By Iyabo Awokoya( Nee Fawehinmi )
I must confess that I have struggled with this call made by our God to bring Mohammed (Mo) home to himself. All my Christian instincts tell me that God did this for good because all His deeds are good and that though His ways are not our ways, He brings everything to perfection. I trust and believe, but the hurt is nevertheless deep.
Mo’s death has made me so low in spirit, and when I spoke to my daughter about my feelings, she advised that I write my thoughts down in a tribute to Mohammed and that it would help me process my emotions and find peace. So here I go. Hopefully, this piece will succour those who mourn their loved ones in this pandemic era and in particular, give comfort to those who have lost loved ones who are classified as especially vulnerable.
A portrait of Mo as a child, teenager and young adult
I am 8 years older than Mo. He was born in February of 1969 at a time I was still in primary school. My father, the late Honourable Mr. Justice Rasheed Olabamidele Fawehinmi was Mo’s Dad’s elder brother. The two brothers had their differences as all brothers do, but there was great love on both sides for each other. On the part of my late Uncle, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, (Chief) he admired the intellect and erudition of his elder brother and also sort of role-modelled his parenting skills after his elder brother’s. I remember when Chief Gani Fawehinmi told me once while I was working in his chambers in 1983-1984, that the reason he sent Basirat (his first daughter) to boarding school for secondary education was because my father had sent me to boarding school at the age of 8 (St. Claire’s Convent School, Oshogbo). Gani said that if, my Dad, with his near obsessive love and protectionism towards me could let go of me to that extent, then he could do the same to Basirat and all the other children. Mind you, he had sent Mo and Saheed (Mo’s junior brother) to FGN Secondary schools in the farthest Northern States without batting an eyelid.
Mo, was that round-faced and incredibly handsome boy who spoke Ondo dialect from a young age and I envied him of this feat, because for the life of me, even up till now, I cannot speak our wonderful sing-song beautiful Ondo language like a pro. I also envied my Aunt- Gani’s wife (Iye-Mo) and all the children who were immersed in the language and could and still can speak the dialect fluently. With Iye Mo, the envy is a notch higher because she is from Ijebu land and she learnt the Ondo dialect as an adult. But this is not about Mo’s ability to speak the Ondo language, but more about the essence of Mo, and the wonderful memories I will have and treasure of him.
Mo was a brilliant lad, like I said before, an extremely handsome one. As he grew older, he became even more handsome of features, tall and elegant, of a perfect mixed hue of his Dad and Mum. Mo wanted to study something other than law, because this was typical of all young people who at that age of discovery always wanted to be independent of their parents’ clout and wanting to forge their future themselves. It was the same postulation with me. I was not intending to read law -following in my father’s footsteps. No, I wanted to study Mass Communications. Mo, on his part wanted Business Administration and he got his wish, while I did not. My father and fate-through some excellent A-levels result, conspired to get me into University of Ife to study law instead of University of Lagos to study Mass Comm as I had posited. Mo’s ‘rebellion’ in getting his way was short-lived. After Business Administration came the movement to University of Buckingham to study-you guessed Law.
Incredibly, Mo, found that he loved the law, just like I found joy in the same profession. The rebellion had not lasted long, because we, the Fawehinmi’s have an inbred instinct for protecting the oppressed or the ‘hard done bye’ populations.
When I was working in Chief Gani’s chambers, I had a close relationship with Iye-Mo and she used to sneak in food delicacies to me in the chambers and I used to share this with my colleagues then (Barrister Dele Awokoya, my husband, and Mike Phillips Esq. who resides in the UK and who was our Best man at our wedding). Mo and his siblings were always being ferried to and from school by Iye-Mo and I recall the few times Mo’s cheeky grin would light up on seeing me in my lawyer’s garments during those windows when fate decreed, we should meet on the side lines of growing up.
Then Mo, finished his law degree and took his rightful place in his father’s chambers and was one to be heir and successor to the great chambers of Chief Gani Fawehinmi. He strode smartly and elegantly into the Chambers daily with his humble personality-he did his work with due deference to his dad, knowing the high standards expected of him and knowing those standards were even ten notches higher than for others because of who he was and the legacy that was his. All was going well, then disaster struck, and disability ensued.
The fates conspired to bring Gani down by attacking him by his Achilles heel-his son. The youthful Mo was going home one night in 2003 and was involved in an accident. He most likely would not have been paralysed, but for the manner first responders (the motley crowd of Nigerians around the place of the accident) provided first response. Mohammed suffered a spinal injury. No one stabilised his neck and body, rather they pulled/dragged him out of the wreckage, thereby causing him more harm. This is not my emotions talking, but the brutal fact as revealed when Mo was flown to the UK for treatment. Chief’s personal physician, the late Dr. Ore Falomo also testified to this. Nigerians need to be educated in how to handle situations such as accidents. Public enlightenment campaigns need to be mounted on this. Secondary school children should be instructed in how to perform CPR and general first aid to save more lives. But who are we to be ungrateful to that motley crowd of first responders who perhaps without their eager pulling, Mo would have been long gone on that day in 2003 and his immediate family and the nation would not have heard his story of overcoming disability with ability for 18 more years.
