By Henry Ojelu
IN an attempt to give insight into what royalty really means, an unknown author once wrote: “A crown! What is it? It is to bear the miseries of a people. To hear their murmurs, feel their discontents, and sink beneath a load of splendid care.” That insight perhaps is the closest description of the man, Prince Bola Ajibola. Though born into royalty, the Olori Omo Oba of Owu Kingdom has spent virtually all his royal life serving humanity and dispensing justice.
Born on March 22, 1934 in Owu near Abeokuta, to the Owu royal family of Oba Abdul-Salam Ajibola Gbadela II, Ajibola attended Owu Baptist Day School and Baptist Boys’ High School both in Abeokuta between 1942 and 1955. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Law, LLB, at the Holborn College of Law, University of London between 1959 and 1962 and was called to the English Bar at the Lincoln’s Inn in 1962.
He returned to Nigeria to practise law, specialising in Commercial Law and International Arbitration and soon added the high professional plume of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, in 1980. It was largely due to his efforts during that period that the practice of Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution, ADR, became composite parts of Nigerian legal practice.
By 1984, the task to lead the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, naturally fell on him. His brilliant performance as NBA president caught the attention of the then military President of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Babangida who appointed him Attorney General and the Minister of Justice of Nigeria from 1985 to 1991. In his six years tenure as minister, Ajibola was reputed as the only public servant that never collected salary from government.
Thereafter, he threw his wig into the highly competitive ring for a seat on the International Court of Justice, World Court. Prince Ajibola went through the laborious selection process and became a judge of the court from 1991 to 1994. He had actually threaded that road behind late Justice Teslim Elias whom he understudied as a guide. It is on record that he was in the habit of writing not less than 80 pages of judgments per night as a world court judge. As a judge, Ajibola had his way with words and was also a maverick of idioms and proverbs. Oftentimes, his judgments and opinions were backed by the rich Yoruba proverbs.
Ajibola exited the international court and took up position in 1994, as member to the Permanent Court of Arbitration with respect to the court’s deliberations on the land dispute betwen Nigeria and Cameroon. Not surprisingly, it was only him and Justice Koroma of Sierra Leone, that ruled favourably for Nigeria out of 15 Judges when judgment was passed on October 22, 2002.
Deeper and deeper into International Law practice and juridical concerns, Prince Ajibola grew into a somewhat global phenomenon holding revered positions such as President, The World Association of Judges; Member, Council of African Bar Association as well as International Bar Association, Association of World Lawyers, Commonwealth Law Association; Vice President, Institute of International Business Law.
At a time, he was also President of the World Bank Administrative Tribunal. He was at several times, Judge of the Constitution Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1994-2002); Member of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, ICSID; Arbitrator/Commissioner, Eritrea/Ethiopia Boundary Commission; Member, Permanent Court of Arbitration and Chairman, Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission.
He was and is still a Senior Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, London and Life Patron, Institute of Arbitrators of Nigeria. His sterling performance at these various roles earned him the award of Knight of the British Empire by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the honour, Commander of the Federal Republic, CON.
In spite of his crowded international commitments, Prince Ajibola accepted to serve as chairman of the panel set up by the Plateau State Government to probe the 2008 Jos riots. His far-reaching conflict containment recommendations at the end of the panel, is still a reference point for conflict resolution across the world.
Prince Ajibola’s life has not only been about Nigeria and the world, his community service impact is equally far-reaching. During his tenure as governor, Gbenga Daniel appointed him as Chairman of the 50-member star-studded Ogun State Elders Consultative Assembly. Ajibola gladly accepted the position and utilizes his ebullient clout to form a high level advisory, consultative and collective ombudsman for the practice of good governance in the State.
Perhaps, one of Ajibola’s most cherished legacies is Crescent University, Abeokuta, a private university he founded in 2005 through a parent body, Islamic Mission for Africa, to impact not just knowledge but good moral conduct on youths. When he retired from the ICJ, there were about 17 private universities majorly owned by Christians. Then he asked himself “where is our own?” Since, according to him, a bird does not fly with one wing, he thought there should also be universities founded and owned by Muslims. Because of his commitment to enthronement of excellent morals in youths, Prince Ajibola sold virtually all he had to found the university. That University and International Model College, a secondary school which he also founded, is by far one of the biggest success stories of Nigeria’s educational system.
Bold, outspoken, courageous and kind-hearted, Prince Ajibola is one man whose door you knock with tears in your eyes and depart with smiles on your lips. His leadership and human relations skills are without compare and his patriotism and nationalism are beyond reproach. This unique role model whose life is a study in academic, brilliance, courage, perseverance, persistence, patience, patriotism, enterprise, focus, humility, selflessness, modesty, human decency and moral rectitude is indeed a book for all ages and all generations.