The death of my townsman, Chief Richard Osuolale Akinjide, has been forcing two polarisations: those who saw nothing wrong with his judicial and political career, and those on the other hand who saw him as one of the legal outlaws who set the tone for the ongoing desecration of our temple of justice.
Many writers can court populism by default. Writers can hide behind the tottering walls of niceties and trot out self-flagellating untruth in order not to offend. Yes, the truth, in itself, may not set us free in Nigeria where cronyism rules, but at least we should not molest the collective intelligence of society just to strengthen our own cowardice to speak truth with full conviction.
The sacrosanct liturgy of not speaking ill of the dead so long lauded by mostly African cultures, as I said elsewhere, will today be facing intellectual exertion. I will polemicise the life of Chief Akinjide on three important planks: as a devil advocate, as a contrarian and as an innocent beer parlour pundit who witnessed his key role in an audacious jungle justice this country has ever had.
His interpretive or narrative connection between law, politics and mathematics has remained an intergenerational phenomena in legal, political, social and intellectual discourse till date.
Chief Richard Osuolale Akinjide was born in Ibadan, Oyo State to a middle class family of warriors, wealth and influence. He was an overachieving chap and cleared his school certificate examination with distinction. That glorious scholarly background will set the tone of his upward mobility into a career in law. In the 50s, Nigeria was in the process of evolution. What particularly marked that evolution was the mass clamorous egotism among the Yoruba sons and daughter to study law.
As expected, in the early 50s, Chief Akinjide immigrated to the United Kingdom where he studied law but without the values of the British society bred into him. On his return to Nigeria, he made Ibadan his legal, political and social domain. He began to challenge archaic orthodoxies. He demolished many old certainties with his wine-bar wit along with his sublime confidence as a brilliant advocate.
He was part of the early Ibadan Mafia who reconfigured that city’s legal and political architecture. The role of a king maker fitted him perfectly. His acolytes loved his commanding height. The Ibadan people loved his organic brawling attributes: his fighting spirit, his straight talk and his dismissive air so beloved by all Oluyole descendants. He was the true son of the soil. They loved his abstract advocacy of justice for the oppressed without realising that he was a devotee of political duplicity that would soon shake Nigeria to its foundations.
Chief Akinjide, a man with cunning strength and infinite resources, began to climb the greasy pole of political appointments. He bullshitted his way through the chicanery of our peculiar politics of brawn, intimidation, threat and deception. He was on the warpaths with political liberals. He regarded them as enemies of the state. To him, the egalitarian grassroots programme of neoliberal enablers lacked cognitive explanation.
In a famous televised altercation with Chief Bola Ige, the Cicero of Esa Oke and a past Governor of Oyo State, our irrepressible Akinjide and the neo-con of those bygone political era, caused a tremor by saying that free education in old Oyo State only bred criminals. Ige, a sharp-tongued man of boundless wit, immediately saw a cause and drew out his dagger. He asked our Enfant terrible, Chief Akinjide, to name any member of his bloodline who had free education, but graduated into the criminal underworld. Defeated and bowed, Chief Akinjide immediately showed a lofty distaste for decorum and stormed out of the studio in pitiful humiliation.
There was a mad civil war of attrition among the Yoruba elites of that time. Egos were bruised. There were irrational scapegoating at the drop of a hat. Akinjide was a black sheep and a Yoruba reactionary with his own smart scepticism of collective Yoruba worldview. In that world of political permutations, alliances and enemies emerged on the side of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the more rascally side of Chief Akinjide. As a politician, Chief Akinjide was a loser. Defeated by the Unity Party of Nigeria and fearing the ossifying travesty Chief Awolowo’s presidency would make of his life and legacy, he then made a pact with the devil and vowed to demolish the edifice of Awo’s political hegemony. This was the beginning of his totalitarian irrationalism!!!