Shall we bemoan the fate that decided to cripple Mo in order to weaken Gani? I am not given to blaming the Gods, but I do know that Satan is real, and his antics include hitting great men and women at the place of their highest vulnerability. Gani, the great, had to suffer a similar fate to other great men of Yoruba origin including Chief Obafemi Awolowo. But fate was not as wicked to Chief because Mohammed lived. Segun Awolowo Snr was lost to Chief Obafemi Awolowo in a car crash, but Mo lived, and Chief was spared the agony of mourning the death of his firstborn son.
In our family, we never bemoan the fates. Once something happens, we all go in to overdrive, embracing and deploying coping mechanisms. First and foremost, we all bond and provide support for one another. Chief was devastated but he was not one to resort to self-pity. He was so grateful to God for sparing his son’s life. So, he moved into action, getting the nursing care Mo would need in place and building a bungalow for him in the manner that would be conducive to life on a wheelchair. Iye-Mo, the indefatigable matriarch of the family, was at service and alert to the care of her son. The love between the two (mother and son), divinely ordered. Mo was to go on and live a very productive life in the comfort of his loving parents.
Ability in Disability
All that Chief and Iye Mo did to make Mo comfortable and able to be productive in the new reality of his living would have gone to waste or come to nought if Mo had not embraced his reality and found the fervour to live life to the fullest even in wheelchair confinement. And this is the point of this Tribute-Ability in Disability. Mo lived and lived well. He was loved and he loved. He was loved by family and friends. He had many siblings, and he was a doting uncle to his nephews and nieces. Mo had his legal practice, Mohammed Fawehinmi Chambers, he continued the legacy of his father. He was in charge of the Nigeria Law Publications. He stayed true to his father’s causes. He knew how to spot charlatans who were merely using his Dad’s name for clout. Mo and I on the occasions we spoke on the telephone would explain some things to me that would make me happy. For example, at the posthumous 80th birthday celebration event held for Gani, I saw some oddity in the behaviour of a present-day radical politician, and I asked Mo about it later, and he confided in me that it the drama of that day was more or less a gate-crash grandstanding. On another occasion when there was to be a documentary on the life of Gani, Mo sent the crew to come interview me because according to him he knew he could trust me to give an account of Gani that would be balanced. On the day his dad was honoured posthumously by President Buhari, Mo’s commendation of the President was effusive and from the heart-he said President Buhari was the most reasonable President Nigeria had had. I understood his meaning. If anyone was deserving of honour from Nigeria for selfless service to Nigeria, it was Chief Gani Fawehinmi and the late MKO Abiola that was also honoured on the same day.
To us in the family, Mo was not defined by disability but rather by ability in disability. He was an important rallying point for the family. This is why I have decided to pen this down and to deliver this message to society. We need to change our view on people who are wheelchair bound. The wheelchair does neither imprison the brain and/or the soul, nor does it diminish the essence of the person. The man or woman is still there in anyone who is disabled. His intellect, wit and humour, passions, hobbies, interests, and all are all in the man. One of the conflicting emotions I have suffered during this period is trying to curb the recoil I get when people say to me when commiserating with me that “o lo simi”. I understand where they may be coming from, but I want them to know that all of us when we pass-on have also gone to ‘simi’. No life is more important than another. I would prefer if Mo had still been with us, wheelchair et al. He never expected to go, COVID took him. He always had hope that he would one day walk and knowing the strength of Mohammed’s determination and the advances in medicine, we could all relate with his hope and hope that this would happen.
If there is one thing I will bear as regret till I am called to glory myself, it is my reclusiveness which hinders my ability to visit loved ones as I should. I regret not visiting Mo often. I would always promise that I would but did not fulfil the promises and for this fault of min, I deeply am sorry and I know that Mo, who is now in the spirit can see my contrite heart. I have so many other aunts in the family, much older than I, many older cousins, and younger ones. Mo’s passing has taught me a grave lesson. Life is fleeting and love should not be taken for granted. I have learnt and I will do better.
Mohammed Babatunde Fawehinmi sun re o
Ari i gbodo wi
O jeun gbobo lile lile
O laun ha ha gbokunri gwin
O ja li lili bo ti e
Omo Lisa okunrin, omo lisa Obirin
Ma ba ja, ma ba re
A tapa ni sau
Sunre O Omo logun
Iyabo Arinola Awokoya (Mrs)
August 24, 2021