Remembering the dynamic late Prof Jelili Adebisi Omotola SAN, my Vice Chancellor

Ogunsakin Mustapha
6 Min Read

By Richard O. Anigboro

THE late Prof. Jelili Adebisi Ajetumobi Omotola (SAN) was a man of true pedigree and fine distinction whose scholarly and brilliant mind was evident through his vast achievements and contributions in the academia and far beyond, most especially concerning land law in Africa.

The late Professor straddled major citadels of learning with immense published works, conferences, court references, inventions, professional/academic distinctions, scholarships, fellowships, journal contributions and editorials.

True to his colossal status, he published 50 articles in various Law Journals from 1973-2004. His first article in 1973 in the Nigerian Law Journal Vol. 7, pp.38-47 was titled “Adverse possession of Registered Land” and his 50th article in 2004 was titled “Primogeniture in African Customary Law: Survival of Culture: University of Indiana Law Review Vol. 15 (2004).

Professor Omotola was also a prolific legal writer who wrote his first book, Essays on the Land Use Act first published by the UNILAG Press in 1980. In 1982, he wrote the “Report of a National Workshop on the Land Use Act” also published by UNILAG Press. In 1983, he offered “Cases on the Land Use Act” and in 1984, he became the Editor, Journal of Private and Property Law, UNILAG. At this time, he was also the Head of Department. He became the Dean of Law in 1986, a position he held till 1990.

The erudite late Professor invented the word “DEEMED GRANT” in order to distinguish it from “ACTUAL GRANT’ in the Land Use Act (1978). First contested at the Court of Appeal, but later accepted as Professor Omotola’s invention in the Supreme Court. The term is now nationally adopted.

At a public presentation of the book ABC of Contemporary Land Law in Nigeria, written by the Chief Judge of Enugu State, Hon. Justice Innocent Umezulike held some years ago, Prof. Amos Utuama, SAN, then Delta State Deputy Governor, said that “the commitment and interest in the research and teaching of Property Law, of the late former Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Prof. Jelili Adebisi Omotola was unparalleled.”

According to him; “Prof. Omotola’s seminal writing on the Land Use Act were and remain of immense assistance to members of the legal profession, like the judges, lawyers who argue before the courts, and this help law students and bureaucrats in understanding its policy and principles. His works remain most authoritatively outstanding, cited and relied upon by the very best in the legal profession”.
He commended Justice Umezulike for dedicating his work to Prof. Omotola and bringing the memory of the legendary legal scholar back into reckoning.

In his article, Reminisce on Omotola, Land Law (The Guardian, Sunday, April 13, 2008), Kunle Sanyaolu avers that “although he was many things to many people, including being an activist and National Executive Committee (NEC) member of the Nigerian Bar association (NBA). Omotola stood out distinctively for his profundity for law relating to real property. Several years after his demise, Omotola’s life and times continue to be cherished by thousands of people who had one opportunity or another to have come across him”.
Sanyaolu writes further that, “as an administrator, he would be remembered for being the architect of a millennium University of Lagos (UNILAG). His tenure as Vice Chancellor featured an unprecedented pace of activities and development of the ivory tower, which would be difficult to match or surpass”.

The tenure of the late Professor Jelili Adebisi Omotola as the Dean of Faculty of Law from 1986 to 1990 was the precursor to what he later did as VC. His domineering traits, doggedness, ambitious, unrelenting, zealous and non-conservative approach to achieving success and excellence were unmistaken. Love or hate Omotola, he was simply unafraid. He was particular about making a mark and leaving his footprints in the sands of time, and this, he achieved severally. Both the Faculty of Law and the University, which he later served as Vice-Chancellor were no doubt the beneficiary of the Jelili Omotola legacy and radical breeze.

For 24 years or so before his death, Omotola had advocated a review or repeal of the Land Use Act, enacted 41 years ago. He dealt extensively with the law in his UNILAG inaugural lecture in the late 80’s, and came out with a resounding applause. His comprehensive position and suggestion on the Act were then reduced to the “10 Commandments” by the Vice Chancellor at the time, Professor Nurudeen Alao. It is instructive that even after his death, his analysis of the Land Use Act remained so strong as to elicit yet another round of lively debate on what should be the fate of the Act.

Omotola was a dynamic achiever of major goals with a distinct pedigree, a Professor extraordinary and a man of the people, a primus inter pares, and undoubtedly, one of the best law Professors Nigeria has had.

May his soul continue to rest in peace.

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