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Legal luminary, Richard Akinjide, SAN bows out

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RICHARD OsuolaleAkinjide, legal luminary, fondly called Mathematician-Lawyer has passed on. Akinjide, a first and second republic minister who would have turned 89 this November died Tuesday in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.

The renowned legal luminary and a frontline politician, was hospitalised at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, for old age-related ailments before he passed on. Until his death, Chief Akinjide was one of the oldest lawyers in Nigeria.

The late legal icon was a major player in the Nigerian politics that fought for the political independence of the country from Britain in 1960. His involvement in active politics dates back to the 1950s when he joined the Ibadan People’s Party (IPP) founded by the late Chief AdisaAkinloye, who later became the National Chairman of National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1978.

Chief Akinjide was Minister of Education in the First Republic, under AlhajiTafawaBalewa and the Attorney General and Minister of Justice in the Second Republic, during the administration of former President ShehuShagari. He was a lawyer to former President ShehuShagari in the historic presidential litigation, which he won against late Chief ObafemiAwolowo, based on the controversial 12 two-third permutation.

The Ibadan, Oyo State born Akinjide was active in politics into the Fourth Republic. An ardent supporter of former President Goodluck Jonathan, his daughter OlajumokeAkinjide was former Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The legal icon was born on November 4, 1931, in Ibadan, Oyo State. Akinjide attended Oduduwa College Ile-Ife. He travelled to the United Kingdom in 1951 for his higher education and was called to the English Bar in 1955 and later in Nigeria.

He was a member of  the IPP when it went into an alliance with the Action Group (AG) to ensure that the AG won elections in the Western Region. The alliance  prevented Dr. NnamidiAzikwe’s National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroun (NCNC) from forming the government in the Western Region.

 In that election, IPP won all the seats in Ibadan and none of the AG and NCNC won enough seats to form government, but IPP’s alliance with AG paved the way for Chief ObafemiAwolowo to emerge as the Premier of the old Western Region.

Akinjide held onto IPP, though a seemingly unpopular political party with no influence outside Ibadan, gained national prominence when IPP aligned with Northern Congress Party (NPC) during the pre-independence election of December 12, 1959 .

Akinjide won a seat and represented Ibadan in the Parliamentary System of Government headed by Sir TafawaBalewa as the Prime Minister and Akinjide becoming a cabinet member and the first Minister for Education.

He served as a minister in the TafawaBalewa Administration from 1959-1966. Thirteen years  later he was later appointed the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation by ShehuShagari. He served in that capacity from 1979-1983 when Shagari’s administration was toppled in a military coup on 31st December 1983.

When the military struck on January 15, 1966 truncating the first republic, Akinjide went back to his legal practice. In 1967, Akinjide declined the offer of commissioner in the Western Region under the military rule because the announcement was made over the radio before he was informed by the military governor.

 In 1970, Akinjide defeated Chief TOS Benson during the Nigeria Bar Association’s (NBA) national chairmanship contest and distinguished himself as one of the most outstanding presidents of the NBA. He was the National President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) between 1970 and 1973.

Between 1977 and 1978, he was a member of the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) set up by the Murtala Mohammed/OlusegunObasanjo regime to fashion out the 1979 presidential constitution. He was involved in judicial reforms.

Chief Akinjide was among the second set of the early lawyers in Nigeria to be conferred with the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 1978. He joined the National party of Nigeria in 1978 becoming the National Legal Adviser of the party.

A brilliant lawyer, whose perhaps his most brilliant outing as a lawyer was his handling of the 1979 presidential election case between the  Federal Electoral Commission of Nigeria (FEDECO) declared winner, ShehuShagari of National Party of Nigeria and United Party of Nigeria candidate, Chief ObafemiAwolowo at the election tribunal. Chief Awolowo had challenged the election’s result.

