Gani Fawehinmi, controversial lawyer and human rights activist, takes the silk September 10. In a four-hour interview with a Newswatch team led by Bayo Ogunmupe, Fawehinmi speaks on what the honour means to him, e.t.c.
Newswatch: Recently, you were honoured with the SAN title. Did you apply for it this time?
Fawehinmi: Yes, I first applied for this about 21 years ago. I was turned down. Then I applied again in 1984. You will recall what Justice Mohammed Bello said when this award was given. He said, I rejected the award in 1984. That I was offered, but I rejected. That is not quite correct.
Newswatch: What then is the correct position?
Fawehinmi: What happened was that there was this crisis of whether or not we should attend the tribunals set up by the military in respect to decree No. 3 of 1984 regarding the recovery of public property from politicians. They set up the tribunal and the bar said that we should not appear. I disregarded the bar and appeared, and they put me on the black list. Then, there was a crisis that arose from there, and I sued the big wigs, F.R.A Williams, Kehinde Sofola, etc. And then Sowemimo summoned a meeting as the chief justice then in his office. Present were Justice Mohammed Bello, Rotimi Williams, Sofola, Oyuike, myself and two other persons. Then the chief justice started by saying, well, we want to settle this problem. You have to withdraw the cases you have in court. Your SAN is ready, we will give it to you, but you must withdraw the cases pending in court.
Oh no! Blood rushed into my head in such a way that if I did not control myself I could have gone berserk. I was ashamed, angry, I was surprised. Ah-ah, the chief justice of Nigeria. So I stood up, and said thank you my Lord. I said I am doing this on principle and there is no way I can compromise the principle. I am not fighting the cases to win or lose. But to ensure that certain principles are established. Even as I attempt to do this, if I lose the SAN, so be it. But I cannot withdraw the cases, the SAN can be taken back. They said ok, that’s what we want. It was on the front page of the Tribune newspaper. So, it wasn’t that I just refused. It was just that I refused on principles.
Secondly, I applied in 1990, obviously with the events of 1984 it was just a formality that I will be rejected. Then after that I decided that I was not going to apply again. Then pressure started mounting, mounting. Lawyers, judges of all the courts. I am not saying all judges. But judges of all the courts, lawyers of all shades of opinion, even some of the SANs, etc. They prevailed on me to apply. I don’t know who met my mother again. Days to the close of the submission of the application date, the closing date was the 31st of March. My mother came and said some people are saying I have done something good, others are saying it is bad. This is the highest honour that a lawyer can have. If there is anything, please let me know. If there is nothing, go and apply, because they are saying that they are not going to change the law. How can they change the law because of you? So, with this pressure from the judges, friends and the lawyers in my chambers, I decided to apply.
Newswatch: In the past, you said you were contented with the Senior Advocate of the Masses, SAM title.
Fawehinmi: Well, I have given you the reason. I take the SAM as a major award. After that award, several awards have come even internationally. I got a prestigious award from Austria. Then after, I had the American Bar Association award. Thereafter, the most important award, that is, the entire world bar, the International Bar Association, IBA, in 1998, before the assemblage of more than 3,000 most distinguished jurists and lawyers from 143 countries. You know the IBA has a membership of 5.2 million lawyers across the world. When they brought me to the rostrum and I was introduced by a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who doubled as the chief prosecutor in the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, and she was pouring encomium on me, I could see one of the lawyers from Nigeria in tears. He is a SAN, but I don’t want to mention his name. He was so overjoyed that he burst into tears. To me, that was a great climax. Then, after that the pressure mounted again that this had to happen, the SAN of a thing. Well, as far as this award is concerned, it has some challenges. I accept the honour but I think it has some challenges.
Newswatch: What are the challenges?
Fawehinmi: The challenges are that one must be more determined, more committed to the ideals of justice. First, justice is in two parts; you have legal justice relating to the courts, and social justice, relating to the masses. Social justice without economic fundamental rights cannot be attained. Nigeria today has no respect for the economic rights of the mass of our people. The Nigerian legal system merely aids the interest of the elite. Until we make economic rights fundamental human rights, we will continue to stumble from one instability to another. Because, you cannot do justice in an environment of abject poverty. So, economic rights that we are talking about are related to the issue of poverty. The right of employment, and if there is no employment, the right to unemployment benefit, so that people will be able to keep body and soul together. So that they cannot be driven toanger, pain, anguish and frustration. Three, the right to have good and subsidised nutritious food. Four, the right to have good home where you can live in. A roof over your head should be an economic fundamental right. The right to good education, health, life and property should be all fundamental rights. Even the right to water and electricity should be a fundamental right.
