The Lessons of Alfred and Gani

This has little to do with their professions but more with a decision they once took. The core of the lessons of their lives lies in what they did while alive but which only has effect after their death. What they did is a dread to many people especially in Africa.

Alfred Nobel lived between 1833 and 1896. Alfred was a Swedish chemist, engineer, inventor, and armament manufacturer with over 300 patents to his credit. He was renowned for the invention of dynamite and other powerful explosives. Gani Fawehinmi, on the other hand, lived between 1938 and 2009. He was a Nigerian lawyer, human rights activist, politician, and publisher.

Although Gani passed on in 2009, his name lives on not because he left children behind who continue to bear his name but because even in death, he’s still “working” and affecting lives positively. Like Alfred, Gani immortalised his name through his Last Will and Testament. Till this moment, most Africans haven’t realised the importance of writing a Will and the wonders they can perform through this legal instrument.

Painfully, most Africans believe that the surest way for any person to immortalise his or her name is by having children who will continue to bear their names after death. It’s so bad in some cases that the emphasis is not just on having children but having many of them, never bothered about the care or education that should be given to such children.

Civilised people have long learnt how to live after death, of course not only by leaving children behind but also by continuing to make contributions to human happiness and development even in death. Most times you don’t hear about the children of such men and women yet their legacies live endlessly after them.

The Alfred Nobel’s example is outstanding. That’s the name behind the Nobel Foundation, popularly known as the Nobel Prize. While Alfred lived, in spite of all his inventions and patents as well as his enormous wealth, he wasn’t highly regarded among his Swedish people. In 1888, something happened and this was the turning point.  A French newspaper mistakenly published his obituary instead of that of his brother, Ludvig, who passed on. Alfred read his own obituary titled “The Merchant of Death Is Dead”, and beneath this heading were these words, “Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” Yes, Alfred was the scientist who discovered dynamite which was used to exterminate multitude of human beings faster than ever before during armed conflicts but through his Last Will, his legacy later overshadows his erstwhile bad reputation.

You expect Alfred to be outraged by the obituary and file a law suit against the newspaper for defamation and claim millions of pounds sterling? He did none of that. He simply revised his Last Will and Testament. In his revised Will, he determined to redeem his image and reputation and this led him giving a bulk of his wealth to the setting up of the Nobel Foundation. From 1901 to date, the Foundation has awarded the world’s most prestigious prizes to exceptional achievers in literature, science, medicine, economics, and peace. Why Wole Soyinka, for instance, is known worldwide today may not be unconnected to the decision that Alfred took decades before the first African winner of the Nobel Prize in literature was born.

What Alfred did is outstanding but it’s by no means uncommon in the Western world. What Gani did, on the other hand, is not a common story in Africa. Gani’s Will is a document worthy of memorial status and celebration in itself. Africans shouldn’t just be remembered by their names because they are survived by children. They should have a bigger picture of a cause that would endure into far distant future on the basis of its benefits to humanity.

In his Will, Gani comprehensively took care of his family members and extended his generousity to other Nigerians and the human race in general.
He set up a public library in his Will and that’s a unique gift after the death of one of the greatest lawyers to have ever come out of Africa. It’s a great gift to the course of scholarship and national development. Anytime you’re in Lagos, take time to visit Gani Fawehinmi Library and Gallery located at Nigerian Law Publications House, Jobi Fele Way, C.B.D., Alausa, Ikeja or if you prefer to make a virtual visit, the web address is When you do, you’ll appreciate the enormity of what he did with his Will.

In the developed climes, it’s customary to write your Will, while in Africa, it’s seen as a bad omen to think of writing it. It’s erroneously believed that when a person writes his or her Will, the person may be nursing a premonition of death or die early. Some others believe that the idea of writing a Will is unAfrican, while some think the legal document is only meant for the extremely wealthy ones like Aliko Dangote and Mohamed Mansor.

Most of these beliefs, if not all, are nothing more than fallacies. Long before the Africans had contact with the white colonialists, the idea of leaving inheritance for one’s descendants has been with the black people. The only thing alien that the whites brought was to put it in writing. Before then, it was done orally.

The late Chief F.R.A. Williams, a first-class Nigerian lawyer of his time, wrote his Will in 1954 at age of 34 and passed on in 2005 at 85. This is just one and there are a few others. There is nothing to prove that writing a Will brings death to the writer earlier than it would’ve been, if no Will had been written. In this modern age, the idea of writing a Will has become universal and Africans can’t afford calling it a foreign concept. Having a Will provides the writer the opportunity to express his last wishes on issues that are dear to him or her. For instance, conflict that may arise on place of burial will be avoided when the writer clearly states where he/she wants to be buried.

While every life has an expiry date, Alfred’s Foundation and Gani’s Library live on!

This article is written by Kehinde ADEGBITE Esq and previously published in the May Edition of African Peace Magazine