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Richard Akinjide in his own words

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He was called to bar on February 7, 1956, and enrolled on March 12, 1956. He became a SAN (Senior Advocate of Nigeria) in 1978 and his number is 8. In Nigeria’s legal Practitioner’s list, he is lawyer number 509.

I met Richard Osuolale Abimbola Akinjide (4 November 1931-21 April 2020) in 1973 after his tenure as President of Nigeria Bar Association was over. The then Governor of Western State, Brigadier Christopher Oluwole Rotimi appointed him Commissioner along with Alhaji Lateef Adegbite (20 March 1933-28 September 2012), Mrs Folake Solanke (SAN), Professor Bolanle Alake Awe Ilemobayo Akinnola (1934-2013), Ladosu Ladapo, Gab fagbure and others. He declined the appointment.

I was then in Nigerian Tribune in the old Ade-Oyo hospital road, Ibadan, along with Folu Olamiti, Olu Osungbohun, Biodun Laniyohun, Valentine Ahams, Mufu Akinloye, Kayode Osifeso, Dan Ikuniaye, Alfred Ilenre, Bode Oyewole while our News Editor was Fola Oredoyin.

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Our Editor was Ikhan Yakubu, Our Managing Editor was Kayode Bakare and our Managing Director was Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande (90). OGA JAKANDE, as we use to call him then, instructed me and Mr. Biodun Laniyonu to go to Akinijide’s chambers at Dugbe, Ibadan, to ask him why he rejected the appointment. His junior partner at the chamber than was a handsome Prince, Dr. Ahmed Kusamotu (March 23, 1941- July 8, 2005) from Ikirun in the present Osun state. Akinjide told us that he rejected the appointment because he could not serve under a military regime. That was the beginning of my friendship with Chief Akinjide.

In 1977, he defeated Alhaji Busari Adelakun alias Eruobodo for the Lagelu/Oluyole/Akinyele Constituency election into the Constituent Assembly. He had earlier served in the Constitutional Drafting Committee that produced the draft of the constitution which was debated at the Constituent Assembly. However, it was at the Constituent Assembly of 1976-1978 that my friendship with Akinjide got fully cemented. We saw each other regularly during the deliberations in the Constituent Assembly. In my recollection, the best contribution Akinjide ever made in the democratic process was the speech he delivered at the Constituent Assembly on November 16, 1977. Regrettably, I could not see him in the last three years at his Idishin residence in Ibadan but I sent my regards through our common friend, Lekan Alabi, THE AGBA AKIN OF IBADANLAND. The only point of disagreement I had with him was the issue of the Presidential System of Government which he endorsed but which I disagreed with.

To me, that speech still stands as his legacy in the defence of the Presidential System of Government. For the benefit of readers, I hereby present the speech. “My name is Richard Osuolale Abimbola Akinjide. I represent Lagelu/Oluyole/Akinyele constituency. I had the privilege of serving in the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), but I now rise to speak as an elected member and not as a member of the CDC.” “May I, before I go on, pay tribute to Rotimi Williams, the Chairman of CDC, who was an excellent leader at the CDC. We had very difficult times. Mr Chairman, may I also, by way of general comment, pay tribute to our past leaders. When I say leaders I say leaders in inverted comas because these include not only politicians also workers, farmers, leaders of religion, who brought us Independence. I think they did an excellent job.

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It is not enough for us to condemn them. We must assess them in light of the circumstances under which they worked. They were the first generation of Nigerians to taste true political power. They had little experience. They might have made mistakes, but I am wondering whether, if we were in their shoes, we would not have made the worst mistakes. Now, Mr. Chairman, some Gentlemen had painted a rather gloomy picture of this country. May I beg to differ. I believe that this country, Nigeria is a great country with great people, with a great resource, and with a great future. We are only passing through a necessary phase in our history. Our mistake is that we tend to compare ourselves with developed countries of the world. I do not think we should. If you look at the history of the developed countries of the world, you will find that they passed through exactly the phase through which we are now passing. I would take one as an example that is Great Britain which was our former colonial power. Britain, of course, had the Norman Conquest and it became necessary to enact the Magna Carta. You do not enact a law for anything. There were reasons for enacting it—-because of the state of their society. And, of course, they had their military coup, too. Cromwell had to seize power. Charles the First was beheaded in 1649. The Parliament was sent packing and Cromwell governed till 1660 when they had their Restoration. Of course, it became necessary to enact the Bill of Right in 1689. Again, the fact that that Bill was enacted shows that it was necessary, and Britain did not even settle down until 1832 when the Reform Act was passed through a very stormy debate in the House of Commons and with a majority of only one vote.

If Britain could pass through all those phases—revolutions, coups, Bills of Right, Magna Carta, who are we to say we can jump that phase and then settle down immediately. This is why I think it I wrong to predict that we are doomed. I do not think we are doomed. Well Mr. Chairman, we have presented to you the CDC a Draft Constitution, but may I enter a caveat. It is very important to present a very good Constitution, but there are other things more important and that is the people of this country, particularly the politicians who will work the Constitution. No matter what Constitution you put down, no matter what form of Government you put down in the Constitution, and no amount of pages or volumes, if people do not want it to work, it will not work. But if you write your Constitution in 10 pages, in 5 pages or, like Britain, virtually unwritten or partly written, if you want it to work, it will work. So, at the end the day, it is not what we approve here that really matters (it matters I concede) but we should warn ourselves that the people of this country, particularly the politicians should be determined to make it work.

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Looking at the Draft, power is vested in four clear institutions and this was deliberate, having regard to our experience of the last 17 to 20 years. The first institution is the People of this country. The second is the President. The third is the Legislature, and the fourth is the judiciary. You will and that all are evenly balanced and that one serves as a check on the other. This is why I feel rather sceptical when Member said somebody can turn himself into a Dictator, Although one must concede that there is no absolute insurance against dictatorship under any system of Government, as far as I know, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a dictator to emerge under the Draft as it stands. Another important feature of the Draft is the fact that in the balance of power, we deliberately make it centripetal instead of being centrifugal. In the last Constitution, you will find that the trend of power was backwards, towards the States, but if you look at the Draft carefully, it is now towards the Centre. It gravitates towards the Centre, and not backwards. This is what I mean by centripetal instead of being centrifugal. We did that deliberately in the light of our experience in the past.

To be continued on Monday.

Teniola, a former director at the Presidency, wrote from Lagos.

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