CHIEF Richard Akinjide, the oldest surviving Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in Yorubaland passed on to higher glory in his Ibadan home on April 20 at the age of 88 after a full cycle lived in a dysfunctional Nigeria.
The former Minister of Education in the First Republic and Attorney General and Minister of Justice in the Second Republic was a brilliant legal icon who must have breathed his last not a very happy man at the state of the Nigerian polity and which is the thrust of this tribute.
A good brother of mine in the Yoruba project told me I should have been silent over his death because of his political course in life, particularly the controversy around the resolution of the 1979 election between Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
I told my friend that Chief Akinjide was more to us than his politics and that Chief Awolowo would embrace him for the higher values he upheld especially in the latter years of his life and for which we shall always remember him.
If not Akinjide, they would have found some other lawyer to stop AWO in 1979 having won officially less than seven states to NPN’s 12.
The late MKO Abiola who later won an outright mandate was imprisoned for the four years he was to be in office before he was eventually liquidated anyway.
Chief Akinjide was one of the bright Yoruba conservatives who opposed AWO politics and sided with the Nigerian Centre. There was no doubt that progressive politics would have benefitted tremendously from his intellectual fecundity. The truth however, is that the structure of Nigeria which Chief Akinjide opposed in his end had decided from the time British handed flag independence those who would not govern Nigeria. People like him were victims playing roles just designed for them.
Another of such bright conservatives, Dr Omololu Olunloyo had made some light of their political choice when he said it made better sense for them to be fewer in their camp and take care of the interests that flow into their corner instead of struggling with the crowd in Awo’s corner.
But in spite of his achievements in conservative politics, Chief Akinjide’s conscience will not rest with the bad country that Sir Frederick Lugard put together for the selfish interests of the land of the Queen. His speech at the presentation of Richard Akinola book on history of coups in Nigeria in 2000 is a classic.
He traced the origin of Nigeria’s problems to the shenanigans of Lord Lugard:
“Nigeria is a very complex country. Our problems did not start yesterday. It started about 1894. Lord Lugard came here about 1894 and many people did not know that Lugard was not originally employed by the British government. He was employed by companies. He was first employed by East Indian Company, by the Royal East African Company and then by the Royal Niger Company. It was from the Royal Niger Company that he transferred to the British government.
Unless you know this background, you will not know the root causes of our problems. The interest of the Europeans in Africa and indeed in Nigeria was economic and it’s still economic. They have no permanent friends and no permanent interest. Neither their interest nor their friends are permanent. Nigeria was created as British sphere of interests for business.
In 1898, Lugard formed the West African Frontier Force initially with 2,000 soldiers and that was the beginning of our problems.
Anybody who wants to know the root cause of all the coups in this book and our present problems and who does not know the evolution of Nigeria would just be looking at the matter superficially. Our problems started from that time. And Lugard was what they called at that time imperialist. A number of British soldiers, businessmen, politicians were very patriotic. But I must warn you, they were operating in the interest of their country. Lugard became a Lord. Nigerians, too, should operate in the interest of their country.
When Lugard formed the West African Frontier Force with 2,000 troops, about 90 per cent of them were from the North mainly from the middle belt. And his dispatches to London between that time and January 1914 were extremely interesting. Lugard came here for a purpose and that purpose was British interest.
Between 1898 and 1914, he sent a number of dispatches to London which led to the Amalgamation of 1914. The Order-in-Council was drawn up in November 1913, signed and came into force in January 1914. In those dispatches, Lugard said a number of things which were the root causes of yesterday and today’s problems. The British needed the Railway from the North to the Coast in the interest of British business. Amalgamation of the South (not of the people) became of crucial importance to British business interest.
He said the North and South should be amalgamated. Southern Nigeria came into existence on January 1900… At the centenary of the fall of Benin, I wrote a piece in a number of papers but before I published the piece, I sent a copy to the Oba of Benin.
