Mohammed the first son of Late legal luminary Chief Gani Fawehinmi like his dad is very passionate about Project Nigeria and disappointed that the nation’s past and present public office holders have underperformed and left most citizens suffering. In this interview with Thomas Imonikhe, ahead the tenth anniversary of his father’s death on September 5th he speaks on the state of the nation and other topical issues. Excerpts:
It will be exactly ten years on September 5 since Chief Gani Fawehinmi passed on. How has life been this past decade?
Life without my dad has been very boring, very drab and in a way meaningless in the sense that he gave meaning to what happened in our country and we took cues from there because he was a man that simplified issues. Let’s forget that he was a legal luminary; the way he explained things allowed people including the ordinary masses who may be a school dropout will understand. I remember vividly when we buried him on September 15th 2009 when they tied him for the last time before they put him in the grave was when it dawned on him me that I am not going to see my father again as from this point forward; that I won’t have a boss and a father anymore. I realized that I will have the responsibility of becoming a father to some people, act as leader to some people and act like a guide to some people. I didn’t really appreciate that responsibility until we buried chief in Ondo State and we returned to Lagos.
I started consulting with my siblings on how to address issues as they come up and I realized that what chief has left behind I pray I would be able to achieve one tenth of it. So I have to involve my siblings and tell them that it is not something I can do alone. Luckily my immediate junior brother Saheed was still here in Lagos and has a lot of my dad’s mannerisms and does things the way my late dad would do so we put heads together, my mother too, Mubarak, Yusuf, Kamal and Tajudeen. It is when you see your brothers around you that there would be some level of confidence and you have to act right. For me I have the historical aspect of chief, my siblings saw a lot of actions in chief’s latter years so we tried our best until The Trustees took over the Estate which was a major relief for most of us. We all have to build careers on our own but we have to also concentrate on what is going on in our country. We can’t afford to neglect what is going on in this country at the moment.
What is happening in the country?
The problems we have in Nigeria have always be the same.
We have a leader now who would keep quiet or plans his own strategies the way he believes that it should be done. Knowing full well who the culprits are, let the security agencies take care of them but I believe President Muhammadu Buhari has to do more to fight insecurity. Why do I say so? The current security architecture in Nigeria is weak compared to the security threats we are facing and I must say with all due respect that Buhari is a leader I love so much compared to the other leaders before him. I believe he should be more proactive. For instance, if he finds that former President Olusegun Obasanjo is the culprit or sponsoring insecurity, he should arrest him and try him according to extant laws. The president should be mindful of the fact that the country does not belong to a few people; that the country belongs to over 190million people whether you are living here or in the Diaspora.
Chief Obasanjo, former military president Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and late head of state, Gen Sanni Abacha are responsible for a lot of the challenges that we are facing today in the country. Most of the funds that belong to us, that we should have spent to build infrastructure, provide good education, build bridges, roads, railways, hospitals, globally adaptable and compliant schools is in the hands of Obasanjo, Babangida, the family of Abacha. But the unfortunate thing is that we Nigerians are what I will describe as ‘it doesn’t concern me people’. We say to ourselves that when I get there I will chop my own but I always tell them that by the time you get to the public office there will be nothing left for you to chop because there is nobody in Nigeria today who is richer than Chief Obasanjo and I challenge anybody who claim otherwise to disclose their bank details for us to compare and contrast.
Not even the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola is as rich as Obasanjo so until we face the facts in this country, nothing is going to change. A lot of the security mishaps that we are facing today as a nation is caused by Obasanjo and some members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP who do not have anything to chop any more. Before now, some of the Fulani herdsmen who kill people, the security operatives were afraid to bring them to justice because President Buhari allegedly is the head of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria. Some people have even alleged that Buhari before he took over power as elected president employed 4000people and that the Nigerian Army was involved in training them and that if he had won and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan refused to hand over, he would have unleashed the militia and make the country ungovernable for Jonathan. But the point I am making is if you come to my house and you attack me and you don’t kill me and I have the opportunity to fight back someone’s life would go. It is either the assailant or me the victim of the attacker because I have to protect and defend my own home. I must say that I am personally disappointed by the performance of all the governors from the southern part of the country in tackling rising insecurity.
For instance the Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who the killer herdsmen invaded his state twice to wipe out a whole village, he did nothing. I asked what makes you the leader of Enugu State if you cannot protect lives and property in that state? Former Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State who while he was governor was dancing with hunters and the killer herdsmen came there, raped a pregnant woman, disembowel her and brought out a child before hacking her to pieces. Also, in Delta State the Governor, Sen. Ifeanyi Okowa, allowed the herdsmen kill the husbands of two beautiful women and raped them and you call yourself a governor and you say you are developing the state. But the question I asked him is who are you developing the state for? Coming to my own Ondo state where I cannot fathom or believe what is going on there.
The herdsmen recently killed the daughter of Yoruba leader Pa Reuben Fasoranti. Before that incident, according to news we have been receiving, eight different people were killed on that same road that woman (Late Mrs. Funke Olakunri) met her sudden death. The Governor of the state, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN was attacked twice on that road and everybody said oh! It doesn’t concern me and did nothing about the killings. But when they murdered Fasoranti’s daughter, who is who in the country were rushing to Akure to pay him condolence visits. It was then that they discovered that in Ondo state the herdsmen were training militia in the Southwest. And I asked: should the governor remain in office a day longer? So left to me many of the governors of these states should not be in office any longer with all due respect.
