Sunday, November 21, 2021 10:00 am
By Raheem Akingbolu
By whatever parameters or benchmark one chooses to measure his journey through life, Chief Wole Olanipekun, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), an elder statesman, national interventionist and advocate-extraordinaire, is success personified. As this Senior Advocate of Nigeria clocked 70 on 18 November 2021, a peep into his past easily reveals three major things that have consistently worked in his favour: brilliance, hardwork and God’s grace. Without any of these, perhaps Chief Olanipekun would be within the average bracket. Like a super brand, despite his achievement in the Legal Profession, Chief Olanipekun is always reinventing himself and his approach to Legal Practice.
Since his first day as a Private Legal Practitioner, Olanipekun, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association has not left anybody in the doubt that excellence is his watchword. In his 45 years post call to the Bar, this Ikere Ekiti born Legal Icon has consistently stood far away from the pack with due diligence, eyes for details, hardwork and international best practice. Despite his high rank in the profession, he, till today, treats every brief, regardless of how small or big, as if the life of his Chambers depends on it. No wonder, he’s being adjudged the only living legal practitioner, who has perfectly stepped into the shoe left by Chief Rotimi Williams.
More than any other person, Chief Olanipekun has set the pace in many areas in the legal field and unraveled unimaginable legal difficulties by cutting the Gordian nuts in many areas of the law. For instance, he led the team of lawyers in the popular case of Inakoju v. Adeleke, where for the first time in Nigeria, the court agreed that the issue of impeachment of a governor can be looked at and overturned if it failed to strictly comply with the law as regards procedure. Former Oyo State Governor, Rasidi Adewolu Ladoja was a beneficiary of that legal breakthrough. He also led the team of lawyers who retrieved the mandate of former Governor Adams Oshiomole in Edo state, Olusegun Mimiko in Ondo and has led the legal team for three presidential election petitions and won in all. No lawyer in Nigeria has had such rare opportunity or privilege. Besides, he played a vital roles in the retrieving of Fayemi’s mandate by constituting a solid legal team and acting in advisory capacity to them.
In 2007, when Obasanjo in his casual ways of doing certain things, unilaterally announced the sacking of the then Vice President, Abubakar Atiku, Chief Olanipekun challenged what he called a coup on the Constitution and got the Supreme Court to nullify such arbitrary use of power by saying Atiku couldn’t be sacked so casually without recourse to the Constitution. He also saved Atiku like many others in the hands of Code of Conduct in what appeared like mere persecution and victimisation.
He is a lawyer’s lawyer any day because he is believed to be at home with law, its technical procedure and implications for the improvement of his teeming clients’ cases. Olanipekun has many appellations in court, like the ‘Big Masquerade’, ‘The Oracle’, ‘Cicero of Law’ and ‘Legal Wizard’. Olanipekun is so unique in style that he listens to younger ones who can offer useful suggestions in the prosecution of any case and once the idea is good, he tells you, “don’t worry, you will see what I will do with that point”; and like a soothsayer, In most cases, Chief Olanipekun make great impact with such points.
Within and outside Nigeria, the name, Wole Olanipekun, is massive, especially when the issue at hand is law and on constitutional development. But for those of us who are close to Chief Olanipekun, we can confidently say that Law is not the only thing that defines him. Long before Corporate Social Responsibility became an intrinsic part of corporate philosophy in this part of the world, Olanipekun had been in the forefront of humanitarian services and philantropism. Within and outside his Ikere Ekiti country home, he soars in humanitarian development. He has consistently invested in humanity through interventional projects in education, health, information technology and the Law Profession. Besides this, it doesn’t take anyone who encountered him a long time to know that his family, the body of Christ and the Ekiti project are dear to his heart.
In a personal discussion with this reporter, Olanipekun had shared how dear Christianity was to his late father and how the fear of not losing him (Wole) to cultism almost made the staunch Anglican man stand against his decision to study Law. While in Amoye Grammar School, Ikere Ekiti, the then young Wole Olanipekun was extremely close to one of his seniors, Prof. Niyi Osundare, an internationally acclaimed poet. Before and during his days at Ilesa Gramar School, where he did his A-Level, Olanipekun’s only ambition was to study English like Osundare. On Osundare’s resumption at the Christ’s School, Ado Ekiti, where he had just been posted after bagging his first degree in English from the University of Ibadan, young Wole Olanipekun was one of the first visitors from Ikere to visit him in Ado Ekiti. His mission was clear– to tell the young teacher of his determination to follow his (Osundare’s) career path. Osundare had hardly allowed Olanipekun to finish his rhetoric before telling him frankly that the future belonged to the professionals. The mentor thus advised his mentee to aspire towards studying Law. Reluctantly, the young Wole agreed but still found it difficult to fathom the fact that he would not be able to fulfill his dream to perform wonders with English and Literature. After settling down in Ikere, where his father was already waiting, Wole relayed the news of his mentor’s preference for Law but Pa Isaac Olanipekun kicked against it. As a staunch Christian, the senior Olanipekun was not ready to raise a son who would later become a member of a secret cult. He believed one must necessarily belong to a secret society to excel in Law. He later settled for Mass Communication and actually attempted to pursue it at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka or Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. In his first attempt, he passed the examination, got the admission but providence outsmarted him as he missed the admission letter. The following year, he was offered Law at the University of Lagos but quickly approached the university authority on his decision to change in deference to his father’s wish. In the process of changing the course, he came across a senior management staff of UNILAG who was an old student of Ilesa Grammar School, where Olanipekun did A-Level. The man didn’t only advise Wole against changing from Law to Mass Communication, he sent him to his father in Ikere that the young Wole had gotten the best opportunity with Law admission. Case closed!
