Lawyer to the detained
To forestall this, the regime arrested the leadership of the NANS and detained them incommunicado and without charge at Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison under the much-feared State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree Number 2 of 1984. BF was one of the leaders arrested. At the CLO then, where I headed the Directorate for Legal Services, I became by default the lawyer to the detained NANS leadership. BF became my client. Our application for Habeas Corpus on behalf of the detained students went before Justice Nureini Abiodun Kessington of the Lagos High Court, now also of blessed memory. In open court, Justice Kessington clearly declared his reluctance to hear the case because he did not “want to ridicule the judiciary by issuing an order that these boys will not obey.” Standing down the case, the judge invited me into his chambers and offered to explore whether he could persuade the detaining authorities to release the students in return for an adjournment at his instance. On the morning of the adjourned date, they were released and, with a smirk, he struck out the case. BF and the NANS leadership were free and the judge had not had to make an order against the military. But there was another problem: the military wanted the university authorities to expel the student leaders. With legal assistance provided by the law offices of Chief Fawehinmi and Alao Aka Basorun, all of them were restored to school.
BF would graduate from the Law Faculty of the University of Ife in 1994 as the best student in international law, one of the best overall. Admitted to the Nigerian Bar in 1995, BF did his tutelage under Professor Itse Sagay, himself a former Dean of Law at two leading law faculties in Benin and Ife. Simultaneously, he became one of the leaders of the United Action for Democracy, UAD, which led the resistance to the regime of General Sani Abacha. As law offices, opened in 1999, quickly became the rallying point for all persons with a serious cause who needed an excellent lawyer that they could not afford. I would later become one of the beneficiaries of his considerable acumen. BF didn’t object to rich clients. He had many of them. He readily explained that he needed their deep pockets to pay for his exertions for the have-nots and for the country. He was also the author of five law books, including one on election petitions as well as the leading text on the law and practice of Nigeria’s National Industrial Court. He was an unrelenting advocate for open government and against corruption, on which matters he advised various entities, including the United Nations and the International Labour Organisation. When the advocacy for a freedom of information (FoI) law in Nigeria was flagging in 2009, BF used the moment of his 45th birthday in 2009 to launch a unique public lecture and policy dialogue series on law and development which re-energised the advocacy. He invested his time, resources and considerable wattage in advancing it. The adoption of a FoI Act in 2011 owed a lot to his quiet investment of time, intellect and money. For his ability in identifying legal solutions that serve the public good and earning the confidence of adversaries whom he did not have to like, BF was also the lawyer of choice of Nigeria’s organised labour unions and mediator of choice for governments wishing to earn credibility with communities of struggle. He was part of the panel that investigated the revenues of the petroleum sector at the invitation of Nigeria’s federal government. At the request of the governments of Ogun, Osun and Rivers States, he participated in investigating cultures of violence and impunity at state level. When it sought credible people to guarantee the work of its Office of Public Defender, OPD, Lagos State Government invited BF as one of its advisers. At the news of BF’s death, one writer lamented: “Nigeria has lost one of its genuine saints.” When the Department of State Service, DSS, branded the UAD, which he led, an enemy of the State for seeking to exercise the right to peaceful protest in 2003, BF responded with a public statement which, in hindsight, could well have been his epitaph: “We are not slaves. We are resolved to resist the undemocratic actions and practices of this regime no matter the degree of blackmail.” He died doing just that and is survived by his wife of 22 years, Bimpe, three children and aged parents. •Dr. Odinkalu is Chairman of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission[eap_ad_3]