The situation in Lagos State is also unfortunate where we have a new governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu who is gallivanting and going for thanksgiving everywhere as if governance is all about thanksgiving. He should better realize that he was not elected to do thanksgiving but to face the serious business of good governance. He should focus on delivering the dividends of democracy to the people. Sanwo-Olu’s deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat has not been helping matters as is busy telling us that when former governor Raji Babatunde Fashola was there, he was the one that engineered all the construction and I challenged him to unveil government plans to address the traffic gridlock in Apapa which is locked down right now? What are your plans to ensure that people are not constantly stranded at Lagos bus stops? But our people condone all sorts of bad governance; we act as if we did not go to school; we act as if we don’t have common sense and it is unfortunate. Unfortunately, the truth is that to become a president, governor, chairman, a senator, a minister, a commissioner, a councilor all you need is just five credits, common sense.
Once you finish secondary school, you are eligible to run for all these positions and that is why we are in trouble so until the people make those in positions of authority more accountable and transparent we can’t move forward as a nation. Yes you can blame President Buhari because he ought to have done what is expected of him because if I am the commander- in- chief, you can’t come into Nigeria and misbehave. I am not a military man but if you touch a Nigerian citizen, you are in serious trouble because to me the blood of a Nigerian is more valuable than that of any other national in Africa because we know how much we have committed to the liberation struggle in the continent and the building of Africa.
You came very hard on the governors who don’t have any control over the security operatives in their states including officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force. Many Nigerians have been advocating a constitutional amendment for the creation of State Police. Are you justified in your criticism and do you support State Police?
What is the security vote used for by the governors? It is for you to provide security for the people of the state. How did immediate past governor of Bauchi State handled security challenges that Boko Haram did not overrun that state? How did the former governor of Gombe State achieve lasting peace in that state despite their close proximity to Borno State? They hired and trained local militia who they equipped and empowered to fight insecurity. The truth is that for the wonderful performance of those governors, the states would have been overrun by the insurgents. How did Fashola do it in Lagos State? He set up a security trust fund and mobilized all security outfits including the Nigerian Army, Police, Navy, Nigerian Air Force, Civil Defence, Customs to deal with criminals across the state. I recall then that there were rumours that some members of Boko Haram infiltrated Lagos through the water ways and they caught them. If not Ikeja GRA, Ikoyi and the Third Mainland Bridge would have been wiped out by the insurgents. Fashola knew what he was doing and provided adequate security for the people even without creation of state police. If you do your job even before the police arrive the scene of crime some other persons would be on ground monitoring the proceedings; it is the people on ground that would tell you what happened, when the crime was committed. I believe the first people who should know when there is any security breach are the councilors because of their closeness to the grassroots so it is the people of Nigeria that are their greatest enemies. Those who are elected to public offices earn fantastic salaries and send their children abroad to study and they are not in touch with the reality on ground. They and members of their families travel abroad regularly for medical check-up and don’t give a hoot to what happens in the nation’s public hospitals.
What is your reaction to the amendment of the Law setting up the Asset Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON which will enable the agency recover the estimated N5 trillion debt?
I commend the president on the latest amendment and I would want him to be the first actor to implement the law. I say so because we still have the pending case of Abdulrasheed Maina who is living in limbo. You should recall that the former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN travelled to Dubai in United Arab Emirate to see fugitive Maina, former chairman of Pension Reform Task Team to discuss certain things. Why couldn’t the President invite Maina to Nigeria and hold discussion here? Maina was accused of misappropriating funds. He knows how much he has accumulated but where is the money? So that is why I said that the President must lead by example. Again look at what the President did when they wanted to elect a new Senate President, he disappointed me. If you are going to elect a Senate President it must be from among his peers – the 109 senators. Rather the President had to concede and directed that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, should not prosecute Senator Danjuma Goje (APC Gombe) because he was going to support Senator Ahmed Lawan whom we wanted as Senate President and the charges were dropped against Goje. To me that is clear case of corruption coming from the heart of the President who told us that he is Mr. Integrity. That is not the Buhari I knew when I was a small boy because the Buhari I knew as a kid will not do that nonsense. Nigerians demand that Goje must refund the billions of naira he allegedly stole from the people of Gombe state as governor just as Orji Uzor Kalu must refund the money he allegedly stole from the people of Abia for which he has been on trial for years. The people of Abia need that money to develop their state. If you are a business man let us know the trajectory of how you started and not using state funds to now start puffing.
How do you intend commemorating the tenth memorial anniversary of your dad?
You know I have many brothers, when I mean lawyers that he has trained. Out of the 243 lawyers he trained apart from his own children, we have a team which is headed by Tayo Oyetibo, SAN so we still have to consult widely. Fortunately one of such lawyers, Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa has just been named a SAN, Senior Advocate of Nigeria so it is so much joy for us. If my dad was alive today and Olu-Adegboruwa was made SAN, Nigeria would shake but we thank God everybody has his time to pass down a good legacy. Unfortunately what we were planning before was to open the Gani Fawehinmi Gallery in Ikeja but what we are going to do now is organize a symposium and we are going to pick a date this September to do it and we are also liaising with First Trustees regarding funding because they said it is not something we can do alone and we can’t host the event within the premises of the Nigerian Law Publications. It will be after September 5th, you know he died on September 5th and buried September 15th against all Islamic injunctions. Chief was an unusual man so we need to use that symposium to tell ourselves the truth.
Has anybody fits Gani’s ‘big’ shoes?
Nobody, no SAN, no lawyer. If you are going to pick a collection of lawyers yes, a pack say 20 from divergent background in the country to fill one quarter because it takes gut to do what a man like Gani did and it requires spiritual blessings to conquer someone like Chief Obasanjo, Gen. Babangida, the late Gen Abacha and the rest of them. So the only decent general that I know in Nigeria today is Gen. Yakubu Gowon, because he is the only one when he released my father from prison, he apologized. That is a man you call a fine officer and a gentleman.