Akinola Aguda: Nigeria’s Lord Denning

Akinola Aguda: Nigeria’s Lord Denning

Sunday, June 4, 2017 5:09 pm

Justice Akinola Aguda

By I.O. Agbede

To write on Hon Dr Akinola Aguda, is to unravel the story of a man whose life has been a resounding success. He is a distinguished scholar, a brilliant legal practitioner, a seasoned civil servant, a skilled draftsman, an experienced law reporter, a talented judge of unusual courage and learning, a prolific writer, a worthy ambassador of this country, and an administrator with a difference. These are statements of fact and not mere eulogy. If I do not succeed in establishing with conviction any of the afore mentioned facts, do not take it that the facts do not exist, rather it shows my lack of training as a historian.

The Honourable Dr Akintola Aguda (OFR) NNMA, LL.M, Ph.D (Lead), LL.D (Notions Causa (Ife); was born on 10 June 1923, at Akure, he had his primary education at St David’s school, Akure from 1930 to 1938. His early promise of intellectual greatness saw him to Government College Ibadan, where he read for the Senior Cambridge Examination between 1939 and 1944. From there he proceeded to the Higher College, Yaba from January to December 1946. In 1949 he gained admission into the reputable London School of Economics where he completed his LL.B degree course in 1951.

By dint of hard work in his private studies and one year residence at the LSE, he sat for and passed the LL.M degree examination in 1959. During his one year study at the London School of Oriental and African Studies he submitted and successfully defended his doctoral thesis on “Mens-Rea in Nigerian Law”. He was, in between, admitted to the Honourable Society of Lincolns Inn in 1949 where he read for and passed the Bar Final Examination in 1951.

He was in legal practice from July 1952 to May 1955, during which time he distinguished himself as a competent and able advocate. He joined the civil service of the then Western Nigeria in 1955 as a crown counsel. By 1957, he was promoted senior crown counsel grade II and became senior crown counsel grade I in 1959. He was promoted the administrator general and public trustee for Western Nigeria in 1960. In July 1965 he became the State legal draftsman. By September of the same year, he was appointed head and acting dean of the Faculty of Law University of Ife. Three months later, I had the unique opportunity of a close association with this rare breed of a man with unlimited resourcefulness and ceaseless energy.

It was a unique experience for me to be associated with a ‘Dean’ whose administrative style was completely disarming. He was down to earth, practical, frank and understanding. I must confess that he was (and still is) strict and brooks no nonsense, yet his administrative approach was so endearing, so enchanting and so alluring. His was a leadership with ability to move men and matter and a will to inspire confidence. You could just imagine our utter disappointment when our father figure of a leader went back once again to the civil service to assume duty as the State director of Public Prosecution in 1967. By December of the same year, he became the acting solicitor general and permanent secretary for Western state. In May 1968 he was appointed a Judge of the High Court of Western Nigeria. His reputation on the bench as a fearless, impartial and able judge could not go unnoticed.

By March 1972, he was on his way out of the country on secondment by the Federal Government of Nigeria to the Republic of Botswana as the Chief Justice of that country and at the same time, he became a member of the Court of Appeal for the Kingdoms of Lesotho and Switzerland. He was back in the country in March 1975 only to ‘leap-frog’ to the post of Chief Justice of Western Nigeria in November of the same year. I decidedly used the word ‘leap-frog’ because advancement on the bench as at that time was strictly by years of experience. His wealth of experience, his intellectual attainment, coupled with his total dedication and total commitment to the course of justice was so overwhelming that the military government of Western State, Nigeria broke with tradition and picked him from the rear so to say and installed him the chief justice of the state. On the creation of more states in 1976, he became the chief judge of Ondo State – a position he held until he assumed his present office as director general of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. This appointment is a clear demonstration of the enormous store of confidence and the high esteem he enjoys among the university community in the whole country.

It certainly would have been perplexing if a man of so lofty virtues and intellectual attainment were not given his due recognition by the government and the people. So it was that Honourable Dr Akinola Aguda was appointed chairman of the Committee on the Settlement of Boundary Disputes in 1975 by the Government of Western Nigeria. In the same year he was appointed chairman of the Committee on the Federal Capital of Nigeria by the federal military government. In 1982 he was appointed chairman of the Presidential Visitation Panel to the University of Ilorin and later, he was appointed chairman of the tribunal set up to review cases of people tried under Decree Nos 7 and 20 of 1884.

He was president of the Nigerian Society of Criminology from 1969 to 1979, vice president, African Institute of Private International Law from 1972, vice president, Nigerian National Society for Rehabilitation of the Disabled since 1979. He is the leader and lay-head of St Thomas Church, Akure since 1978 and first chancellor of the Anglican Diocese of Akure since 1983. He is also a member of numerous philanthropic societies.

I suppose we all can now understand why Honourable Dr Akinola Aguda merits the award of Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR) conferred on him by the Federal Military Government of Nigeria. I intend to establish presently why this intellectual giant, this illustrious son of Africa deserves and merits other awards such as the National Merit Award, the Writer of the Year Award and the LL.D degree (Honoris Causa) all of which were conferred on him by the federal military government and university of Ife, respectively.

