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Mo Fawehinmi: Gone too soon(A special tribute)

By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN

He used to come then like a guest, not really involved in the day to day business of the Chambers, so we didn’t have the opportunity of a close encounter, whilst he studied law. He was also not much involved in the political side at the time. Unmistakably however, he had the same zeal, energy and strength as his father, if not more. Mohammed Fawehinmi was to all then like the young shall grow, who didn’t exhibit the silver spoon trait common with most first sons of the high and mighty. His father, the quintessential Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, was a no nonsense man. He didn’t spare Mo (as we used to call him) or any other person indeed. Mo himself told us tales of how he tasted of the Bulala, times without number.

But once he got into the Chambers, Mo was on fire! He exuded amazing energy, for research and discovery. He told me he wanted to start from scratch, so he would come to my table and ask if I had legal issues to research on. He was very intelligent, humble, energetic, given to diligence and legal discoveries. He was very easy to relate with so he readily flowed with everybody. And did we all like him! It was usual for lawyers to gather to mimic Chief and recall some of his memorable encounters, either with the security agencies or with the media. And Mo would join us, adding his own narratives from his personal moments with Chief, whilst one of us stood by to watch out for Chief, who normally stormed the lawyers’ hall unannounced.

From the background story that he narrated to us himself, Mo wanted to enlist in the Nigerian Army and had proceeded to obtain the form for enrolment at the Nigerian Defence Academy, which he filled with so much enthusiasm. In one of the columns in the form was a space for his father to sign, so he joyfully took the form to Chief to endorse his signature. I’m sure you can guess what followed. Chief was livid with anger and it took the quick intervention of senior lawyers working with him then to calm him down and save Mo, who sprinted away like a deer. Who would have believed it, that this 14 year old boy was dreaming of joining the coup plotters, whom his father had battled all his life.

Who would take over one of the most successful law firms in Africa? Mo told us that he was thoroughly disciplined in the wee hours of the following morning. Mohammed was born in 1969 whilst Gani was in unlawful custody of the military at the Kaduna Prison, held under the draconian State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No. 24 of 1967, promulgated by the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon. How could such a person aspire to join the military! Mo would later study English as his first degree before he proceeded to study law.

In all aspects of his life, Mo was a chip off the old block, in his strides, his character, his demeanour and even his passion. He didn’t so much believe in cutting corners, as he opted to go through the mills in the Chambers. He expressed his desire to be assigned to a senior lawyer for mentorship whilst going round the tables to pick one or two assignments for other lawyers. By fate, Mo was assigned to me and we worked together on a number of cases. A day to any court hearing, Mo would have prepared the case file for our preview, gathered the authorities to be relied upon and checked through to see if there were pending assignments. And you can be sure that he would always get to court before you. He indeed inspired me, as he gave no sign that he was the son of my boss. Mo had a very fertile mind, he was very probing and it took me time to get used to his many questions on legal issues arising from the cases that we handled together.

One of those cases was the one instituted at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, on behalf of fishermen against the massive oil spillage in Eket in 1998. He was so passionate about securing justice for the fishermen. In another case involving Madam Carol Effiong, whose only daughter connived with strangers to sell her mother’s house, Mo took over the case personally, vowing to ensure that justice prevailed on her side. Mo was a happy go lucky guy, very considerate of others and the plight of the downtrodden. On some occasions, he had intervened to secure legal representation for some category of persons who could not afford the cost of hiring lawyers. I enjoyed my time with him.

Mo was also a family man. He was always with Mubarak, more as a shield from Chief, who didn’t spare him at all, in his disciplinarian attitudes. When his younger sister, Basirat was at the Nigerian Law School, Mo would approach me to help organize tutorial classes for her, on Sundays and would even offer to sponsor my lunch. If I complained about my car he would offer to drive me to Victoria Island and would wait around in the hostel for me to finish my classes to take me back. Many years later, he jokingly told me that he thought I would’ve taken up the opportunity to make the usual proposals. Me! Propose to Chief’s daughter! It didn’t even cross my mind to attempt such suicide mission, as anyone in my shoes would have considered it then. Thank God she came out in flying colours and later settled down with her heartthrob.

