Nigeria lost one of its most eminent jurists when Justice Mustapha Akanbi(retd) died in Ilorin, Kwara State, on June 3. He was 85 years old and would be sorely missed by all. Justice Akanbi was indeed an “Incorruptible Judge” and his career at the bench held many Nigerians spellbound and in awe of him.
Born in Accra, Ghana, Akanbi had his basic education in the West African country and started his career as a teacher before securing a scholarship from the Nigerian Government to study law in the United Kingdom. By dint of hard work and extra-ordinary focus, he rose through the ranks of the judiciary to become the President of the Court of Appeal in 1992.
He took many of his colleagues by surprise when he opted to voluntarily retire before attaining the mandatory age of 70 years in January 1999. The new civilian administration, having followed his illustrious and unsoiled career on the bench, soon appointed him, the Chairman of the Panel of Inquiry into the then troubled National Fertilizer Company Limited (NAFCON) at Onne, Port Harcourt and shortly after again, as the pioneer Chairman of the newly established anti-corruption agency, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
His image loomed large over the anti-corruption agency and thus set the stage for its many, but deliberately understated interventions in the anti-corruption war of the country and the polity at large. By the time his work was done at the expiration of his first five-year tenure in 2005, he chose to opt out of the place on his own volition. Not even the offer of a second tenure in office could lure him to stay beyond his wish. Such was the quality of his single-minded focus and unassailable integrity.
The departed jurist is a lesson in unsurpassed patriotism and contentment. He was not known for earthly acquisitions, but rather concentrated on giving back to society, whatever he had. Of his time and resources, he gave freely and willingly to the people of his immediate community of Ilorin and the country at large, upon retirement from active service. He set up the Mustapha Akanbi Foundation (MAF) and the Ma’assalam Islamic Foundation (MIF) both in Ilorin to help the underprivileged and such other worthy causes. On November 17, 2016, Justice Akanbi commissioned a private library, named the Mustapha Akanbi Library and Resource Centre.
For all his good works and community service, the Emir of Ilorin and a former colleague on the bench, Alhaji Sulu Gambari awarded him the traditional title of Wakili of Ilorin. Akanbi was the first to hold the preeminent title in the entire Ilorin emirate. Akanbi also had the rare distinction of having two books, The Story of My Two Worlds: Challenges, Experiences and Achievements and M.M.A. Akanbi: A Life of Service and Grace, written in his honour launched on the same day, November 28, 2014.
Akanbi was held in high esteem by all those who worked with him and his entire contemporaries. He was also a rare gem. Since his demise, tributes have poured in from home and abroad. In his own tribute, President Muhammadu Buhari described the late jurist as a man whose greatest asset on earth was his enviable integrity and incorruptibility. Others like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Senate President Bukola Saraki and the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Leader, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, have extolled the sterling qualities of the departed jurist.
No doubt, Justice Akanbi left big shoes for those coming behind him. The government should immortalise the late jurist. We urge members of the bench to emulate his shining examples. We commiserate with his family, the judiciary and Nigerian government for the irreparable loss.