You see, when you talk of poverty, and that’s the mistake some people make in this country; they want a stable society, they want a democratic process, but they ignore social justice and they are talking of legal justice. You cannot have it. All the civilised countries that have attained stability have accorded economic right, fundamental right to their people. But in Nigeria today, they allow the poor people to come under chapter two of the constitution. What they call social fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy. They direct, but no Nigerian can go to court and say his state or local government or federal government should provide food, accommodation, etc., where he does not have. You all go to the hospital with your children and you don’t have money to pay and you cannot go to court and compel the government to pay. You have no job, and then you cannot compel your government to keep your soul and body together for you by giving you unemployment benefit. There is a distinction between unemployment in Nigeria and unemployment in western democracies.
All these civilised democracies like America, EU countries, Britain, Italy, Germany, etc., when they say they are unemployed, and when they give you figures of unemployed people, it means you don’t have any work to do, but you are taking money from government. So, that should happen in the Nigerian society, otherwise, you cannot have social justice. And if you don’t have social justice, legal justice is a failure. Therefore, the award of the SAN, as far as I am concerned, is to convince my colleagues, either in the inner or outer bar, that our next crusade should be to transfer economic right of the people from a non-justiceable chapter two of the constitution to fundamental rights, so that the government will have the duty, the obligation to give economic rights to our people, so that poverty can be abolished. We have always told the elite that nobody is safe if the poor are not catered for.
Therefore, the award of the SAN on me will now be … I think my colleagues will now take me more seriously. I hope after September 10, the battle for the realisation of economic rights of the masses of our people is a sine quo non for the realisation of legal justice in our society. That’s how I see the award of the SAN, from the angle of the people. It is an elevation, what I will call from persecution, professional persecution to elevation and the need to serve the interest of the people of our country.
Newswatch: Is it because of the absence of economic rights that you think everything is wrong in Nigeria even now?
Fawehinmi: We have electoral democracy, not socio-economic democracy. The fact that you voted somebody into power does not mean that you have a democracy. Electoral democracy is different from socio-economic democracy. The last two and a half years, the poverty that has enveloped our people is more grinding, more dehumanising than the poverty we had before we had electoral democracy on May 29, 1999.
Newswatch: What makes you think so?
Fawehinmi: Behold! Obasanjo inherited N85 per dollar. Today, one dollar goes for between N134 to N136 and this is reflected in all the things you buy in this country. This is because 99 percent of what we have in Nigeria are imported. Secondly, he inherited N134.50 per one pound sterling, today you go to any bureau de change, you need N190 to buy one British pound. That is the source of inflation in this country. Similarly, the cost of fund of borrowing is so high that nobody wants to start a business to employ people and you are spending 33 to 42 percent to get loan in an atmosphere beset with high inflation. Who do you want to sell to? The man whose purse is deflated? What do you want to manufacture? You want to bear the cost of your own electricity, water, import almost all inputs from abroad, and pay through this kind of exchange rate? And on top of that the cost of funds is between 35 and 42 percent. What business do you want to start? Therefore, people cannot be employed. America, the bastion of democracy has reduced interest rate seven times in the last eight months, they reduced again last night (August 21, 2001). It is now about two or three percent the cost of funds in USA.
In Britain, they have reduced interest rates four times. In Japan, it depends on the business that you want to do. In some places, there is a moratorium on the interest for up to five years. So, you see, democracy works there because they also built into their electoral democracy, socio-economic democracy. Democracy cannot thrive for long in an atmosphere of abject poverty. So, you have to solve the issue of poverty, you have to make everybody comfortable so that you can be inventive in the sustenance of democracy. It is not by electing people. Wait until 2003 and you will see the cutthroat, bloody contest that will attend to democracy in this country. Because of the poverty in the country, those who have stashed away ill-gotten money will come with this ill-gotten money to buy votes. But elsewhere in the advanced countries, you can’t buy votes because everybody is virtually satisfied.
