Akinjide: Tribute to a legal colossus

Ogunsakin Mustapha
5 Min Read

By Gbenga Faseluka

Chief Richard O. Akinjide died in the early hours of April 21, 2020. He was a model who stood out like an octopus among his contemporaries in legal practice and political leadership.
He was a man of deep intellect, elegance, strict commitment to principles and candour.

He had passed in Grade one(Aggregate 6 Distinctions) from Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife after which he proceeded to Britain for legal training. He was called to the English Bar in 1951.

On return to Nigeria, he enrolled with the Supreme Court as legal practitioner. He was at various times:
-Federal Minister of Education in the first republic, Member of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) in 1978, National Legal Adviser to the National Party of Nigeria (NPN),
Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Federal Attorney General and Honourable Minister of Justice, among several others.

Chief Akinjide was a prominent politician. He was Governorship candidate of the NPN in Oyo state in 1979 and Presidential aspirant later.
He was a legal philosopher and astute practitioner.

However, the late Akinjide will always be remebered for his famous position in the 1979 legal mathematics in the matter of Chief Obafemi Awolowo v Alhaji Shehu Shagari over the result of the 1979 presidential election held on August 11, 1979.

Section 34a (1)(c)(ii) of the Electoral (amendment) Decree 1978 had prescribed that a candidate to be declared as president must apart from securing the largest number of votes cast, must also secure one third of the valid votes in two thirds of the 19 states. Nigeria had 19 states in 1979.
The proviso was to balance majority or popularity with plurality or spread.

The Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) had declared Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN ) as the winner of the Presidential election. He polled a total vote of 5,688,857 to defeat his first runner-up Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) who scored 4,916,651 votes. Alhaji Shagari thus satisfied the requirement of majority score.

However, Alhaji Shagari won 25% of the votes cast in 12 States and 19.94% in then Kano State. Contention arose as to what was two thirds of nineteen.

Chief Awolowo contended at the Presidential Election Tribunal that Alhaji Shagari was not validly declared and returned having failed the requirement of plurality on the premise that two thirds of nineteen was thirteen and not twelve two thirds as declared by FEDECO.

Chief Awolowo’s Counsel were Chiefs GOK Ajayi and Abraham Adesanya.
Chief Richard Akinjide was Alhaji Shagari’s Cousel. He convinced the PET and secured the verdict that two-thirds of nineteen was twelve two- thirds and not thirteen.

Chief Awolowo rejected the verdict and appealed to the Supreme Court.
The SC panel of seven justices chaired by Chief Justice Atanda Fatayi- Williams in a split judgement of six to one upheld the decision of the PET that two-thirds of nineteen was twelve two-thirds and consequently upheld the declaration and return of Alhaji Shehu Shagari as president.

Justice Kayode Eso was the dissenter who held that two-thirds of nineteen was thirteen.

Chief Richard Akinjide was simply a colossus. He bestrode the Nigeria’s political and legal landscapes leaving behind him imperishable footprints in their annal.

He was a prolific writer and orator. He spoke English like the Queen. He admonishes that a legal practitioner must like Caesar’s wife, be above board in integrity, industry, hardwork and means. He insisted that a Lawyer must possess a good command and deployment of the language of practice. He was an authority in Constitutional and International Law.

Chief Akinjide’s major regrets going by the interviews he granted lately were the failing state of Nigeria as a country and deterioration in the standard of living of Nigerians.

May the soul of Chief Richard Osuolale Akinjide find rest with his creator.

Olugbenga Faseluka, Ph. D, BL, FCArb. is former Head of Service, Ekiti State government. He lives in Ado-Ekiti.

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