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ABDUL RAZAQ: The statesman as symbol of unity

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By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Features Editor

VIRTUALLY every aspect of his life is phenomenal. Each area presents an interesting symbolism about certain key ingredients that make Nigeria work.

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Alhaji Folorunsho Abdul Razaq…proud emblem of the legal profession

You won’t have the knowledge of his origin, school days and professional sojourn, without describing him as a “complete” Nigerian. Permit the use of such phrase, but Alhaji Folorunso Abdulrazaq qualifies as one.

His birth in Onitsha, South-East; secondary school days in Buguma, South- South; University days in Ibadan, South-West; early professional practice in Kaduna, North-West; and residency in Lagos, place him in a distinguished class of Nigerians. He speaks Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba fluently.

With such a background in a nation divided along ethnic and religious lines, the Illorin-born statesman qualifies as a unifying symbol. But these are not just all about this great man or the only reasons Vanguard found him a worthy recipient of the Life Time Achievement Award.

Specific roles

Since being admitted as the first set of students into the then University College, Ibadan, he has remained a numero uno in most of his feats. With his call to the bar in February 1955, Abdul Razaq emerged as the first lawyer in Northern Nigeria.

At independence in 1960, he became the first National Legal Adviser of defunct Northern People’s Congress, NPC. In this capacity, he was among the few First Republic politicians who handed over power to the military after the assassination of Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in the January 1966 coup.

In an interview monitored on Nigeria Television Authority, NTA, by this writer more than a decade ago, the elder statesman specified the roles he played during those tumultuous days of January 1966 when there was a vacuum in governance following the coup.

Particularly, he narrated how he recorded the minutes of the meeting of a few cabinet members, who courageously attended a meeting where power was handed over to the late Major- General Aguiyi Ironsi. The jurist is also the first Ilorin indigene to serve as a Federal Minister. He was the first Commissioner of Finance in Kwara State.

Numero uno

He was the first person to establish a private secondary school in the state and was also the first Northerner to be given a substantive appointment as a High Court Judge in 1968, but he didn’t accept the offer.

The elder statesman, who turned 91 last November, is a nationalist, whose belief in Nigeria is evident in the various positions he had taken on key national issues.

As part of Northern Nigeria delegation, he was active in various national and international engagements for Nigeria’s independence.

To most people conversant with the history of that era, he was the nerve centre of the Northern delegations, given his oratorical skills and knowledge as a lawyer.

His public service journey which began in 1957, saw him holding important positions that ensured that he contributed to the growth of many spheres of Nigeria’s existence.

For many decades, he made inputs into the legal profession in many areas. He is noted to have been the brain behind a treatise in Hausa, entitled Dan Adam Da Sharia, which is adjudged a landmark piece.

Proud emblem of the legal profession

Little wonder, a legal luminary, Chief Afe Babalola, SAN, in a tribute during Abdul Razaq’s 90th birthday, described the Ilorin-born jurist as “a legal icon, who epitomises simplicity, humility, humanity and integrity.”

Afe Babalola further eulogised him thus: “Those of us who have been privileged to observe him at close quarters, can testify to the fact that he would never compromise on the truth in his avowed commitment towards entrenching a just and egalitarian society, no matter whose ox is gored.

“He is a role model par excellence and a proud emblem of the legal profession.

“Abdul Razaq is a quintessential gentleman who believes in Nigeria’s possibilities, a patriot who has invested, and continues to invest his enormous intellect and resources in the quest for a better Nigeria, and he does this with civility. I have known him to be a distinguished and quiet worker, not given to the loud noise of many of his compatriots. What a thoroughly civilised and complete gentleman.”

Nation-building accomplishments

In the light of these nation-building accomplishments and others, Vanguard found him suitable of recognition.

A graduate of Trinity College, University of Dublin, he holds a BA Hons, LLB, MA, and H.Dip-Educ.

He attended the Kalabari National College, Buguma, and Africa College, Onitsha, alongside Prof Ben Nwuabueze, SAN.

First private secondary school

He has been a Life Bencher since 1971 and was the Chairman of the Body of Benchers in 1984.

He was a member of the House of Representatives, 1964-1966, Nigeria’s Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, 1962-1964, Federal Minister of State for Railways, 1965-1966, and the first Kwara State Commissioner for Finance, and later, Health and Social Welfare, 1967-72.

He is the proprietor of the first private secondary school in Kwara State, Ilorin College, Ilorin, ICI.

Since 1995, he has been a member of the Disciplinary Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and was the President of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (2000-2003).

He holds the titles, Tafida of Zaria and Mutawali of Ilorin.

In Ivory Coast, the elder statesman was honoured as Grande Officer De La Ordre National De Cote d’Ivoire, while in Nigeria he is an Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic, OFR.

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