My Personal Encounter with Richard Akinjide

Richard Akinjide

The national atmosphere was enveloped with hostility as the COVID-19 pandemic breaks up everything and anything in its path. Richard Osuolale Akinjide (SAN) laid still after having breathed his last on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. But before he made his last ‘submission’ to the final arbiter, he had already been ‘discharged’ and ‘acquitted’ that he lived life to the fullest. He gave his all. He achieved the best. Funke Olaode pays tribute to the legal czar and Ibadan high chief

Our path first crossed in 2000. The friendship forged on our first meeting lasted until he passed away on Tuesday April 21, 2020. Chief Richard Akinjide, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria shone as one of the brightest of his generation. His intellectual prowess in both international and national affairs was equal to none. He was an embodiment of law: he breathed law, he lived law and he ate law. Akinjide made a success out of law both in name and fortune. He was highly influential and well-connected.

I have heard and read about him while I was in secondary school during Government classes. But what constantly threw his name up was his political calculation of the twelve two-third (12 2/3) judgment that ushered in the Alhaji Shehu Shagari government. I did not meet him at that time. I met him many years after.

I had just finished my one-year internship at Thisday when I had an encounter that later resulted in a robust professional and father-daughter relationship. After my internship at Thisday under an amiable boss whom I jokingly call my ‘brother from another mother’, Mr. Steve Nwosu, I went back to The Polytechnic, Ibadan for a Higher National Diploma (HND). As I was going back to school, there was a burning desire in me to keep the flame of journalism lit in me during the internship burning. With the backing of Mr. Steve Nwosu and Thisday which recognizes talents and encourages its staffers to grow, I linked up with a Thisday correspondent in Ibadan, the late Mr. Ademola Adeyemo fondly called ‘Prince’ or ‘Baba Ibadan’.

Adeyemo welcomed me with open arms. I told him my mission: I noticed that Thisday particularly its weekend titles are people-oriented and I observed that most interviews focused on Lagos and Abuja personalities. I explained my desire to open up Ibadan with the conviction that such a drive would boost the revenue of Thisday in terms of copy sales and revenues. The late Adeyemo agreed with me and we drew a long list of names of Chief Akinjide, Chief Afe Babalola, Chief Omololu Olunloyo, Dr. Oba Otudeko, Prof. Bolanle Awe, Prof. Bimpe Aboyade, Sen. Iyabo Anisulowo, just to mention a few. I resumed fully to the campus of Ibadan Polytechnic as a full student while I was ready to explore the city of Ibadan to interview the who’s who.

Letters requesting interviews were written and sent out; and with my meagre stipend as a student, I hopped from one big house to another to drop the correspondences. It was a long road to victory but was well worth it as I got lucky with 75 percent of those we requested an interview from.

My first point of call was Chief Richard Akinjide at his ‘The Rock’ residence tucked inside Idi-Ishin in Jericho GRA Ibadan. Legal luminary appeared anxious when I met him; an exciting interview followed. It was a memorable interview and its headline still lingers: ‘I Am Fulfilled’. It was published on June 30, 2000.

Thisday generously used his childhood, wedding, and family pictures. Chief Akinjide was impressed with an outpouring of emotions. His interview opened floodgates of interviews of prominent personalities across the country for me. By the time I graduated and joined Thisday fully in 2004, former Thisday Editor, Mr. Simon Kolawole, (was editing the Saturday title) encouraged me to interview similar big personalities. Mr. Kolawole assigned me to the ‘Memoirs’ section of the newspaper which celebrates outstanding Nigerians who have made giant strides in their endeavours.

With enthusiasm, I successfully provided exciting personalities for 14 years working with seven different Saturday editors until my promotion as Assistant Editor for Thisday on Sunday in 2018. By that time, I had interviewed some 1,000 personalities. The encouragement I had from the likes of Chief Akinjide who fielded questions from me as a cub reporter was career-defining.

