Richard Akinjide, a lawyer who thought outside the box – Part 2
Continued from yesterday
He had come to visit my father and had just left the house when he turned back to see my father. Apparently, he had heard the dissenting opinion of Justice Kayode Esho and the thought it was the final decision of the Court. The judge appeared very frightened. My father inquired to know what was bothering him. He said that the Supreme Court had ordered that Obafemi Awolowo and Alhaji Shehu Shagari should proceed to the electoral college to determine the actual winner of the general elections. My father could not fathom what business a Judge had with the dispute between Awolowo and Alhaji Shagari. His then proceeded to explain to my father that, Awolowo had approached him to contest an election on the platform of the Action group in 1959. He had opted for the NCNC and had defeated Awolowo’s candidate. There after he quit partisan politics in 1962 and set up a very successful legal practice before being appointed a Judge of Western State in 1975. Despite the above explanation, my father could not still understand his friend’s anxiety. To my father, his colleague and friend was no longer a politician and had no business with politics or with Obafemi Awolowo. He was very surprised at my father’s attitude and concluded that having never participated in party politics, my father did not understand politics or political power. The gentleman then told my father that: “you underestimate Awolowo at your own peril”. Was sure that once Awolowo was sworn in as President of Nigeria, Awolowo would take him out of the Bench.
I could not believe what I heard. I could never understand the reasons for such bitterness in politics.
The return of Chief Akinjide to England
I met Akinjide vicariously at the University of Cambridge. His son, Yomi, was pursuing his first degree in law at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge University while I was pursuing my doctorate program at Corpus Christi College. Yomi was a particularly focused undergraduate student. He was quite disciplined. I later learnt that he did not have a choice. Akinjide gave Yomi no breathing space. The story that filtered out was that while Yomi was in the University, Akinjide was on voluntary exile in England. Yomi had to write a paper every week and send the paper to Akinjide in London to assess for him. Akinjide would assess the papers and send them back to Yomi. That was a great commitment by a father to his child. Yomi graduated with flying colours from Cambridge. Today, Yomi is a Partner in one of the leading law firms in England.
Akinjide had a very active life in exile
While on voluntary exile in England, Akinjide’s brilliant mind could not tolerate indolence. He was too intellectually active to be stagnant. In 1983, Akinjide was 53 years old. Akinjude had left the English Bar since 1956, twenty seven years earlier. It would have been convenient for him to play an idle rich man in England, as he was a very wealthy man. However, Akinjide was too intellectually vibrant to take this route. He went back to the English Bar and started practicing law in England. Practicing in England is a totally different system from practicing in Nigeria. Even though we inherited the English legal system, we have not been able to maintain the courts as a theatre for the display of intellectual capacity and brilliance, as they had done.
From England, Akinjide was invited to practice law in The Gambia where he shone like a star. Akinjide gave me copies of judgments in cases he handled in England. In one of the cases, the Judge stated that Akinjide had made the life of the opponent so miserable that he (i.e. the Judge) was appealing to Akinjide, having killed the man in Court, not to bury him in Court. This was the level of skill and intelligence of a man who was returning to an environment 27 years after he had left.
Visit to Mr Justice Yinka Ayoola
I once went to visit the Honourable Justice Yinka Ayoola, retired Justice of the Supreme Court and former Chief Justice of the Gambia. During the visit, Justice Ayoola and myself discussed many issues. When Akinjide’s name came up, Justice Ayoola went into superlatives about the brilliance of Akinjide. Akinjide had appeared before Justice Ayoola on several occasions in Court in The Gambia. Justice Ayoola commended the quality of Akinjide’s submissions in Court and expressed the opinion that Nigeria did not exploit Akinjide’s intellect significantly for Nigeria’s benefit. Justice Yinka Ayoola “Yinkus” as my father fondly refers to him, is a genius. His older brother, Olufemi Ayoola, in my view was probably the most successful legal practitioner in Ibadan before he was elevated to the Bench of the High Court of Western State in 1967. His academic credentials were comparable to none in Nigeria then. He was born in 1928. In 1952, he held the following degrees; BA, BCL, LLB, BSC Econs and a Diploma in Education. This was at the age of 24. He studied for most of the degrees concurrently. I read his plaque everyday as we were neighbors in Ibadan. I continue to thank him for the inspiration he provided for me. The trio of Olufemi Ayoola, Yinka Ayoola and Bola Babalakin were my inspiration to read law. They were a beautiful sight to behold in Court.
