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Monday, June 27, 2011

CHIEF G.O.K AJAYI: THE CELEBRATION OF AN ICON AT 80


May 29 of every year is always special for Chief Godwin Olusegun Kolawole Ajayi, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (1978 set). The reason is not farfetched; that is the day of his birth.

Most times, the legendary lawyer, famous for his forthrightness, principled stand on issues, consistency, courage, sharp intellect, mesmerizing advocacy and progressive politics marks his birthdays quietly, celebrating with only his family and a few other intimates. However the 2011 edition was not to go the quiet lane; largely due to the insistence of his wife, children, friends and admirers.


Called to the English Bar (Middle Temple) in 1955 when he was only 24 years old and to the Nigerian Bar two years later, Ajayi, more popularly known by his initials “G.O.K.” has had a tremendously successful legal practice over the decades and is one of the very few practitioners whose pre-eminence in the profession has moved them beyond the portals of mere respectability to the shores of awe- inducing reverence.


In 1978, twenty-one years after he was called to the Nigerian Bar, G.O.K was made a silk, bagging the award of Senior Advocate of Nigeria in company of twelve other legal practitioners to wit:- Obafemi Awolowo, Remi Femi-Kayode, T.A. Bankole-Oki, E.A. Molajo, Kehinde Sofola, Richard Akinjide, Olisa Chukwura, Nwakama Okoro, Mudiaga Odje, P.O.Balonwu, B.O. Nwabueze and Augustine Nnamani.


Of this set, only Richard Akinjide, B.O Nwabueze and G.O.K. himself are alive today. Six years after his call to the Nigerian Bar, G.O.K. became a part time lecturer at the Nigerian Law School, till 1971. In the course of those seven years (1963 – 1971), well known jurists and lawyers today like former Chief Justices of Nigeria, Muhammed Uwais, Alfa Belgore, Idris Legbo Kutigi and Honourable Justice Umaru Abdullahi sat at his feet as students. From around the middle of the 1960s, G.O.K. Ajayi started earning fame as a legal luminary and his reputation waxed stronger down the four successive decades.


So brilliant and trusted as a progressive and competent lawyer was he that he was the foremost legal warrior in the Second Republic for the Unity Party of Nigeria led by the immortal Obafemi Awolowo. He was the lead counsel in the famous 12 2/3 case Awolowo vs Shagari (presidential election dispute) in 1979 and was lead counsel in the equally famous 1983 political cases like Adekunle Ajasin v Omoboriowo (Ondo State Gubernatorial Election Dispute), Bola Ige v Victor Olunloyo (Oyo State Gubernatorial Election Dispute).


Earlier in 1981, he had successfully handled the landmark case of AbduRahman Shugaba v Minister of Internal Affairs. This was a curious case in which Shugaba the minority leader in the Borno State House of Assembly was suddenly arrested and deported to Chad by the National Party Nigeria controlled Federal Government on the grounds that the politician was never a Nigerian citizen.


Aside from Chief G.O.K himself, Nigeria has been blessed with many other extra-ordinary legal practitioners, with late Chief F.R.A. Williams S.A.N. and late Chief Gani Fawehinmi S.A.N.,the irrepressible human rights activist being perhaps the best known.


Yet these two lawyers deeply respected G.O.K’s abilities. Senior lawyers still recount with awe the many battle royales especially between the 70s and the 90s between Williams, better known as F.R.A. and G.O.K, for their respective clients. The formidable F.R.A., the quintessential legal mind also known as “Timi the Law” was said to always find G.O.K, though his junior at the Bar by at least 14 years, a formidable, unsparing and deep cutting opponent.


As for Chief Gani Fawehinmi S.A.N., famous for his “battering ram” advocacy style and always in trouble with the military authorities, G.O.K was easily the preferred counsel to defend him in peak trouble in 1989. Thus G.O.K. was there for him in 1989 before the Transition to Civil Rule and Miscellaneous Tribunal headed by the late justice Anyagbunam.


G.O.K. led dozens of other famous lawyers including Mr. Alao Aka-Bashorun, Chief F.O. Akinrele S.A.N, Dr. Olu Onagoruwa, Chief Mike Ozekhome and Mr. Femi Falana to defend Gani.


Another famous client of G.O.K was retired General Zamari Lekwot who with some other members of the Atyap community of Kaduna State was charged with murder before a Special Military Tribunal headed by one Justice Okadigbo over the Zango Kataf Disturbances in 1990. Against all odds, G.O.K’s fearless and brilliant advocacy led to the discharge and acquittal of the embattled General Zamani Lekwot and his kinsmen. Thereafter a grateful Atyap Community unanimously and joyously conferred the honourary title “ACHOK ATYAP” on G.O.K. ‘Achok Atyap’ means the “The Guardian of Atyap.”


In 1993, G.O.K. was on hand to lead a battery of seasoned lawyers to defend the business mogul turned politician, Moshood Kashimawo Abiola against the charge of Treason preferred against him by the General Sani Abacha regime for demanding the actualization of his mandate to rule Nigeria as president after winning the June 12 1993 Presidential election which was annulled by General Ibrahim Babangida’s regime.


