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PRINCE NOBLE’S FOUR SCORES BUT ONE
Milestone on Judge Bola Ajibola @ 79
By Idris Katib
One of the few names that reverberate at the international stage of our legal profession is His Excellency, Judge Bola Ajibola (SAN). The only surviving Nigerian who served as former world court judge in The Hague, Judge Ajibola has made ‘his impressive footprints on the sand of time having written his name boldly, in gold, on the wall of history and has been a good model for those who seek to be inspired by his exemplary life’.
Apart from being the longest-serving attorney-general and minister of justice at a stretch, Judge Bola Ajibola remains the only Nigerian who selflessly served his fatherland for over six years—between 1985 and 1991— as a minister without taking home any salary. What he did remarkably was to pay back to the federal government 35% of his regular monthly salary, 25% to the Nigerian Bar Association and 40% to charitable/humanitarian organisations all over Nigeria which included the Association of the Blind, Red Cross, Red Crescent, Muslim Aid Group, disabled societies in Lagos and Benin and so forth. During this period, he engaged the services of two legal practitioners that he was paying on his own at the Ministry of Justice for the publication of the Nigerian Weekly Law Report which was updated during his tenure. As a man of integrity, Judge Ajibola remained, and still is, an incorruptible jurist as a leader of the bar and the bench.
In his days as attorney-general and minister of justice, people looking for favours of his office would send in expensive wrist watches, clothes, jewelry, wall clocks and other valuables. On quarterly basis, all these items would be sold at trade fair while the proceeds would be returned into the federal government coffers on his directive. Once a job seeker into the ministry of justice brought a new car into his compound, as a ‘gift’. On his knowledge, Judge Ajibola ordered that the man should be told to either take his car away from his (Ajibola’s) compound or risk a jail term. He queried why a job seeker could be so desperate and counselled that people of that character would milk government’s treasury when eventually employed.
After the government of Alhaji Shehu shagari was toppled by the military in 1983, the former president himself was not spared the critical examining by the succeeding regime. Judge Ajibola, being the Attorney-general and Minister of Justice of the federation, was charged with responsibility of fishing out perpetrators of corruption and embezzlement of public funds. Having studied the mount-hill of documents before him, day and night for one week, Judge Ajibola found out that the former president was not in any way close to any corrupt practice. Pronto, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was vindicated and this till date has endeared Judge Ajibola to him as an unbiased umpire.
Unlike many Nigerian public office holders who amassed billions of naira and concealed them in foreign accounts, Prince (Judge) Ajibola, after retiring from the world court at The Hague, decided to sell all his assets both in Nigeria (starting from Bola Ajibola Street in Ikeja, Lagos) and abroad in fulfilment of his pact with God to found a university—Crescent University, Abeokuta—as a visionary initiative that would cater for the next generation. Whereas his colleagues at the world court retired to bliss, he chose to retire to contentment and enduring impact on humanity through education. He could have named the university after himself just like other compatriots in the country but since his is for humanity, basically to breed people of moral and academic character in our society, he declined to do that even against the pressure from friends and associates. He could also have kept his hard-earned assets intact without further stress or hassles; and he could have been junketing around the world after retirement from the world court!
In his national and international legal as well as arbitration assignments too numerous to reflect here, Judge Bola Ajibola is synonymous with integrity, industry, credibility and discipline, the demonstration of which had been evident since his days as president of the Nigerian Bar Association.
At the time he served at the International Court of Justice(ICJ) to the time he led the Nigerian delegation to the Cameroon-Nigerian Mixed Commission, he successfully prevented the anticipated war between Nigeria and Cameroon with his foresight as some powerful nations of the world were ready to support Cameroon in case the whole matter resulted in war. By and large, Nigeria generally gained more in the area of maritime delineation, (which enabled the country to gain virtually all its claim on the offshore and the onshore, otherwise, we would have been deprived of trillions of our oil acquisition that is still ours till now) and charge written against Nigeria by Cameroon on state responsibility which the court denied Cameroon, although Judge Teslim Elias had written a legal opinion of Pacta Sunt Servanda that Bakassi was a peninsular belonging to Cameroon. Despite his dissenting opinions when he served in that court, Judge Ajibola made tremendous efforts to prove that Bakkasi belonged to Nigeria.
As an elder statesman, Judge Ajibola was appointed to chair the delegation of not only his home state (Ogun State) but the south western states and later the entire south of Nigeria to Conference of Political Reforms in 2005 where divergent views of various groups were discussed. The delegation successfully secured the N10b Lagos allocation from the federal government.
In his testimonial letter, Professor Kehinde Okeleye who is the vice Chancellor of his Islamic Mission for African Crescent University described Judge Ajibola’s doggedness and ability to carry along his lieutenants in achieving target goals as astonishing especially for a man close to being an octogenarian.
“He is never to be caught in the web of indecision as he possesses a remarkable zeal for unknotting knotty problems with thought-provoking humour and proverbs”, Prof. Okeleye noted.
He has won dozens of awards and honours both within and outside the country. He also emerged the winner of the prestigious Sardauna Leadership Award in 2010.
Judge Ajibola has put smiles on many faces as he donates secretly to refugee camps, motherless babies’ homes and hospitals. At 79, he has greatly invested in the service of God and that of humanity.
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