I personally mourn Chief Richard Osuolale Abimbola Akinjide (SAN). He deserves to be mourned by all. Akinjide was a legal colossus, quintessential jurisprudential theoretician, a very brilliant constitutional lawyer, consummate forensic advocate and tested political titan. He was once at home with friends as he was with enemies.Akinjide drew deadly legal and political punches and took the same in equal or more measure.
I was with this legal prodigy at the 2014 National Conference, where his vast intellect, gargantuan experience and deep knowledge of the law and politics easily played out. His smiles and exceptional affability many a time effectively doused tension and animosity.
The morning tells the day
When Akinjide returned from England after studying law in the 1950s, he quickly joined Chief Adisa Akinloye’s Ibadan Peoples Party (IPP) as one of the early nationalists who fought for Nigeria’s independence. Akinloye was later to become the chairman of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), while Akinjide was its legal adviser, in 1979. Although IPP was a little known party and limited in spread, it became the beautiful bride in the intense struggle between Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (“Zik of Africa”) and Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo (“The Sage”). The IPP had formed an alliance with Awo’s Action Group (AG) to defeat Zik’s National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) in the Western Region elections.
Though some people have argued that this step by Akinjide was the origin of Nigeria’s tribal politics, he beat such critics back by explaining that it was Zik who breached an earlier accord to field Chief Bode Thomas, and instead opted for Dr. Micheal Okpara, his fellow tribe’s follower.
Chief Akinjide held on to tiny IPP, using it to negotiate an alliance with the dominant Northern Peoples Congress (NPC). This was during the December 12, 1957, pre-Independence election, whereafter he became Minister of State for Education at the youthful age of 29. It was under his guidance that the University of Lagos was established by statute under the then parliamentary system of government.
The tested and dreaded courtroom pugilist was to become the president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), between 1970 and 1973, chairman of the Body of Benchers and chairman of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria. Akinjide is also remembered for prosecuting the famous treason trial of Bukar Zarma Mandara.
The 12 2/3 debacle – A Daniel came to judgement
Akinjide is, however, best remembered for the exceptional and unforgettable role he played in the 1979 enthronement of Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Usman Shagari as the democratically elected President of Nigeria, but who was later overthrown by General Muhammadu Buhari in a coup d’état on October 31, 1983.
William Shakespeare in Merchant of Venice , invented the term “A Daniel come to judgement,” when shrewd Shylock said: “A Daniel come to judgement! Yea, a Daniel! O young judge, how I do honour thee’’ [Act 4, Scene 1, page 9].
A Daniel who comes to judgement, therefore, refers to a person who resolves a particularly knotty problem or dispute. It has its origin in the Bible, Daniel 5:14, “I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.”
The unusual setting: Law vs. Science
The 1979 presidential election was fiercely contested. Azikiwe, first Nigerian President and Governor-General, led the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP). Talakawa chiampion, Mallam Aminu Kano, contested under his People’s Redemption Party (PRP). Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, the politician who popularised the slogan, “Politics without bitterness,” carried aloft the banner of the Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP), a splinter from Zik’s NPP.
The late sage and philosopher king, Chief Jeremiah Oyeniyi Obafemi Awolowo, slugged it out, using the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) as his platform. The National Party of Nigeria’s flag was flown by the gentle and genial Shagari. They all contested the presidential election, which was meant to send the military packing to the barracks after its predatory and opportunistic adventure into governance.
On August 16, 1979, the then Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), headed by Chief Michael Ani, had declared Shagari winner. The chief returning officer, Mr. F. Menkiti, who worked under Alhaji Kurfi, the Chief Electoral Officer of the Federation, said Shagari won with 5,688,657 votes, to Awolowo’s 4,916,651 votes. The margin was frighteningly quite slim for a volatile presidential election, which was held on August 11, 1979.
Awolowo flatly rejected the results and indicated he would head for the Court of Appeal, which was the Electoral Tribunal. During the proceedings, Awo was represented by the cerebral Chief G.O.K Ajayi, who led a battery of 24 seasoned lawyers, including Chief Abraham Adesanya. Chief Akinjide led an intimidating legal arsenal comprising of 12 seasoned lawyers.Ironically, Akinjide was honoured with the esteemed rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), with Awo, Chief G.O.K. Ajayi, Chief Fani Kayode, Chief T.A. Bankole Oki, Chief Molano and Chief Kehinde Sofola.
