*He escaped plane crash; survived cancer, suicide bid; healed miraculously of 5 broken ribs
By Bashir Adefaka
Prince Abdul Jabbar Bolasodun Ajibola, SAN, is not new when you talk about eminent figures. What keeps making the Owu, Abeokuta, Ogun State-born former judge of the International Court of Justice, IJC, at The Hague greener is his capacity to speak fresh words at all times.
Many people know of a former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, whose tenure brought about the Law Report, a monthly journal that remains a major kit in the hands of lawyers and judges in Nigeria till today, to which they can invariably refer in times of need.
A highly history-loaded son of Oba Salami Adewunmi Ajibola, a former police officer, who, in 1949, became the Olowu of the popular Owu Kingdom in Abeokuta, in the then Western Religion, now Ogun State and ruled the ancient warlords’ community for 23 years before he kicked the royal bucket in 1972, Ajibola did what no Minister of Justice and Attorney General had ever done in the history of Nigeria. Whereas he remains the longest holder of the office of the nation’s number one law officer, for the six years, three months and few weeks that he was there, he never took a penny by way of salary.
He, however, designed how the salary would be shared. He rose through the legal profession to arrive at the consciousness of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, as his professional constituency, where he became the pioneer President.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that the NBA propped him up for the personal ability recognition, which registered him in the consciousness of the Federal Government under the military administration of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, who saw his activities and dispositions on the leadership of the legal practitioners of Nigeria as worth to be minister and custodian of the laws of the Federal Republic.
In appreciation of the contributions of the NBA, Ajibola – who clocked 80 last March 22 – directed that a certain percentage of his monthly salary be paid directly to the lawyers association.
He went on to give part of the salary to specified groups of needy across the country and others who found the sums substantial in taking care of their needs.
A large percentage of the salary, he instructed, should be paid back to the purse of government. Aside the mention of the fact that Ajibola gave stern warning to graft
givers and particularly threatened few of them with jail for attempting to give or bribe him with large sums of money, those gifts he accepted were sold and he caused the proceeds to be paid into government treasury.
It matters not, however, what such proceeds amounted to considering the total earnings of Nigeria. What many appreciated was that, at least, Nigeria had one public figure, like the late Sir Tafawa Balewa, who had shown that achieving a Nigeria where citizens place the interest of the nation before personal interests was doable, possible and practicable.
The exceptional attitude of Ajibola paid off as Babangida honoured him with the location, in his ancestral home of Abeokuta, one of the two universities of agriculture he planned to establish, that is, the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.
A morning at the Hilltop with the former ICJ judge
It was around 9.30 am that Sunday Vanguard arrived the palatial compound of the former World Court jurist on appointment. Ajibola deals with many journalists but the place he reserves for the Sunday Vanguard journalist in his heart is right at the bottom, seemingly unchangeable. He had to ask him into his study for an initial briefing and then allowed others to join few minutes after.
Ajibola is not used to being asked questions so that he would respond. Once he gets hold of the line of the discussion, he begins to speak such that by the time he says, “Thank you”, which signifies that he is done with you, you are likely to have had a full understanding of his perspective.
A religious personality
Ajibola had to sell off all his properties for the singular purpose of using the proceeds to establish what has today become the Islamic Movement for Africa, IMA, which gave birth to projects namely, the IMA Nursery and Primary School, IMA Colleges, the Crescent University, Abeokuta and the newly established IMA Hospital, Abeokuta.
What one can only infer from his many interactions with him is that the Olori Omo Owu keeps expressing fulfilment and appears more satisfied now than those virtually countless achievements he had made having traversed the world as Nigerian High Commissioner in the United Kingdom or a World Court judge .
The gargantuan Mosjid Al-Jabbar, a multi-million naira mosque, and the Asalatu house which he built tell more about the fact that 80-year old Ajibola is now more at home with the service of his Lord than ever before. “I am more fulfilled at this time and I am more satisfied,” he said.
Ajibola’s story of birthday celebration
Ajibola is at home with the fact that a devout Muslim has no place for celebration of birthday. Even though the government of Nigeria declares public holidays on the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, which is seen by the Muslim community as acceptable gesture on the path of the government, Islamic education has always revealed that the best way to celebrate birthdays is to fast, engage in self-assessment of life lived so far, thank God, seek forgiveness and pray to Him for more blessings and successes in the years ahead.
This, perhaps, was responsible for why Ajibola had to take his time, during the meeting, to explain to his visitors why he celebrated his 80th birthday with fanfare and high profile Nigerians competing to steal the show at the event. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo; former governors of Lagos and Ogun states, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Chief Olusegun Osoba, respectively; Governors Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun), Rauf Aregbesola (Osun), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Ishaq Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo) were among those who graced the thanksgiving (birthday) celebration.
He said, “If someone in this natural and unnatural uphill has gone through all the situations of civil war and the rest of it, in this world and in this country; if someone says he has spent 45 years and he has again spent virtually double that number of years that he wants to live, he should necessarily do one thing, which in Yoruba proverb is said thus: ‘Adegoke t’o g’ori ose; t’oba le so, k’ofi aja b’ose.’
