Babatunde Ajibade: Silent, goal-getter, quintessential lawyer from South West
The South West region of Nigeria is home to several successful legal luminaries both living and dead. The region can successfully tackle head-for-head other parts of the country and indeed the African continent in terms of the creme de la creme of the law profession.
Aside from late heavyweight lawyers such as Adeyemo Alakija, Bode Thomas, Samuel Akintola, Obafemi Awolowo, Fredrick Rotimi Williams, Bola Ige, Gani Fawehinmi and a host of others who have made indelible marks on the sands of time, the judicial system in Nigeria still parades seasoned, quality and unrivalled lawyers who have raised the bar of the profession higher than they met it.
One of such fine lawyers from the South West doing the nation proud is Dr Babatunde Ajibade. With a career spanning over 30 years, Ajibade is a perfect description of the ‘let your achievements speak for you’ kind of person. Humble, resilient and unassuming, Ajibade’s career is unarguably one of the few that stands tall amidst several noisy, controversial and corruption stained lawyers in the country.
Ajibade graduated from the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ife in 1988 and was admitted to the Nigerian Bar in 1989. He obtained an LLM degree in corporate and commercial law from King’s College London in 1990 and a PhD in private international law from the same university in 1996.
In 2007, he became the first member of the 1989 call set to be conferred with the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). He was awarded the International Practice Fellowship of the International Bar Association in Madrid in October 2009 and became a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators UK (Nigeria Chapter) in January 2015.
Interest in NBA Presidency
Dr. Ajibade’s interest in the foremost leadership position of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) is hinged on his passion and commitment to reposition and realign the association to its pivotal role of promotion and protection of human rights, the rule of law and good governance in Nigeria. The unassuming legal luminary while sharing his motive for seeking the NBA presidency with select journalists recently in his Lagos residence said: I became qualified as a lawyer in 1989. I joined this profession with great aspirations for myself and the profession. But over time, I have seen a consistent decline; decline such that lawyers are now treated with utmost disrespect in society.
I have seen a situation where our justice sector has become dysfunctional and our clients are beginning to query the utility of using our services because we are incapable of delivering a service, either at all or within a reasonable time. We are incapable of delivering a service that is predictable. We are now in a situation where you tell your client that this is definitely the position, only for you to recant and say the judge decided otherwise, even though the law appeared to be clear.
I have consistently maintained over the years that something is fundamentally wrong with our justice system and it must be fixed for the good of our society. Fortunately, I am not a lone voice on this subject matter. I strongly believe that it is no longer productive to grumble on the sidelines, it is now time for us as lawyers to reform our sector and protect our society.
Driving home the point on why he should be trusted with the mandate, Ajibade told fellow lawyers: We are fighting for the soul of our nation because if you don’t fix the justice sector, you cannot fix anything in Nigeria. So, I am confident and optimistic that lawyers of like minds across the country will find my candidacy appealing and together we can reform our sector.
Humility and integrity
Dr. Ajibade is reputed for his integrity and character. He epitomizes humility and believes that there should be mutual respect among lawyers as professional colleagues regardless of rank or seniority. He is a great advocate for professionalism and strict adherence to the Rules of Professional Conduct for the legal profession. It is therefore not surprising that he was appointed Chairman of Panel B of the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee for Lagos on 11 July 2017.
Dr Ajibade SAN’s practice straddles both corporate/commercial practice and litigation. He is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, but he has also chaired the Capital Markets Solicitors’ Association (CMSA). His significant experience in corporate/commercial practice and litigation means that he occupies that peculiar position that enables him to understand the challenges that corporate/commercial lawyers and litigators face in their areas of practice.
Dr Babatunde Ajibade, SAN is very passionate about the legal profession and is eager to play a major role in finding lasting solutions to the challenges that plague it. The law firm which he leads as Managing Partner (i.e. S. P. A. Ajibade & Co.) has for the past 12 years been organising an annual business luncheon. These events to which the firm commits significant resources every year, present opportunities for lawyers and other stakeholders in the justice delivery system to come together to discuss issues that affect the legal profession.
Meritorious service to the legal profession
Dr Babatunde Ajibade, SAN’s career has been characterised by quiet and efficient service to the legal profession. He is a founding member of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Section on Business Law (SBL) and played a significant role in setting the SBL on the course on which it is today. Following the dissolution of the leadership of the SBL by the NBA leadership at the National Executive Committee which held in Gombe in November 2010, Dr Ajibade, SAN was a member of the Council “appointed” by the NBA to run the SBL. Working together with other members of the Council and in particular, its Chairman, Mr. Yemi Candide-Johnson SAN, Dr. Ajibade worked tirelessly to ensure that this NBA appointed Council was shortlived.
It was in recognition of this effort that he was appointed to Chair the nominations committee that conducted elections in which Mr. Gbenga Oyebode, MFR was “elected” Chairman of the SBL in January 2012. He chaired the Committee that planned and executed the hugely successful SBL Conference which was held in Abuja in 2016. Dr Ajibade, SAN was a member of the Governing Council of the SBL between 2014 and 2018.
Dr Ajibade’s service to the NBA extends well beyond the SBL. He was a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the NBA between 2016 to 2018. He is also currently a member of the NBA NEC having been so appointed by the President of the NBA, Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN. Between 12 to 15 October 2009, Dr Ajibade, SAN was a member of the NBA Legal Services Trade Mission to the United Kingdom. On 30 November 2012, he was appointed a member of the Liberalisation of Legal Services Working Group by the then President of the NBA, Mr. Okey Wali, SAN. This group was tasked with the responsibility of advising the NBA on the merits and demerits of liberalising access to the Nigerian legal services market by allowing foreign qualified legal practitioners practice law in Nigeria.
Dr Ajibade’s service to the NBA also extends to the branch level of the NBA. In 2008, he was the lead presenter at the Law Week of the NBA Akure Branch. On 27 October 2011, he was the speaker at the NBA Ibadan Law Week Dinner. He chaired the Committee that planned the 2014 Law Week of the NBA, Lagos Branch. He sponsored the 9th Law Week of the NBA Ikorodu Branch which held on 12 May 2015. He also sponsored the meeting of the NBA NEC that took place in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State between 5 – 7 June 2014.
Dr Ajibade SAN’s passion for the legal profession led him and other lawyers under the auspices of CRID-Law Net (which is an initiative of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce) to draft an “Administration of Civil Justice Bill” which it is hoped will completely revolutionize administration of civil justice in Nigeria when passed into law. Through the effort of Dr Ajibade, SAN and his colleagues in CRID-LawNet, Ekiti State has enacted the Bill into law and discussions are at an advanced stage with the Lagos, Ogun and Oyo State Ministries of Justice on the possible enactment of the Bill into law.
Dr Ajibade, SAN is a strong advocate of a united Bar. He is of the strong persuasion that to solve the many challenges facing the profession, we must be united. According to Dr Ajibade, SAN, the dividing lines we draw between corporate/commercial lawyers and advocates, between law officers and the traditional Bar, between in-house counsel and external counsel, between young lawyers and senior lawyers and even the divisions across nationalities and ethnicities hamper rather than aid the course of the legal profession in Nigeria. While different segments of the profession have peculiar challenges, Dr Ajibade, SAN believes that to successfully fight off threats to the rule of law, encroachment into our profession by foreign lawyers and other professions in Nigeria, and a myriad of other problems the legal profession faces, we must take steps to unite the Bar.