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Bola Ajibola: The exit of a judicial titan

By Afe Babalola
11 April 2023   |   3:39 am
I was shocked beyond description when I received the sad news of the departure of the eminent Jurist and Educationist, Hon. Justice Bola Ajibola, SAN, FCI. Arb., FNAILS, LL. D (London), KBE, CFR etc, to eternity as the ripe age of 89.

I was shocked beyond description when I received the sad news of the departure of the eminent Jurist and Educationist, Hon. Justice Bola Ajibola, SAN, FCI. Arb., FNAILS, LL. D (London), KBE, CFR etc, to eternity as the ripe age of 89.

The passage of the international Jurist of no mean description and an Educationist of the deepest dye who adorned the Bar with dignity and occupied the Bench with honour, dignity and character is the more painful when one considers his warm disposition and his stellar contributions to the Bar and the Bench at the international level before going home to rest in the bosom of Allah.

I have seen the departed Learned Justice at close quarters. I have seen him at work and I have also seen him at play. I interacted with him in the court and outside the court and found him to be a genial and humble person who is sold to hard work.

Our departed Lordship and compatriot was a multi-talented Legal Practitioner and internationally-acclaimed Jurist, an epitome of decency and a towering model of a quintessential gentleman who has succeeded in all of his endeavours: he was a loving father, a mentor and a successful manager of men and resources who touched the lives of many as a lawyer, judge and public servant during his 89 years sojourn on planet earth.

I knew the departed Jurist and Educationist in 1962 in England when our paths crossed each other, properly so called, during the preparation for our Bar Examination. This was at the time the former Federal Attorney-General of the Federation, later Chief Justice of Nigeria and later the President of the International Court of Justice, the late Hon. Justice Teslim Olawale Elias, SAN, was preparing the ground for the establishment of the Nigerian Law School.

Because we were already pursuing our Bar Examination in England then, the Nigerian Law students in England rightfully felt that they would not be part of the bourgeoning Nigerian Law School. The Nigerian students in England and Ireland then set us a Body to drive our point home. I was the Secretary of the Students’ Body. This was my first time of meeting the departed Jurist.

At some point in the pursuit of our common goal, most of the Yoruba students in our fold back-pedaled. But the bold, courageous and selfless Hon. Justice Bola Ajibola was undeterred. He pressed on until we achieved our objective. He was such a dogged fighter, trustworthy person and a titan.

He later came back to Nigeria. He had a most successful practice, specializing in Commercial Law and International Arbitration. He thereafter rose quickly to the top of his chosen career. It cannot be forgotten in a hurry that Hon. Bola Ajibola founded the Institute of Chartered Arbitration of Nigeria, a very important arm of administration of justice the world over on July 18, 1988, with Limited Guarantee under the Company Act 1968.

In his bounteous wisdom, he invited Chief Chris Atoki and Chief Anthony Afubera to join him. From this point, the Institute began to grow. Later, Justice Ajibola yielded the Presidency of the Institute to the late Hon. Justice Kayode Esho who handed over to me as President in 2009. I have since passed the baton of leadership to my erstwhile Deputy, Prof. Fabian Ajogwu, SAN, as the President of the Institute.

A committed Minister in the Temple of Justice, Hon. Justice Ajibola was at various times the President of the Nigerian Bar Association from 1984 to 1985, Attorney General & the Minister of Justice of the Federation from 1985 to 1991 and a Judge of the International Court of Justice from 1991 to 1994.