To mark his 80th birthday, a Holy Communion Service of Praise and Thanksgiving was organized at the St. Peter’s Church (Faji) Ajele Street, Lagos. The service commenced at about 1.00p.m on 29th May 2011 with three principal officiating ministers in charge to wit:- Rt. Rev. E.A. Awosoga, the Bishop of Ijebu Ode, Rt. Rev. Ranti Odubogun the Bishop of Ife and the very Rev. (Dr.) P.R. Oludipe, the Provost of the Cathedral Church of Our Saviour, Halowojoda, Ijebu Ode.


The church was filled to the brim and over-flowed with worshippers. The most prominent was the foremost traditional ruler in the land of the Yoruba, South West, Nigeria, Oonirisa of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade, Olubuse II. In the entourage of the monarch were his wife, about a dozen other Obas and Chiefs. Other dignitaries in the church included Mrs. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu, Otunba Subomi Balogun, Mr. Tunji Kola Awodein S.A.N., Professor Elebute, Mr. Tunji Gomez, Mr. Yinka “Afro” Fayokun and other notables in the business world and the professions.


A longish affair, the church service ended at about 4.30p.m and the joy of the occasion was shared with Chief Ajayi by his immediate family, in-laws, kinsmen, grandchildren, associates, professional colleagues and numerous other well wishers.


A reception at the Lagos City Hall followed after the service. Again the venue was jam-packed by happy gaily dressed people. Proceedings did not start until about a quarter after the hour of five in the evening but nobody including the Ooni, appeared eager to leave.


Otunba Subomi Balogun was the Chairman of the occasion, while Chief Femi Adeniyi-Williams acted very competently as the unofficial Master of Ceremony. Professor Elebute, a childhood friend of G.O.K supervised the cutting of Chief Ajayi’s 80th Birthday Cake. All these elders and many more had very kind words for Chief Ajayi, attesting to his candour, integrity and humaneness.


The celebration of the 80th birthday of the legal luminary did not end on the 29th May. It continued the next day at the Lekki Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, courtesy of the G.O.K. Ajayi & Co. Alumni Association, headed by Mr. Tunji Ayanlaja S.A.N.


The Alumni organized a classy cocktail for their old principal. It was virtually a lawyers-only affair. This reporter saw at least one former World Court Judge, Judge Bola Ajibola, at the occasion. There was also at least one judge of the Supreme Court of Nigeria present, Honourable Justice George Oguntade.


There were at least three judges of the Lagos State High Court present: Abiru J., Okunnu J., and Opesanwo J. As for Senior Advocates of Nigeria, they numbered about thirteen, including Supo Sasore, Professor Kasumu, Tokunbo Williams, Ebun Sofunde, Tayo Oyetibo and Layi Babatunde.


There were many other notable lawyers present such as Mrs. Ayo Obe, Mrs.


Titi Kareem, Mrs. Mary Bassey, Mr. Stephen Kola-Balogun, Mr. Chijioke Okoli, Chairman NBA Lagos branch and Mr. Dave Ajetomobi, former Chairman, NBA Ikeja branch.


The masterful Master of Ceremony was an elated and nattily dressed Mr. Tunji Ayanlaja, assisted by Mrs. Ayo Obe. Predictably, choice wines and other drinks flowed and tasty ‘small chops’ were also in abundance. Taking of photographs was also a constant.


Seated with his wife Mrs. Margaret Ajayi and Judge Bola Ajibola in a corner of the room, Chief Ajayi quietly soaked in the atmosphere, listening with a rather studied detachment to the rain of accolades that speaker after speaker were pouring on him with regard to his humanity, strict professional discipline, dedication to duty, industry, knowledge, courage and sartorial elegance.


One scene that those present would not quickly forget was when Adesina Ogunlana, unabashedly gave Chief Ajayi a full length public prostration after rounding up his speech and subsequently dissolved into tears. Earlier on in his speech he had spoken glowingly of Chief Ajayi’s solid support for him in terms of financial, moral and free quality defence of him before the Disciplinary Committee of the Body of Benchers between 2003 and 2009 for his activities as the Editor of this magazine.


Many at the occasion wondered at the rather curious sight of a supposed “man of war” weeping like a baby! And in public too! After all the speeches, Chief was called upon to give his response. Once on his feet to make his speech, any seeming appearance of frailty left him.


In his charming, quietly penetrating voice, the veteran practitioner thanked the organizers of the event, shared some insights and ended with a declaration that he, despite his advanced years, was not yet ready to hang up his wig and gown. This attracted an ovation.


After an alumni gave the vote of thanks, Mr. Ayanlaja drew the curtains on the event saying, “We hope to see you around when we celebrate Chief G.O.K. Ajayi’s 90th birthday.”


People who wanted to leave at that point left and those who wanted to stay back to enjoy the unending flow of wine and soft music, satisfied themselves.

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