[Obituary] Mohammed Fawehinmi: Wheelchair-bound activist who once dreamt of becoming army general

Born on February 21, 1969 while his activist father, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), was in detention, Mohammed Fawehinmi originally planned to join the Nigerian Army and rise to the position of general; but this was not to be.

Mohammed told The PUNCH in an interview in 2018 that he had approached his father to inform him of his plan to enlist in the military but his activist father, who had been detained several times by the military, gave him the beating of his life.

He said, “I wanted to become an army general. I had three uncles in the army. Two of them were captains while one was a major. I loved the uniform and personality of military men, being like them was just what I wanted for myself.

“When I was 14, we were given forms in school for the Nigerian Defence Academy. I hurriedly filled mine and took it to my father for him to sign; I never knew I had courted trouble. Till he died, I don’t think he had ever been that angry. He said I wanted to go and join the people that were throwing him in jail all the time. He said I wanted to join those who wanted to kill him. He said that it was better he killed me before I joined his enemies.

“It took four senior lawyers to hold him down that day. One of them was OAR Ogunde, a senior advocate, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo, Mike Philips and one other person. I had to run away from the scene as fast as I could and managed to jump the fence before tearing the form. I thought he had forgotten about everything but I was surprised when he woke me up with the cane at about 2.30am the next morning. He dealt with me thoroughly that day.”

Mohammed eventually travelled to the United Kingdom to study law and wanted to become a business administrator but as the eldest son, Gani was eager for him to return home. He was eventually called to the Nigerian bar in 1998.

The young lawyer had already begun stepping into his father’s shoes as is very common with many lawyers. However, he was dealt a devastating blow by the vicissitudes of fate in the evening of September 23, 2003 when he had an accident that would damage his spinal cord and render him wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life.

He said, “I was coming from the chambers at night on the evening of September 23, 2003. The accident happened around 9.48pm. I used to stay at Ajao Estate then and I usually took the airport route to connect Ikeja. It was a Mercedes E320. By the time I got to the toll gate, I bought call card and prayed, something I had never done before because when I was at that place, I didn’t usually stop.

“I thereafter turned to link the express, as I approached a popular filling station on the axis, my car skidded off the road and leaped into the place. As the car landed, I tried to apply the brakes but it wasn’t responding. Eventually, the outlet where they used to check for petrol gauge stopped the vehicle. The airbag from the front came out and pinned me to the seat while the one from the side shifted me and broke my neck. After about one-and-a-half minute of struggle to burst the airbag, my entire body went numb. It was a naval officer who stopped to rescue me from the car, otherwise I could have been burnt alive in it because petrol was already spilling from it.”

Mohammed stated that he was first rushed to a hospital at Ajao Estate but was rejected and he was taken to Maryland Specialist Hospital where he was advised to go to the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi from where he was flown to the UK two days later.

He was eventually informed of the permanent damage the accident had done to his spinal cord. He, however, said the damage would not have been severe if proper first aid had been given to him.

“I underwent several scans and examinations over there but the specialist surgeon said he didn’t see anything. I had to be operated upon. After the operation, the surgeon said I could have been walking the following week after the accident if not for the way I was handled at the hospital in Nigeria.

“He said the particular spot where the injury occurred should have been frozen with a special spray after the accident rather than being handled anyhow. That spray cost about N8,000 when converted to our local currency. It is so common abroad but up till now, many hospitals don’t even have it in Nigeria,” Mohammed said.

Gani, himself, described his son’s accident as a tragedy that brought him to tears. In his last wills and testaments, Gani made provisions for his physically challenged son that would see him taken care of for the rest of his life. A house in GRA Ikeja was also willed to Mohammed.

Mohammed said before his accident, he was romantically involved with a lady but asked her to marry someone else because of his condition.

The lawyer further stated that he was determined to continue with his career but complained about how Nigerian courts lacked facilities for disabled persons.

He also took part in several protests despite his condition and was even fired with teargas along with his mother, Ganiyat, during the Occupy Nigeria fuel subsidy protest of 2012.

In an interview, Mohammed stated that he was hopeful that his condition would improve one day and he would be able to settle down and marry but this was not to be.

The young Fawehinmi died at the age of 52 on August 11, 2021 after breathing complications.

Many Nigerians have continued to honour the late activist.

Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), described him as a chip off the old block.

Falana said, “Mohammed was born in February 1969 while his father, the Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), was held in an illegal custody in Kaduna under the State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No 24 of 1967. Mohammed later trained as a lawyer and was already in legal practice when he had a lone accident in Lagos in September 2003.

“Unfortunately, the injury sustained by him in the accident confined him to a wheel chair for the rest of his life. Notwithstanding his physical challenge Mohammed was ever prepared to join other patriots in confronting the forces of oppression and exploitation.

“In spite of the challenge of insecurity, poverty and underdevelopment plaguing the nation Mohammed strongly believed that a new Nigeria was possible. As a chip of the old block, Mohammed was courageous, dedicated, knowledgeable and committed to the liberation of the Nigerian people from the shackle of injustice in all its ramifications. Mohammed will be sorely missed for his unwavering commitment to the struggle for a united, just and prosperous Nigeria.”

Also, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, described the late Mohammed as a passionate lawyer, recalling that they had a close working relationship while he (Adegboruwa) worked in Gani Fawehinmi’s chambers.

Adegboruwa said, “While I was in the chambers, Chief (the late Gani Fawehinmi) assigned him to me for mentoring and. So, he was always following me to court; we prepared processes together and he was quite very humble. It didn’t enter into his head that he was chief’s first son.”

Likewise, the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, in a statement by his media office said the news of the sudden death of Mohammed was “very depressing.”

“Mohammed has kept the activist fire of his dad burning since Gani Fawehinmi left us. Like his father, he was a lawyer totally committed to engendering societal change and development through the instrumentality of the law,” he added.

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