In addition to the above, he occupied the following national and international positions without blemish:
President, The World Association of Judges
Chairman, Disciplinary Committee of the Bar and General Council of the Bar
Chairman, Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria
Member, Advisory Judicial Committee
Member, African Bar Association, IBA,
Vice President, Institute of International Business Law and Practice, Paris
Vice-Chairman, International Court of Justice, The Hague (1991-1994)
President, World Bank Administrative Tribunal
Judge, Constitution Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina (1994-2002)
Member, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)
Member, Permanent Court of Arbitration
Fellow, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, London
Chairman, Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission
Arbitrator/Commissioner, Eritrea/Ethiopia Boundary Commission

I have always appreciated him as a well-behaved, religious and a good family man. This charming, knowledgeable and honourable and very respectful man was a Bar man and a good example of honourable occupant of the Bench to the core. That he was considerate and humble can be at any point in time taken for granted. He was utterly dependable and unrepentantly reliable.

An altruistic person to the core, Hon. Justice Ajibola was a good example of what a Legal Practitioner and a Judge should be. He was highly cerebral, good natured, committed and an excellent team player who did not find it difficult to achieve peace for himself and accommodation with his environment. His altruism could be gleaned from his establishing a faith-based private University, Crescent University, in his homestead, Abeokuta, after retirement for the educational and spiritual upliftment of Nigerian youths.

He was a dogged fighter, at least in the hallowed bowels of our courts, who would stop at nothing to pursue any course he believed in. He was honest, diligent and forthright as well as always willing and available to help others grow and flourish.

What stands this gentleman out is his vaunting patriotism, unbending determination, unalloyed selflessness, and his strength of character to use his office, and indeed, his all, for the achievement of the good of the majority. A most engaging personality, his brilliance and his very professional conduct both at the Bar and the Bench will remain indelible in our collective psyche. He was a firm and fervent believer in the Rules and he kept such Rules to the letter. He mentored not a few. He was loved, adored and admired by many.

His God-given gifts of deep knowledge and application of the law, his incorruptibility and moral uprightness as well as forthrightness did not elude any discerning mind in his lifetime and even in death. The combination of all these must have accounted for his most deserved election as the President of the NBA, his appointment as the Attorney-General of the Federation and eventually, his appointment as a Judge of the International Court of Justice, ICJ where he left indelible marks.

He did justice to all who bowed before him, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. No wonder, he earned the respect from all corners – from the men at the Bar, from those on the Bench, from the parties that bowed before him and from those who watched from the sidelines because he did not find it difficult, through interpretation of the law, to remedy equities that have been wronged and strived to make inequality equal. He carried himself with grace, dignity and integrity, the ornaments of the hallowed office of a Judge/Justice, knowing full well that one false sentence can do great harm to a nation or a generation.

During his lifetime, it was not difficult for anyone that came his way to appreciate his palpable erudition, his deep knowledge of the law, calmness and his willingness to help others around him. As a Judge, he exhibited the four F’s: He was fair, firm, frank and friendly.

Nigerian Judiciary, nay the world at large, has lost a rare gem and an irreplaceable Jurist who stood and fought for the good of the majority. Our consolation is that he did not only come, but he also saw and conquered. He fought a good fight. He led a good life and above all, he left his indelible footprints on the sands of times, particularly in the practice of law and the Judiciary at large, his primary constituency.
We will surely miss him. We will miss his brilliance and his large-heartedness.

I commiserate with the Ajibola’s Dynasty of Owu, the Judiciary, Ogun State Government and the Federal Government of Nigeria over the death of this thoroughly distinguished citizen of the world who played his part well. With his death, a good heart has stopped breathing.

Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do about death as we are all tenants in this world and we are bound to go when our tenancy expires. This is one of the areas the Almighty God has demonstrated his Almightiness to man as no man, no matter how highly placed, knows when, where and how he would die.

While wishing him a most-deserved rest, I pray that the Almighty God will grant the Ajibolas, the Nigerian Judiciary, Institute of Chartered Arbitration of Nigeria and indeed the world at large the grace and the equanimity to bear the irreparable loss.

His humanitarian services and the many lives he touched while on planet earth will surely stand him in good stead before the Almighty, the Maker of All Things.

Adieu, our beloved friend, brother and Judicial Officer who occupied his office with unquestionable integrity, character and industry.

Aare Babalola, is Founder & Chancellor, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti.