Femi Falana:In praise of Principles -By Issa Aremu

Today, Friends of Femi Falana (FFF) group (which happily include yours comradely) celeberates Mr Femi Falana for his recent elevation to the rank of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) with some intellectual grounding of activists and comrades in Ibadan, Oyo state.  Professor Chidi Odinkalu Chairman, Human Rights Commission (HRC) leads a dsicussion on the Justiciability of the Social Economic Rights ; Reflections on the contributions of Femi Falana. An activist lawyer, a patriot and globally acknowledged human rights  campaigner, Femi Falana in his own right has always been a senior advocate of Nigeria and indeed Africa anyday. The recent elevation of the  human rights activist  alongside 24 others to the elite lawyers’ rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, Legal Practitioners Privileges committee only formalises what has been long expected and what has always been anyway. In many aspects I share a lot in common with Femi Falana.

For one, we are all proud children of independent Nigeria. Mr Falana was born on 20 May 1958 at Ilawe, Ekiti state, Nigeria, two years before the British flag was lowered and replaced with Green-White-Green Nigerian flag. He had his primary schooling at St. Michael’s Primary School, Ilawe, between 1963 and 197. His  secondary education was at Sacred Heart Catholic Seminary between 1971 and 1975. He proceeded to the Nigeria Law School, Lagos in 1981 and was called to the bar in 1982. This was indeed a remarkable upward uninterrupted mobility of young Femi from relatively ground zero in 1963 to a qualified Anthony of the Federal Republic in 1981.

With the type of independence children like Femi Falana, yours truly, Sanusi Lamidos and all other 50s, who then dare  interrogate the benefits of the struggle for independence which featured nationalist heroes like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello and great Zik of Africa, Nmadi Azikwe?  Colonialist Lugardian Nigeria built no public primary and secondary schools much less a University and a law school that would throw up the likes of Femi FALANA . Walter Rodney was right when he wrote that colonialism had only one hand-‘It was a one armed bandit’. Our great fathers under the heel of colonialism were deliberately denied education that post independent Nigeria generously offered to us. The lesson; no alternative to independence.

Mr Falana enrolled at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University to study law in 1977  same year I enrolled at school of Basic studies to do my preliminary  studies preparatory to read Economics at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. It was an age of battle of idealogical ideas for development  not corruption, graft and “religious” obscrutarism   of recent times. The tripoid of ABU Zaria, University of Ife and University of Ibadan were centres of activist learning and students’ unionism with progressive movements setting patriotic and pan African agenda. It was in the heat of these great struggles of 70s and 80s for nation building that I met Femi Falana. Since  then we remain almost on the same page in the struggle for greater Africa and world of equality and justice for humanity.

After the compulsory national youth service, he joined the Chambers of Alao Aka-Bashorun, a renowned progressive legal activist and patriot.  Femi could not have elected to serve in another chambers. Aka Bashorun legal Chambers at Jebba West in Lagos for almost four decades was the Nigeria’s equivalent of   legendary Mandela-Oliver legal office at Fox street Johannesburg which opened doors to justice and fairness for  the oppressed and under privileged. Jebba West was a place of ideas and activities for , anti-apartheid, democracy and socialism, perceived then as “subversion” status quo. Aka Bashorun was a meticulous lawyer who shared traditions with famous progressive lawyers who put law at the service of the oppressed such as South Africa’s Yusuf Dadoo, Alfred Nzo, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. Though a far more junior partner, he was de facto a co-comrade of the Aka Bashorun on account of audacity of hope for a progressive Nigeria. Femi Falana has always been a good follower which explains why he is a tested leader of the civil society today. In 1991, Mr Falana started his own Chambers, Femi Falana, which later became Falana and Falana Chambers.

Femi Falana became a human rights activist as early as 1983 for which he has paid heavy price in terms undeserved harassements and detentions especially under the military.  For instance, just for standing up defence of students’ rights Mr Falana was almost denied his discharge certificate National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Two  decades later , in July 2001, he petitioned the Justice Oputa led human rights panel over his withheld certificate. The certificate was subsequently released to him on live television at the commission’s sitting.

Femi has presided over the affairs of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers and West African Bar Association, WABA President and Chairman respectively. He legitimately contested and lost the governorship election of Ekiti State in 2007 on the ticket of the National Conscience Party. Falana is qualified to be called a statesman. Though a visible non-state actor, very few statesmen have shown such passion for nation-building in terms of advocacy, legal representation and mass engagement. Just like the Aka Bashrun and chief Gani Fawehinmin. Femi who also features at next year’s Daily Trust Dialogue proudly gave out his first daughter Winnie (born at the height of anti- apartheid struggles of the 80s and named after Winnie Mandela) to marriage last saturday in Lagos in an event that witnessed a remarkable collection of all those to a better world.  Falana truly stands for something (principle) which explains why he does not fall for anything as many are doing. The unstinting commitment to humanity is undoubtedly the fundamental principle that Falana holds dearly.

Issa Aremu mni


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