Toast to a Legal Colossus

Amazing grace

How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now I’m found

Was blind, but now I see

…………………………

………………………….

My God, my Saviour has ransomed me [ransomed me]

And like a flood [like a flood] His mercy rains [mercy rains].

That is the favourite song of one of the brightest legal minds in Nigeria. Friday, November 19, at an event at Harbour Point, Victoria Island in Lagos, the song filled the room with accoutrement from a female artist. The rendition was to a select audience who were there to honour Oluwole Oladapo Olanipekun, senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN, vice chairman of the Body of Benchers, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA and the Asiwaju of Ikere-Ekiti. The occasion, which was chaired by Yemi Osinbajo, professor of law and vice president of the federal republic of Nigeria, had the crème de la crème of the society in attendance. They include Folake Solanke, Nigeria’s first female senior advocate of Nigeria, supported by other SANs like Mike Ozekhome, Adeniyi Akintola, and Wale Babalakin. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, and Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State, were also in attendance. So also were Femi Hamzat and Bisi Egbeyemi, deputy governors of Lagos and Ekiti States respectively. Others who honoured Olanipekun are Femi Gbajabiamila, speaker of the House of Representatives; Ibikunle Amosun, former governor of Ogun State and currently a senator, as well as traditional rulers like Oba Saheed Ademola, Elegushi of Ikateland, and Oba Lawal Abisogun, Oniru of Iruland.

Eighty-nine-year-old Solanke, ably described as the matriarch of the Nigerian Bar, and who Olanipekun referred to as ‘My mummy’, supervised the cutting of the cake to mark the 70th birthday of the legal icon. Yet, that was not the only thing that was being celebrated this year. According to Bode Olanipekun, one of the sons who is also a SAN, and managing partner at the Chambers, this year marks 45th anniversary of the celebrant at the bar. So, Wole Olanipekun & Co, WOC Justice Summit, which was having its second outing this year, decided to roll the events together. If you think those were just the two things that were up for celebration, you may have to wait for yet another testimony. It is the 41st wedding anniversary of Asiwaju Wole Olanipekun and Erelu Omolara Olanipekun. So, while Olanipekun sings for joy for the grace to see 70, the chorus is also in praise of God for standing by him through thick and thin in his 45 years in practice, and keeping the couple together for 41 years with blessings.

The celebrant sat on the front row wearing his trademark smile, flanked by Osinbajo and Sanwo-Olu on the right, and his wife and Egbeyemi on the left.

The keynote address was brilliantly delivered by Olanrewaju Fagbohun, SAN, professor of law, and former vice chancellor of the Lagos State University, LASU.

Speaking on the topic, Implementing Justice Sector Reforms in Nigeria: Connecting The Disconnect, Fagbohun said the three assumptions necessary to right the wrongs in our justice system are the need for best practice, the understanding of the stakeholders on right thing to do, and the need for stakeholders to exude discipline. The panel of discussants was a parade of the bright brains in the justice sector. The panel comprise Felode Tabai, and Paul Adamu Galumje, both retired justices; Justice Kashim Zannah, chief judge of the High Court of Justice, Borno State; Abubakar Balarabe Mahmood, SAN, former attorney general of Kano State and former president of NBA; Funke Adekoya, SAN, and Femi Falana, SAN, as well as Ibukun Awosika, business woman and former chair of the First Bank of Nigeria. Bode Olanipekun moderated. They all agreed that there was the need for a concerted effort to rejig the justice system in the country and arrive at a formular that is workable, and capable of delivering justice for all and sundry.

It would appear that one of the persons who can lead that renaissance is Olanipekun. Everyone at the Harbour Point event held a day after his birthday, testified to his discipline, industry and patriotism.

For instance, Osinbajo said of him, “His great intellect and his mastery of the law, his incredible ability to get to the heart of the matter and let a whole panel of judges see his daring points, his disarming wits and humour, poetic submissions, make him one of the most outstanding legal minds in this or other generation.” The vice president said the celebrant is one of the most influential and quintessential lawyers. And before Fagbohun delved into his treatise, he described the man as an “outstanding Nigerian. The characteristics that have defined your fame and spread your reputation over the years are carved in personal courage, hard work, determination, confidence, straight and forthright approach to issues, quick wit, matchless grit, lucidity of thought and expression, practical wisdom and a love for humanity.”

It is not surprising that the need to get the right justice system is the focus of the lecture. Olanipekun is a man who has passion for justice and fair play. He is gravely concerned about the way Nigeria’s federal system is being ran. He has had encounters with leading members of the ruling class, including former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru Yar’Adua, on the need to get the right constitution for Nigeria, and on why the country should be restructured. His worry is that because of selfish disposition among members of the political class, restructuring gives them goose pimples. Why is he concerned about getting things right in Nigeria, after all he is comfortable, and according to him, he is already in his winter? The legal luminary said he could not sleep in peace when scores of Nigerians suffer as a result of the problem in the system. So, he would remain undaunted, hoping that someday, the people in the corridor of power will see the need to do the right. That concern permeated the interview the TELL team had with him days before his birthday on November 18, 2021.

Additional reports by Aleem Murtala and Sunday Adedeji

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