The 2018 Ikeja NBA Branch’s Annual Gani Fawehinmism has come and gone— but this time around, the event drew a lot of dust. The programme is an annual event that started 14 years ago. It is often organized by the Ikeja NBA Branch to honour Late Gani Fawehinmi’s contribution to the development of law in Nigeria as well as his unmatched human rights activism in Nigeria.
The annual event which started in 2005 was also attended by the late legal hero until his demise in 2009. In fact in his last will and testaments, Gani instructed that the sum of N1 million should be given every year in support of the annual event.
During his lifetime, I had the opportunity to meet Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, twice. The first time was in his chambers while the second was in 2007 when I attended the 3rd Gani Fawehinmism. 11 years on precisely on 15th January, 2018 at Airport Hotel, Ikeja, I attended the 14th Gani Fawehinmi’s Annual Lecture. The event was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. I was there before scheduled time. Getting close to the entrance of the event venue, I noticed something unusual. My first contact was rather a shocking sight— at the right outer space close to the entrance to the venue were a group of boys looking more like miscreants and street urchins (aka Area Boys) with suspicious looks and intention.
My instinct told me immediately that these were not here for the right reasons. Agreed Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN when he was alive was so many things to so many people but for someone like me who has attended this event religiously since the past 11 years, I knew all was not well. One thing that struck me was that they all had copies of the Event Programme. All these brought one thousand and one questions to the mind.
I remember reading a news item on the internet two days before the event and I came across the news that a certain students’ group known as Alliance of Nigerian Students Against Neo-liberal Attacks (ANSA) objected to the choice of Mike Ozekhome SAN as one of the keynote speakers at the 14th Gani Fawehinmi Annual symposium. The reason given by the group was that the Learned Silk defends corrupt individuals in court. The group threatened that they would protest the inclusion but were apparently not taken seriously.
At the event, the Chairman of the Ikeja NBA Branch, Mr. Ogunlana, while giving his opening remarks, mentioned that Mr. Ozekhome SAN had to quickly go to the Court of Appeal and that he would surely be around any time soon. Then, he used the opportunity to address the concern of ANSA, and rightly so, he said that no matter what opinion anybody may hold, it is not right to shut such person out. He therefore concluded that Mr. Ozekhome SAN would be allowed to talk at the event.
The event progressed and the Guest Speaker, Prof. Damola Popoola began the Lecture. It was during his presentation that Mr. Ozekhome SAN arrived and the commotion began. The miscreants I earlier saw while arriving the venue besieged the venue with resounding chant of Ozekhome Ole (meaning ‘thief’! Rending the air. The same boys who were earlier referred to as students began to act in a manner that suggest nothing close to the characteristics of students. From the door to the hall down to some meters into the hall, Mr. Ozekhome SAN was blocked, pulled, harassed and physically assaulted (touched) by these boys. These “area boys” indeed came for the Learned Silk. It was then I knew that they were sitting at the entrance waiting for him, and their plan to assault him unarguably premeditated.
It finally took the intervention of the Ikeja NBA Branch Chairman and some other people to free the Senior Advocate from the grip, seizure and assault by the “area boys”, after seriously begging them to let him go. The Learned Silk was escorted through another direction to the hall before he could assume his seat. The harassment, embarrassment and assault did not end there. The ‘area boys’ waited patiently in the hall interjecting with disturbing and abusive slangs at different intervals. They were waiting for the time Mr. Ozekhome SAN would make his presentation to conclude the final part of their script.
During his presentation, the ‘area boys’ started again with their resounding chants and abusive songs of disapproval, calling the Learned Silk all sort of names including ‘ole. These loud and provocative songs interrupted the programme once again and polluted the serenity, maturity and tranquility of the environment. Again, the boys were allowed to continue their disturbance. They were completely out of control and ensured that the over 400 participants were tired out. All the organizers could do, was to beg the ‘area boys’ to calm down. These disturbances and abuse, however, continued until Mr. Ozekhome SAN left the podium.
While different reports in the newspapers and online media may have under-reported what transpired at the 14th Annual Gani Fawehinmism of the Ikeja NBA Branch, it is compelling to say that what happened to Mr. Ozekhome SAN at the event is the height of incivility that could be meted on a very senior member of the bar. It was a serious violation of the dignity of the human person, continuously perpetrated in the open, in the very presence of lawyers. I would not go into the allegation of being corrupt or aiding corrupt individuals here.
What happened to the Learned Silk was not just ‘booing’ like a lot of media reported. What those “area boys” did to the learned silk was a huge insult to the rank, an assault to the rule of law and morally.
How else does one qualify a group of youths who took the laws into their hands after being advised otherwise? The likes of Mr. Ogunlana (Ikeja Branch Chairman), Mr. Muhammed Fawehinmi and the daughter of Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi spoke to the boys to convince them otherwise, but they would not listen to any entreaties. I did not expect them to listen because their appearances and languages show that they do not belong to a decent gathering and are miscreants, obviously sent by some people to harass and assault Mr. Ozekhome SAN.
Following how the event turned out, I have been thinking whether in all of this, the Ikeja Branch does not have a case to answer. How can a group of people who showed such dangerous disposition and who actually attacked a Special Guest be allowed to continue to stay in the hall? Why were there no visible security guards at both inside and outside of the event hall. Was it entirely right for the NBA even at these perilous times to have held an event without proper identification and security check? I have no reason to hold Ozekhome’s brief and would not even bother myself about what happens to him as a person however, I have my reservation over the whole incident because of the caliber of persons who were at the event and because of what the event stands for.
The NBA Ikeja branch failed to take any proactive measure to handle these kinds of issues which ordinarily should have been the case even without the earlier threat. Would one be wrong to assume that NBA condoned the criminal acts committed openly against a very senior member of the bar in a gathering to honour a man like Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi? I also noticed that the boys were familiar with the officials of the event, because from time to time they exchanged banters and had friendly chitchats. Would this not explain why the ‘area boys” did what they did with so much confidence and impunity?
While a lot of things may not be clear to lay people and under-reporting journalists, lawyers should know better. The point I have tried to make in this write up is that Lawyers are not only ministers in the temple of justice, they should be partners in progress. They should watch out for their own and be their brother’s keepers. Open chastisement among brothers should be encouraged but never by outsiders. Our fraternity is one of our best strengths. We should not trivialize it. As lawyers we must ensure that the day will not come when the citizens can lynch a lawyer on the road on the allegation that he or she is doing his or her job.
I do not and would never support corruption. But I would also never support lawyers allowing the kind of humiliation meted on the Learned Silk yesterday.
Bolaji Ramos Esq.