Chief Wole Olanipekun: Tribute to an Iconic Silk @70 – By John Ajayi
In today’s Nigeria, Chief Wole Olanipekun, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), is one man who has spent the last 70 years of his existence to affirm one thing; that there is reward in hard work and dedication to God. Besides, Chief, as he is fondly called, has, in over four decades, advanced the understanding of the word ‘loyalty’. He is loyal to God, senior colleagues, friends and the authority. No wonder in almost all the newspapers and online platforms, Nigerians have dedicated over a week for the celebration of this man who has successfully applied Law as an instrument of social justice and a strong catalyst for nation-building.
In appreciating Chief Olanipekun as a loyal friend, one must but refer to how he refused to buy a house he so much loved in Lagos when he learnt, after bargaining that the building in question belonged to one Alhaji Akanbi Oniyangi, a man who was at different times former Nigeria’s Minister for Defence, Minister of Industry and Minister of Communication. Chief Olanipekun had his tutelage in Ilorin under Chief Oniyangi in the 70s.
A man of immense grace, the finger of God had directed the path of this quintessential Ekiti man to Chief Oniyangi after he was called to the Bar in 1976. He was posted to Ilorin for his National Youth Service, and before proceeding to his place of primary assignment, Mr. Kanmi Osobu, a firebrand lawyer, had assured him of a place at his firm anytime he finished. The late Chief Gani Fawehinmi had also assured him a place in his Chambers. Of course, he was so eager to go to either of them, but a week before he passed out of the NYSC camp, a lady colleague of his, Bridget Odeh – they finished together at the University of Lagos – told him: “An old lawyer in town wants a junior and has asked me to help him look for a good one, and your name readily came to my mind.”
Pronto! They went to meet the “old lawyer”, and it turned out to be Alhaji Akanbi Oniyangi, who, later, at various times, became Nigeria’s Minister for Defence, Minister of Industry and Minister of Communication. Chief Oniyangi dissuaded young Olanipekun from returning to Lagos, and in so doing, persuaded him to remain in Ilorin to work with him. “My friends, especially those who left Lagos together with me to serve in Ilorin, made fun of me by saying: “Wole has chosen to be laidback. He is staying back in rural Ilorin instead of coming to Lagos where the action is”, Chief Olanipekun had said in an interview.
He took the gamble, but again, the hand of God was at work guiding his footsteps. Among those of them who left Law School in 1976, he was the first to take the Silk, doing so in 1991, and he has consistently admitted that his being in Ilorin when many of his colleagues returned to Lagos was one of the best early decisions he made in life because it prepared him well for the task ahead.
According to him: “When I look back, I ask myself: If I had moved to Lagos as at the time I remained in Ilorin, would I be where I am in the legal profession today? The answer, in all honesty, is I do not think so! Not that I did not deserve it, but when I look back, law practice in Ilorin was tough, rugged and competitive. This ruggedness was not restricted to the Bar alone, the Judiciary in Ilorin also projected these characteristics – the Judex in Ilorin were also hardworking, very honest and industrious. What else do you expect when Justice Saidu Kawu was the Chief Judge of Kwara State? He later retired as a Justice of the Supreme Court, and died aged 85 on 25th December, 2013. Just like a typical Englishman, not in your wildest imagination will you think of corruption on the Bench under his watch. No way! When you go to court, your case will be called and decided within two months. The turnover was high.”
A hardworking man, Chief Olanipekun started appearing at the Supreme Court himself – not with anyone leading him – in 1982/83. As at that time, he was about seven years old at the Bar. According to him, he was making appearances at the apex court so frequently that every Justice of the Supreme Court knew and addressed him by his first name, Wole.
A man of integrity any day, Chief Olanipekun’s watchword is, without mincing words, ‘integrity’. This perhaps explains why he excels in anything he puts his hands on and for which he has remained unblemished. As a result of this attribute and his commitment and dedication to Law as a profession, this legal icon is often mentioned in the same breath as other forensic advocates and titans like Chief F. R. A. Williams, SAN and Chief G. O. K. Ajayi, SAN, both of blessed memories.