The 1979 election held Nigerians captive because of its uniqueness. The military was returning to the barracks and, in turn, returning Nigeria to democracy. The presidential election of the combatants – Chief Awolowo and Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari – ended in a stalemate. A magician had to be sought to give Nigeria a formula and forge ahead. Chief GOK Ajayi along with other 24 legal luminaries would defend Chief Awolowo in the ensuing electoral dispute.
Chief Akinjide became the judicial shaman or legal wizard saddled with the task of holding brief for Alhaji Shagari. Along with 12 lawyers, Akinjide argued that votes cast in 12 of the 19 states and in one half of the two-third of the 13th state represented two-thirds of the states of the federation. By that formula, Alhaji Shagari was declared the winner of the presidential election on August 16, 1979.
In hindsight, 12 two-third was a dark, complicated brew, concocted by an Alchemist from the depth of hell. Till date, all our prodigious cognitive and rational abilities are inadequate to unravel the full impact of that judicial rape against the Nigerian people. Chief Akinjide conflated the political victory of Chief Awolowo with personal animosity and hatred and through his action, allowed the Fulani/Hausa hegemony to capture the democratic process. A self-preservation nuance beclouded his legal submission. It was a period defined by sustaining sense of moral somersault where the traitor mentality took the greater part of Chief Akinjide’s judicial valour.
Chief Akinjide was demagogic, manipulatively cunning – a capacity that turned him into a vile figure among the Yoruba and its most hated. On the other hand, Chief Awolowo was the intellectual architect of the phenomenal progress and prosperity of the South West and its most beloved leader.
Awolowo drew his political strength from his belief that only a society built on values consistent with equality of opportunities for the majority was the best ideal. He believed that no society organised to enrich a ruling few at the expense of the many can produce good governance. Our ongoing failure as a nation has proved him right. With restless passion, Chief Awolowo strove till death to build a formidable and progressive Yoruba nation which would be the pride of all nations.
However, Akinjide saw Yoruba nation differently. He made a mockery of Awo’s Yoruba vision, and in a grand conspiracy, Awo was framed for treasonable felony and jailed. Nigeria had been harbouring creatures of narrowly materialistic statecraft whose obsession to pull down others knows no bound.
To defend Akinjide is like defending the barbarian against a virtuous Awo who had the welfare of his people in mind and would not compromise the vision on the altar of self-preservation.
The moral and legal hazard of that judicial heist brought out devastating reactions from intellectual liberals and other defenders of common decency. No condemnatory articles or polemical essays succeeded in reversing that judicial omission. Even before the election, the military chief umpire, General Olusegun Obasanjo, a rascally Yoruba deviant himself, had admitted that the best candidate may not necessarily win the election. The election was fait accompli from the start!
In life, Chief Akinjide had lavish access to opulent living. Back in the days, I once drove Mr. Tunde Fagbenle to a massive compound in the quiet suburb of upmarket, rich and leafy Stanmore in North London. A stately building was tucked behind well-manicured oak trees in an expansive acres of land.
This was a symbol of ostentatious and vulgar indulgence. The building, Mr. Fagbenle would reveal, belonged to Mr. 12 two-third – Pa Richard Osuolale Akinjide. That is my second connection with Chief Akinjide – we both hail from Ibadan and he once lived in Stanmore and I still live in Stanmore! Chief Akinjide was a complex persona at a time when Nigeria was exhibiting shameless political demagoguery. He was caught between the irresolvable legal dilemmas and insoluble political tensions and contradictions of that era.
He was a bespoke creature tailored for that age and he survived the interplay of political machinations among all competing elites through sheer intelligence, bipartisan political sympathy, fanciful craftiness and tact. He remained Nigeria’s most infamous judicial mathematician and part of that fringe side legal luminaries who set the tone for the ongoing catastrophe of our judiciary.
I hope that he will meet Pa Awo on the other side and tender a belated apology for his ignominious plot, intrigues and infamy in the politics of Oyo State in particular and Nigerian democratic life in general. His short term vision of a united Nigeria, in and out of government, undermined the collective quest of the South West for their autonomy at a time when the prospect of fulfilment was possible. Rest in peace Pa Akinjide.