There was a mild drama yesterday at the 14th Gani Fawehinmi Annual Lecture when angry protesters mobbed Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and stopped him from mounting the podium to speak.
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The incident happened at the Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja, venue of the lecture organised by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja Branch and which has as its theme: “Federalism, Restructuring and Good Governance: Striking a Balance”.
Ozekhome, who arrived the venue at about 1.10 p.m., was stopped from entering the hall by the protesters comprising some youth and students. They milled round the senior lawyer singing songs composed of defamatory words as they stopped him from entering the hall.
The incident forced the keynote speaker, a former Dean, Faculty of Law, Obafemi Awolowo (OAU), Ile-Ife, Prof Demola Popoola to stop his paper for about 20 minutes.
At the high table was the former General Secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Ovie Kokori, who was chairman of the event, and the Adeboruwa of Igbogbo, Oba Semiu Orimadegun Kasali among others.
Ozekhome was slated as a contributor alongside Ms Onyeka Onwenu and Seun Kuti, son of late Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
The protesters accused Ozekhome of defending personalities like Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti state, wife of former President, Mrs Patience Jonathan and Senate President Bukola Saraki among others, who they labeled as corrupt, contrary to the ideals for which the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi stood for.
It took the intervention of Mr Femi Falana (SAN), the NBA Ikeja Chairman, Mr Adeshina Ogunlana and Mr Mohammed Fawehinmi to bring the situation under control.
Mohammed told the protesting youths that his late father did not believe in violence but rather was very democratic.
He said late Fawehinmi would not have approved what they did because Chief Ozekhome was at the event for a purpose.
“This gathering is a democratic gathering and it is a gathering in which security should not restrict anybody”, he said adding that he was about nine years old when Chief Ozekhome was working as a counsel in his late father’s chamber.
Ozekhome, who later addressed the gathering, told them that he was very close to the late Fawehinmi and that together they formulated and started the publication, “Nigerian weekly Law Report” .
He said:”Gani fought across the country handling many cases including controversial ones.”
He rcalled that when in 1983, the NBA said that lawyers should not defend alleged corrupt politicians under the administration of Gens. Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon when they were fighting corruption, “but Gani said No; these people are entitled to their rights.
“By Section 36 of the Constitution, every person’s innocence is presumed; I was with Gani when we were defending the so-called corrupt politicians.
“I am just coming now from the court where the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) wanted to freeze the account of a citizen via ex parte.
“I just stopped them again for the 20th time, I will continue to fight the government which looks the other way when corruption is recorded in their system. “I have told Mr Magu three times to prosecute at least one person in their government so that we can show that corruption is being fought,’’ he said.
“The Shiites that were mowed down during their protests, the massacre in Southern Kaduna, Enugu State and so many other incidents are as a result of lack of true federalism and restructuring,’’ he said.
His address was punctuated by the protesters who shouted “lies, lies, lies’’ even as the senior advocate told the protesters that he would not be intimidated and called them hired protersters.
Falana gave clarifications that the account given by Ozekhome should not be misunderstood to mean that Gani was a defender of corruption.
Falana said Gani took on some cases to expose corruption and corrupt politicians.
“He never filed a stay of proceedings. If you have a bad case, Gani would simply tell you that you have a bad case. Go and find out from your history books, Gani never defended anyone being tried by the EFCC or ICPC, I need to correct that misconception”, he said.
Prof. Popoola, in his lecture titled, “ Re-Inventing the Nigerian State: Imperatives, Prospects and Challenges of Federalism, Restructuring and Good Governance” said the country cannot have meaningful restructuring without economic restructuring.
He said tit would be difficult for the country to free herself from the many problems it is going through now, including restructuring, not until the people start thinking like global citizens.