Shagari had 25 per cent or one-quarter in 12 states but failed to have 25 per cent in Kano State where he had 243,423 votes — the equivalent of 19.4percent of the 1,220,763 votes cast in total in that state. The controversy on how to get the two-third of 19 led to a legal tussle between the two parties.

While defending Shagari in court, Akinjide argued that the two-thirds of 19 is 12 two-thirds and not 13. Akinjide fractionalized the votes by dividing the 13th state (Kano) into three and votes cast in two-thirds of the state constituting the figure from where two-thirds of votes were said to have been secured by Shagari, earning Shagari the constitutionally required votes

The mathematical result gave the Presidency to Shagari, over Awolowo who had assembled a formidable array of professionals for the legal battle. Chief Awolowo had in his team Professor of Mathematics, Chike Obi of University of Nigeria Nsukka, Professor AyodeleAwojobi of the Mechanical Engineering Department, University of Lagos and Professor of History, J.O.K. Ajayi.

The supreme court eventually upheld the verdict of the election tribunal and ruled in favour of Shagari but with a caveat that the judgment should not be cited as a precedent in any court. The triumph at the court earned Akinjide the title of a mathematician-lawyer. The NPN rewarded Akinjide with a ministerial post.  

After the toppling of the Second Republic that ushered in the regime of  Gen. MuhammaduBuhari and General TundeIdiagbon, Akinjide escaped to London where he lived for many years. He returned to Nigeria to later participate in politics at the commencement of the Fourth Republic by joining the Peoples Democratic Party. 

Chief Akinjide was at the 2005 National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) and served in the Committee, Models, and Structure of Government. He attended the Confab from Oyo State as an elder statesman. Until his demise, he was one of the elders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Oyo State.

In his tribute, President Buhari, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, described Akinjide as an illustrious son, “who made remarkable impact on the country as Minister of Education in the First Republic, Minister of Justice and Attorney General in the Second Republic, and member of Judicial Systems Sub-committee of the Constitutional Drafting Committee from 1975 to1977. He used his rich experience and knowledge in serving the country and humanity.”

Former Nigerian President, OlusegunObasanjo, in his reaction lamented that Nigeria  has one lost one of its shining stars, “The life of Chief Akinjide is really a testimony of great service built on hard work to his community, profession and fatherland.”

“Chief Akinjide was a titan in the study and practice of the law as is evident from a stellar career spanning almost the entire spectrum of the legal profession. His life as a most cerebral legal luminary, a profound thinker, a well-informed writer, an astute administrator and a die-hard patriot and democrat, were most inspiring.”

Also, a former President, DrGoodluck Jonathan, said the death of Akinjide as a great loss to Nigeria, Dr. Jonathan described Chief Richard Akinjide, “as a forthright jurist and politician who served Nigeria meritoriously as Minister of Education and Attorney General of the Federation at different political eras. As a patriot and legal icon, he worked to improve the nation’s jurisprudence.”

A former Vice-President, AtikuAbubakar, said Akinjide lived an impactful life, “He lived an impactful life as a lawyer, politician, administrator, and a family patriarch.”

The national leader of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, in his comment, said Akinjide would be remembered for the dedication with which he served the country during the administration of the late President ShehuShagari in the early 80s.

 “Chief Akinjidesymbolised dedication, he was an extraordinarily brilliant lawyer and an indisputable giant in the legal profession.”

Oyo State Governor, SeyiMakinde, who described his death as the loss of a gem and a shining light, said he was saddened at the demise of the foremost legal luminary.

He said, “The news of the death of our father, leader, and one of the last men standing among the foremost politicians of the country came to us as a shock. He served his state and country to the best of his ability.

 “His death, no doubt, is a huge loss to Oyo State, Nigeria and indeed, the world, because he was an exemplary indigene of Ibadan and Oyo State; a detribalised Nigerian, who served the country to the best of his ability and a citizen of the world.”

Akinjide was a voracious reader, and an intelligent commentator on public affairs.

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