RICHARD AKINJIDE: Footprints of a legal, political giant

By Clifford Ndujihe, Politics Editor

UNTIL his death in the early hours of Tuesday Chief Richard Osuolale, Abimbola Akinjide was the highest-ranked Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN.

With the likes of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Remi Fani-Kayode, Chief Bankole Oki, Chief Kehinde Sofola, Dr. Augustine Nnamani, and Professor Ben Nwabueze, the legal luminary was one of the 13 lawyers who became SAN in 1978.

Of the 13, only Professor Nwabueze is left following Akinjide’s demise, yesterday. The other 11 had died earlier at various times.

Akinjide was born in 1930 as Nwabueze but the latter is older having been born in March while Akinjide was born on November 30.

Although Nwabueze is older, Akinjide was higher than him in the SAN rank because he got called to the Nigerian Bar earlier. Upon completion of their law degrees in London, Akinjide returned to Nigeria ealier and got called to the Bar while Nwabueze elected to remain in London to teach at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Chief Akinjide was not the highest ranked SAN for nothing. The elder statesman, nationalist, administrator, politician, teacher and journalist left his footprints in the sands of Nigeria’s legal and political firmament.

READ ALSO: Richard Akinjide: The quintessential judicial officer

Chief Akinjide, who died seven months to his 90th birthday would be remembered for his role in the Twelve Two-Thirds judgement that hallmarked the 1979 presidential election, a reason he was dubbed the Father of 12 2/3 in Nigeria’s legal jurisprudence. He was also one of the lawyers who defended Nigeria at the International Court of Justice, ICJ, in the battle for Bakassi Peninsula with the Republic of Cameroun.


Born in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State on November 30, 1930 to an influential family of warriors, Richard Akinjide attended Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife from where he passed out in Grade One

He travelled to the UK in 1951 for his higher education. He was called to the English Bar in 1955. After returning to Nigeria, Chief Akinjide practised briefly under S.L Durosaro before setting up his firm, Akinjide & Co.
His career, politico-legal exploits

He loved journalism and education in addition to his primary constituency – Law. As a result of his love for journalism, he was a contributor to West African Pilot and Daily Times. He also taught International Commercial Arbitration at post-graduate level at the University of Ibadan.

His forays into politics started early. Chief Akinjide was Minister of Education in the Government of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa in the First Republic. In the Second Republic he was the Minister for Justice and Attorney General of the Federation in the Administration of President Shehu Shagari.

The key roles he played in the processes leading to the Second Republic transition programme fetched him the Justice minister job. Akinjide was a member of the Judicial Systems Sub-Committee of the Constitutional Drafting Committee of 1975-1977, and later joined the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, in 1978. He became the party’s legal adviser and was later appointed the Minister for Justice.

Notably, it was under his watch as Attorney General that Nigeria temporarily reversed execution of armed robbers, and abolished a decree barring exiles from returning to the country.

He saw to the eviction of many illegal foreign nationals from Nigeria which contributed to mild violence against some foreigners in the country.

He was lead prosecutor in the treason trial of Bukar Zanna Mandara.

Chief Akinjide, who served as a chieftain in the Olubadan of Ibadan’s court of clan nobles, helped in founding the Yoruba Council of Elders, YCE, was a member of the National Political Reforms Conference in 2005.

Twelve two-thirds controversy

On account of his role and advice as attorney general of the federation, supporters of the late Sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, consider him as one of those who stopped Awolowo, his Yoruba kinsman, from emerging as president in 1979.

At the end of the 1979 presidential election, according to results announced by the electoral umpire, the Federal Electoral commission, FEDECO, Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the NPN scored 5, 688, 857 votes nation-wide while Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, had 4, 916, 651 votes.

To be declared winner, the electoral law required the candidate with the majority of votes to score at 25 per cent of the votes cast in each of at least two thirds of all the 19 states of the country. Then Nigeria had 19 states.

By the declared results, Shehu Shagari got 25 per cent of the votes cast in 12 states; namely: Bauchi, Bendel, Borno, Cross River, Gongola, Kaduna, Kwara, Niger, Plateau, Rivers and Sokoto. The 13th state was the issue. It was Kano State – where Shagari scored 243,423 votes, equivalent to 19.4 per cent of the 1,220,763 votes cast in total.

