Celebrating a Legal Icon at 90


He is the first lawyer from the North, and the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria from the North. Alhaji Abdul Ganiyu Folorunso Abdulrazaq, OFR, SAN has left his footprints in the sands of time. As the father of many lawyers turns 90 this week, while he spoke to Onikepo Braithwaite and Jude Igbanoi on a few current issues, S.M. Alfa Belgore, the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed Mustapha A. Akanbi, and Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, pay tribute to the ebullient and consummate lawyer

Alhaji Abdul Ganiyu Abdulrazaq, SAN, who will celebrate his 90th birthday on Monday, November 13, 2017, is the first lawyer from the Northern part of Nigeria, being called to the Inner Temple, London in 1955. He was also the first Northerner to be gazetted, a substantive appointment as a High Court Judge in 1968, an appointment which he politely declined.
A graduate of Trinity College, University of Dublin, Alhaji Abdulrazaq holds a BA Hons, LLB, MA and H.Dip-Educ. He attended the Kalabari National College, Buguma, and the Africa College, Onitsha, where he was contemporaries with Prof Ben Nwuabueze, SAN.

An eminent jurist. He has been a Life Bencher since 1971, and was the Chairman of the Body of Benchers in 1984. A nationalist, he was the Legal Adviser to the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), and attended all the Constitutional Conferences leading up to Nigeria’s Independence in 1960. He was a member of the House of Representatives (1964-1966), Nigeria’s Ambassador to Cote D’Ivoire (1962-1964), Federal Minister of State for Railways (1965-1966), and the first Kwara State Commissioner for Finance, and later, Health & Social Welfare (1967-72). He is the Founder and Proprietor of the first Private Secondary School in Kwara State, Ilorin College, Ilorin (ICI). Alhaji Abdulrazaq has been a member of the Disciplinary Committee of the NBA since 1995, and was the President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (2000-2003). He holds the titles, Tafida of Zaria and Mutawali of Ilorin, as well as Grande Officer De La Ordre National De Cote D’Ivoire and Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR)

What is your opinion on the current debate on Restructuring?
It is very healthy for a Federation as ours, to periodically review its Grundnorm, not only is it a reaction to new realities and occasional mischief in its provisions, but also to ensure peace, order, stability, and good governance.

The history of constitutional review, started way back in 1914 till 1999. I am privileged to have actively participated in every constitutional drafting or review since 1957, and l believe that at the end of the day the problem is essentially not with the document, but with some of its operators.

Restructuring is an enigmatic term, it is like the proverbial elephant, your view depends upon where you stand. Essentially, political restructuring also has its mischief, which is attempting to gain maximum advantage for your community, ethnic group, state or region. The problem is that, in a Federation like ours, your gain is someone else’s loss, as political restructuring comes with economic, if you like, serious financial implications. Can we realistically collapse States into regional governments? Will devolving more revenue share to States and Local Governments, ensue better responsible usage and higher impact on the communities? How can States become self- sustaining, and depend less on the Federation account? I don’t know what happened, but the achievements of the regional governments in the First Republic, are there for all to see. At the end of the day, it is really about good governance and selflessness in public service.

How can Restructuring be achieved?
Have l accepted the central thesis of restructuring or indeed defined it? No. Because l sincerely believe that the constitution of Nigeria has all the essential organs, powers and mechanisms in place for a just, fair-minded and socially conscious executive, legislative or judicial officer to efficiently operate and impact fairly on the society at large. Of course, you may rightly tinker with aspects of the constitution to cure new realities; however, in a constitutional democracy, it can only be done through the law makers, the Houses of Assembly and the Parliament, here the National Assembly. With all due respect, the President cannot by fiat or Executive Order, command constitutional review.

So my advice is that, the debates and conferences are all well and good, ‘better talk talk, than war war’; at the end of the day, take your resolutions in groups or individually, to lobby your respective Representatives in Parliament to effect change. If your Representative does not do your bidding, vote him out. But please, please, do not stone him, as l see is now happening (laughs).
Indeed all our leading public officers, should daily imbibe Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution, which is the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. It overrides any Party policy or manifesto.

What is your opinion on the IPOB agitation, and call for Igbo Secession? Though l am an indigene of Ilorin, l was born in Onitsha, and l schooled up till secondary school, in the old Eastern region. I speak Igbo fluently, and my most enduring friendships are with statesmen like Alex Ekwueme, and both Professors Ben Nwabueze, SAN and Green Nwankwo, who were my classmates.

The Igbos are an essential part of Nigeria, and Biafra as a concept, was borne rightly or wrongly, out of a perception of marginalisation. I cannot speak for my brothers from the East, but l know that most Igbo leaders, public servants, business tycoons and accomplished professionals, will not sincerely advocate secession as a solution, considering the unparalleled huge human, economic and material investment in Nigeria, which paradoxically in itself, is a vote for Nigeria.

