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Chief Richard Osuolale Abimbola Akinjide, SAN

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The Role Model Series – Nigerians with Intimidating Credentials

By all measurable standards, Chief Richard Osuolale Abimbola Akinjide, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, belongs to the class of notable Nigerians whose exemplary conducts speak volumes about their huge contributions to national development. He appeared on the scene relatively early and has been a shining star in legal and political circles since his emergence by Providence. Not many people know that Akinjide got elected into the Federal House of Representatives at the age of 27 years in 1959 and became a Federal Minister in the Administration of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa at the age of 32 years.

EMERGENCE: Akinjide qualified as a lawyer on March 4, 1956, after which he returned to Nigeria from the United Kingdom. As recorded by Hon. Femi Kehinde, Richard Akinjide joined the grassroots politics of Adegoke Adelabu, who had found Akinjide’s legal prowess amazing, in the celebrated case of slapping a customary court judge, Chief D.T. Akinbiyi (later Olubadan). Akinjide was the younger counsel to Dingle Foot, the British lawyer hired by stormy petrel – Adegoke Adelabu for his defence. (Queen’s Counsel is the equivalent of Nigeria’s SAN) Dingle Foot, QC,  handled a number of high profile court cases in Nigeria; including the preliminaries of defence of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s trial for treasonable felony.

Kehinde continues: ‘’As a payback, Akinjide was elected into the federal parliament at the age of 27, in 1959, with an official emolument of £840 per annual, i.e. £70 a month. He later became a minister in 1965 at the age of 34. Adelabu’s sudden exist ignited a massive eruption in Ibadan’s political firmament and a lot of distinguished personalities paid glowing tributes to this stormy petrel. It is on record that Adegoke Adelabu was also a very brilliant mind who by merit got double promotions in the elementary school and later as student of Government College, Ibadan.

EARLY LIFE: Chief Richard Akinjide was born in the early 1930s in Ibadan, Nigeria. Akinjide who emerged from a family of warriors attended St. Peter’s Primary School, Aremo, Ibadan, and later Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife; from where he passed out in Grade One (Distinction, Aggregate 6) He later proceeded to the United Kingdom for his legal education.  Richard Akinjide travelled to the UK in 1951 for his higher education and was called to the English Bar in 1955. He also enrolled as a Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, after which he established his practice of Akinjide & Co. One distinctive feature of ROA Akinjide is his brilliance that has seen him handle some of the most sophisticated political suits recorded in Nigeria’s history.

CAREER:  Chief Richard Akinjide SAN travelled to the UK in 1951 for his higher education. He studied for his LLB degree in Law at the University of London. He also obtained a Certificate in Journalism. As a result of his love for journalism, he was a contributor to West African Pilot and Daily Times. He also taught International Commercial Arbitration at post-graduate level at the University of Ibadan. He served as an elected Member of the Federal House of Representatives, Ibadan, South-east constituency and as a Minister of Education in the Tafawa Balewa Administration from 1964-1966. He was later appointed the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation by President Usman Aliyu Shehu Shagari.

He served in the foregoing capacity from 1979-1983, until  the military intervened in the political administration of Nigeria.  He was a member of the judicial systems sub-committee of the Constitutional Drafting Committee of 1975-1977 and later joined the National Party of Nigeria in 1978. He became the legal adviser for the party and was later appointed the Minister of Justice. In the current political administration, Akinjide has served on the Board of Trustees (the highest advisory body) of the Peoples Democratic Party.

IN LEGAL PRACTICE:  The title: Senior Advocate of Nigeria was first awarded on 4th March, 1975, with two eminent Nigerians, Chief FRA Williams and Dr. NAB Graham Douglas as beneficiaries. The next set of SANs were produced on 1st December, 1978 with the following as recipients: Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief R.A. Fani-Kayode, Chief T.A Bankole Oki, Chief E.A. Molajo, Chief Kehinde Sofola and Chief ROA Akinjide as the 8th SAN on record. It is to be noted that the seven senior SANs have passed on leaving Chief Akinjide as the most Senior Advocate of Nigeria today. Richard Akinjide has handled several controversial cases among these, Election Petition Tribunals involving President Shehu Shagari and Dr. Omololu Olunloyo.