The idea is this: You know baobab is a big tree that is very fat and very heavily stood. It is food for elephants. If you are able to climb it to the top, to come down becomes tedious. The reason is not far-fetched. There is nothing you can hold on to in coming down and there is likelihood that if you jump down, you die.
“Therefore, the first of the reasons why I celebrated my 80th birthday is to thank God that I have been able to climb that baobab tree and descended safely. That is one aspect of the celebration. To live up to 80 years in this world, in this surrounding, in this circumstance, you should have lived twice! That is number one.”
“ Ajibola narrated further: Number two, I have seen death six times and, in spite of all that, it has pleased God to still keep me here. The first of them; there was a time that a poisoned food was served for me to eat. But for the fact that I overslept, I would long be dead.
Secondly, there was the time that I fell in the bathroom and broke my five ribs (pointing to the side of his ribs) and they tempted to punch holes at my lungs. And it was said that if that had happened, I was going to die and therefore that I was going to be in bed for four months in hospital.
“I made a covenant with God and I said if He healed me in time, I would be in best position to carry out my covenant. On His own, God had the power to heal me in time less than the period given by doctors. And I was healed under ten days. The covenant was the orthopaedic ward that I built for the Federal Medical Centre, FMC, Abeokuta. As a matter of fact, the day it was commissioned, the then President Olusegun Obasanjo was there and he built his own.
“The third was when I was going to come back from Britain to Nigeria in 1969 and I had already been booked for the flight. But someone came to request me to go to Scotland with him; and he pleaded so passionately that he was going to pay for whatever damages that might cause. I tried to turn down his request but he never let me go. So, very reluctantly I obliged him, stayed back from that flight and went with him to Scotland only for us to hear, as soon as we got to Scotland, that the particular flight I was booked for but failed to travel in, had crashed and that all the people on board the flight had died.
“The fourth was when I was sick and diagnosed for cancer. And do you know what that means? That means the end of life. But by the special grace of God, that also went away on its own. The one in Jos had to do with the commission of inquiry headed by me, having been appointed by the President of the Federal Republic at that time. It then happened that things were very tough and we were advised not to get there. And I said to them that we were going to come and we got there. When we got there, we saw how people were being killed and being thrown into wells. We saw that one.
“There was also the time that I was a student and we went to swim. I needed to prove that I could swim and I jumped, unfortunately, into the part of the water that was deepest. I had taking in water two, three times before my co-students knew what was happening at a point that my life was already going to give up. Then they rushed to rescue me. That was fifth. The sixth was when I felt that life was too hard for me to continue to live. Things were so hard that to eat was difficult. I had been told a very easy way to die without stress.
That was through gas. All I needed to do was to switch on my gas cylinder and I allowed it to come up without putting fire. When you inhale enough of it, you just die. But in my own case, I had done that and we were cooking right inside the room.
I left my gas cylinder on and slept off only for me to wake back to life and starting to wonder, “What kind of unfortunate worlds! I had left one world of hardship and have landed in this other one that looks the same thing like the one I just left.” It later occurred to me that I had not died and that I was still in this world. And what happened was that the gas that remained in the cylinder was not enough to be inhaled to death.
“All these are things have happened to me in life as a result of which my CV has become so swollen that one day, when Margaret Thatcher, the late former Prime Minister of Britain, gave me the honour of being her guest and my citation was being read, at a point she asked the reader to ‘stop!’. And she asked, ‘Bola, do you mean all these you have been able to achieve within this short time you have spent in life?’ I said ‘yes’.
And she asked the young man to continue reading my citation. It gives you an idea of what one has gone through. But that is not all. There was a time that I was asked to come and give a lecture at a hotel hall venue in London. When the man that was reading got to a point, he said, ‘The only thing that I have not found in the CV of this gentleman is to read that he is the President of Africa.’
And he went on reading my CV so that by the time he finished, the manager of the hotel came to tell us that we had had our time. That ‘time is up.’ So, the lecture did not take place. It was one day in my life in which my paper was just given out to people and they were told that they could read it at home because ‘our time is up.’
“But that was not the only time. A good friend of mine, now late, was launching a book and I was invited to chair the book launch. When the man to read my citation wanted to read my CV, I warned him not to read my whole CV and that he should just go straight into the programme of collecting money. He ignored my warning (laughter). He was foolish and started singing my praises given all I had done vis-à-vis my CV.
“By the time he finished, people had left. So, it was a very unsuccessful launch. What I have now done is to find a way that my CV will be summarized into one page so that not the whole book will be read any longer.
“That is the CV of me and yet I have not completed it. If I should now complete my CV, I will tell the story about the Crescent University, Abeokuta; I will tell the story about the Islamic Movement for Africa, IMA; I will tell other stories. So, it is for that few reasons that one had come out to thank God for all that one has been able to achieve and for sparing my life to have been able to achieve them.”