Until his final appearance in the court of life, I was a witness to his good and benevolent life. Chief Akinjide meant different things to different people because of his political ideologies. To me, he was a father I never had. Some believed he was unapproachable, snobbish, and arrogant. I am not a political writer but I observe that you have to be on the same page with him to be able to understand him. And throughout our 20-year friendship, he remained a father figure and a reliable confidant. I related with him on personal and professional levels.

I was part of his 70th birthday celebration at MUSON Centre on November 4, 2001. When he turned 80, Thisday Saturday crew led by the then Deputy Saturday Editor, Mr. Laurence Ani was in Ibadan to interview him. And in 2017 during Nigeria’s independence, the Sunday Thisday led by then Sunday Editor, Mr. Tokunbo Adedoja was in Ibadan where we had an explosive interview on the state of the nation both pre- and post-independence. Trust Chief Akinjide, without the inhibitions of old age, he remembered every occurrence with accuracy.

I remember when I wanted to obtain a British visa, he provided much-needed support, writing personally to the British High Commission using his gorgeous home in Stanmore, London, which he purchased in 1972 as my base when I was in London. And over the last two decades, he had shown genuine interest in my progress. When I emerged as the best graduating student and overall best female graduating student at the Department of Mass Communication, The Polytechnic, Ibadan, 2001/2002 academic session, he leapt for joy.

When I decided to pursue a second degree in Communication and Language Arts at the University of Ibadan in 2007, he encouraged me. I was a regular visitor at his office in Lagos and his Idi-Ishin home in Ibadan. In fact, two of his employees, Angela and Oluchi knew me as ‘Omo Baba’. And over the last three years since he retired to Ibadan, I visited him regularly. And just before the COVID-19 lockdown, I called to know how he was doing with a promise that I would visit him soon. He was in high spirits looking forward to seeing me. Alas! I didn’t know it was going to be the last time I would talk to him. A couple of days later a former colleague sent me a web link announcing his death at the age of 88, five months and 17 days.

Born on November 4, 1931, in the Aperin area of Ibadan in the then Western Region. His grandfather was Akinjide; his mother hailed from the Balogun Oderinlo family from Mapo area. His maternal grandfather, Balogun Oderinlo was a warrior and his statue is by the side of Mapo. The late Akinjide was a lucky fellow with an enduring pedigree. His father was a big-time trader and farmer. And being the first child and the first grandson, everybody doted on him. That the late Akinjide was brilliant was an understatement.

He enrolled at St. Peters Primary School, Aremo in Ibadan and later proceeded to Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife where he sat for the Senior Cambridge School Certificate and emerged with a distinction. In 1952, he boarded MV Accra ship to England and landed in Liverpool. In England, he enrolled at the University of London where he studied for his LLB in Law and was called to the English Bar in 1955. He also obtained a certificate in Journalism. He returned to Nigeria in February 1956. He was subsequently called to the Nigerian and the Gambian Bar and became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 1978. When he returned to Nigeria after his studies, he practised briefly under S.L Durosaro before setting up his practice of Akinjide & Co. Upon returning to Nigeria he got entangled with politics having been a regular visitor at The House Commons while in London.

He was vibrant as a young politician, and at the age of 29, he became a lawmaker representing Ibadan at the Parliament. He later became the Minister of Education in the government of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa during the First Republic. He continued to blaze the trail as a politician and legal practitioner. He was the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) president between 1970 and 1973. He was a member of the judicial system’s sub-committee of the Constitutional Drafting Committee of 1975-1977 and later joined the National Party of Nigeria in 1978. He became the legal adviser of the party and was later appointed the Minister for Justice under the administration of President Shehu Shagari in the Second Republic.

Akinjide’s legacies are eternal. It is significant to note that it was under his watch that Nigeria temporarily reversed executions of armed robbers, the abolition of a decree barring exiles from returning to the country. The advent of democracy in 1999 saw the late Akinjide pitches his tent with the Peoples Democratic Party. His daughter, Oloye Jumoke Akinjide later served as the Minister of State of FCT. For the late Akinjide, he has played his part and left the stage.

Akinjide came. He saw. He conquered.