LOGIC & THE LAW: A publication by Harvard University (2002) states that: ‘’Thinking like a lawyer means, in the first instance, thinking with care and precision, reading and speaking with attention to nuance and detail. It means paying attention to language, but also understanding that words can have myriad meanings and can often be manipulated. It thus also means paying attention to context and contingency. Thinking like a lawyer also means that you can make arguments on any side of any question. Thinking like a lawyer also means exercising judgment, distinguishing among those arguments, and sifting good from bad. Just as you will come to understand that there are arguments made in good faith on opposing sides, you must also learn to reject some arguments, or at least to choose among them. Arguments may be bad because they are illogical, because they do not fit the facts or the law, because they are silly or inconsequential’’

When the military lifted the ban on politics in 1978, in preparation for the 1979 elections, ,  there were five registered political parties. The political parties and their presidential candidates were: Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria, (UPN), Chief Nnamdi Azikwe of Nigeria  Peoples’ Party (NPP), Alhaji Aminu Kano of Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP) and Waziri Ibrahim of Great Nigerian Peoples’ Party (GNPP). It was a very tight contest with President Shehu Shagari and Chief Obafemi Awolowo scoring the highest number of votes. The 1979 presidential election was caught up  in a web of controversies because none of the candidates scored 25 percent in more that  two-thirds or 12 States. Nigeria then comprised 19 States.

The Federal Electoral Commission announced NPN as polling polled 5,688,857 votes while Awolowo’s UPN, polled 4,916,657 votes. Then, started the legal fireworks/ Geniuses like Prof. Ayodele Awojobi, an Awolowo sympathizer went before the Presidential Election Tribunal  to prove that the two-thirds of 19 States was 13 States. Chief Obafemi Awolowo himself got into his robes as a legal practitioner. Awolowo requested the tribunal to determine whether Shagari/UPN satisfied the second condition given by the Electoral Act for a presidential candidate to be declared a winner, – The candidate must have one-quarter of votes in two-thirds of the states of the federation.

Displeased with the ruling of the Tribunal,  Awolowo headed for the Supreme Court with his allies:  Professor Ayodele Awojobi of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Lagos, renowned professor of Mathematics, Chike Obi and respected legal luminary, Chief G. O.K Ajayi, SAN.  Richard Akinjide, National Legal Adviser of the National Party of Nigeria was Shehu Shagari’s lead counsel.  Akinjide argued eloquently and with gusto that ‘’Shagari satisfied the two-thirds of 19 to be 122/3 and not 13. The Supreme Court bought Akinjide’s submissions and upheld the verdict of the election tribunal that ruled in favour of Shagari. However, there was a caveat:  The judgment should not be cited as a precedent in any Court of Law. The outcome of the suit brought Chief Akinjide both admiration and condemnation. While the NPN commended him for the brilliant efforts, supporters of Awolowo viewed the legal luminary as a villain. He earned the sobriquet Mr. 12 2/3rds which never gave him any bother.

Then came the 1983 Oyo State governorship election in which two cerebral politicians were the key candidates.   Dr. Omololu Olunloyo, won the election against Chief Bola Ige who went before the Arbiters with his grievances. Again, ROA Akinjide was saddled with the responsibility of fighting Olunloyo’s standpoint at the Tribunal and other stages that finally recognized Dr. Olunloyo as the valid winner. Former Governor Olunloyo was to later acknowdge Akinjide’s prowess thus:  Chief Richard Akinjide is ‘’the star of the legal case who did not collect any remuneration for his legal services’’

