Wednesday, 7th June 2023

Ajibola, a jurist for the ages, Buhari, Obasanjo, others pay tributes

By Joseph Onyekwere (Lagos), Charles Coffie Gyamfi ( Abeokuta), Ameh Ochojila (Abuja) and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan)
10 April 2023   |   5:11 am
It was a rain of tributes for Prince Bola Ajibola, former Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and ex-jurist of International Court at Hague, Netherlands, who died in the early hours of yesterday, and was buried in his hometown of Abeokuta, Ogun State, according to Muslim rites.

Former governor of Ogun State, Segun Osoba (left); son of the deceased, Segun Ajibola and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the burial of former Attorney-General of the Federation, Bola Ajibola in Abeokuta, Ogun State, yesterday.<br />

• My father was generous, passionate about Nigeria
• Ozekhome: A legal icon who used the law for the masses
• Nigeria has lost global jurist, he lived a fulfilled life, say SGF, Malami, NBA president, SANs

It was a rain of tributes for Prince Bola Ajibola, former Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and ex-jurist of International Court at Hague, Netherlands, who died in the early hours of yesterday, and was buried in his hometown of Abeokuta, Ogun State, according to Muslim rites.

The body of Ajibola was interred within the premises of Islamic Mission for Africa (IMA), Abiola Way area of Abeokuta, after the Islamic Janazah prayer, led by Chief Imam of Egbaland, Sheik Sa’dallah Bamgbola.

The burial was witnessed by many dignitaries, including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Ogun deputy governor, Noimot Salako-Oyedele, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and former governor of Ogun State, Segun Osoba.

Ajibola, founder of Crescent University, Abeokuta, and also a former High Commissioner of Nigeria to the United Kingdom, died at 89. According to a statement by his eldest child, Segun, “Judge Ajibola will always be remembered as an icon of Law and Judicature, an embodiment of both the Bar and the Bench.

“Ajibola not only served nationally and internationally, he is warmly loved in his homestead of Abeokuta, where he held the traditional title of Oluomo of Egbaland and Olori Omo Oba of Owu Kingdom.”

Born on March 22, 1934 in Abeokuta, Ajibola attended Baptist Boys High School, Oke Saje, Abeokuta and University of London. He was president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) between 1984 and 1985. He was Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of Nigeria from 1985 to 1991, and a judge of the International Court of Justice, Hague, Netherlands, from 1991 to 1994.

President Muhammadu Buhari, in a condolence message by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, commiserated with the legal community in Nigeria and worldwide over the death of the former minister.

He noted that the outstanding lawyer and eminent jurist used his God-given knowledge, intellect and talent to advocate for justice, fairness and equity in all his undertakings within and outside Nigeria.

“His contributions to the development of our legal system cannot be overstated, serving as the Attorney General and Minister for Justice at a critical period in the nation’s history. His patriotic inclinations, integrity and passion for service and advancement of humanity will continue to resonate after him,” the President said.

Also, Ogun governor, Dapo Abiodun, commiserated with the nation’s judiciary on the death of Ajibola. In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Kunle Somorin, Abiodun described Ajibola’s death as a big loss to the judiciary, saying his legacies in the judiciary, philanthropy and the educational development would never be forgotten.

The governor also extended his condolences to the Owu Royal Family of the ex-minister of justice, his friends, former President Obasanjo, as well as members of the Baptist Boys’ High School Old Students Association.

He said the death of the illustrious son of the state, a celebrated jurist and judicial activist, public intellectual and elder statesman was a severe blow to everyone who knew him.

“He was a jewel of the law profession and an accomplished judicial officer of prodigious hue. Baba was a go-getter who delivered on any assignment committed to his hands because of his belief that service should always come first.

“Besides, he was a great religious influencer and philanthropist who established the faith-based Crescent University in his hometown, Abeokuta,” he said.

Obasanjo, who was at the residence of the deceased judge to mourn with his widow and children, refused to speak with journalists. Segun, the first son of the deceased, described his father as a great humanitarian, who was very passionate about the unity of Nigeria. According to him, his father lived a life dedicated to the peace, unity and development of Nigeria.

Speaking with newsmen, he noted that his father will be greatly missed for his sense of humour, generosity and religious beliefs.He said: “My dad was a very passionate person, very deep and highly religious in all the efforts he has made in establishing a university which has an Islamic flavor in terms of the Islamic center he has set up and the way he has conducted himself and his life within the tenets of the religion as well as he could possibly do.

“For us, as a father, he meant so many things, he was very loving, clearing but he was a strict disciplinarian, very firm and very tough, a thorough personality as he never allowed us to get out of hand in any way he could help, and we remember him for his high level of humour.

“My dad was an extremely humorous person and generous to a fault, we are all beneficiaries of his love and his affection and his wisdom and discipline, we will miss him dearly without a doubt,” he added.

