Sir Olaniwun Ajayi (1925-2016)
That he was a man of great virtue and indeed one of the last few of the original old ‘soldiers’ has been shown in the way Nigerians and governors of the South West states have celebrated the life of the old man since his demise.
As a proponent of true federalism, a campaign that has gained traction in the country as an idea whose time has indeed come, Ajayi had few equals. Noted for his strident calls for a return to the regional system of governance, a critical success factor for the ascendancy of the Yoruba nation, the elder statesman was a revered participant at the 2014 National Conference where, with other patriots, he strove to forge a positive direction of restructuring for the nation that appears fixated on unitary system the military entrenched since 1966.
Naturally, for a statesman of his stature who had lived virtually all of his life in pursuit of a prosperous nation where each component unit would harness and develop its God-given abilities or resources, tributes poured in from across the country, chronicling a life well lived.
President Muhammadu Buhari paid tribute to Ajayi’s inspirational and dedicated work to entrench and strengthen democracy in Nigeria through his passionate engagements in Afenifere, the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), and The Patriots. “The late revered Yoruba leader effectively combined his sharp commentary on the state of affairs in Nigeria with uncommon patriotism while working tenaciously to further unity, development, and prosperity in the nation,” he wrote.
And many of the younger Nigerians who never met him will treasure fond memories of the legal luminary who wrote so many books. His works included: The House of Oduduwa Must Not Fall (2005), Lady Adunola Ajayi in Retrospect (2008), Nigeria, Africa’s Failed Asset (2009), Lest We Forget (A Memoir, 2011), Isara, Afotamodi, My Jerusalem, (2011), Nigeria, Political Power Imbalance: The bane and chain down of Nigeria’s progress and development (2015).
The icon had the courage of his convictions for not only was he outspoken during the terrible years of military dictatorship, he continued to offer suggestions for better governance. Even up and until his last hours on earth, he still expressed fears about the nation’s decline on all fronts.
He was firm, forthright, profoundly intellectual, and had the gift of the garb, qualities which he demonstrated even as a clear-headed nonagenarian. He, it was, who, looking back over the decades, delivered Afenifere’s oration at HID Awolowo’s funeral, detailing the many struggles to give present and future generations a life more abundant. Ajayi, for the better part of six decades, never shied away from interrogating the Nigerian question at public fora, in books and news media interviews. His voice was loud and clear, his language sublime, and his narrative devoid of guile.
A former Commissioner for Education and later Health in the defunct Western Region, Ajayi qualified as a Chartered Secretary in 1959 and later enrolled for a degree in Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, following which he was called to the English Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1962. In November of the same year, he founded the Olaniwun Ajayi& Co, later Olaniwun Ajayi LP, one of the leading law firms in the country. With his passing, Nigeria has lost not only one of its founders, but also a life-long builder.