STRONG VIEWS: A personality of Chief Akinjide’s standing must be expected to combine wide experience, brilliance, legal and broad horizon the society would always find interesting. For instance, he told The Nation newspaper in a 2012 interview that: ‘’It is too late for Nigeria to break up, but felt highly concerned about the disintegration of Nigeria, Boko Haram challenges, political leaders ‘ and technocrats’ imputs in a democratic setup. Akinjide expressed optimism that ‘’Nigeria’s problems are surmountable,  considering the history of older great nations’’ He continued: ‘’All great nations had their trying periods; America civil war, Britain, Cromwell overthrow of Richard in 1649, German and France were not spared, yet none of them collapsed, so Nigeria will not collapse’’ Nevertheless, while comparing Nigeria to other countries that had various problems in their history, he ignored the uniqueness of those countries. Every successive government of those countries has stayed on top of the issues that precipitated every crisis they had. Their legislatures have promulgated laws that promoted unity, progress and stability. They ensured that turbulent issues are well investigated and laws are put in place to prevent a repeat of mistakes of the past. Emphases have been on what glues them together as a nation and what makes separation unattractive and unimaginable. Vanguard (2010)

NON VIOLENT AGITATIONS TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS ABROAD: The publication cited above also credits Akinjide with the revelation of the fact that in the advanced world,  standards have been set for the achievement of virtually everything. While non violent agitations are encouraged and taught in schools and meaningful none violent agitations are rewarded. Their law enforcement agencies fight crimes and not the citizens, courts thrive in dispensation of justice and not perverts and their clergy preach love and help and not hatred and violence, legislatures make citizen friendly laws and check mate the excesses of the executive and not conspire with him to loot the treasury. It is not the passage of time that was responsible for the survival of those countries, the determination and ability of the leadership to succeed and also to stand up for fairness, transparency and the zeal to correct the mistakes of the past.

ON NIGERIA’S CONSTITUTION: Nigerian governments have continued to complicate and confuse issues. Sometimes making policies that tend to justify or that are worse than colonial policies. Efforts that should have been devoted to correct the errors and inconsistencies of the past are spent adopting policies that unjustly and baselessly deprive and marginalize some groups in the country.  The Constitution of the United States is the only Constitution that the country has ever had, done over 250 years ago and it is the same Constitution that they are using today with only some amendments.  When that Constitution was enacted, there were only 13 American states. Today, there are 50 states and they are still using the same Constitution. What they do is that apart from making amendments, there are interpretations by the Supreme Court of the United States and that is why the role of the court is very, very critical. The judgment of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Gore versus Bush was in effect, the doctrine of consequences. Many people do not know that in the US, you do not necessarily have to swear in the President of the United States of America. That has been settled by case law and interpretation. Once an American President has been declared elected through the Electoral College, not through popular votes, on a particular day, whether you swear in the American President or not, he automatically takes over as President of the United States, even without taking oath of office. A 2010 Interview in the Vanguard Newspaper)

ON TURN BY TURN ARRANGEMENT:  I am  saying that talk about turn by turn would not do us any good in that context. A  look: at it iis ridiculous, that whenever we want to talk of the presidency of Nigeria, we talk in terms of Hausa Fulani, Yoruba or Igbo. Totally unfair!  In the US, Obama comes from a minority of the minority. But look at him now, because he was the best man for the job, the people of America said he should go and do the job. The truth we must understand is that in a particular circumstance or a particular period, the area you zone the office to may not have the best man for the job. One of the flaws in our Constitution is the matter of this geographical spread thing and candidacy or national character thing. Interview in the Vanguard Newpaper, 2010)

POLITICS: Looking at the way politics is being practised today in Nigeria, what would you say is responsible?
There is a big difference between what we went through in those days and now. At the time I went into politics, there was no money in politics, but today politicians have a lot of money, which was unthinkable in those days and I do sincerely hope that all the money being earned by these politicians be reduced drastically, so that we can face the development of the country. The two forms of government (parliamentary and presidential) are excellent. What is bad is some politician’s attitude to politics, yes we moved from parliamentary system to presidential system, and frankly, I don’t see anything wrong in that, and in fact, presidential system of government is even good for us, because to become president you must secure votes throughout the country, instead of the narrow and small exercise in your locality as a prime minister.  There is no problem with the type of government that you are running, except for the people’s attitude to money, which is the difference. If people do the right thing; we should cut our coat according to our size and only spend money according to what we earn. Of all the continents of the world today, Africa is the poorest, and African citizens are also the poorest and the least developed, why should that be the case. The Guardian Newspaper (Dec. 2017)