In Europe, unemployed people go on holidays. Every week they are given money. In Germany if you work and later you are out of work, you are paid 65 percent of what you were earning as gross rate for the first one year, the second year 63 percent. Thereafter, if you don’t find any job, the government will be paying for your house, everything until you have a job. So, they do go on holidays, the unemployed people.
But if you are unemployed in Nigeria, your children will be driven out of school, the landlord will knock at your door, you will be starving, if you are sick, you will have to look for babalawo, and you will be given a wrong medicine. So, unemployment in Nigeria is invitation to starvation and death. You don’t succeed in a democracy like that. So, what we have today is electoral democracy, not socio-economic democracy. That is why I want to start the campaign amongst my colleagues after September 10; that for us to sustain this democracy and sustain the legal system in the proper sense of it and proper perspective, it is our duty to champion the cause of economic rights being made fundamental rights.
Newswatch: How will the campaign be prosecuted?
Fawehinmi: Oh! First of all I am opening up next week. I shall go to Calabar to re-unite with my friends at the bar conference. They will see my face for the first time in more than ten years. That’s the beginning. Thereafter, I will move from town to town, from one bar association branch to the other. Even in my preparation of the acceptance speech at the SAN award ceremony, you know I am the one to deliver the acceptance speech, I have been going round meeting the bar leaders, the judges, etc., to know their needs and problems.
Once the conferment takes place, then you will see Gani Fawehinmi moving from one bar branch to another. And I am not going to limit it to the bar. You will see me from campus to campus. The battle has just begun, because they have given me what I need.
Newswatch: Are you going to do this under the platform of your National Conscience Party?
Fawehinmi: Well, that is on the political platform.
Newswatch:Youand Rotimi Williams are two foremost lawyers in this country but for some time now, you people have been at each other's throat. Is it a result of professional…
Gani: No, no, no, no, I have no personal hatred for Chief Williams. He is a very good lawyer and I respect him a lot. He is one of the most brilliant lawyers. But you know the way he uses his own law is different from the way I use mine. He is a professional to the core. That’s where he stops. But I imbibed what the first lawyer in this country told us to imbibe. Christopher Sapara Williams, born in 1865, enrolled in Nigerian bar in 1888. He told us that “legal practice lives for the direction of the people and the advancement of the course of the country.” So, my own practice is added with the interest of the oppressed in the society. So, my own practice is from the angle of the masses, who are bearing the brunt of mis-governance of this country and they have been bearing the brunt of mis-governance over the years. That is why I go to prison. He can’t go to prison because he is just elitist in his approach. And I don’t blame him. That’s the way he has chosen.But with all respect, I am people-oriented, I am people-focused. So, he can’t get into trouble with authorities. I mean, there are many things I have challenged which many people are not willing to challenge, so we are poles apart. We belong to the same profession, but you must know quite frankly, the hood does not make a monk. You are what you are before you wore the hood and gown. The hood and gown merely make you to achieve what you want to achieve. If you have the interest of the masses and you want to fight for them, then you use the profession you have, the instrumentality of the law.
Newswatch: You were handling the Dele Giwa murder at the Oputa panel and General Babangida has failed to appear. How do you react to that?
