Among Nigerians old enough today to understand things, few, if any, would claim not to have encountered the name Femi Falana (Obafemi Patrick Falana), either by reputation or being beneficiaries of the consequences of his career of tireless socio-political activism of almost four decades. After Gani Fawehinmi, FF is easily now the next most easily recognizable face among the nation’s human rights community.
In my nearly three-decade career in journalism, I have been opportuned to interact closely with him and can therefore vouch for his uncommon humanity and spirit of self-sacrifice.
As he turns 60, there can be no better time to celebrate a man whose entire life has been devoted to the cause of the poor and the birth of a more equitable social order. In that noble pursuit, he has been jailed by successive governments. Time and tide might have changed, FF has been consistent.
At the bar, he sees the law more as a veritable tool to weave a safety net for the comfort of the vulnerable against the treacherous machinations of the privileged. So, he takes briefs from rich clients in order to fund pro bono cases for the poor.
Those then seeking to pigeon-hole FF to political or economic interests will certainly toil in vain. This is because whereas you may find him effusive in the praise of government over one policy, in the next breath, he is belching smoke and fire against the same authority over another issue. With him, what only seems permanent is his value – a fierce commitment to the cause of egalitarianism, fair-play and good governance. Put simply, justice is his religion, consistency his insignia.
While assorted legends have since been created around FF’s anti-establishment struggle, there is a hilarious secret not many are yet aware of. Whereas his entire working life could be said to have been devoted to battling secular authority, his career of rebellion was actually launched in the seminary school. At the exclusive Catholic institute, students were supposed to be guided by an unwritten and unspoken decree obliging them to exercise utmost inhibition when, for instance, called to dance in the open.
But not FF. Came the dancing time one day. Rather than comport himself like others, FF chose to dance freely, in fact, exhibiting deft footworks the disapproving presiding chaplains thought belonged only to “the carnal-minded” secular world. That very act of cold defiance by FF marked the turning-point in his running battle with the school authority, eventuating in his self-withdrawal from the institution.
Had he remained in seminary school and graduated, we can only speculate the sort of a Reverend Father he would have become.
By their fruit, you shall know them. FF’s spirit of defiance would also manifest in his now famous musician son, “Falz De Bad Guy”. He was sent to Ivy League school in London to study law. Upon graduation, he only agreed to join his parents’ law chambers in Lagos briefly. One day, he told his parents he preferred to follow his passion – music. His mum was aghast, reportedly asking where the lad inherited the music gene from in the family. (FF and wife jointly run their chambers.)
But never losing his sense of humour even at the gravest of moments, FF reportedly turned on the wife and asked if they (the parents) could, in good conscience, be said to have inherited the “gene of law practice” from their own parents since they were non-lawyers.
Thus, the hitherto tense family meeting dissolved into raucous laughter. Of course, that signaled dad and mum’s blessings for “Falz De Bad Guy” to pursue his own dream – a career path he has since made a huge success of within a relatively short period.
While celebrating the people’s lawyer, we also must not forget another exemplar, engaging scholar and essayist of gravitas – Professor Ayo Olukotun (aka Possible Baiye) who just turned 65.
Through the ideas he has professed over the years, the professor of political science demonstrates that scholarship is meaningless without character and futile if it does not illuminate the path ahead for the society to navigate. Little wonder then he is today the esteemed occupant of the Oba Sikiru Adetona Professorial Chair in Governance at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye.