The celebration of late Chief Gani Fawehinmi was understandably more political than poetical. It is in the realms of politics that most Nigerians would want to situate the mourned one fondly and simply known as Gani. The man’s lifework in the field of law naturally fed into the annals of the politicos, and he happened to be the veritable stormy petrel against bad leadership. Even so, more than any other Nigerian, Gani has proven over the years to be the pre-eminent subject of modern-day Nigerian poets. He was arguably the most celebrated muse of Nigerian poets. A book published in 2003, Celebrating God’s Own Robot: Nigerian Poets and the Gani Fawehinmi Phenomenon by the assiduous scholar Austine Amanze Akpuda attests to this fact. The striking thing is that the book was published when Gani was alive as opposed to other books like Don’t let him die edited by Chinua Achebe and Dubem Okafor in memory of the late great poet Christopher Okigbo, and For Ken, for Nigeria edited by EC Osondu for the martyred Ken Saro-Wiwa, which came out as a result of the death of the personages. Also, Okigbo and Saro-Wiwa were poets and literary types unlike Gani who cuts an entirely different niche. However, Gani somehow finds company in political struggle with Okigbo and Saro-Wiwa who died in the struggle.
According to Prof Afam Ebeogu in his foreword to Celebrating God’s Own Robot, “The resilience with which Gani Fawehinmi resists and fights the tyrannical power in Nigeria is presented in the book as assuming the archetypal. He is not fighting a selfish battle; rather he is merely a robot in God’s wheel of justice, in which what has to be done must be done without compromise, no matter whose ox is gored and even if the life of the poet-persona is always in danger. The author makes references to autobiographical utterances by Fawehinmi, which utterances consolidate the Siamese embrace between the biographical entity and the artistic character.”
Amanze Akpuda situates Gani’s struggle within the ambit of kindred spirits across the globe willing to give up their very lives toward the emancipation of humankind, heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Agostinho Neto, Thomas Sankara, Walter Rodney, Oliver Tambo etc. The author identifies eight paradigmatic features that resonate “in a typical Gani Fawehinmi-oriented tribute-poem… uniformity and specificity of reference to the subject as exhibited in the symbolic titles of the poems; a parenthetical dedication, each of which often suggests or describes what Gani Fawehinmi means to the poet and, by implication, the rest of Nigeria; background to the need for the poem/setting that occasioned the motivation for writing the poem; descriptions of snapshots of the pathetic spectacle that the freedom fighter/activist presents or experiences; depiction of the psychology of the jailer; illustrations of Fawehinmi’s resilience; praise to the epic heroic personality, comparison with kindred spirits and his legacy; and expression of optimism predicated on the inevitable continuity of the heritage and legacy of the quintessential activist.”
The 16 poets discussed in the book include Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide, Izzia Ahmad, Okinba Launko (Femi Osofisan), Tony Afejuku, Ogaga Ifowodo, Eze Chi Chiazo, Joe Ushie, David Odinaka Nwamadi, Olu Oguibe, Tunde Olusunle, Chinwe Nzegwu, Akinloye Ojo, Ausine Amanze Akpuda, John Inah Ukam and Akeem Lasisi. The list is indeed diversely representative of the poets currently at work in the various geo-political zones of the country, an apt tribute to the pan-Nigerian reach of the phenomenon named AbdulGaniyu Oyesola Fawehinmi.
Gani’s as ever fighting words kick the book off thus: “I am a robot in the hands of God… if I die, at least, I want it written on my grave that I came, I spoke against injustice, and I died.” The celebrated Ghanaian writer and international journalist Cameron Duodu weighs in with the following words: “For the sheer guts he displays in challenging authoritarian regimes, the man, Gani Fawehinmi, stands head and shoulders above the generality of lawyers that our continent has produced.”
The distinguished poet Niyi Osundare in his poem “Letter to Fawehinmi” lyrically wonders on the whereabouts of Gani:
I wonder where you are now,
What part of this expansive land
Lays claim to your restless limbs;
How big the padlocks on the lips
Of your door,
How loud the anthem of your jangling chains?
In his own poem, “The Prisoner”, Tanure Ojaide locates Gani in the evil prison in the desert known as Gashua:
They drop him at will in the desert
for sand dunes to bury him alive.
The outpouring of deep feelings after Gani’s death on September 5, 2009 remains an apt metaphor that the non-violent warrior from Ondo can never really die, let alone being buried alive. Even in death, more poems are still being written in celebration of his uncommon life and times. I can attest to this because I have recently received more poems on Gani than my inbox can contain! Gani made himself count while he lived such that his death was turned into a celebration of popular struggle. Recalling Amanze Akpuda’s unique tribute to Gani back in 2003 through the book Celebrating God’s Own Robot underscores the indomitability over the ages of the Gani Fawehinmi phenomenon.