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Bola Ajibola at 85: A judge must be free of iniquity

• The man who escaped death four times, worked as Minister for six years without collecting salary, sold all he had to establish his dream varsity

By Bashir Adefaka

A flashback into the little beginning of the Olori Omo Oba Owu of Owu Kingdom, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Prince Bola Ajibola, became necessary when he was celebrated on his 85th birthday in a prayer session held at his Olusegun Obasanjo Hilltop GRA, Abeokuta home.

•Prince Bola Ajibola (SAN) left, presenting an award of excellence to a recipient of Bola Ajibola Community Service Award during the 13th Founder’s Day organised to mark his 85th birthday at Bola Ajibola College of Law Auditorium, Crescent University Abeokuta.

The occasion was attended by many dignitaries including the Registrar/Chief Executive of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof. Is-haq Oloyede.

The celebration continued at the Crescent University Abeokuta (CUAB)’s Bola Ajibola College of Law (BACOLAW) Auditorium where the 13th Founder’s Day Lecture of the university and award of excellence were held in honour of the retired Judge of the International Court of Justice (IJC) at The Hague, Netherlands.

Founder’s Day at Crescent University Abeokuta had been dedicated by the university’s Senate and Governing Council as a yearly event to mark the birthday of the institution’s proprietor, who is the longest serving Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation.

Apart from his involvement in philanthropy in the course of which he has produced many university graduates and chartered professionals, the Bola Ajibola Community Award was instituted in 2018 to recognize and reward excellence.

The first edition of the award was dedicated to recognizing community policing and the awards went to the immediate past Ogun State Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Iliyasu, and some of his officers.

It is, therefore, the reason a tribute, published by The DEFENDER in celebration of the man of exceptional integrity at 84, last year, said: “The name Bola Ajibola can no longer need an introduction. So, I do not have to start my tribute with an introduction of who the former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice is.

“What needs continuous mention about the man who, despite the campaigns of calumny by his own people at home and in the community of lawyers where he belonged, emerged in a globally participated election at the United Nations (UN) as a Judge of the International Court of Justice (IJC) at The Hague, however, is the story of his ‘Golden Nights’ and how he had survived death four times just because he had to brush aside his royalty status to struggle to have a handshake with a successful future that is being talked about today.”

That tribute, which attracted wide commendations, was apt, particularly in the area of the ‘Golden Nights’.   What one has found out is that the life story of Ajibola will not be complete without the mention of the ‘Golden Nights’ of sleeplessness when, according to him, working in the day and reading with candle lights in the night was the norm.

One could imagine the stress, therefore, that the prince of Oba Abdul-Salam Adewunmi Ajibola, Gbadela II, the Olowu of Owu Kingdom, Abeokuta, between 1949 and 1972, must have passed through.

It is no wonder that the heir of the Bola Ajibola dynasty, Muhammad Mahruf Adesegun Bola Ajibola (SAN), said: “Baba had made sure that all the sufferings of his children he has had.   However, he never allowed our upbringing to be devoid of one which makes us forget where we are coming from and where we are going. He is a religious, God-fearing man and he has brought us up along that line.”

Four experiences

History has it that Ajibola’s father was a recipient of Queen Elizabeth’s British Award of Excellence, having been noticeably active as a police inspector playing the role of a crack detective for 13 years before he retired for the reason of ascension to the throne in 1949.   Of note also is that Oba Ajibola’s core-life story has been captured in ‘A Life of Excellent Service” co-authored by his son, Bola, and Chief Oladipo Yemitan.

In a tribute on his 84th birthday, a writer had said: “Do I need to mention when he had actually wanted to pass on and he let on his gas cylinder to let loose its content while sleeping in a locked up room?   That was precisely one of the four experiences he had with death. But why would Abdul-Jabbar Bolasodun Adesumbo Ajibola (SAN) want to be taken away by the content of a gas cylinder? That is a story for another day. But the reality of all of those experiences, from the era of ‘Golden Nights’ to those other ones, boil down to the fact that achieving greatness in life is not an easy task.”

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The tribute continued: “If I was not lucky to be alive to see him in his days of the ‘Golden Nights’ and others because I was not born at that time – only arrived on September 3, 1972 – I was alive, alert to recognising happenings around me when he became the Attorney-General of the Federation and I saw Prince Bola Ajibola as pragmatic person, who went into government at no cost to government but at a huge sacrifice and denial of personal comfort. That was because for the six years, six months, six weeks, three days and one and a half hours that he was in office as Minister of Justice, he earned no kobo from the treasury of government.

“Rather, he spent his own hard earned money to take care of his personal needs required of him to serve his father land. That is exactly what he did that General Babangida saw and still sees him as truly an enigma.”

How best is it then to celebrate a man who has seen it from his immediate environment to the global community other than to make his birthday worthwhile?

This year’s weeklong programme of events, however, did not just happen the way of the past.

It happened with reminiscences on Ajibola as a student to his great achievements as the first President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) from where his activities got the attention of President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (GCFR) (1985 – 1993) who appointed him as the Attorney-General of the Federation.

From a humble beginning as a student of Baptist Boys’ High School Abeokuta, Ajibola became a World Court Judge, the President, Arbitration Panel of the World Bank, the Chairman, International Boundaries between Nigeria and Cameroon, Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and emerged one of 500 most influential Muslim leaders in the world.

No to ‘brilliant beasts’

He sold all that he had acquired only for him to invest it in an educational project to give Nigeria and entire Africa a brilliant example of a well managed university.

Ajibola has for, close to a decade, been producing graduates, not as ‘brilliant beasts’ but proudly nurtured in moral and academic excellence. That is what Crescent University Abeokuta, considered to be “the peak of my life achievements”, according to Bola Ajibola, has done in its 14 years of existence as a Nigeria’s leading private university.

Speaking at this year’s event of the Founder’s Day, Ajibola, quoting the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, stressed that “recognition of greatness in others is in itself greatness”, adding that the recipients of awards deserved them.

Ajibola, as a statesman, contributes to national discourse anytime he finds it desirable. For instance, he showed his displeasure over the rot in the Nigerian judiciary against the backdrop of the false assets declaration charges levelled against former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen, saying it was high time all hands were on deck in support of President Muhammadu Buhari’s crusade against corruption.   He warned that the nation may be “stepping on dangerous ground” should the Federal Government fail to handle the Onnoghe saga as required.

He said: “It is a very delicate matter. The moment a judge is to take a decision on himself, his own proprietary and being found wanting on issues of which he is supposed to be a judge, the nation would be stepping on a very dangerous ground if special care is not taken in addressing the matter, and that care should be one in which a judge is free from any iniquity.

“He should not be found wanting, he should not be suspected of anything at all. “In other words, he should not be corruptible. As a result, once the CJN is tainted, it becomes a terrible situation for the judiciary and the judiciary must handle the case with care and trepidation. He should not become a judge unto himself. “But having said that, such allegations must be carefully looked into, they must be carefully checked. He should be given the opportunity of being heard.”

Ajibola, under whom Vice President Yemi Osinbajo served as Special Assistant when he (Ajibola) was Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, did the only law reform Nigeria has ever had. He once advised Buhari to stay firm as the anti-corruption fight he had engaged in since May 29, 2015 was not going to be an easy one because people with complex romance with corruption, impunity and spirit of not-doing things properly will hold onto any criminality in sight to frustrate him.

He cited his own experience fighting corruption as Minister of Justice, concluding, however, on an optimistic tone that all will be well with Nigeria.

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