Former Minister of Education in the First Republic and the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice in the Second Republic, Chief Richard Osuolale Abimbola Akinjide (SAN), passed on last week, at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Oyo State. He was 88. He has been ill in the past three years, the exact nature of which was not disclosed. But his death seems to have shocked most Nigerians in a more profound way considering the special place he occupied in Nigerian history.
He was at a vantage point to observe the final years of the colonial government, the early years of independent Nigeria, the First Republic, 1963-66, and the Republic after the 14-year military interregnum. He clearly was the bridge, therefore, between the First and the Second Republic, both of which he served at the ministerial level. He was always willing to dispense institutional memory and wisdom. Mourning Akinjide’s demise last week, Fourth Republic President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, noted that it is indeed noteworthy that he was “constant on Nigeria’s political scene for the better part of the past six decades, both as a passionate participant in both the executive arms of government and constitutional matters” and as an avid chronicler of our evolution as a people and nation.
Chief Akinjide was born on November 4, 1931, in the city of Ibadan. He attended Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife. His genius manifested in his high school graduation results when he passed with a distinction scoring the superior “aggregate 6.” He travelled to the United Kingdom in 1951 where he studied Law and was called to the Bar in 1955 in UK and also later in Nigeria. He then established his law practice, Akinjide & Co.
He was at first a member of the Ibadan People’s Party (IPP) which played a historic role in the equally historic and contentious Western Regional Election and the so-called 1952 “carpet crossing” that redefined Nigerian politics till date. Akinjide became the Minister of Education in the Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa administration at the young age of 29. In the Second Republic, he was reputed for his uncompromising adherence to the rule of law and due process. The result was that the Shehu Shagari administration is still acknowledged as one of the freest in Nigerian history.
In his death, Nigeria lost its most senior lawyer. He is recorded as among the first 13 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) who got their silk in 1978. Of the 13, only Prof. Ben Nwabueze is left. Akinjide was also the chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association from 1970-1973.
He died as one of the brightest lawyers Nigeria ever produced. He helped found the Yoruba Council of Elders and was a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee (1975-77) and the National Political Reforms Conference in 2005. There is no doubt that the late Akinjide will be remembered for his role in the political development of the country. We urge the Federal Government to immortalise him considering his roles in the development of the country. Until his death, he was a role model and one of the best politicians the country has produced.
Last week, Akinjide’s life was celebrated by so many Nigerians. President Muhammadu Buhari praised him for his service to “country and humanity.” Former President Goodluck Jonathan found him “a forthright jurist and a legal icon.” We agree with Chief Obasanjo that Akinjide was a star, a most cerebral legal luminary, a profound thinker, a die-hard patriot and democrat. We commiserate with his family, friends, the political class and the entire country for the great loss. May God grant his soul eternal rest.