This background is necessary to establish the bond between Chief Olanipekun and the Anglican Communion, which his late father was so committed to during his lifetime. Before and after his call to the Bar, Olanipekun hasn’t only kept to his promise to always stand with Christ; he has remained steadfast in his determination to keep up the tempo in the Anglican family like his father. In practical terms, it is unlikely if there is any individual who has given back to community development than Chief Olanipekun in Nigeria. The first seed he sowed in this direction was at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Ikere in 2012, where Chief Olanipekun built, furnished and donated a modern vicarage named after Pa Isaac Olanipekun. In March 2014, he, in continuation and furtherance of his philanthropic initiatives and gestures, built and donated to the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikere Branch, a 350-capacity Bar Centre. He was back in the same church last year when he led the incumbent Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the then Primate and Archbishop Metropolitan of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Most Revd. (Dr.) Nicholas Okoh and six state governors to the inauguration and handing over of an ultramodern church auditorium, with world class facilities that can accommodate at least 1,700 worshipers, to complement the existing structure in the church. Today, the ancient church has suddenly become ‘the bride’ of the community. Earlier, in 2015, this legal luminary had built, equipped and donated to the State Specialist Hospital, Ikere, in November, 2015, an ultra-modern and state-of-the-art Amenity Ward (the Iya Aafin Bosede Olanipekun Amenity Ward), in memory of his beloved late mother, Bosede Olanipekun. He also procured for the Amenity Ward, a modern and fully equipped ambulance. Beyond the Church, Chief Olanipekun has in the last 13 years, intervened and contributed to Ikere Ekiti development, through various other legacy projects. They include New Cruise 92.7 FM, an ICT Centre within the premises of Amoye Grammar School, which was built to mark the school’s 50th anniversary in 2009.
In 1996, he instituted the Wole Olanipekun Scholarship Scheme for the purpose of awarding scholarships to brilliant, but indigent students and since then, the Scheme has, true to the intention of its primogenitor, produced numerous talented beneficiaries, some of whom are now doctors, lawyers, engineers, pharmacists, accountants, educationists and professionals in other fields. As Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the University of Ibadan, he initiated and established another Scholarship Scheme to assist five students per session from each of the faculties of Law, Technology (Computer) and the College of Medicine.
As part of his contributions to the provision of an enabling environment for learning, he built, equipped, furnished and donated a 420-seater Auditorium to the Faculty of Law of the University of Ibadan. In July 2011, he initiated an Endowment Fund for junior lawyers, particularly in the Lagos and Ilorin Branches of the NBA. Seven Junior Lawyers from the NBA, Ilorin Branch were beneficiaries of cars given to them by the Branch from the proceeds of the Endowment Fund, while over one hundred (100) Young Lawyers from the Lagos Branch were beneficiaries of lap-tops and flash drives distributed to them from the proceeds of the Endowment.
In Oyo, Chief Wole Olanipekun and his dear wife, Princess Omolara, built, furnished and donated an ultra-modern Vice-Chancellor’s Lodge to Ajayi Crowther University. Also, on 20th August, 2019, he donated a 16-seater brand new Nissan Bus to the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikere Branch, Ekiti State. As the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of Ajayi Crowther University, he paid in September, 2019, the full tuition/fees of fifteen seminarians from affiliate seminaries of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) to pursue postgraduate studies at the University.
Chief Wole Olanipekun, through his Foundation (Wole Olanipekun Foundation), at the occasion of its maiden award ceremony on 24th April, 2021, financially empowered 100 Widows/Aged persons (Widows and Aged Empowerment Programme) and 100 youths (SMEs/Youth Empowerment Programme) at his hometown, Ikere, Ekiti State. At the second edition of the Wole Olanipekun Foundation Award Ceremony, which took place on 9th October, 2021, Chief Wole Olanipekun, again, financially empowered 100 Widows/Aged persons and 100 youths at his nativity, Ikere, Ekiti State. A total of 400 beneficiaries have so far benefited from the Foundation.
