There was drama at the 14th Annual Chief Gani Fawenhimi Lecture in Ikeja, Lagos, on Monday as some youths booed Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), who was one of the discussants.
The youths blocked the path of Ozekhome, who arrived the venue of the lecture at the Airport Hotel, Ikeja at about 1.10pm, insisting that the SAN would not be allowed into the lecture hall.
Ozekhome’s arrival was greeted by youths who were calling the SAN unprintable names and abusing him for allegedly defending suspected looters in the law courts. The youths also disrupted the lecture which was already underway.
Much earlier in his welcome address and while acknowledging the members of the high table at the event, the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, which was the organiser of the lecture, Mr. Adesina Ogunlana, had noted that Ozekhome would soon join the gathering as he had phoned that he was on his way from the Court of Appeal.
Ogunlana noted that some youths had opposed Ozekhome’s invitation to the Gani Fawehinmi lecture on the claim that the SAN had been fraternising with alleged treasury looters and using his legal prowess to help them to escape justice, contrary to what the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) stood for.
Ogunlana, however, appealed to the youths, saying even Fawehinmi in his lifetime tolerated opposing views.
But as soon as Ozekhome stepped into the lecture hall hours later, the youths took him on, chanting disapproving songs and insisting that he was not welcome at the event.
The noise disrupted the event, with the keynote speaker, Prof. Demola Popoola, a former Dean, Faculty of Law, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, Osun State, forced to stop his presentation as his voice was almost getting drowned by the rowdiness taking place at the back of the hall.
It took the intervention of Ogunlana and Mr. Richard Akinola, to shield Ozekhome from the rampaging youths, who massed around him to stop his entrance.
Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), who was also at the event, had to also leave the high table where he sat among others to placate the youths.
Ozekhome was eventually rescued from the protesting youths by Ogunlana and other NBA officials who led him to the high table where other discussants such as musician, Seun Kuti, Fawehinmi’s son, Mohammed, and the Publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, and others were already seated.
Upon the conclusion of Popoola’s lecture, Ogunlana took the microphone and disapproved of the treatment given to Ozekhome by the youths.
He subsequently asked Mohammed Fawehinmi to react to the development.
Mohammed said he recalled that Ozekhome was one of his late father’s protégés and that he was in Fawehinmi’s law firm, when he (Mohammed) was only nine years old.
He, however, reiterated that his late father was not an advocate of violence, stressing that the gathering was solemn to keep Fawehinmi’s values alive and should as such not be disrupted with violence.
He added, “Chief Mike Ozekhome was in my father’s chambers when I was nine years old; he’s a Senior Advocate now, I thank God.
“He’s going to give his speech; happily, we are all going to listen to him. And at the end of it when you have your turn to speak, you can criticise him, nobody is perfect.”
Ozekhome was subsequently given the microphone to react. He went down the memory lane, speaking of his close working relationship with the late Fawehinmi and his input in the founding of the Nigerian Weekly Law Reports, which Fawehinmi started.
Ozekhome said till date he had not deviated from the path on which the late Fawehinmi set him, stressing that the late Fawehinmi believed that every accused person had the constitutional rights to the presumption of innocence and the right to be defended in court.
“Gani Fawehinmi fought across the country, all over and Gani was against oppression, repression and tyranny from whatever government, from any quarters howsoever. That was why in 1983, when the NBA said lawyers should not defend alleged politicians under then General Muhammadu Buhari over corruption, Gani said, ‘No, these people are entitled to their right and that Section 36 of the constitution,’ I think it was 33 then, allows every person’s innocence to be presumed. Gani led me, I was with him physically when we were defending the so-called or alleged corrupt politicians,” Ozekhome said.
But he was soon distracted by the protesting youths, who broke into a song: Iro lo n pa o! (You are telling lies).
Undaunted, Ozekhome went on to explain that he had been defending alleged looters because the anti-corruption fight of the President Muhammadu Buhari regime was one-sided.
He said he would not repent and would do more, adding that he had defeated the government in no fewer than 20 cases and that he was just coming from the Federal High Court where he just stopped the seizure of some funds linked with Mrs. Patience Jonathan.
He shouted at the protesting youths, saying they were hired to attack him.
“I will continue to defeat your government! I will continue to defeat your government!” Ozekhome shouted back at the youths, who were making catcalls at him.
However, in apparent reaction to Ozekhome, Falana later took the microphone and warned the audience not to allow history to be distorted.
Falana said he was with Fawehinmi and the late legal titan never once defended anyone who had a corruption case.
“So that we don’t go away with the very misleading impression that Gani was a defender of corrupt people. No! And I am going to correct this…For those that Gani defended, Gani never went to any court; he never filed stay of proceedings to frustrate the system as it is the culture now.
“Gani never defended anybody tried by the EFCC or the ICPC. He called a few of us and said, ‘If we cannot help to kill corruption in Nigeria, we must never frustrate the little attempt being made by (Nuhu) Ribadu and others fighting corruption in Nigeria and that is Gani for you,” Falana said.