Meeting Falana 30 years after

Ogunsakin Mustapha
3 Min Read
Human Rights lawyer, Femi Falana, and Dr Omoniyi Ibietan

By Omoniyi Ibietan

Today, I resumed duties for the new year after a deserved leave and walked into the honour of a visit by ‘Egbon’ Femi Falana (FF), Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitration.

Thirty years ago, FF, now enlisted eternally in the pantheon of Nigeria’s most progressive lawyers, was in court with the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, Opeyemi Bamidele (now Senate Leader), Abimiku John Mathew, S.I. Amen, SAN, and so many other lawyers at different times, to defend me and my colleagues, pro bono, when we were suspended, and subsequently expelled by the authorities of the University of Abuja, where I was a pioneer student.  

By the reckoning of progressive students of law and history of student activism in Nigeria, our case (Niyi Ibietan & 44 Ors Vs University of Abuja and 2 Ors), remains a flagship, coming in the ranks of Yesufu Amuda Garba & Ors Vs University of Maiduguri and Ors. 

Through God and people like Falana, we overcame technicalities and dilatory tactics to win the case, including an appeal by the University authorities, in which Justice Ayo Salami, JCA (as he then was), embarrassed the University authorities with his seminal concurring addendum judgement. A very radical pronouncement akin to that offered by Justice Chukwudifu Oputa JSC (may God rest his soul) in the University of Maiduguri case. 

FF and I reflected on that case today in the presence of one of my bosses, who asked, “Niyi, were you an activist?”, to which I responded jocularly: “Yes sir. Only activists of my generation would spend 10 years to obtain an originally slated 4-year programme as I did”. In the autographed copy of my book which I handed over to FF, I thanked him “for saving my education from ice-cold grip of tyranny”. 

Uncle Falana told me he had two more places to visit before close of business today but he asserted that I already made his day a great one. He didn’t realise he’s one of my leading enablers. If God had not sent people like him to me and my colleagues when we needed his kind most, we would have perished or become dysfunctional. 

Falana’s visit occurred the same day as a visit by a beloved brother, Emeka Nwankpa, who was a leading light of the group of journalists (across media systems of communication platforms and institutions, including NUJ) that gave me and my colleagues uncommon solidarity during our travails.

Brothers! May your days be long. May your type increase. May Nigeria flourish over unfreedoms.

Dr Ibietan is Head of Media Relations, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)

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