Dr Akinola Aguda has to his credit seventeen published books that have in no small way shaped the course of legal development in Nigeria. He has delivered no less than forty five public lectures and conference papers at conferences, most of which have now been published. He has contributed chapters to many published works in addition to his innumerable articles in learned journals.

In order to have a fair grasp of the immense contribution which he has made to legal scholarship. I have attempted a broad division of his works into the following heads:
i. Procedural Law
ii. Criminal Law and Punishment
iii. The Judiciary with particular reference to the role of judges
iv. Constitutional Law
v. Family Law

As should be expected, this broad division could not have taken care of all his works. For instance, his writings on the law of tort, the Nigerian legal system and population control could simply not be accommodated within this broad classification. Without any attempt to distract from the relevance and scholarship of these works, I have adopted for convenience , the afore mentioned classification for purposes of my presentation.

Honourable Dr Akinola Aguda’s innumerable scholarly works take on their value and relevance from the lucid presentation and systematic nationalization of uncoordinated statutory rules and diverse judicial decisions reported or unreported. He has, however used the opportunity of his writings as indeed all legal authors of repute do, as an avenue to criticize a number of decisions and a good deal of our statutes. Indeed, the name Akinola Aguda is synonymous with outspokenness. He is known for making incisive and sometimes vitriolic comments on our outdated, exotic and in some cases unintelligible statutory provisions and irritation judicial decisions.

The impact of Honourable Dr Akinola Aguda on the society can conveniently be discussed from the angle of his writings, public assignments, and his services to the local community, the nation and the world.

Through public lectures, conferences and seminar papers, participation in symposia and press
interviews, he has articulated his views on topical national issues. No attempt can be made to enumerate exhaustively such issues but some random examples include wearing of wigs and gowns by Nigerian lawyers, election petitions, establishment of Sharia courts in the southern states, succession rights of illegitimate children, freedom of the press, civil liberties, land tenure laws, census and population control, capital punishment, public execution, law reforms, making of wills and administration of estates, marriage laws in Nigeria, the judiciary, governmental lawlessness and so on.

The sincerity and fearlessness with which he airs his views have helped in no small measure in moulding public opinion on such national issues. His concerns for the improvement of the plight of the innocent child of adulterous unions has already been given constitutional expression.

Equally, his view on the operation of the doctrine of judicial precedent in Nigeria has attracted judicial acceptance through the decision of the Surpeme Court in Johnson v Lawanson. Long before the Supreme Court ruled that the time limit set by the Electoral Act for election petition was unconstitutional, he had in a seminar paper, analyzed with detailed thoroughness the unworkability of the time schedule contained in the Electoral law.

His characteristic outspokenness and fearlessness has also been manifested in the performance of his official duties. He has introduced into the Nigerian Bench a judicial valour of an unusual kind. His decision in Agbaje v Commisisioner of Police, Western State of Nigeria and Afe Babalola v The Federal Electoral Commissioner and Anor set ripples of panic within governmental circle while bringing joy and relief to the common man. There were always rumours of arrest and detention hanging over him even up to the end of the Buhari era, but he was not be daunted. His capacity for hard work, his intellectual accomplishments, coupled with his total commitment to the cause of justice has earned him within the legal profession the appellation of a Lord Denning of Nigeria.

His reasoned judgements have become embodiments of knowledge and have mapped the course of future development of a new equity for Nigeria. His reputation on the bench was accorded international recognition by his secondment by the federal government to serve as the Chief Justice of Botswana. He is, up to this day, a member of the highest court of appeal for the Kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland. The Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies has, under his leadership assumed a status and a reputation beyond the contemplation of its founding fathers.

Although Abuja is now more noted as a symbol of financial squandermania, big time fraud and all sorts of political jobbery, it should be constantly remembered that Dr Akinola Aguda and his colleagues gave to this nation the capital territory of Abuja at a time it served (and no doubt will continue to serve) as a focal point of national unity. I must plead that the subsequent plight of Abuja cannot by any known theory of causality or the legal principle of causation, be traceable to the meritorious services rendered to this nation by Dr Akinola Aguda and his colleagues on the panel.

I am clear in my mind that he must have brought his views to bear on the style of university administration for this country in the Presidential Visitation Panel Report on the University of Ilorin, which, for reasons best known to the government, is yet to be published, three years after its submission.

It gives me immense pleasure to have to speak on the achievements of a man who is so great and humble Christian gentlemen. Permit me to recall what someone said in another place and in another context – that we in Nigeria have among us a prophet that we do not recognize. I wish to say here that we have among us a genius; I sincerely hope we all recognize.

Let the rulers of this country make the maximum use of Dr Aguda’s soundless store house of energy and his intellectual capacity. For in this unique breed of a man, in this great son of Africa, we will find that time is meant for clocks and calenders and not for the intellect of man.

* This piece was adapted from Prof. I. O. Agbede’s Hon. Dr T Akinola Aguda: The Man, His Works and Society. It was published in People in TheNEWS, 1900-2000, a special publication of this medium in year 2000

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