in the crowd appeared tired. Many stayed put till the very end and left happier than they came even though their idol the irrepressible Gani was absent due to ill-health.