By Festus Adedayo
Since his death in March, 2006, not minding the galaxy of topnotch legal colossi that Nigeria has sired ever since, many schools of thought hold that Nigeria had not been able to reincarnate Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams, QC, SAN. I argue to the contrary, however that, in Chief Wole Olanipekun, Williams is very much alive with the Nigerian bar. The late Queen’s Counsel had oscillated in the legal firmament, both literally and with his immense physical stature.
Like Williams, Olanipekun has also traversed the world of law. First Nigerian to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), a staunch member of the Action Group, Minister for Local Government and Western Region’s first Attorney General, the first Nigerian to be so appointed and and then, Minister of Justice in 1959, Williams became president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). When lawyers cite groundbreaking precedents like the Lakanmi vs the Western Government of Nigeria and the landmark case involving the Oba of Lagos, Adeniji Adele against the Nigerian National Democratic Party, (NNDP) Williams’ legal wizardry and imprimatur encompass them all.
Years after Williams’ departure however, arguably, there is no Nigerian lawyer who has traversed the firmament of law like Ikere-Ekiti-born legal colossus, Olanipekun. Thus, when the Nigerian Body of Benchers, a professional body that is concerned with the regulation of the legal profession in Nigeria and admission of prospective students into the Nigerian Law School, chose Olanipekun as its Chairman, the reverberations of that choice have persisted across the length and breadth of Nigeria.
Called to the bar in July, 1976 after graduation from the Nigerian Law School and becoming a SAN in July 1991, Olanipekun eventually became Ondo State’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice.
Perhaps the most-talked about period of his legal career and which happens to be his most profound engagement with the bar, was in 2002 when he was elected President of the NBA. Legal pundits liken that period to the Alao Aka-Basorun leadership of the bar for its overarching impact on the profession and the lives of the individual bar member. The year after, Olanipekun got appointed vice President of the Pan African Lawyers and in January, 2007, became a Life Bencher, one of the most prestigious heights of attainment in the law profession. The University of Ibadan still talks with nostalgia about his period as its Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council between 2004 and 2006. Apart from being a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (FCIArb.), Olanipekun was also bestowed with the national honour of Officer of the Federal Republic, (OFR).
Olanipekun’s appointment as Chairman of Body of Benchers is an icing on the cake of a firm leadership of the Nigerian lawyers that he has given over the years, as well as an authoritative stamp on his demonstrable pedigree of proven track records at the bar. These will no doubt push the Nigerian bar into greater achievements.
Congratulations, Learned Silk.