Before a seven-man Supreme Court Panel led by Justice Fatai Williams, Chief Awolowo contended that Shagari’s scores were insufficient as he did not get 25 per cent in 13 states.

Chief Awolowo prayed the Supreme Court to declare as follows:- that although Shagari received 5,688,857 nationwide at the said election, Shagari still had less than 25% of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all (19) states in the federation, and, the Election Tribunal was wrong to declare, based on the result in Kano State, that “…. 25% of two-thirds of the votes in Kano State is 203, 460.5 votes…

“The Supreme Court should now determine that the said Alhaji Shehu Shagari was not duly elected or returned and that his election or return was void.”

Awolowo argued that the phrase “…in each of at least two thirds of all the states within the federation.” means thirteen (13) states because there is nothing either in the Electoral Decree of 1977 or the Electoral (Amendment) Decree of 1978 authorizing fractionalization of a state for the purpose of determining two thirds of its votes.’’

He further contended that since fractionalization of a state in this context is unlawful, the phrase should instead be interpreted to mean that a candidate must score 25% of the votes in at least 13 out of the then 19 states in Nigeria.

He argued that It was wrong logic to determine two thirds of the votes in Kano by dividing the 1,220,763 total votes cast in Kano by two-thirds to arrive at 813, 842, and then declare Shagari’s own votes of 243,423 in Kano as greater than 25% of the total votes cast in Kano, since that will be tantamount to Shagari’s return as validly elected on the basis of one-sixth of the total votes in Kano State, contrary to law.

Supreme court ruling

After the legal fisticuffs, Chief Justice Fatai Williams read the lead judgement of the Supreme Court. He said that the Electoral Law as phrased is a “clumsily worded section”, but “this clumsily worded section is devoid of any semantic ambiguity.”

The Supreme Court in its ruling of September 26, 1979, declared that winning “not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the (19) states within the federation”, means: winning 25% of the votes cast in 12 states; and thereafter, winning 25% of two-thirds of the total votes cast in the 13th state, by scaling down the total votes cast in the 13th by one-third, without correspondingly scaling down the vote of the winning candidate by the same one-third; dividing the scaled-down total votes cast in that 13th state by the intact votes of the leading candidate in the 12 states.

It inadvertently agreed with the Election Tribunal, as the court of first instance, that had found that “….25% of two-thirds of the votes in Kano State is 203, 460.5 votes.’’

A legal practitioner, Seyi Olu Awofeso said, in effect, the Supreme Court cancelled out one third of all the votes cast for Obafemi Awolowo in Kano State, cancelled one third of the votes cast for the three other candidates in Kano State, but left all the 243,423 votes cast for Shehu Shagari in Kano State intact, as the denominator of the 813, 842 votes remaining in Kano State.

Battle for Bakassi

Chief Akinjide would also be remembered for the battle for Bakassi Peninsula, which Nigeria lost to Cameroun. He was on the Nigerian legal team.

Making a case for Nigeria, he had said in an interview in 2002: “If in 1913 Britain signed the Anglo-German Treaty purporting to transfer Bakassi to Germany, can Britain transfer what she hasn’t got?” (“Nemo dat quod non habetet”- No one has the power to transfer the ownership of that he does not own.

He faulted the ICJ ruling and okayed rejecting it. ‘’We must accept that, that ICJ judgement is 50 percent international law and 50 percent politics. And as far as the case between Nigeria and Cameroun was concerned, the dispute was really between Nigeria and France. Cameroun was just the proxy for France.

There is no doubt that in law and in fact that Bakassi belongs to Nigeria because that is supported by a lot of documentary evidence, which were tendered before the court, which the court ignored…You don’t ask somebody to transfer to you what belongs to you. So as far as I’m concerned the judgement of the ICJ is a complete fraud and unacceptable. If indeed Bakassi belongs to Cameroun, how can Camerounians be asking them to transfer it to them?”

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