Quite a number of persons— colleagues, friends, family members and associates — have since the demise of Prince Bola Ajibola (formerly Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, erstwhile Judge of the International Court of Justice at The Hague, renowned International Arbitrator, Pan Nigeran etc.) have called me to commiserate with me personally on account of the departure of a man who shaped my views on several issues such as religion, faith, steadfastness, diligence at work, doggedness as well as far sightedness.
While in office as learned Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the late Prince took me on as one of his Special Assistants and showed me a lot of love. On the first day that I arrived to take up my responsibility, he gave me a piece of advice that I considered profound, unimpeachable and imperishable.
It was to the effect that if I had to succeed in my assignment, I needed to close my eyes to the fascinating number of beautiful ladies who were in the majority on the staff of the Federal Ministry of Justice at the time.
He also admonished me to ignore the massive temptation of setting booby traps for arresting public funds for the purpose of amassing personal wealth. It is my testimony, that the great and learned Prince, who had an avuncular bearing did not pull any punches in leading by example. Let me quickly recall a point which was in the public domain at the material time.
He did not receive any salary but rather had Professor Yemi Osinbajo (presently the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but my colleague at the time), and I to distribute the salary and emoluments to charitable organisations, particularly, motherless babies homes.
Having regard to present day practices, it is important to emphasize that a register was maintained at the Ministry at the time where the Prince’s gifts and presents were registered. At the end of each year, those gifts were in turn given out or auctioned, with the proceeds paid into government coffers.
Not given to fancy while in office
The Prince was not given to fancy while in office and any hint of flamboyance either ended with his bowtie or agbada. Indeed, he knew how to appear resplendent depending on what the occasion was. A clear example arose when Professor Osinbajo and I were in New York to canvass for his election to the position of a judge at the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
The seat became vacant on account of the death of the very illustrious Judge T. O. Elias, who had previously served, as the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and thereafter, as Chief Justice of Nigeria. He later rose at the International Court as its President.
Judge Elias like all mortals died without serving out his tenure.Notwithstanding the interest of the Federal Government to have a Nigerian serve out that tenure, Ghana, Sierra Leon, Kenya and quite a few countries from commonwealth Africa showed acute interest in the office.
My recollection is that Professor Ibrahim Gambari (then Nigerian Ambassador to the United Nations and presently, Chief of Staff to the current President of Nigeria) summoned a meeting of the African Ambassadors at the United Nations to introduce Prince Ajibola (who turned out at the occasion in a snow white agbada adorned with the ABETI AJA) as Nigeria’s candidate.
The thunderous ovation that welcomed him convinced us that the battle was won. Indeed, at the Security Council voting the following day, Prince Ajibola won with a narrow margin but had a significant and resounding victory on the floor of the General Assembly.
He, as the third Nigerian to serve as Judge of the International Court of Justice did so with merit and quit when his time was up. A lot of public officers do hang around even after cessation of their office.
Now, let me relate Prince Ajibola’s attitude to life to the worrisome state of affairs in present day Nigeria.
My late mother, who was Igbo, was very effective and versatile in conversations in the Yoruba language (as well as in Efik, Hausa, Ibibio and English) and the late Prince was very fascinated about that and had the humility to come to my house each time my mother was in Lagos, to have conversations with her, always for hours.
Didn’t show preference for ethnicity, religion or state of origin
The impression created these days is that Yorubas and Igbos have always been at loggerheads. I dare say, that the late Prince who regaled me with stories about his personal life and upbringing, did not show preference for ethnicity, religion or state of origin. I knew him as a Pan – Nigerian and I respected his fairmindedness on that score, he shared no discrimination nor did he respond to the needs of those who needed favour on the basis of any unwarranted background;
He preferred competence and capability. Prudence was his watchword. Indeed, I believe that he was a wise man, ever mindful of a relationship between cause and effect.
His major project as well as forte, was law reform and there being no National Assembly or Legislative forum at the time, his inclination was to institute a national conference of stakeholders on any subject matter for the purpose of formulating proposals for amendment or legislation on any field at issue.
The result was obvious in pieces of legislation such as, the Companies And Allied Matters Decree No. 1 of 1990, fore shadowed by the Decrees on Copyrights, Patents and Designs, Trademarks and even the vibrant National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency Decree.
Footsteps and imprint
His footsteps and imprint on law reforms are still visible and unmatchable. Perhaps, history will forgive those who claimed that the 1989 Constitution (which he midwifed) did not come to fruition. For the sake of my late Oga’s memory, it is best to recall that as a document, the 1989 Constitution did not germinate or bear fruits but when it is remembered that the Babaginda administration planned a stage-by-stage transfer of power, from grassroots level to the presidency, it will seem that the 1989 Constitution was not a fruitless exercise.
It ought to be remembered that at each stage of that transition program, extracts from the constitution were imbedded in the program which supported each stageof the transition. For emphasis, Babangida’s transition program accomplished the elections into Local Government Councils, Houses of Assembly and Governorship positions at the state level and the National Assembly at the Federal level.
Each of those elections was propped up by a decree and it was just the establishment of the presidency that failed – the outcome of the presidential election having been annulled.
The energy devoted to that monumental venture by the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice has in my humble view remained unparalleled. Certainly, when it is remembered that late Prince Bola Ajibola was the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Judge of the International Court of Justice at the Hague and astute International Arbitrator who had the breath and vision and the desire for success, his place as a Jurist cannot be challenged.
It is possible, to devote a whole book to the life and times of the late Prince of Egbaland but in order to cut a very long story short, it is fitting to hail him as a detribalized Nigerian, a man who understood his bearings, who led his own troops by example, communicated his ideas transparently,i.e without obfuscation,understood the sociology of our nation, had a formidable world view, and for sure, had a valid explanation for the decisions he took in the interest of his nation, I believe that I can conclude this tribute by offering the view, that the late Prince though a Muslim understood the Bible and the world of Christians. Let the rest of the country understand that point and live by the principle, “live and let live”. Prince Ajibola, SAN, will be remembered by all that he has done. May his soul rest in peace and may his family bear the loss occasioned by his departure with stoic equanimity.
Prince Bola Ajibola, SAN – adieu.
*Kalu, SAN is former Special Assistant to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Abia State.