Contrition twines my heart, not like in J.P. Clark’s ‘Fulani Cattle’ poem, but like those armed robbers tied to the stake in Bar Beach, Lagos, against the mighty Atlantic Ocean, waiting to face the firing squad. This was Nigeria of the bygone military era which provided us with a grotesque circus of barbaric proportions as we all trooped to the Bar Beach to watch and cheer the executions.
That was the picture of Nigeria of the ’70s and the ’80s until Chief Richard Akinjide, SAN, as Attorney General under President Shehu Shagari stopped the open-air bloodshed. He is dead now. Yes, he is dead. The same Akinjide, the mathematical lawyer whose genius brought President Shehu Shagari into power, leaving Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the UPN leader in the doldrums, his presidential ambition blown away. Akinjide the magician who brought the genie out of the bottle with the “twelve two-third” surprise answer to our political conundrum.
Two weeks before his death, Chief Akinjide and I were talking on the phone. I called to ask for an interview appointment for a book on law which I am currently working on—a sequel to my bestselling book, ‘50 Nigeria’s Boardroom Leaders—Lessons On Corporate Governance and Strategy.’ The title of my new book is: ‘COURTROOM AND LAW FIRM STRATEGIES—50 Senior Advocates Share Their Wisdom, Insights, Lessons and Law Practice Experiences.’
Chief Akinjide was instantly wowed by the project like so many top lawyers already interviewed. Senior Advocates like Wole Olanipekun, Chief Abimbola Rotimi Williams, Ebun Sofunde, Olisa Agbakoba, Prof. Itse Sagay, Louis Mbanefo, Ladi Rotimi Williams, Sina Sofola, Claudius Aduroja, Godwin Omoaka, Dele Adesina, Adewale Atake, Titi Akinlawon, Prof. Joe Irukwu, Paul Ananaba, Sylvester Elema, Olumide Sofowara, Sylvester Elema, Wale Taiwo, Roland Otaru and more to come. The idea is to come up with an experiential book on law written by a journalist who is not a lawyer. At the end of the day, law, I discovered, is like journalism. You have to do your homework, you have to ask the right questions, you have to look for new angles, you have to be able to look for news, you have to have an analytical mind, you have to think like a forensic expert, you have to be curious, you have to think fast on your feet. The more I interviewed these lawyers, the more I miss being a lawyer, but still I have no regrets being a journalist—the noble profession that has brought me thus far, trained me and opened the doors to my having to write diverse books on any subject and any profession. Journalism has taught me that anything is learnable and teachable, as long as you go out there asking the right questions.
After listening to some of my questions, Chief Akinjide said: “Gentleman, I love what you are doing and I will surely love to support you by sharing my experiences with you. But why can’t we wait till the end of this coronavirus quarantine? I surely will grant you an interview.”
I agreed with him and thanked him. From there on, I started counting the days and praying the lockdown will soon be over and I will have the opportunity and freedom to travel to meet this great man in Ibadan. So you can imagine my shock and disappointment when the news of Chief Akinjide’s death on April 21 hit me like a hurricane. I shook my head, bit my finger and said to myself: “There goes my interview with the great man of the law.” It was the wise King Solomon who said in the book of Proverbs: “Man proposes, but God disposes.” When I was talking with Chief Akinjide, death was not on his mind. He was filled with hope. Hope that we will surely meet and talk. But God knows what man doesn’t know. May Papa Akinjide rest in peace in the bosom of his Maker. He is one man Nigeria and the law profession cannot forget.
Chief Akinjide was the most senior practising SAN. Not only that, he was the first SAN married to a SAN to become Nigeria’s first SAN couple. He left behind legacies of his trade, among which are series of pamphlets where he shared his thoughts on various topical issues. He wrote on politics, on the economy, on law, on everything that he felt concerned about. In one of the pamphlets titled the Art of Advocacy, he gave tips on how to excel in the courtroom:
Open your case clearly but not at too great length.
Never call unnecessary witnesses
Never interrupt opponents or object to a question unless it is fragrant.
Do not labour points of law too much.
Do not speak too loud.
Always remember the wisdom of Coke: “Take this from me, that what grief so ever a man hath, ill words work no good and learned counsel never use them.”
Treat every Court with utmost respect: express what you have to say, if justified, firmly but with patience.
Brevity, clarity and fairness: slow in speech.
In summing up, state briefly the law before proceeding to the facts.
Accept the word of Counsel absolutely unless you have serious doubt,
If you have one good point and other doubtful technical points do not take the technical points but rely on the good point because the weaknesses of one may influence the Court with regard to the others by way of creating a suspicion of unsoundness.
Always prepare the first few sentences of a submission—it is highly important to start off slowly, clearly, with confidence without fumbling for words.
Be brief in re-examination.
I was given some of the pamphlets, but still, it is not the same as meeting the grand old man of law and letters to hear from him and drink from his well of wisdom in advocacy, litigation strategy and secrets they do not teach at law school which you learn from the University of Hard Knocks. I miss that and will forever miss meeting the great lawyer now gone for good with all the knowledge, all the secrets, all the winning strategies of one Nigeria’s legal brains locked down and quarantined inside the silent graveyard where all men end.