The problem – The jigsaw puzzle
Although Shagari polled the highest number of votes cast, the question was whether he had scored at least one-quarter of the votes cast in two-thirds of the then 19 states, such as to satisfy the mandatory provisions of Section 34(1)(c)(ii) of the Electoral (Amendment) Decree, 1978. Awo’s contention, during his evidence, was simple: “As a lawyer and a politician, I am conversant with the provisions of the Electoral Decree. I know that I did not score more than 25% of the votes cast in more than six states. But I insist that two-thirds of 19 is 13 and I will say that two-thirds of 21 is 14. It is correct to state that the first respondent scored 25% casts in 12 states, but not in 13 states as provided by Section 34 a(i) c(ii)of the Electoral (amendment) Decree of 1978…I disagree with the result declared on the election and that is why I am here for it to be nullified.”
Awolowo also employed as his witnesses great intellectual minds like Professor Ayodele Awojobi, a mechanical engineer of Unilag, Professor Chike Obi (numero uno mathematician of the University of Ibadan) and Jacob Ajayi, renowned historian and lecturer, also of the University of Ibadan. The problem was, therefore, this: Shagari had scored 25% squarely in 12 of Nigeria’s then 19 states but he scored only 19.4% in the 13th state–Kano. Did this satisfy the provisions of the Electoral Decree? Can a state be fractionalised? Awo, through his lawyers, said this was not possible.Chief Richard Akinjide, leading an array of distinguished lawyers, disagreed.He argued that Shagari won. He let out the genie from the bottle. Shagari scored 25% in 12 states. The 13th State, Kano (where he scored 19.4%), must be fractionalised into three for the purpose of calculation, he argued.Therefore, Shagari’s votes must only be two-third of the votes of Kano State.
On September 10, 1979, the Presidential Election Tribunal dismissed Awo’s petition and agreed with Akinjide’s ingenious postulation that two-thirds of 19 states was not 13, but 12 2/3.
Fear, tension and suspense
Awo appealed this judgement. It was barely three weeks to the inauguration of Shagari as President and kicking out the military. Heads of states and governments had been invited. Decorations and rehearsals were already on. A new dawn was approaching. Would it be translated? Would there be a caretaker government or would the adventurous military find this confusion as a ready made excuse to stay put in power?
The Supreme Court’s verdict
Barely five days to the inauguration of Shagari, tension, anxiety, suspense and fear had gripped Nigeria. The country was in near turmoil, on tenterhooks. There was bated breath and suspended animation. A solemn apex court sat on September 26, 1979. Seven Justices, led by Chief Justice Atanda Fatayi-Williams, filed into the hallowed chambers of the Supreme Court at Igbosere, Lagos. The others were Justices Gabriel Ayo irikefe, Chukwuweinke Idigbe, Mohammed Bello, Andrew Otutu Obaseki, Kayode Eso, and Lawal Uwaise. Bello and Uwais eere later to become Chief Justices of Nigeria.
In a split judgement of 6-1, with cerebral Kayode Eso powerfully dissenting, the apex court agreed with Akinjide and the lower tribunal that two-thirds of the 19 states was twelve-two-thirds (12 2/3), and not 13. The court bought Akinjide’s brilliant submission that “in order to get one-quarter of the total votes cast in the 13th state, the reckoning must not be the total votes, but two thirds of the total votes, meaning that once a candidate satisfied the requirements of obtaining one-quarter of the total votes cast in twelve states and in two-thirds of the 13th state, then he should be accepted as having satisfied the requirement of scoring at least one-quarter of the total votes cast in each of at least two-thirds of the 19 states of the Federation.” Case closed!
Akinjide had always claimed to be a better lawyer than Awo, while, however, conceding that Awo was a better politician.
Shagari did not need to look for in Sokoto what he readily had in his sokoto trousers, in appointing Akinjide as his Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, between 1979 and 1983.Akinjide, thereafter, earned many sobriquets: “Mathematician Lawyer,” “Legal Mathematician,” or “Akinjide the Mathematician.” The Ibadan High Chief had used law to defeat science and some of its greatest purveyors.
It was to Akinjide’s credit that Nigeria, under his watch, temporarily revised the execution of armed robbers by firing squad. He also helped abolish the then decree, which barred exiles from returning home. Perhaps, mindful of the perceived inherent lapses in the judgement, which many believed was political, the Supreme Court surprisingly added a caveat and a rider (obiter dictum), in its judgement: the judgement should never be acted upon in the future cases as a judicial precedent.ADIEU, ROA. Rest in peace.
Thought for the week
“THE most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do” –KOBE BYRANT