Fawehinmi: Babangida’s refusal to appear at the panel is the greatest assault on the moral integrity of Nigeria. Babangida’s refusal to appear is a slap on the face of justice in this country and it goes to show the extent the ex-heads of state have shown nothing but contempt to the people, whom they have ruled over the years. In 1991 Babangida used the same law that Obasanjo used to set up Oputa commission. In May 1991, Babangida set up the Justice Babalakin commission of inquiry, to look into the religious disturbance in Tafawa Balewa local governmentarea of BauchiState. He invoked the same tribunal of inquiry act, Cap 447, laws of the federation to set up that tribunal. In 1992 Babangida set up the fuel shortage commission of inquiry headed by Justice Belgore. He invoked the same tribunal of inquiry act, Cap 447. When on the 4th of December, he was summoned by Oputa to come and say what he knew about the death of Dele Giwa, he ran to the court. His argument was that the tribunal of inquiry act, under which Oputa was set up is illegal. If it was illegal, why was it not illegal when he was head of state and he set up the two commissions. It is a moral question. Secondly, I am appalled and dismayed that even Oputa is negotiating how they will come to the tribunal. It is unheard of. Rule of law will collapse in Nigeria, if it doesn’t rule everybody. There should be no law for the rich and another for the poor. No different law for the powerful and another for the weak. Democracy cannot thrive or be sustained on double standards. That is why in America in 1974, they got rid of their president who was involved in the Watergate scandal. He resigned. The Americans say the law must rule by protecting the weak against the powerful. The law rules in India where their prime minister was jailed three years for corruption. The law rules in Britain where Jeffrey Archer, today, the former leader of the conservative party was jailed for perjury. The law rules in Indonesia whereAbubakar Wahid is now in detention and is being investigated by Sukanno Putri. The law also rules in Philippines where Gloria Aroyo put Joseph Estrada under house arrest for corrupt practices. The law also rules in Argentina where today, Carlos Menem is subjected to 65 charges. He ruled that country for 10 years. You remember AugustoPinochet who ruled from September 1973 to 1990, is being subjected to all sorts of investigation. You see, you cannot sustain democracy when you play double standards in the rule of law. Nigeria, if care is not taken, will weaken the confidence of our people in the sustenance of democracy with this kind of thing that is happening. I mean, I am going to be in that tribunal, I am going to come with two pictures of Dele Giwa, when he was in suit and when his body was decapitated. I want Babangida to look at the pictures and I hope Oputa will not stop me. If he does, I’ll pitch Oputa against the masses of this country. Let them decide if this man is just or not.
Newswatch: Closely related to that, AIG Omeben (rtd) alleged that colleagues of Giwa refused to cooperate with the police. But the directors of Newswatch said you were a witness to their cooperation with the police. They said that it was actually Omeben who stalled the investigation.
Fawehinmi: I didn’t read the publication but I knew that when I was investigating, Newswatch cooperated with me. But I also knew that when I came up with a book on the death of Dele Giwa, it was the same Omeben that locked me up at CID Alagbon while he was the AIG. I wanted to ask then why he locked me up. There are many questions to be asked.
Newswatch:You are the leader of the National Conscience Party. What’s your motive of setting up the party?
Fawehinmi: In March 1994, we had the National Conscience, which I founded as a human rights activist and I gave six months notice to the government, that this organisation will transform into a political party. For two reasons: To fight the issue of June 12, and to force the military government to quit for the people to elect their leaders. Also to abolish poverty. They thought I was joking. People were coming to me, Gani they will kill you, they will shoot you and all those things. I said well, I am old enough to die. Even when I was younger I was not dissuaded by the fear of death. You see, let me tell you, when Dele Giwa was killed in 1986, that was the day I started living alone in this house. The other apartment(another duplex) was rented out. I asked the expatriate then to leave the place. I put my family there and paid back his rent. The simple reason was if they had to shoot me or bomb here, I didn’t want my blood to splatter on innocent people. I took them as innocent people because I didn’t want them to be caught in the cross fire. In fact, it wasn’t long that I put these window blinds here. So, anybody could see me reading from outside. I was living here alone and I have been living here alone.
Newswatch: Do you intend to register NCP?
Fawehinmi: Of course, we did not make any case of application during the Abdulsalami regime because I was the head of FACON that time. It would have been wrong for us to do so. Secondly, we asked for a sovereign national conference, Abdulsalami rejected it. So we said, we were not going to participate in the transition programme. So, we didn’t register. But when we saw what is going on now and we have so much apprehension that the people may run democracy aground. It is already happening now. So, we said that in any position, we will get the party registered. We were the first to submit our application. We stormed INEC on June 21 this year. With our application, constitution, programme, logo, flag and everything, we didn’t give them notice. They said it was an ambush. That was what Shehu Musa said.He presided and we addressed each other.We talked for about one hour and he said they will get back to us. So far, they have not got in touch with us. We have our headquarters in Abuja and we have our staff there too. We are eager to contest all elections from local government to the presidency.
Newswatch: Most people consider you as a principled man, someone who is capable of rescuing Nigeria from this quagmire. Don’t you consider it necessary to contest the presidential election in 2003?
