Mohammed Fawehinmi is the eldest son of late radical Lagos Lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi who died a few years ago. Before his death, his son, Mohammed was not only a practicing lawyer in his GANI FAWEHINMI Chambers at Anthony Village, Lagos, he was the deputy head of chambers and the heir apparent to the throne.
But unfortunately, he had a car crash which put him out of circulation for about a year which left him incapacitated. In this interview with City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE, he recounts how he had his auto accident and how his dad, a very strong man at the best of times broke down and wept when he saw him on his sickbed in London. Below are excerpts of the interview.
How did you start practicing with your late dad before he died?
I was born in Lagos here in LUTH on the 21st February, 1969. As I was born my dad was detained. It was as if I brought that bad luck of detention to the family. I schooled at K Kotun Memorial School in Surulere from there I went to St. Saviours School, Ebute Metta and then to GCL and I ended up at Federal Government College, Sokoto. I came back to UNILAG, did Business Administration from there I went to University of Buckingham to read Law. I went to Law School, came back and I started practising with him.
Why didn’t you do law as your first degree…
Haaa! I was scared. I was looking for ways to dodge that man, because to work with a man like that you have to be serious and ready. It took a lot of courage. It took a lot of encouragement from other people, because he was waiting for me to come and work with him. He must have been saying to himself, you can’t escape me here. There is no how, you must read Law and practice Law. You are the first born, you can’t escape me here. You are not going to go anywhere. Eventually, when I was convinced to do Law, I knew that the last days I will enjoy will be at the Law School. So, I played as much as I wanted to. Immediately I got my certificate and I handed it over to him he shook my hand and he gave me my letter of employment and my starting salary was N5,000.
That was in 1998. He increased to N8,000, after about 2 years of practice. Eventually when I was going to buy this car that I had this my accident with, the people said, how can you be the deputy head of chambers and you will be earning N8,000, so he now wrote a letter saying that was an old letter that he had increased it to N23,000. They now calculated it and allowed me travel. Haaa! Life with Chief was tough. I had to learn the hardway with him.
I had to work 7 days a week. On Sundays, he will tell me you are Muslim. My friend go and open the chambers. I don’t like what this useless man Obasanjo has said we have to fight it. So, I will go the office via Mr. BIGGS. As they open at 6.45am I am always their 1st customer. I buy donought, meatpie, drinks everything and I go to the Chamber, I will go and work on the files for next week. Once its 10am I will put on the computers to warm them. Then his own Confidential Secretary, Mr. Agbo will come after service and all the other Lawyers who are Christians resume.
Those who are Muslims will already be there. So, its always a full session. We have to make sure that the originating summons has already been prepared because Adindu will definitely go and file on Monday, unfailingly, even if he is sick, Chief will say take Panadol, when you come back I will take you to my Physician treating me to take care of you, but you must file it. Whoever is going to argue the case, as Adindu is coming back, the person is taking over to go and get that order of court on Monday with Chief, there is no failure. He cannot tolerate failure at all. Thats why every Lawyer that passed through him, they are the ones who are lucky now.
They are all multi-millionaires and billionaires. There is nothing so difficult for them to do in Law that they can’t handle because he has taken them through worst things in the Chambers. I learnt that way too, the hard way. You either learn the hard way or you leave the place and make sure he does not get you. If he does he will punish you. He believes once he gives you a job you must do it. There is no second chance. No room for failures. There are 2 lawyers who failed with their cases. They got their salaries at the gate. They were not allowed into the Chambers again. Till he died he trained 245 of us (Lawyers). Some are dead. Some are alive. Some are Judges. Some are Senior Advocates.
Where did late Gani Fawehinmi get his toughness from? Do you know?
He experienced that toughness also. His dad too was very wealthy. He experienced that toughness when his dad died. He saw the other side of life. So, he realised that the only way to survive is for one to be tough. If you are not tough you will get left behind. With that toughness he left his social life and concentrated mostly on his career..
It took his mums intervention to start wearing natives. He was always wearing English outfits. When he goes to an occassion when anybody is wearing aso oke he will come in suit. She told him, it is embarassing. And they will say your mum is there looking at you. Your mum used to be a solid market woman who understands all these things. So his mum now told him to give my mum money to go and buy brocade, lace and she now sewed everything.
Can you tell us a bit about your accident and what lessons have you learnt?
The first lesson I learnt about my accident is always use your seat belt. I closed the chambers around 9.35pm. I was going home and I stayed in Ajao Estate, in one of Chiefs flats there. So, I used the seat belt. And the seat belt of my car is such that once you use seat belt, the seats itself sinks in, so you become very comfortable. As I was going from the local airport to the international airport, I was sleeping.