Mo was a detrabilised Nigerian. Initially when he joined us in the Chambers, we were all curious to know how he would fit into the various struggles of the Chief, on behalf of the masses, at the National Conscience Party platform and civil society generally. Apparently, Mo had his own revolutionary passion and he needed no persuasion on issues relating to good governance, due process of law, democracy and better life for the masses.

Looking back now, I realize that Mo most probably stepped into the background whilst Chief held sway as the undisputed leader of the pro-democracy group in Nigeria, given all that Mo has accomplished after the demise of Chief. As a sign of his belief in one Nigeria, he was engaged to a lady from the South East, whom he wanted to marry and he was very serious about it. Mo would say it as it is and had no apology at all for anyone whose ox may be gored thereby. He was very frank and objective, always ready to be persuaded with superior reasoning different from his own.

The Life and Times of MO

Mohammed Fawehinmi was born on February 21, 1969, to Fawehinmi and his wife Alhaja Ganiyat. He attended Kotun Memorial Primary School, Surulere, Lagos, and had his secondary school education at Federal Government College, Sokoto. He was a 1991 graduate of Business Administration from the University of Lagos. He obtained an LL.B degree from the University of Buckingham, England and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1998. He enlisted as counsel in Gani Fawehinmi Chambers, where he practiced until he closed down the Chambers in line with the instructions of Gani, upon the latter’s death. On September 23, 2003, Mohammed had a lone car accident that confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Until his death last Wednesday, he was Head, Mohammed Fawehinmi’s Chambers, Director, Nigerian Law Publications Ltd, Director, Books Industries Nigeria Ltd, and Director, Gani Fawehinmi Library and Gallery Ltd.

‘Eghin Mo’ was very tall and handsome to behold, always neatly attired and boyish in outlook. He was very eloquent, perfectly combining his knowledge and study of English language with the practice of law. His was a case of whom the cap fits, let him wear it. The admirable part of his life was the way in which he handled the accident, with personal determination and zeal not to be deterred or discouraged thereby. He was always ready to do his utmost for the public good, he filed cases in court to challenge unfavourable government policies and rose to defend the masses at all times. Mo never married, despite his strong desire to do so. He was about 32 when he had that accident and had an Igbo lady he wanted to marry. Even after the accident, she still wanted to stay with him, but he advised her to move on, fearing that she would not be able to cope with the demands of his new condition. He was dependent on others for his survival and didn’t want that burden on her. She went away disappointed. He never wanted to take advantage of anybody or use his condition for exploitation. That is vintage Mo.

Two years after Gani’s death on September 4, 2009, at 71 years, Mohammed, as head of the Chambers, wound up his father’s law firm as stipulated in his father’s will. He paid off and disengaged all the lawyers in the Chambers, including himself, with effect from January 15, 2009, to fulfil the instructions contained in the Will. He then established his own law firm. But the closure did not affect other staff of the chambers, and the other companies owned by his father. Many of them were engaged in the new Fawehinmi Library and Gallery located in the Nigerian Law Publication House at CBD, Alausa, Ikeja. His resolve spurred him on and he set up Mohammed Fawehinmi Chambers where he began a successful law practice. He also ensured the continuity of the annual Gani Fawehinmi Scholarship scheme to indigent students in higher institutions across the country.

His injury notwithstanding, Mo kept the fire of activism, nurtured while his father was alive, burning. He intervened in national issues and would appear at important events involving the struggle to liberate Nigeria from the hands of its oppressors and gate keepers. Mo was courageous, dedicated, knowledgeable and committed to the liberation of the Nigerian people from the shackle of injustice in all its ramifications. And that is the reason for this tribute. Mo didn’t die, just as Gani himself didn’t depart the revolutionary scene, notwithstanding his physical absence. Their voices still speak and will keep speaking truth to power, on behalf of the people of Nigeria, along with the voices of other heroes and martyrs of our revolutionary struggles. Mo, you have not died the death of aristocrats but rather your name is ingrained in the minds of the people that you stood and fought for, your legacies remain indelible in the annals of our democratic experiences and I know that at the right time, history will stand you out as one of those who came, who saw and who conquered. Rest in power, thou soldier of the masses.

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” “…Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

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