Fawehinmi: You see, my basic concern is to have a political platform where decent people, committed people to the course of the masses could use to run for elections. The issue of contesting a presidential election will depend on a number of factors. My health, that’s one. Two, I must see a prospect that there must be no rigging. I must see a prospect that there is fair and sincere election. There are three ways of rigging an election. And the first rigging has actually started. Can you imagine, two years and six months into democracy, the office charged with the responsibility of registering political parties – INEC, has not registered a single political party. Yet, they want to conduct the local government election next year. You are telling us that the already registered parties can go on. And they are organising all over the places. Those who want to get registered in time, you are delaying their registration. It was only recently that INEC submitted a bill to the national assembly. What has INEC been doing all these years? That’s the question. The second way of rigging: You rig during the election by stuffing the ballot box and all the things like that. After election, the declaration of result, by adding zero and that kind of thing. If INEC is capable of doing the first rigging by not registering political parties, by delaying it in order to put these parties at a disadvantage then INEC is capable of rigging during election and after the election. So, when I look at all the prospects, I will decide. But, of course, I am not bothered about failing or not failing. I am not concerned about that. I am only concerned about putting across the programme that will remove the people from the throes of poverty to that of comfort, as long as I am allowed to go round the country, put these views to the electorate. I have no money to give to them, I want to take them out of poverty. I want to give them comfortable life and social justice. If they accept the programmes, so be it.
I think I can win Obasanjo. I mean it very sincerely. If it is fair. That is why I am saying that they should allow the military to supervise it. They should invite the United Nations, who will then call the member countries to send delegations to supervise this election to prevent unfairness. If that is done, I feel very confident in beating Obasanjo, hands down. Because the youths of this country will be at vanguard of those who will go and canvass votes for me. The students in the institutions of higher learning that we have are enough in numbers that they will go to the villages and canvass for a party of their choice. They will vote for the party that I represent. But, if they don’t do that, there will be massive rigging. You can imagine PDP voting N2.2 billion for local government election alone and they cannot vote N2.2 billion to build houses in their respective places that they govern. Can you imagine that after two years, Obasanjo has not put up a foundation of at least 10 million houses? I put up such a suggestion for him, and said look “if this democracy fails, it is you who will be the first casualty."I have never met him.I have never met Buhari, I don’t know Abdulsalami, I never met any of them in my life. I only see them on the pages of newspapers. And I said if the democracy fails you are the first casualty because no military man will go for governor. They just kill the president and go to the radio and say “Fellow country men…."
Save us the agony of another military rule. Call all the governors together, let us try to build 30 million houses in five years. The federal government will bear 70 percent of the cost. You must contribute 30 percent. Let us lay the foundation from one place to another. When we solidify democracy, we can continue with our bitterness. But, for God’s sake, let us solidify democracy. He ignored that. Now look at the health problem in the country. People now go to babalawo to be able to save themselves from diseases. Our people cannot afford money for good healthcare any longer. The United Nations Educational and Scientific Organisation, UNESCO, prescribed for Nigeria 36 percent of fiscal allocation to education, Ghana 28 percent, South Africa 38 per unit. This man is not governing us. Seventy-seven times he has left this country. He does not stay at home to look at the problem of students at the University of Ibadan, farmers in Kaura Namoda, or the fishermen in RiversState and so on and so forth. He likes being the president of the international community. He was not elected by the United Nations. He was voted for by the Nigerian public and they are suffering. The poverty is too much. I don’t know how he wants to do it to go beyond 2003. There is going to be a bloody election. The money they have stashed away, they will use it and if care is not taken, they will stultify and scuttle this democracy. So, we have a duty to intervene. That is why the National Conscience Party wants to contest. But if they don’t and we are back to square one, please I beg you, I will go to Ondo and take my rest instead of parading the prisons again. To parade the prisons for characters like Tinubu again and when we tell him to bring his certificate…. You know what they did to me on October 13. He almost killed me in the court premises. You have to kill me to stop this case. Now, we are at the Supreme Court. December, we will finalise it at the Supreme Court. Such a man does not have a moral authority to govern LagosState. That’s why he is messing up with the money of LagosState. LagosState is broke. Can you imagine the man taking commercial loans for social services? Commercial loans generate interest. Social services loans do not generate interest. You are taking commercial loans. This man has sold the intestine of LagosState. He only wants to carry the carcass.
Newswatch: You mentioned contesting an election. It is believed in Nigeria that the problem may not always be the man at the top, but that some of his subordinates may not be as sincere as he is. How are you sure that if you go into politics, the people under you will not mess up your programmes?