Whenever the car gets to the culvert it gives a beeping sound, so I wake up. I said if I continue like this, I might climb culvert ooo, without even realising it, so I removed the seat belt and I continued driving. When I got to NAHCO area, I turned to the left to go to Ajao Estate towards Oshodi. All of a sudden, I don’t know what happened. I think I slept off and the car skid off the road because there was diesel on the road around where those tankers park, the Conoil tankers, they always leak diesel on the main road.
So the car skid off. I applied the breaks it didn’t stop. My car now skid into the Conoil. There was a mallam that usually sleeps very close to the culvert there, I flew over him. I had that Wayo, that the Hausas say, but I didn’t know where it came from. When the car landed it went to the quadrangle where they check for petrol. That was what stopped the car. I was still saying thank God, the airbag came out and pinned me to the seat. It was the airbag from the side that now came out and dislocated my neck. After struggling for about 2 minutes from the neck down, everything went dead.
I remained there, where I was. After a while I heard some area boys saying he has a bag in his car. Lets steal it. Don’t you know that guy? He is a Lawyer. There must be money in it. Then, I now saw a Naval guy. He was in white, appearing towards me. The guy Mr. Blessing Irabor now pierced the airbags. He brought me out and layed me gently on the floor. My head was towards the silencer. Silencer had dropped. Fuel was leaking I said see life. See me, Mohammed lying on the floor helpless with fuel coming towards me, he now put me at the back seat of a taxi. The taxi now drove me to Dr. Ore Falomo’s Maryland Specialist Hospital. Immediately, Dr. Ore Falomo saw me. He examined me and he said this is Spinal Chord issue. He said they should take me to Igbobi Orthopaedic Hospital. They informed my dad and my mum.
Then I was about to have X-ray. That was when they started nudging and pulling which they are not meant to do. Because once you have a spinal chord injury there is usually a spray they spray on the area, where the chord is located and then you put like a neck cast. There was none of that. We didn’t have emergency service then, my dad now came 2 days after because he was in Ondo then. He then went and obtained a VISA for me from the British Embassy.
We got to England on a Saturday morning. We left on Friday, so Saturday morning I went for MIR, scan and X-Ray. Dr. said when he checked he couldn’t see anything, all he saw was blood and so he had to operate. That was when my dad burst into tears. I started looking at him and I said haha see this tough man ooo.
So, this man can cry? My dearest sister who is a Medical Doctor also was crying. Its only my mum that was praying. They pushed me into the operating room. The man’s name was Mr. Monti Chursky. He said he had gotten past the level of being a Consultant and has reverted back to Mr. Within 2 to 3 minutes he had assembled a 13 man team.
The annestiologist was a complete white guy who grew up in Ibadan. So, he was speaking hard core Ibadan to me. I just said haba, I am dead already. (Laughs) who am I going to face next ooo. He tapped me that it is real ooo. You are not dead ooo. I don’t know if he was reading my thoughts. He said I should just relax its a small problem. He injected me, I slept off. The operation lasted for 4 hours. They wheeled me out. The surgeon had blood all over him. He just picked one green apple, ate it and they wheeled the next person in. Eventually, they now trained me on how to use the wheel chair. I left April 16th, I got back here April 17th. Since then I have been trying to adapt.
How did you feel when they told you about the sad news that you have a spinal chord injury?
Haaa! I was demoralised.
Because it wasn’t what I thought would happen. In fact, I had the file of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) in my boot. That was the case I was meant to do the next day. I just finished my submission, I corrected it, packaged it and put it in the boot. They couldn’t get that file and they had to adjourn.
They eventually got someone to do it. It was the case I kept remembring all through. I was thinking very soon I will still go back and handle that case. As God will have it someone else had to do.
How did your Dad, Chief take the news of your spinal chord injury?
Haa! He took it badly initially. It took it very, very badly I must say. But as a man he must continue. They said they wanted to give him a doctorate award at the University of Ife. So he had to leave for Nigeria. He went to pick it and then he started the construction of Nigerian Law Publication building in Lagos.
It took about 3 years to complete Gov. Fashola who erected the 1st statute before Gov. Ambodes statute was on ground to help us open it formally. So we started running most of the operations from there.
How did you take all the pressures of a restless Mohammed who now had to be confined to a wheelchair?
Its been very difficult but I had a lot of help from my younger brother, Saheed Fawehinmi who was always with me most of the time and most of the things I had to do, he will do it. I will just tell him we need to do this and he will go and do it. It has helped me a bit and with a bit of counselling it has helped me. Haa! It took a while for me to adjust but I realised that if I don’t want things to scatter, I had to step in. Happily all my siblings who are ladies are all married, so that is a lot of load off me. There are 8 of them. They too are matured. Remaning only the last one, Aisha. She is about 11 or 12 year old.