History is an essential subject that needs to be taught in our schools, to ensure that our youths are not goaded to rabid hatred, through biased social media or film narratives of Nigerian history.
Conversely, any government in power, should also ensure a sense of belonging of all to the Country, through balanced representation and equitable resource management. I have every confidence that the Nigerian Union, will endure as long as responsible and responsive leadership prevails.

An All-Nigerian Person – Belgore
I have known Abdul-Razaq since 1955, when he came back from the United Kingdom. He has been more like an elder brother ever since. Since I knew him, I have always respected him.
Abdul-Razaq, comes from a much respected family in Ilorin. He is of the Yoruba stock in the town. He was however, born in Eastern Nigeria, and grew up both in Onitsha and Port Harcourt, where he had his early education. Many people did not know him in Ilorin, until he became a lawyer. My former colleague in the Supreme Court, who was Abdul-Razaq’s teacher in secondary school, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, always told me about his life in school, both in Onitsha and Port Harcourt. Oputa was both his teacher and principal.
Abdul-Razaq was once a teacher in Ahmadiyya Secondary School (now Ansar-Ud-Deen School), Olushi Street, Lagos Island, with late Justice Kayode Eso from Ilesha. Kayode Eso himself, attended the same secondary school that I attended, that is, Ilesa Grammar School, where I was from 1951-1956.

On Abdul-Razaq’s return to Nigeria from abroad in the mid-1950s, the Ilorin people received him very well; so also did the then government of Northern Nigeria. He was initially based in Zaria as a private legal practitioner. His late younger brother, Abdul-Mumini, later joined him there. Mumini was my colleague in legal studies in England, although he was called to the bar before me, the reason being that, even though I was lucky to pass my examinations early, I had not finished the mandatory professional dinner at the Inner Temple, London.

One fact that many people never realise is that, Abdul-Razaq is the first Northerner, to be a lawyer in the Western sense. Before the British came, Nigeria had Islamic scholars in the North, with tremendous knowledge of Islamic Law from which the British even borrowed a lot. But like those from France,

Germany, Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the like, who were learned in their national laws, they could not be called lawyers in England, unless they were employed in their universities to teach foreign laws; but such were not lawyers in the English sense, unless they took the London Bar Examination and passed.

Abdul-Razaq is an all-Nigerian person, as he speaks the three major Nigerian languages: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, very fluently. He is very simple and straight-forward. Despite the fact that he is a legal man, he speaks quietly, and on issues before him. Although it is very difficult to practice in Nigeria, he never allowed political practice, to affect his professional conduct. Because of his honesty and conduct, as a person who would not allow political principle to destroy what he believed in, he was not made Attorney-General of Northern Nigeria. He was neither aggressive about contesting elections, nor holding political office. Despite this, political leaders in the North respected him for his honesty, as a result of which the then Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, insisted he must be appointed a diplomat. And so he was appointed Ambassador to Ivory Coast.

In terms of community service, Abdul-Razaq has done very well in promoting secondary school education. To me personally, the greatest thing one can do as a human being, is to respect and be kind to his place of origin. Abdul-Razaq could have built a secondary school anywhere in the world, but he decided to site his school in Ilorin. That was at a time when the community greatly needed more space for the teeming and qualified primary school leavers, in dire quest for secondary education. God will reward him for this.

I am very happy that Abdul-Razaq has attained this age. Despite his age now, as a nonagenarian, he is of a very sound mind, in truth and honesty. He remains a humble man, whom I have great respect for. As a person, I enjoy visiting him once a while, to exchange pleasantries and benefit from his wisdom and wealth of experience. I pray Almighty Allah, to reward him

with many more years in good health. And I also pray that, Nigeria will have so many patriots like him.

Honourable Justice S.M. Alfa Belgore, GCFR, Retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Administrative Tribunal of the African Development Bank, the only African Life- Bencher of the Inner Temple, London. Belgore also presides over the National Council of State’s Committee on the award of National Honours.

A Legal Icon of Simplicity and Integrity – Akanbi
My memory of AGF Abdul-Razaq goes to the early 1960s. I first met him, when he was in private legal practice in Zaria, while I was then a State Counsel in Kaduna. We have both related very well, ever since. Following his return from a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in 1963, his wife, Raliat hosted a party for the husband, to which I was invited, necessitating my travelling to Zaria from Kaduna, where I was based.

Although we both belong to the same legal profession, he is by far my senior, whom we defer to as a senior brother and a distinguished political leader; who later became a Minster in Tafawa Balewa’s cabinet, before the termination of Nigeria’s First Republic by the military. On the other hand, it was his younger brother, Mumini Abdul-Razaq, also a lawyer, who was my own contemporary.

Abdul-Razaq is a legal icon, who epitomises simplicity, humility, humanity and integrity. Those of us who have been privileged to observe him at close quarters, can testify to the fact that, he would never compromise on the truth in his avowed commitment to entrenching a just and egalitarian society, no matter whose ox is gored. He is a role model par excellence, and a proud emblem of the legal profession.