I am detained by Abacha
In 1995, I was detained by the Military Government of General Sani Abacha. It was alleged that I, as the owner of a bank, was owing the bank money. I only owned a bank for 18 months. I did not understand the allegation of indebtedness. The bank examiners could not define it accurately to me. My father called on his schoolmate Akinjide to sort me out. Akinjide visited me in detention to take my instructions. I think on one of the occasions, he came with his daughter, Jumoke. Later a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Stephen Kola Balogun. He suggested that before we make any statement in Court, we should have a highly rated accountant who was also a banker to examine my accounts in the bank. We zeroed in on Otunba Olutola Senbore and Co. Otunba Senbore’s records were unbelievable. His curriculum vitae was a catalogue of distinctions. Otunba Senbore had graduated from the University of Ibadan in 1967 at the top of the class. He had also graduated at the professional level in 1970 at the top of the class.
He had been at various times a Director of First Bank Plc. and also at United Bank for Africa Plc. He was also an Executive Director of First City Monument Bank. Otunba Senbore embarked on the assignment with great professionalism. He analysed the accounts of all the companies that I had interest in. At the end of the day, Otunba Senbore found that I was not in debt at all, I was in considerable credit. He discovered that the bank examiners had accumulated all my debits but ignored my credits. I had a government instrument that was paying me a specific amount of money every month. All the bank examiners ought to have done was to discount that instrument with the Central Bank of Nigeria and credit the money to my account. This would have made me a net creditor. On the contrary, they were more concerned about destroying my businesses than finding a solution to the issues.
I am still bewildered that Government could have set up the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation whose mandate was to provide insurance for bank depositors money and amended its law to give it both prosecutorial and judicial powers without any checks and balances. I was kept in detention for 23 months for doing nothing. To worsen this situation, the investigators and the examiners had never built anything themselves in their careers, not even a shoe shine company. They did not have any idea of how to turn 10 kobo to 20 kobo. Yet they were sitting in judgment over the transactions of businessmen and entrepreneurs some of whom had created great wealth for the society and employed a lot of Nigerians. The document prepared by Otunba Senbore was a life saver for me. It gave those willing to support me the confidence to do so. The document and all the efforts of my well wishers including a particularly young and vibrant lawyer, I was released soon after, I remain grateful to Akinjide for his capacity to think outside the box. It is my belief that a society will grow rapidly when it identifies those who can think outside the box and utilize their talent appropriately.
Working with Chief Akinjide as a colleague
In later life, Akinjide and our firm worked jointly and extensively for a multinational oil company. It was great fun to work with Akinjide. Akinjide treated us as his contemporaries. I learnt he was very proud of the working relationship. I imagine that it was a good feeling for Akinjide seeing his “son” work with him as his colleague, and having interesting and enduring arguments with him while trying to prepare a joint position on an issue.
Long after the passing away of his beloved wife, Akinjide married Mrs Bola Williams. Mrs Bola Williams was our senior in Rotimi Williams Chambers and always looked at least twenty years younger than her age. She was also an epitome of elegance, class and grace with a clear manifestation of a very good upbringing. I was very happy with the choice Akinjide made. Akinjide was a truly outstanding legal practitioner who successfully practiced in three different jurisdictions. He was exceptionally brilliant and resourceful, and could easily think outside the box. He was a great head of family and a committed father to his children. Adieu Richard Osuolale Akinjide, SAN.