Fawehinmi: Oh my God. You have asked a very important question. There is nothing called government without a leader. A government reflects the type of leader you have. If you are the type who condons evil, evil will be perpetrated under you. If you are the type who fights evil, they know that you will throw them out in no time, and you will be ruthless in pursuing it. Obasanjo condones evil, he does not fight evil. That is why his anti-corruption programme is as dead as dodo, completely dead. Cold dead. How can anybody be telling me he is fighting corruption? First, he said Abacha stole. He asked them to return money. Then you are telling me, you stole one million, you return ten thousand and you are allowed to go free. Is that how to fight corruption? What of Gwarzo and others? Are they still not walking the streets? Tony Ani, what has he done to him? Has he arraigned him before any court of law? If you are taking part in a process of illegality, how do you fight that illegality? Then his best friend who sponsored his election – Babangida. What has he done to investigate him? He is telling us, go and investigatehim. Did he ask Nigerians to look for facts when he sent the SSS, the DMI, NIA, the police, Interpol after Abacha and investigated the accounts of Abacha? Why can’t he do that to Babangida? This man is not serious about corruption. He is only condoning it.
Newswatch: You suggested a military-supervised election. Don’t you think that might pave a way for the military to try and come back?
Fawehinmi: No, no, no. That’s a very wrong way of understanding it. One, military is part of the Nigerian project. The constitution provides for the military to secure the territorial integrity of Nigeria. If we are attacked, the military are going to do the same. Are you telling me that if you tell the military to go and attack an invader, the military will allow the invader to come because they want to scuttle this democracy? Secondly, are you also telling me that if you put military boys in charge of ballot box, that anybody could come there and stuff the ballot box? It is not possible. Police in itself is weak.
Newswatch: How do you look at the issue of international organisations funding human rights groups in Nigeria?
Fawehinmi: I have always opposed it from the word go. Today, Nigeria has at least 400 human rights groups. Most of them are funded from abroad. There is a danger. Does any Nigerian fund human rights organisations in Britain? Do Nigerians fund human rights organisations in America? Do they fund human rights organisations in Germany? You see, we are dealing with very clever people. Multinationals, they are very clever. I don’t want a second slavery. Some human rights groups are doing very well. By the type of leadership of some of them, they cannot be disloyal to this country. I cannot say the same for many others. I don’t want to go into names, you see they are my friends. But if they have to rely on foreign fund, then the fund must be regulated. I will advocate that there should be a law to regulate the activities of all human rights groups. There should be a law promulgated by the national assembly on how they should be registered, how they disclose their funding.
Newswatch: Some of your past employees say you are a slave driver and do not pay good salary. How do you react to that?
Fawehinmi: That is absolute rubbish. There is no lawyer that I bought a car for that I asked for a payback. I must have bought not fewer than 15 to 20 cars for lawyers. The present person there, is using two cars and one of them is Mercedes. Nobody pays back. All the cars you see parked there by staff, they don’t pay back. I don’t give loan for people to buy cars.
Secondly, regarding salaries, I am shocked to hear that, because I don’t know of any lawyer who is earning less than N20,000 in my office. My deputy earns more than N50,000 a month. My wage bill is in millions every month. I want to know the establishment that pays in millions every month. We reflect this in taxes we pay to the government every year. I operate law, practice law, write law and publish law. We are talking of Nigeria law publication, the chambers and all the people that publish for us. This is a place where the gate-man earns N11,000 to N12,000 a month in our chambers. A place where a messenger earns N12,000 a month. He is given a motorcycle. I mean in our chambers, they serve refreshment free of charge on daily basis.
We have the largest chambers in this country. Look at the secretaries. There is no secretary in the chambers who earns less than N15,000 a month – just for typing. Go there and find out what I am talking of today, the 22nd of August when you are interviewing me. And I don’t default. I have never defaulted in the last 37 years that I have been practising law in this country in salaries, never. So, I don’t understand.
Newswatch: How far does your personal belief and crusade affect the way you run your chambers?