A prolific, seasoned and consummate writer, Chief Wole Olanipekun is often inundated with invitations to deliver and present lectures from institutions, organisations, companies, etc, from within and outside the country. In the past twenty years, Chief Wole Olanipekun has written and presented over 250 papers on diverse topics in law, politics, economics, education, religion, amongst others. He has also contributed several chapters to a host of law publications and journals. He is the author of the book titled: “The Voice of Law and Social Change”, published in two volumes. Chief Wole Olanipekun, on 28th February, 2019 delivered the Keynote Address titled: Electoral Law, Election Petitions and the future of democracy In Nigeria” at the Nigeria in Transition workshop organized by the African Studies Centre, Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, University Of Oxford, United Kingdom. The lecture has been adjudged as one of the most profound interventions in Nigeria’s socio-political sphere. On 3rd November, 2021, he delivered the 13th Convocation Lecture of Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State titled: “Beyond the Pandemic: Creating an Evolving New Normal”.
As one individual who has always respected and regarded Chief Olanipekun as a role model par excellence, I cherish his exploits in Law but beyond Law, I cannot but marvel at his contribution to humanity, his commitment to human empowerment and his service to the body of Christ. It will interest many Nigerians to know that even as a Lawyer; Chief Olanipekun uses his noble profession to serve God and humanity.
Looking back at how he started and where he is today, one can clearly see the hand of God in all his doings. This is a man, who at the beginning, because of parental influence, tried to run away from Law but God as the Author put His agents in place and His will was done. The rest, as they say, is history. Of course, Chief Olanipekun has told the story and retold it countless times – the story of how he veered into Law. It’s obvious there is a spiritual dimension, nay, a God-factor to his choosing the path of Law. It started as a tug of war between reading Law or Mass Communication, and a lot of factors militated against him electing to study Law.
As this elder statesman clocks 70, it is indisputable that Chief Olanipekun is perhaps one of the leading lights in the Law profession, who has not only raised the bar but has opened new chapters for practice. As admitted by many people who have come across Chief Olanipekun, more than any other person, he has set the pace in many areas in the legal field and unraveled unimaginable legal difficulties by cutting the Gordian knot in many areas of the law.
His exploits in election petitions, especially in the popular case of Inakoju v. Adeleke is often referred to as pacesetting. In the case which made it possible for Rasidi Ladoja to return to power after he was illegally impeached by the politicians loyal to the then Chief Lamidi Adedibu, now late, Chief Olanipekun became a Lawyer to watch. For the first time in Nigeria, the court agreed that the issue of impeachment of a governor can be looked at and overturned if it fails to strictly comply with the law as regards procedure. Former Oyo State Governor, Rasidi Adewolu Ladoja was a beneficiary of that legal breakthrough. He also led the team of lawyers who retrieved the mandate of former Governor Adams Oshiomole in Edo State, Olusegun Mimiko in Ondo and has led the legal team for three presidential election petitions and won in all. No Lawyer in Nigeria has had such a rare opportunity or privilege. Besides, he played vital roles in the retrieval of Governor Kayode Fayemi’s mandate by constituting a solid legal team and acting in advisory capacity to them.
From any angle one chooses to look at it, Chief Olanipekun belongs to the school of thought that enjoins a lawyer to be humane in his dealings with his immediate community and junior colleagues. Over the years, this former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has nurtured his juniors intellectually, practically and as much as he could afford in terms of welfare. In explaining the need for young Lawyers to always prepare like their senior colleagues, Chief Olanipekun had, in a personal encounter with this writer, likened law practice to a football team consisting of eleven players where one have the strikers, the midfielders, defenders and the goal keeper, with all of them working to make a success out of any football match. According to him, if the senior Lawyer is the striker, the juniors who constitute the midfielders, defence and man the goalpost, must also be rugged, with each person bearing his weight.
Yes, Lawyers are not taught about community relevance in Law School, or that if fortune smiles your way, you have to remember several things, including your God, humanity, your immediate environment, the son of whom you are and the larger community but all these are included in Chief Olanipekun’s kitty as a complete elder statesman.
Chief Olanipekun was also in the news for the good reason in 2007, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo unilaterally announced the sacking of the then Vice President Abubakar Atiku. This legal titan challenged what he called a coup on the constitution and got the Supreme Court to nullify such arbitrary use of power by saying Atiku couldn’t be sacked so casually without recourse to the constitution. He also saved Atiku like many others in the hands of Code of Conduct in what appeared like mere persecution and victimisation. Succinctly speaking, Chief Olanipekun is a Lawyer’s Lawyer any day because he is believed to be at home with law, its technical procedure and implications for the improvement of his teeming clients’ cases.