DESCRIBING the life and time of the deceased, human rights lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said: “Ajibola was a great Nigerian, a legal icon and first-class lawyer, who was a courtroom gladiator and one of the best attorneys general we had in the country. In his class, we had people like Clement Akpamgbo. They were unique, they were distinct and they knew the law.

“They knew that the law was to be used for the masses and not for the government that appointed them. They knew that they were attorneys general, which is more emphasised than the second aspect, which is minister of justice, because a minister is a mere political appointee, but an attorney general under sections 150 and 174 of the Constitution is the chief law officer of the country that is supposed to use the law as an instrument of social-economic and political engineering and for the benefit of the people, not to support the government in power.

“That was the kind of attorney general he was. And when he was in the ICC, he did Nigeria and Africa proud, because his judgments were incisive and with great scholarship and erudition. He was never found wanting.

“In international law and arbitration, Ajibola was as much at home as he was with municipal laws. Having literally conquered the legal space and the world court space, he returned to Nigeria a very humble man.

“We were together at some of the national conferences, between 2005 and 2014. His carriage and mien showed great humility, which he wore like a second skin. He never looked down on anyone.

“Having served the nation in some of those respects, he decided to venture into academia by setting up Crescent University, one of the top-rated universities in Nigeria. He was a colossus, who dominated several fields and worlds.

“When I heard that he had died, the first thing I did was to quickly check his age and discovered he was only 89. I wish he had lived longer because in his reticent and smiling visage, he is an irreplaceable and irreparable loss to Nigeria.”
Former NBA president, Austine Alegeh (SAN), said: “Ajibola was a nice man. He knew the law and worked for the law. He interpreted the law very well and ensured everything was done according to the law. He never interpreted the law to suit anybody’s position. He interpreted it according to what he believed the law was.

“At the international court, he represented Nigeria with dignity. He was knowledgeable and knew what was required of him. He served the country with dignity, candour and commitment. When you see people who served like that, you will know that they put in their best. The Bar will miss him as the leading light of our time.”    

For Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN), Senior Partner, Punuka Attorneys, “he was one of those attorneys general that had some difficulties because he served under the military. He had a lot of challenges because of violation of fundamental human rights.

“At his time, he used to engage with the NBA. His perspective was that he needed to be around the military to defend human rights. I recall some of the occasions we challenged him at the NBA, his position was that he needed to be there to defend human rights and always tried to show the changes that had been made in comparison to the military government of Muhammadu Buhari they succeeded.

“He used to contend that those were successes arising from the fact that he was there. In other words, we were progressing. But some argued that that was not sufficient progress. For him, he was certain that the alternative of not engaging the military was worse. So, the legacy some people believe was that he substantially improved the human rights record under the military as an attorney general at that time.

“As a judge, he played his own part at the world court. He did his best. He served Nigeria dutifully at the world court. His greatest contribution will be the role he played in ensuring that dictatorship did not triumph in Nigeria and his participation in ensuring the delivery of eventual civilian rule in Nigeria.”

Two other Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), Chief Bolaji Ayorinde and Niyi Akintola, also mourned the passage of Ajibola. The two senior lawyers, who spoke with The Guardian in Ibadan, described Ajibola as a colossus in the legal profession.

On his part, Ayorinde said the late jurist was a global icon. “I just sent a message to his son who is my good friend, Segun Ajibola (SAN). Chief was an iconic figure. He is one of the best jurists in the world. He was a selfless man. He gave his all to the country. Government should immortalize him by doing well in leading the country.”

For Akintola, Ajibola lived a fulfilled life. “He lived a good life. He was humane, urbane and highly religious. No matter how agitated you are, he would disarm you without much ado. In his lifetime, one of his children became a SAN. One would not have asked for a better life than that.”

THE Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, on behalf of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), yesterday, mourned the death of Ajibola.

The SGF, in chronicling his contributions to the development of the legal profession both locally and internationally, described him as a respectable judge. 

“FEC condoles with the government and people of Ogun, family and friends of the deceased, and prays to God to grant him Aljanah Firdaus.”  Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), in a statement, said the death of Ajibola created a huge vacuum in the nation’s legal space, adding that as a patriotic citizen, the late former AGF was a seasoned legal icon of international repute, whose impact remain indelible in Nigeria’s history and beyond. 

While praying God for the repose of the soul of the deceased, Malami also prayed that the Almighty grant the nation, families of the deceased, Ogun State and indeed the entire nation the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.

Also, the NBA president, Yakubu Maikyau (SAN), described Ajibola as a selfless Nigerian. “As Attorney-General and Minister of Justice between 1985 and 1991, Prince Ajibola was reputed to never take home a salary, asking that same should be distributed to the coffers of Federal Government, the NBA and charitable/humanitarian organisations.

“As an elder statesman and an international icon, Ajibola was chairman of Nigerian delegation to the Nigerian-Cameroon Mixed Commission on the Bakassi Peninsula. He also served as Vice President and later President of the World Bank Administrative Tribunal from 1994 to 2005; President, World Association of the World Jurists and Arbitrator, Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Dispute Commission.”