Abdul-Razaq is a quintessential gentleman, who believes in Nigeria’s possibilities, a patriot who has invested, and continues to invest his enormous intellect and resources in the quest for a better Nigeria, and he does this with civility. I have known him to be a distinguished and quiet worker, not given to the loud noise of many of his compatriots. What a thoroughly civilised and complete gentleman!

In family life, I find Abdul-Razaq a fine and good example of what a father should be, to his children. He has bequeathed to them all, sound education, such that today. his life is also enriched by his children, male and female, who are well grounded in their various businesses and professional callings.

He is certainly leaving a worthwhile legacy, as some of his children and grandchildren, have themselves taken after him in the legal profession and the world of business.

Abdul-Razaq is a big advocate of education who has dedicated much of his life and resources to assisting those who come his way, especially in the matters of education, of which many in Ilorin and elsewhere have been direct beneficiaries. In his most active years, he was a very hardworking and an extremely purpose-driven man. His life exudes, love by constantly giving, especially to the cause of education.

Abdul-Razaq has blazed so high and inspired many of my generation, to develop an insatiable appetite and love for education. It is to his great credit to have established the first private secondary school in Ilorin, and indeed, the whole of old Kwara State, at a time when private ownership of post-primary institutions was not in vogue. That school, which was then called Ilorin College, now Government High School, Ilorin, has produced prominent citizens not only in Kwara State, but throughout Nigeria. Many have attained milestones, through Abdul-Razaq and his educational venture. I have been greatly inspired by his impactful life of service, especially in contributing to nurturing generations of nation-builders, through the school he founded. I must confess that I have personally drawn inspiration from him, and followed his footstep of improving the standard and quality of education by also establishing a school, Nana Aishat Academy, named after my mother who nurtured me to great heights.

With Abdul-Razaq’s numerous achievements in various spheres of human endeavour, especially his contributions to the field of law, as well as in education and community service generally, his name has been documented in letters of gold, on the positive side of history. I am quite proud, to be associated with his very illustrious and eminent profile, as a first-rate lawyer of historic fame. I join his numerous admirers, to give glory to the Almighty Allah for such enviable achievements and selfless services to humanity, as he joins the rare special club of nonagenarians, a grand club that only very few mortals have the grace of attaining.

Hon. Justice Mohammed Mustapha Akanbi, Retired President of the Court of Appeal, Pioneer Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).

A Bright and Brilliant Star of the Nigerian Bar – Babalola
I consider it a great honour, to be invited to reminisce on Alhaji Abdul Ganiyu Folorunso Abdul-Razaq, OFR, SAN, eminently one of the bright and shining stars of the Inner Bar in Nigeria, who turns 90 on November 13, 2017, having been born on November 13, 1927, in the ever boisterous city of Onitsha, in the present Anambra State of Nigeria. His exploits in the Bar and Politics, Business and Education, are not surprising bearing in mind that he enjoys this enviable record of being the first Lawyer of Northern Nigerian extraction, and the accolade of being father of legal practice in Northern Nigeria.

I have known AGF Abdul-Razaq at close quarters, in the course of my legal practice, and I have always appreciated him as a gentle man in every sense of the word. He is profoundly religious, and a good family man. This charming, knowledgeable and honourable man, with a warm disposition, is a Bar man to the core. That he is considerate and humble, can be at any point in time, taken for granted. He is utterly dependable and unrepentantly reliable.
I am happy about his achievements at the Bar, which include his being the first Lawyer from the North and the First Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, from Ilorin. His brilliance and the very professional way he conducts himself both at the Bar and outside of it, will remain indelible in our psyche. As a practicing Lawyer, he believes fervently in the Rules, and keeps such Rules to the letter. He has mentored not a few, who are today, clear leaders and high flyers in various callings, no wonder the Mutawali of Ilorin, is loved by many.

A foundation student at the then University College, Ibadan in 1948, who later registered at the Inner Temple London from 1951 to 1954, was called to the Bar as a Barrister-at -Law on February 8, 1955 at the prestigious Inner Temple. No wonder he has always been a lover of quality education, as a result of which he later founded Ilorin College, now Government High School, Ilorin and became its first Principal upon take-off in 1967.

This is one of the things we share in common: Lawyers who became proprietors of schools, for whereas AGF is the Founder and Proprietor of Government of High School, Ilorin, God has imbued me with the grace to establish the increasingly popular Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD).

Your turning 90, a well-deserved grace from the Almighty Allah, does not come to me as a surprise. Rather, I see and acknowledge it, as a veritable opportunity for you to do more in your service to the Bar, your primary constituency, and the nation which you love so much, and indeed to humanity, the fulcrum of your dream.

While congratulating you most heartily on this momentous occasion, which in any case is a clarion call to further service, one can only wish you good health and peace of heart, as well as divine wisdom to continue the good works, to continually be relevant in the scheme of things in Nigeria, and even beyond. Congratulations and Happy Birthday, my Learned Silk.

Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, Founder and Chancellor, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti.