84 hearty cheers to Emeritus Professor Akintunde Obilade
On April 16, 2022, Emeritus Professor Akintunde Obilade was given a surprise birthday party at the prestigious Pope John Paul II Pastoral Centre in Abuja, having clocked 84 years on April 12, 2022.
At the party, a 55-minute video was played featuring 39 video clips and five textual messages of good-will messages sent by colleagues and well-wishers to the ageing sage.
Watching the videos and reading the textual messages, it was no surprise that members of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos (UNILAG) had nothing, but fond memories and good wishes for the author of that great, evergreen book, The Nigerian Legal System. Although this legal luminary retired several decades ago, his name readily rings a bell all through the Faculty of Law.
As an alumnus of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, I paid an unexpected visit to the impressive faculty last year November. I would not use a cliché phrase, “that words cannot describe” the reception I received.
I would use words to describe my visit. The reception I received just because of my biological association with this exceptional teacher and mentor was phenomenal. It was marvellous. Everyone around came to give me a rousing, unforgettable warm reception. From the ground floor, I could see photos of the person that Professor Fogam described as “friendship personified” in the foyer of the building. His former department; Jurisprudence and International Law, “fondly remembers” him as noted by the Head of the Department, Professor Ayoade, mni.
In the mail boxes section, at the very top, I couldn’t help but notice that his name, “Emeritus Professor Obilade” brilliantly shone. In the dean’s office when Professor Bolodeoku and I propped up for a selfie in front of the portraits of past deans, I enquired why Emeritus Professor Obilade’s portrait did not show in the background. His response that the former dean’s photo was “way up” on the wall, towering high above our heads rings true. Even though 84 years old, his global reputation, and humility are unmatchable in my opinion.
In the collection of videos for his birthday, Professor Akanki described him as, “supremely humble, dependable, and Professor Amund, the Vice-Chancellor of Elizade University, Ilara Mokin, Ondo State who has known him for 52 years described him as the “most unassuming gentleman.”
Like his brilliant mind shines and illuminates everyone that he comes across, his book published more than 43 years ago still brightens up the minds of future legal colossi. Mr. Ipaye, the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Vice President of Nigeria, succinctly described “that great book, the Nigerian Legal System as a Bible and bed-rock of legal studies” as it continues to be used in Nigerian universities till today. Mr. Ipaye described him as a “co-traveller to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the mid-1990” where he realised he was a legend “both at home and abroad.”
In the videos, the diminutive-statured scholar, though quiet and unassuming at first glance, but with a global, resounding reputation, was described by many who knew him, some as long as 52 years and for some, it was just a one-time meeting that changed the trajectory of their lives.
A lecturer at Nile University, Dr. Keme even proposed that his birthday should be celebrated as “a national holiday.”
Mr. Shittu of Jurisprudence and International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos (UNILAG), described him as “an evergreen professor… a real human being that touched the lives of many students who are today accomplished.”
As if to buttress Mr. Shittu’s points, Mr. Okibe from Nile University, said, “…In contrast to the demeanour I have encountered in most successful lawyers, I met a reserved, humble and one of the most modest lawyers I have ever met in my entire life when I finally got to meet you.”
This evergreen scholar is not just known for his academic excellence, but for his spirituality. Barrister Asanga described him as, “a professor’s professor, a man who has the heart of Christ…and taught us a more excellent way of living.”
It was not only his former students and colleagues that spoke of his simplicity and exemplary way of life. Even medical students who had come across him in the past few months have attested to his humane and amiable disposition. One of such students is Abdulrahman Dahiru Ahmed who had met him on a few occasions. He described this Harvard alumnus as a father and prayed that the great Emeritus would “remain relevant in the task of nation-building.”
Emeritus Professor Obilade is a father to many, not just his biological children. It was not a surprise that many accomplished men and women described themselves in the video as, “son from afar,” son in the Lord, daughter in the Lord just as some described the emeritus professor as their senior in the Law. Mr. Om’Oba Jerry Adesewo, the Artistic Director of Arojah Royal Theatre met Emeritus Professor Obilade only once during one of his live stage dramas but was keen on sending a short video greeting for this iconic figure.
What makes this Owu, Abeokuta North indigene, stand out so much? He is as Professor Amund, described him, “loyal to the establishment, very cerebral, passionate worker, respects everyone and a sincere and compassionate leader.” And as Professor Fogam said, he is the “conscience of Nigeria, the conscience of humanity.”
A common thread in all the videos sent for his 84th birthday is his general humility regardless of your age. He will address you as Sir or Ma. And as Mr. Ipaye and Mr. Shittu pointed out, he is a great teacher. We must not forget that the average life span of the Nigerian male is 59 years. Japan and Hong Kong have the longest life span of 82 years.
In essence, God has been faithful in preserving the life of this great patriarch beyond the longest life span of people living in developed nations. This “dependable friend” of Prof. Akanki is, as Mr. Ipaye put it, “a survivor” of health issues common to his age group including successful laser surgery for the removal of a urinary bladder stone a couple of months from his 84th birthday.
By all accounts, this nation builder should be celebrated while still alive. As his daughter, showering him with encomiums would be from a biased point of view and rightly so. This is why I have allowed the voices of his colleagues, friends, acquaintances and well-wishers to describe this humble man that was born in the thriving town of Lalupon, Oyo State to open up the flood gates of testimonials to a living legend.
A book written more than 43 years ago, first published by Sweet and Maxwell, the leading publishers of law books, is still relevant today in the domain of Nigeria’s legal system. It shows that Emeritus Professor Akintunde Obilade has contributed not only to the scholarship of Nigerian lawyers but on a global scale, he has put Nigeria on the sands of time. As Professor Fogam suggested, writing about this incredible human being can only be properly done in a book.” Daddy! Happy 84th birthday.
Loving you always, your daughter Titilola Obilade.