© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
To Ganiat Fawehinmi at 70
By Babafemi Ojudu
HE was in court that day on one of his many legal crusades against the government of General Ibrahim Babangida. It was 1990. From the court premises, he was snatched by the hordes of security men who had come to take him away. It was not unusual for Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the late Nigerian scourge of dictatorships to be so arrested. The only difference this day was that no one knew where he was taken to.
It took two or three days before information trickled in that he was driven at breakneck speed to the Air Force wing of the Muritala Mohammed Airport in Lagos and secretly flown out of Lagos in a military Hercules transport plane.
To where? No one seems to know. A couple of days later I got a whiff of information from the National Concord newspaper reporter in Maiduguri that he may have been taken to the Borno State capital and from there driven to Gashua.
The journey from Maiduguri to Gashua on a good day was five hours.
I ran to Fawehinmi’s house and briefed Ganiat. She immediately decided she must be on her way to Gashua. I told her, without hesitating, that I will be on that trip with her. All I needed do was inform my editor and get permission and resources to move. That itself was not a problem. Gani was a good copy for an editor any day and all of us in the newsroom were sympathetic to his cause if we were not his collaborators.
The following day, I, Ganiat and a lawyer from his legal chambers faced the airport. It was a tough time, a period when the family was closely monitored and harassed by security men. Ganiat did a bit of a disguise covering her head and face with a scarf so as not to be recognized by eagle-eyed security men at the airport. We boarded a flight to Maiduguri without being discovered.
We arrived Maiduguri and headed to the motor park where we squeezed ourselves with other passengers into a Peugeot 504 car for the tortuous journey to Gashua in search of Gani, Ganiat’s husband, my hero and benefactor.
We got to Gashua, I think at about 8.00 pm. We didn’t know where to go. At the park, we asked for direction to the best hotel in town. The commercial motorcycle operators put heads together and decided on the then Gashua “five-star” hotel. We proceeded to the hotel on a bike ride with a lot of apprehension that our presence in the town could have been known by the security and our lives may be endangered.
With our hearts in our mouths, we rode the rough and dusty road to the hotel. On getting there, there was only one staff. He mans the reception of the hotel. He welcomed us cheerfully and gave us the keys to our rooms. I noticed we were the only guests at this hotel. Luxury or what is decent was not our priority for that night. We only needed somewhere to rest our heads till the morning when we began our quest to locate the detention locale of this gadfly and irrepressible enemy of the oppressors.
I turned on the tap of the toilet in my room. Not a drop of water came out. I was sweaty. My limbs ached. The weather too was almost unbearable. I touched the bed and it felt like an oven. If I could get a bucket of water I could at least cool down my body a bit and take a few hours of rest.
I decided to engage the guy who manned the hotel. “Hello, could I please have a bucket of water?”, I asked. “Yes he said”, adding “ but that will be when I return from the SSS office”. SSS was the State Security Service which has now transformed to DSS, Directorate of State Security. I was curious, not without a suspicion of what was in the offing. I decided to probe further and asked. “What are you doing at this time at the SSS Office?” “Oh, they said if any guest comes in here I should come and report to them”. I told him he should quickly go and come back to give us water to bath. “Alright sir”, he said.
I quickly dashed to Ganiats room. “Madam we have to get out of here”, I told her. I explained why. She packed her things and off we went leaving the keys on the door. We found ourselves on a desolate road walking and sometimes running while she tried to keep up with me. We did not know where we were going. We kept going until we saw a motorcycle rider and waved him down.
We both jumped on the bike and he asked us where we were going. We knew nowhere. I quickly put on my thinking cap. Take us to the nearest secondary school. He drove us to one. We got to the gate. My instinct was on the high and I told the gateman we were there to look for the youth corps members in the school and will appreciate if he could take us to their quarters. Without hesitating and asking questions he agreed.
We got to the house and there were three of them, all of them Yorubas and a particular one from Lagos. After introducing ourselves they welcomed us and asked us what our mission was. We told them and they gave us seats.
They said it was God that has directed us their way. They said as soon as Fawehinmi was brought to town he fell critically ill and has been taken to the hospital. They claimed to know the doctors taking care of him who, incidentally, were youth corps members too.
One of them offered to go look for the medical doctor. The other chose to go and buy food for us. Our food came while we waited for the emissary to the doctor. It was fried yam. We tried to eat. It was as cold as a dog’s nose and full of sand as well. We tried to eat but we could not do much of that. Then began a sand storm, mosquitoes also began their orchestral performance and we conductors slapping our ears, head and face. I saw tears dripping from Ganiat’s eyes. I tried to console her.
Shortly after, our emissary to the doctor came with him. The doctor told us Gani was reacting to treatment. He asked Ganiat to write on a small sheet of paper to be taken to Gani that night in the hospital. She did. Madam begged that he should please do everything possible to ensure Gani got good treatment and also be extra vigilant that he was not poisoned.
Then came the revelation. “Madam”, the doctor said, “Chief was my benefactor. It is payback time”. We didn’t know what that was. He then explained. He was a medical student of the University of Maiduguri and a unionist. Prof Jubril Aminu, the then Vice-Chancellor expelled him and some of his colleagues. Gani fought their case from the lower court to the Supreme Court without taking a kobo and that was how he got back to school to complete his studies and became a medical doctor. Our mouths were agape. We could not close it. This certainly is divined.
He left with Ganiat’s message and came back with Gani’s own from his hospital bed. We sat on chairs until the wee hours of the morning and made our way to the park early enough before the goons could rise from their bed to stake out the park for us. We drove to Maiduguri and took a plane back to Lagos. Mission accomplished. The following day National Concord reported ‘Gani Hospitalized In Gashua’.
Such has been the life of this gentle, meek but courageous and fiercely loyal wife of Chief Gani Fawehinmi. She has been to virtually all the horrible (which one is not?) jail houses in Nigeria in search of her husband. From Kirikiri in Lagos, to Ikoyi to Alagbon to Gashua, Sokoto, Kuje and many more, Ganiat stood like a rock behind her man in trouble and out of trouble. We are glad today that she is alive to see her grandchildren and celebrate this landmark.
We celebrate you today as you clocked 70. Your husband has been recognized nationally for his role in fighting for democracy, the rights of the people and for good governance. One day, while you are still alive, honour shall come to you too.
Happy birthday to the Amazon of our struggle.
Babafem Ojudu is the current Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on political matters.