Gani Fawehinmi: Great lessons Nigerian leaders and people should learn

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Gani Fawehinmi: Great lessons Nigerian leaders and people should learn

By Justice Olubunmi Oyewole-(Judge of the Court of Appeal)

Published by Irohinoodua-December 10, 2020

The late Chief Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi was courage personified. His entire life was permeated by this rare human virtue. Corruption cannot be fought without courage be it in the public or private sector. It takes courage to choose to be different, it takes immense courage to walk alone on the straight and narrow path. According to the great American Poet, Maya Angelou “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

Gani never held public office, yet he lived a life of service to the Nigerian people. A life permeated by steadfast courage. A life which we will continue to appreciate and acknowledge.

Today we are gathered to appreciate and recognize exemplary performances which demonstrated integrity, transparency and accountability in service delivery.

We need to ask ourselves why we need to appreciate and recognize demonstrations of integrity, transparency and accountability in service delivery in this country. I want to posit that it is because we desire what is good and beneficial to our society. That we desire these virtues to permeate our lives as a people in the belief that thereby our country will be better.  According to the Greek philosopher, Socrates, as relayed through Plato, “the truly wise man will know what is right, do what is good, and therefore be happy”. My choice of Socrates is deliberate. The intention is to propel us in a certain direction. Socrates was by consensus adjudged to have been a wise and morally upright man. He was however not involved in politics. He avoided public office and declined from placing his wisdom at the service of the rulers of his days. Arguments have been canvassed whether this was indeed morally right. His reported refusal to participate in evil without taking any steps to stop it was considered inappropriate. A few questions then arise, whether morally upright men should be content with discerning evil or wrongful acts without standing up to resist or counter them; whether society will make progress if men of goodwill stand aside for fear of being contaminated; whether society gains when the upright walks away without any effort to challenge or resist evil and whether demonstrating exemplary conduct in public office would not be a better indicator of integrity than standing aside?

Gani in his lifetime resolved these arguments in favour of active participation in public life. It is on record that with like minds, he formed and led a political party on the platform of which he contested for the highest office in the land. I am in total agreement with Gani that societal ennoblement can be best achieved when good men put their hands on the plough and actively work in all directions to advance the highest ethical standards for the good of society.

For those of us who are lawyers, I suggest that we approach law from the perspective advocated by the American Jurist, Prof Roscoe Pound of deploying law as an instrument of social engineering. I will give an example of the application of this approach and its lasting impact on the Nigerian people. Within the Nigerian perspective we have accepted the 1999 Constitution with its imperfections as the grund norm. A very unique part of this Constitution is Chapter two thereof which although stated to be non justiceable but at the same time gives a clear mandate to the various organs of government in the following words:

  1. It shall be the duty and responsibility of all organs of government, and of all authorities and persons, exercising legislative, executive or judicial powers, to conform to, observe and apply the provisions of this Chapter of this Constitution.

Having so mandated, the next section makes the following huge declaration:

  1. (1) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.

(2) It is hereby, accordingly, declared that:

(a) sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority;
(b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government; and
(c) the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

Section 15 (5) thereof provides the foundation and impetus for the fight against corruption in the following words:

(5) The State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.

The provisions of section 15(5) outlined above formed the lynchpin of the decision of the Supreme Court in AG ONDO STATE V. AG OF FED & ORS (2002) LPELR-623(SC). In that landmark decision, the Apex Court saved the fight against corrupt practices in this country and preserved the the existence of the anti-corruption agencies established to fight corruption by creatively adopting a revolutionary approach to a testy situation. Without this landmark judgment, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission would have ceased to exist while the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit and similar bodies may not have seen the light of day.  When we adopt the approach of law as an instrument of social engineering, society is ennobled.

The concept of service must also be examined. In this wise, permit me to focus at this stage on a most crucial aspect of our lives, public service.

Public service embraces all employments in government ministries, agencies and departments including government educational institutions.

But the concept of service needs to be properly understood. Permit me to refer to the concept of service provided in the work, In The Light of Truth, The Grail Message by Abd Ru Shin, specifically in the lecture Man and His Freewill that service is to help and it is only in helping that we rule. Accordingly, service is not to boss. Public service should be about providing help to fellow human beings at and through the office occupied.

For the average persons of goodwill, on getting to any public office, there is a desire to make a difference, to impact on society and ennoble the immediate environment through one’s activities. It is a demonstration of an inner striving for the ideal. This worthwhile volition is well captured in the Grail Message thus:

“It is man’s duty on earth to set himself the highest attainable goal and to strive for this goal with all the powers at his disposal. But as a human being! This excludes from the beginning that like an animal, he should merely trouble himself about food and drink as, unfortunately, many men do; or let himself be goaded by the intellect into striving only for worldly greatness or fame without keeping in view as the main purpose the general welfare and advancement of mankind…..

Be on the alert! The person who really strives towards the ideal can be recognized by his efforts to uplift existing things on earth, not in the intellectual sense of increasing power and position, but towards ennobling them.” Taken from the lecture, IDEAL HUMAN BEINGS, (page 346 of the composite volume).