He was the Pro-Chancellor & Chairman of the Council, University of Ibadan between 2009 and 2013, and during which time he also doubled as the Chairman, Court of Governors of the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan. Throughout his tenure in these two positions, he did not receive or collect a dime as allowance or even for transport reimbursement, rather, he not only gave all the allowances due to him back to the University, but also made available more funds to the University for the purpose of awarding scholarships to students. In November 2014, the Proprietor of Ajayi Crowther University, comprising all the Bishops of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) in the Supra Diocesan Board West unanimously called upon Chief Wole Olanipekun to ‘come to the Anglican Church’s Macedonia, to help’; to assume office as the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the 16-year old Anglican University – Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, with a charge that he should replicate the milestones previously achieved at the University of Ibadan, at the Anglican Church’s coveted University. He has since then assumed office as the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Council of ACU. To the Glory of God, the University is presently growing in leaps and bounds, to the satisfaction of not only the Proprietor, but also all and sundry.
In February 2021, Chief Wole Olanipekun was appointed as the pioneer Chancellor of the newly established Bamidele Olumilua University of Education, Science and Technology, Ikere, Ekiti State, in recognition of his noteworthy contribution(s) to the advancement of education in Nigeria.
Chief Wole Olanipekun was called to the Nigerian Bar in July, 1976. He became a Notary Public in 1987, and attained the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in July, 1991 in recognition of his forensic contributions to the advancement of the Legal Profession in Nigeria. Between 1992 and 1993, he served as the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in the old Ondo State. He was elected the 20th President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in August, 2002. His tenure as the NBA President has been associated with remarkable success and adjudged one of the best in the annals of things in the NBA. In March, 2021, he was elected as the Vice-Chairman of the Body of Benchers. At different times, he has served as a member of the National Judicial Council (NJC), Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC), Council of Legal Education, Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, General Council of the Bar and the Ondo State Judicial Service Commission. He was also at a point in time, the Acting Chairman of the Council of Legal Education. He became a life member of the Body of Benchers in 2004, and he is also a life member of the National Executive Committee of the NBA. While he is still an active member of the International Bar Association (IBA), Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association (CLA), Pan African Lawyers’ Union (PALU), and West African Bar Association (WABA), he was, between 2002-2005, a member of Council of each of the International Law bodies.
On 28th October, 2016, Chief Wole Olanipekun was appointed the Chairman of the Visitation Panel of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, (LAUTECH) Ogbomoso, Oyo State, which was inaugurated on 28th October, 2016 to look into the affairs of the University and recommend solutions to the problems which engulfed the University and crippled its academic activities. His Panel’s all-encompassing Report and recommendations contained therein led to the immediate reopening of the University which had been shut down for over a session.
Chief Wole Olanipekun is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (FCIArb.), Fellow, Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators (FICMC), Fellow, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (FNIALS) and Fellow, College of Education, Ikere (FCEI). He was awarded with the degree of Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa (LL.D) by the University of Ibadan, in November, 2014 and on 4th November, 2021, he was conferred with the degree of Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) by Redeemers University, Ede, Osun State. He holds the National Honour of Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR).
He has, at different times, been conferred with the distinguished alumnus award of Amoye Grammar School, Ikere; Ilesa Grammar School, Ilesa; and the University of Lagos. When the Federal Government of Nigeria, under the watch of President Goodluck Jonathan, attempted to change the name of the University of Lagos in 2012, he not only led the large team of Senior Advocates and other counsel who challenged the action at the Federal High Court then sitting at Ikeja, but also substantially made funds available for the prosecution of the cases filed by both the Alumni Association and the students. The legal team obtained an injunction against the Federal Government, restraining it from implementing the name change.
A stickler for excellence, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, is the Principal Partner of the Law Firm of Wole Olanipekun & Co., with offices in Lagos and Abuja; with Legal Practice covering diverse areas and fields, both nationally and internationally, including but not limited to Land Law, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Labour Law, Maritime, Arbitration and Dispute Resolution, Admiralty, Banking, Insurance, Election Matters, Aviation, Telecommunications, Chieftaincy and Intellectual Property.
Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, within and outside Nigeria has mentored hundreds of lawyers, who see him as a teacher, counsellor, role model, father and shepherd. Several lawyers have also passed through his Chambers, starting from 1982 to date, and a good number of them occupy high and vintage positions at the Bar, Bench, in politics and the corporate world. Ten distinguished learned colleagues who cut their legal teeth under him, including his two sons, Dr. Dapo Olanipekun and Bode Olanipekun have both attained the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
This legal potentate and respected citizen of Nigeria is happily married to Princess Omolara Olanipekun (Erelu), and the marriage is blessed with four children who are all lawyers; two boys and two girls, all of whom are also happily married, and like their illustrious father, are members of the learned and noble profession of Law. His two sons, like their industrious father, are also Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
On this historical occasion of his 70th birthday, one can only say, dismay not this Legal Icon, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, in whom we are well pleased, a blessing to his generation.
*Raheem Akingbolu is a journalist and public affairs analyst