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Akinjide: Odyssey of a legal icon

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Until yesterday, the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Federation, Chief Richard Akinjide was one of the oldest lawyers in Nigeria. He died at the age of 88. He was among the second set of the early lawyers in Nigeria to be conferred with the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 1978, alongside the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late Chief Kehinde Sofola, the late Chief G.O.K. Ajayi among others. He was the Chairman of the Body of Senior of Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) as well as the chairman of Body of Benchers. 

The deceased, who was a renowned legal luminary and a frontline politician, was hospitalised at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, for old age-related ailments before he passed on. Akinjide is the father of former Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Oloye Jumoke. He was a lawyer to former President Shehu Shagari in the historic presidential litigation, which he won against late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, based on the controversial 12 two-third permutation.

For pulling off such legal feat, he was rewarded with the office of the Attorney General of the federation and minister of justice by the late Shagari’s administration between 1979 and 1983. It was under his watch as Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice that Nigeria temporarily reversed the execution of armed robbers.

It was also during his time as attorney general and minister of justice that the decree barring exiles from returning to the country was abolished. However, he saw nothing wrong with “Ghana Must Go” policy of Shagari’s government, which led to the eviction of many illegal foreign nationals from Nigeria. Before then, he had served as the Minister of Education in the government of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa in the First Republic. He succeeded Chief Jaja Wachukwu in 1964 in that post.

The legal luminary joined the defunct National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) in the 1950s. Akinjide defected from the NCNC to Premier Ladoke Akintola’s Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP), where he served as regional secretary.

In 1967, Akinjide declined the offer of commissioner in the Western Region under the military rule because the announcement was made over the radio before he was informed by the military governor. In 1970, Akinjide defeated Chief TOS Benson during the Nigeria Bar Association’s (NBA) national chairmanship contest and distinguished himself as one of the most outstanding presidents of the NBA. 

Between 1977 and 1978, he was a member of the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) set up by the Murtala Mohammed/Olusegun Obasanjo regime to fashion out the 1979 presidential constitution. He was involved in judicial reforms. Until his demise, he was perceived as one of the elders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Oyo State. He was a member of the Body of Benchers.

He was born in the city of Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, in the Southwest in the early 1930s to an influential family of warriors. Richard Akinjide attended Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife, from where he passed out with distinctions.

He travelled to the UK in 1951 for his higher education and was called to the English Bar in 1955 and later in Nigeria. He established his law firm soon after. He was an astute politician, a smooth talker, and first class lawyer of yore. 


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