So when Benin was conquered in 1896, it made the creation of the Southern Nigeria protectorate possible on January 1, 1900. If you remember, Sokoto was not conquered until 1903. So, there was no question of Nigeria at that time. After the conquest of Sokoto, they were able to create the Northern Nigeria protectorate. Lugard went full blast and created what was to be known as the protectorate of Northern Nigeria.
What is critical and important are the reasons Lugard gave in his dispatches. They were as follows:
He said the North is poor and they have no resources to run the protectorate of the North. That they have no access to the sea; that the South has resources and that they have educated people. The first Yoruba Lawyer was called to the Bar in 1861. Therefore, because it was not the policy of the British Government to bring the tax-payers money to run the protectorate, it was in the interest of the British tax payer that there should be Amalgamation. But what the British Amalgamated was the Administration of the North and South. That is one of the root causes of the problems of Nigeria and the Nigerians.
When the amalgamation took effect, the British government sealed off the South from the North. And between 1914 and 1960, that’s a period of 46 years, the British allowed minimum contact between the North and South because it was not in the British interest that the North be allowed to be polluted by the educated South. That was the basis on which we got our independence in 1960 when I was in the parliament. I entered parliament on December 12, 1959.
When the North formed a political party, the Northern leaders called it Northern People’s Congress (NPC). They didn’t call it Nigeria’s People Congress. That was in accordance with the dictum and policies of Lugard. When Aminu Kano formed his own party, it was called Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) not Nigerian Elements Progressive Union. It was only Awolowo and Zik who were mistaken that there was anything called Nigeria. In fact, the so-called Nigeria created in 1914 was a complete fraud. It was created not in the interest of Nigeria or Nigerians but in the interest of the British. And what were the structures created? The structures created were as follows: Northern Nigeria was to represent England; Western Nigeria like Wales; Eastern Nigeria was to be like Scotland.
In the British structure, England has permanent majority in the House of Commons. There was no way Wales can ever dominate England, neither can Scotland dominate Britain. But they are very shrewd. They would allow a Scottish man to become Prime Minister. They would allow a welsh man to become Prime Minister in London but the fact remains that the actual power is rested in England.
That was what Lugard created In Nigeria, a permanent majority for the North. The population figure is also a fraud. In fact, a British Colonial Civil Servant who was involved in the fraud was trying to expose it but he was never allowed to publish it.
The analysis is as follows: If you look at the map of West Africa, starting from Mauritania to Cameroun and take a population of each country as you move from the Coast to Savannah, the population decreases. Or conversely, as you come from the Desert to the Coast, right from Mauritania to Cameroun, the population increases.
The only exception throughout the zone is Nigeria. Nigeria is the only Zone whereby you go from the Coast to the North, the population increases.”
And then came 2005 National Political Reforms Conference and there was a committee chaired by Chief Akinjide to prepare the Yoruba Agenda. Yours truly was a member with Dr Kunle Olajide, Mr Jimi Agbaje, Ms Jumoke Akinjide, Mr Olatubora and others.
We were at the University of Ibadan for five days during which we had great meeting of minds and Chief Akinjide shared his mind.
We produced a wonderful report which unfortunately was rejected by mostly PDP Governors in Yorubaland then except Otunba Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State.
It was also rejected by the only AD Governor of Lagos, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who produced the Lagos Agenda.
The Yoruba eventually had three documents at the conference with the official document majority of the Governors produced. But the UI document is the only one alive today as the Yoruba adopted it after it was rejected by most of the Governors and the PDP members in our committee distanced themselves from it.
Chief Akinjide was also with us at the 2014 National Conference as a delegate but old age was already gripping. He was silent throughout the proceedings but I recall he called me on about three occasions like a coach from the bench.
His engagement towards the end reminds of Chief Rotimi Williams who was at AWO but parted at some point. He was a great lawyer whose intellect was available for whoever could pay. He made so much money and fame which have faded years after his death.
The greatest living legacy about him today is that towards the end , he put together The Patriots which sought to deal with the Nigerian constutional connundrum. The 1979 Constitution he wrote for the system was not just it.
The lesson for men of great endowments like Akinjide and Williams is to give many more years to legacy and not wait till grey years.
Goodnight, Chief Akinjide.
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