Fawehinmi: Well, I run my chambers on system and I ensure absolute rigidity in the system. I don’t allow people to make costly mistakes. If they do, they are fired. That’s why people say I am ruthless. Yes, I am ruthless on the side of efficiency. When you see a person who brings a case, his life is involved. Therefore, everything must be committed to it. And if you don’t do it, you’re fired. I am pathologically committed to excellence. You know why I say so. If I write a letter, three people must read it. After that, they make correction. We are fanatical about correcting errors. If any error creeps in, that guy is in trouble. If we find anything, I will destroy it. That is why we take pains. Before you discover mistakes in our letters, it takes time. That is why people say I am a slave driver. Yes, I admit that.
Newswatch: Would you attribute your heart ailment to your struggle?
Fawehinmi: That is very obvious. I knew I was sick on the 21st of March when I attended the rally of the NLC. I was sick. I was told not to go but I said even to die in the midst of that struggle is a glory.
Newswatch: Was it as a result of your incarceration?
Fawehinmi: Yes, I started having hypertension 32 years ago when I started going to prison at Gombe.
Newswatch: Some of your children are marked by prison names as you said. How many of them?
Fawehinmi: About 10 of them are marked by prison names. Others are marked by police station names.
Newswatch: You said you do not socialise, so what do you do as a form of relaxation?
Fawehinmi: When I come in, I watch the CNN a lot, gather enough of information, make notes, go through the papers I have not been able to read as a result of office work. I like to drink coffee a lot. A lot of coffee, a lot of tea. I have more than eleven brands of tea. I am a tea connoisseur. I think that’s just it, I listen to some music.
NewswatchYou don’t visit friends?
Fawehinmi:No, no, no. I have friends. With all respect to them, they are very good in visiting me. But quite frankly, I have friends here and I don’t know where they are living. Relations that I don’t visit for 20 to 30 years and they come here to say hello. So, that is one thing about me, I am not a sociable person.
Newswatch: So, what is your religious life like?
Fawehinmi: I am a Muslim but I am not a fanatical Muslim. I don’t think I pray five times. I pray but not up to five times. I do that every morning. I put everything together. Five times? Oh my God! I do what God wants us to do. I mean I help my neighbour. My scholarship programme has been on since 1971. I am doing the 30th anniversary of that scholarship this year now and it is going to cost me at least N1.5 million.
Newswatch: As a Muslim what is your view on sharia?
Fawehinmi: I am worried that somebody who stole a cow, his hand was amputated, but a director who stole pension fund in the same sharia (state) is flogged. I thinkthat is pure injustice. If a poor man’s hand can be chopped off, then the rich man, who even stole pension of somebody was flogged. They were even hesitant in flogging him. It took two hours before they could make up their mind. I don’t think this sharia law should discriminate. I think that director should have greater punishment. So, if a commissioner is caught now stealing people’s money, I think in Zamfara, his head should be chopped off. But they won’t do that. In essence, sharia is a way of life for the Muslim. Then the imbroglio on the sharia was caused by the constitution. You have sections that support sharia. You have sections that oppose sharia. So, the confusion is caused by the constitution. If you remember in 1988, when this matter was to be set up, during Babangida regime and the constituent assembly was set up to review the constitution, Aikhomu was sent by Babangida to go and tell them that they must not discuss sharia. He gave them four areas that they must not discuss. I think the controversy was caused by the constitution. Section 10 says that religion should not be imposed on the state. There should not be any discrimination on religion. Sections 175, 178, 265 and others allow states to create sharia courts. In addition, in other sections of the constitution, Sharia Court of Appeal is a superior court of law. So, what are we talking about?
Newswatch: Are any of your children lawyers?
Fawehinmi: Two of them are already practising lawyers and there are two others who will soon come out as lawyers. Two others say they want to follow suit as lawyers but I don’t think they will like to parade the prisons.
Newswatch: Do you find time to eat on a regular basis?
Fawehinmi: Ah! Now you have touched the sore area of my life. Food is my life. I love it. I am an eater, but a very selective eater. Fruits and vegetables have taken over my meal. Not just any food. I don’t know just any fruit that is in season that I don’t insist that it should be bought, and must be on the table. It is for me to pick what I want. That is how I relax
After breakfast on fruits, then my special vegetable must be packed for me to take to the office. That vegetable contains 17 ingredients, All these ingredients are chopped, and they must not stay more than 3 minutes on fire so as not to lose their value. Once I take that, I do not take any other thing. If I have a bowl of Eba, I must have a bigger bowl of vegetable soup. That is how I eat. So, I spend a lot on food.