Olaniwun Ajayi: Glorious Exit of a Humble Man

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One burial that will certainly remain indelible in the minds of the people of Isara in Ogun State, is that of Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, writes Davidson Iriekpen

The sleepy town of Isara in Ogun State, came alive last Thursday when its most illustrious son, Olaniwun Ajayi, was laid to rest. The influx of personalities into the town was unprecedented. Literally, everywhere stood still throughout the day.

From all the six roads entering the town were sirens blearing to announce the presence of one personality or the other. From every part of the country, they all came to bid farewell to a great man who had at one time or the other, had an encounter with them.

The roll call was endless. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, his Lagos State counterpart, Akinwunmi Ambode, wife of Oyo State Governor, Mrs. Abiola Ajimobi, Ondo State Governor, Olusegun Mimiko, Ondo State governor-elect, Rotimi Akeredolu, and foremost industrialist, Chief Aliko Dangote, former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, Managing Director of Guaranty Bank, Segun Agbaje.

Others who graced the funeral were Afenifere leaders including Pa Reuben Fasoranti, Mrs. Bola Obasanjo, former Governor Gbenga Daniel, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Olusegun Osoba, Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Olusegun Oni, Chief Justice of Ogun State, Justice Olatokunbo Olapade, her Lagos State counterpart, Justice Funmi Atilade, Deputy Governor of Ogun State, Mrs. Yetunde Onanuga, national and state lawmakers, traditional rulers, captains of industry and lawyers.

The former President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Prelate Emeritus of the Methodist Church, Dr. Sunday Mbang, in his sermon at the Methodist Church in the town, described late Olaniwun Ajayi as the humblest man he had met, saying despite having “all the trappings of power and wealth, Ajayi remained a humble man and a true soldier of the Lord.” He advised wealthy people to learn to be humble so that even in death, they would be remembered and spoken well of.

Osinbajo in his tribute, hailed the deceased, saying his “life was all about service to Yoruba people and Nigeria.” He said late Ajayi was a great author, devoting the last 10 years writing books, saying he also set up a flourishing law firm “with the best practice in the continent of Africa.”

On his part, Amosun said Ajayi lived his life in the service of mankind, saying ‎”we are one of Baba’s children, today is not for long speech, Baba Ajayi lived a life of service to man and service to man is what owe to God.”

From the pallbearers to the hearse, everything was immaculately arranged and conducted in such a way as befitting of a king. Even the casket was carefully chosen for Ajayi’s status.

Ajayi, a chieftain of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, died on November 4, 2016 at the age 91. Of all the surviving Afenifere chieftains, Ajayi was the oldest and a strong pillar of the organisation. He was a staunch disciple of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and was known for his uncompromising principles on all issues private and public and lived a life dedicated to the upliftment of the common people.

Before his remains left Lagos for Ogun State, he was severally honoured in Lagos where his law firm, Olaniwun Ajayi LP rate one of the best, is domicile. At a session which was presided over by Justice Opeyemi Oke, representing the Chief Judge of Lagos State, had in attendance over 30 Senior Advocates of Nigeria and more than 15 judges of the Lagos High Court, including Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court.

The Attorneys-General of Lagos and Ogun States, Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN, representing the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, NBA Lagos and Ikorodu branch chairmen all showered encomiums on the late legal titan, whose law firm has produced two senior advocates of Nigeria and a judge of the Federal High Court.

Sir Ajayi KJW (Knight of John Wesley), a Barrister of the Inns of Court of England, a Barrister, Solicitor and Notary Public of the Supreme Court of Nigeria was born on April 8, l925 in Isara. He completed his education at Wesley College Ibadan in 1949 and thereafter taught at the Wesley School Oko, Sagamu between 1950-1952 and became the Headmaster of the Junior Primary of the school in 1953, where he served for two years. In July 1957, he left for the United Kingdom to further his studies and was admitted to the City of London College, Moorgate, London (now known as City University) where, he studied to qualify as a Chartered Secretary and became a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and Administrators.

Ajayi gained admission into the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London in 1959 where he obtained a degree qualification in Law, working his way through school. During that period, he enrolled at the Council of Legal Education; Lincoln’s Inn, in 1959 and was called to the English Bar in July 1962. He was enrolled as Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on November 2, 1962, the same day he began his outstanding legal career by joining the defence team in the treasonable felony trial of Awolowo.

On November 2, 1962, Sir Ajayi founded the law firm, ‘Olaniwun Ajayi,’ as a sole practitionership, which from the onset, was an international legal practice. Sir Olaniwun Ajayi was always impeccably dressed as a lawyer should. He was always distinct, always immaculately clean. A gentleman, Sir Ajayi was an embodiment of everything noble about the legal profession.

His law firm provided services in legal advisory, arbitration and receivership. He handled two of the earliest cases on receivership in Nigeria – Intercontractors Nigeria Ltd v. National Provident Fund Management Board and Intercontractors Nigeria Ltd v. UAC of Nigeria Ltd both reported in the Nigeria Weekly Law Reports – (1988) 2 NWLR (Pt. 76) 280 and (1988)12 NWLR (Pt. 76) 303, respectively. Prior to that, the subject had only been dealt with by the Supreme Court in one case.

He was particular about the quality of work which emanated from the firm; he never condoned tardiness from any of his lawyers. A stickler for time, he was never late, and every file on which Sir Ajayi worked on was up to date. From the onset, he invested in the latest technology to aid his practice. He was one of the first lawyers in that clime to use a computer.

He retired from active practice about 20 years ago, handing over the reins of his legal practice to Professor Konyinsola Ajayi, SAN, under whose leadership, the firm evolved into a limited partnership, Olaniwun Ajayi LP.
To God’s glory and his joy, Sir Ajayi witnessed in his lifetime the birth of two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, from his Firm; Prof. Konyinsola Ajayi SAN and Mr. Oluseye Opasanya SAN.

The fact that the firm which he founded about 53 years ago is notable among the leading law firms in Nigeria; well-managed, internationally competitive, with specialised practice areas, is a testament to the foundation the Lord laid using Sir Ajayi. This foundation has grown the firm from a sole practitionership to one of the largest and open partnerships in sub-Saharan Africa and over the last five decades, (now) Olaniwun Ajayi LP has established a sterling go-to reputation particularly in the areas of commercial litigation, banking, finance and capital markets work and in advising government at both federal and state levels.