In public office, one exercises various degrees of authority over fellow human beings and the possibility of abuse arises. Power corrupts especially when unregulated. Constantly, one comes across people excusing outrageous acts as having been done in the performance of their duties. I wish them well. Personally however, I found the greatest help in this regard in the following words of the Grail Message:

“According to the Divine Laws of Creation every person in authority, every judge, no matter what office he holds here on earth, should never stand in the protection of his actions under some protection of his office, but like any other person he must alone and purely personally, unprotected, bear full responsibility himself for all he does in his office. Not only in the spiritual but also in the earthly sense. Then everyone would regard things much more seriously and carefully.” Taken from the lecture, ONCE UPON A TIME, (pages 128-129 of the composite volume).

Part of the challenge in public service is demonstrating through the deeds that we are who we are. The spiritual disposition must be demonstrated in the occupational activities, the two must not be separated under any guise.  “By their works you shall know them” So Christ said. Let’s examine it in full in Mathew 7: 16-20, King James Version

“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

Every tree that bringeth not good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Wherefore by their fruits he shall know them.”

In verses 34 and 35 of Chapter 17 of the holy Quran, the admonition is made to keep promises and to be honest and fair in interactions.

I mentioned earlier that courage is essential to integrity and uprightness in public service. Challenges and temptations regularly rear their heads seeking to make or mar. Circumstances arise bringing up dilemmas threatening the very foundation of conviction. Comforting words are provided in the soothing words of Psalm 37:25 thus:

“I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging for bread.”

We need to demonstrate a recognition and appreciation for service. This should be beyond the symbolic recognition dished out to the political and business elites. In earlier lectures I have drawn attention to a couple of illustrations in the United States of America. Permit me to cite those two examples once more.

The first is the tribute paid to the service of the Unknown Soldier. At the Arlington National Cemetery near Washington DC- That is where the remains of the Kennedy brothers, President Jack Kennedy and his brother, Bob who was his Attorney General, were interred. The most significant portion of that cemetery is however the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Guarded 24/7 since 1937, the change of guards at that tomb is a worldwide tourist attraction. The guards or sentinels are carefully chosen and specially trained. In the US military it is a great distinction to serve as a Tomb Guard in the Tomb of the Unknowns and the special medal awarded in this regard is the second rarest award in the United States Army.

The respect the American nation accords military service is legendary and anyone could watch out on CNN for the next time they show the burial ceremony of an American soldier who died in active service. Add to these, the respect paid to ex-service men and those who had served in the US military and one can understand why patriotism is so high in that country.

Many American cities have numerous monuments raised to honor distinguished service to the American people. South Africa keeps the memories of heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle alive through various monuments and now a major tourist attraction in Accra, Ghana nearby is the Nkrumah Mausoleum and Memorial Park. Of course, one must commend the Lagos State Government in this regard with the few notable ones dotting various parts of the State. These memorials reiterate gratitude for the worthy service rendered by the various individuals involved. It may be pointed out however, that while monuments and memorials on our streets and major spots do create a sense of history and gratitude. A proper citation of the celebrated individual including details of the service in recognition of which the monument was raised, is vital.  Naming without citations are not enough.

My second example from the United States relates to the legislature. Our main interest here is the less obvious one. Regularly one comes across various complaints about our legislature ranging from their supposed heavy income to the quality of debate or legislative activities generally. Many of us probably noticed especially during the tenure of President Obama, that when the American President is shown assenting to a Bill passed by Congress, about 12 copies of the said Bill are signed and each copy is signed with a different pen.

The tradition I gathered is that each of those pens is forwarded with a letter personally signed by the American President to 12 different individuals acknowledged to have played the most prominent roles in making the bill involved, a reality.

I saw a couple in the most cherished legacy of a late American Statesman, Mr. Les Aspin who was a member of Congress for about 22 years and later Defence Secretary under President Bill Clinton. Maybe such a tradition could be started by our leadership to instigate an attitudinal change, that the best legacy may not just be money, especially when ill-gotten.

Our various institutions need to honor and perpetuate the service of key personalities. Beautiful as well as tragic experiences must be captured for historical and other reasons.

The enormous sacrifice of our uniformed patriots could be better appreciated. The nation has fought several battles including the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency in the North East. Heroes of this war are both living and deceased. We must demonstrate our appreciation in various ways. Be it in scholarships and automatic job placements for wards or in soft lines of credits to survivors.

We have just gone through the challenging experience of the aftermath of the #Endsars protests. Casualties on both sides of the divide be it protesters or law enforcement are all Nigerians. As we grapple with the trauma, we should come up with resolutions that will ensure that as a nation and a people, we do not get to that low level again. Monuments raised to the memory of the casualties and capturing the essence of what brought us that low would be a huge help. The Rwandans had a worse experience during their genocide but standing in Kigali today is a worthwhile reminder of that horrible experience to deter future experiences.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, in concluding this piece, let me congratulate our honorees of today. The recognition you receive today is a call to be consistent and unwavering. The greatest legacy one can leave behind is a good name and unsoiled reputation. That way one can pass on a banner without stain. May we be granted the grace to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign. Amen.

Abridge version of the paper delivered at the 3rd Annual Gani Fawehinmi Award organized by Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA Resource Centre) on Thursday, December 10, 2020

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