As the events and the tone of tributes in the last one week suggest, law is obviously not the only thing that defines Chief Olanipekun. This enigmatic Ekiti man is a philanthropist and a man of God. In the last 10 years, he has been in the forefront of humanitarian services and philanthropy. He has consistently invested in humanity through interventional projects in education, health, information technology and the law profession.
Before and after his call to the Bar, Olanipekun hasn’t only kept to his promise to always stand with Christ, he has remained steadfast in his determination to keep up the tempo in the Anglican family like his father. In practical terms, it is unlikely if there is any individual who has given back to community development than Chief Olanipekun in Nigeria. The first seed he sowed in this direction was at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Ikere Ekiti, in 2012, where Chief Olanipekun built, furnished and donated a modern vicarage named after Pa Isaac Olanipekun. In March 2014, he, in continuation and furtherance of his philanthropic initiatives and gestures, built and donated to the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikere Branch, a 350-capacity Bar Centre. He was back in the same church last year when he led the incumbent Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the then Primate and Archbishop Metropolitan of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Most Revd. (Dr.) Nicholas Okoh and six state governors to the inauguration and handing over of an ultramodern church auditorium, with world class facilities that can accommodate at least 1,700 worshipers, to complement the existing structure in the church.
Today, the ancient church has suddenly become ‘the bride’ of the community. Earlier, in 2015, this legal luminary had built, equipped and donated to the State Specialist Hospital, Ikere, in November, 2015, an ultra-modern and state-of-the-art Amenity Ward (the Iya Aafin Bosede Olanipekun Amenity Ward), in memory of his beloved late mother, Bosede Olanipekun. He also procured for the Amenity Ward, a modern and fully equipped ambulance. Beyond the Church, Chief Olanipekun has in the last 13 years, intervened and contributed to Ikere Ekiti development, through various other legacy projects. They include New Cruise 92.7 FM, an ICT Centre within the premises of Amoye Grammar School, which was built to mark the school’s 50th anniversary in 2009.
In 1996, he instituted the Wole Olanipekun Scholarship Scheme for the purpose of awarding scholarships to brilliant, but indigent students and since then, the scheme has, true to the intention of its originator, produced numerous talented beneficiaries, some of whom are now doctors, lawyers, engineers, pharmacists, accountants, educationists and professionals in other fields. As Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the University of Ibadan, he initiated and established another Scholarship Scheme to assist five students per session from each of the faculties of Law, Technology (Computer) and the College of Medicine.
As part of his contributions to the provision of an enabling environment for learning, he built, equipped, furnished and donated a 420-seater Auditorium to the Faculty of Law of the University of Ibadan. In July 2011, he initiated an Endowment Fund for junior Lawyers, particularly in the Lagos and Ilorin Branches of the NBA. Seven Junior Lawyers from the NBA, Ilorin Branch were beneficiaries of cars given to them by the Branch from the proceeds of the Endowment Fund, while over one hundred (100) Young Lawyers from the Lagos Branch were beneficiaries of lap-tops and flash drives distributed to them from the proceeds of the Endowment.
In Oyo, Chief Olanipekun and his dear wife, Princess Omolara, built, furnished and donated an ultra-modern Vice-Chancellor’s Lodge to Ajayi Crowther University. Also, on 20th August, 2019, he donated a 16-seater brand new Nissan Bus to the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikere Branch, Ekiti State. As the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of Ajayi Crowther University, he paid in September, 2019, the full tuition/fees of fifteen seminarians from affiliate seminaries of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) to pursue postgraduate studies at the university.
Chief Olanipekun, through his Foundation (Wole Olanipekun Foundation), on the occasion of its maiden award ceremony on 24th April, 2021, financially empowered 100 widows/ aged persons (Widows and Aged Empowerment Programme) and 100 youths (SMEs/ Youth Empowerment Programme) at his hometown, Ikere, Ekiti State. At the second edition of the legal luminary, Foundation Award Ceremony, which took place on 9th October, 2021, Chief Wole Olanipekun, again, financially empowered 100 widows/ aged persons and 100 youths at his native Ikere, Ekiti State. A total of 400 beneficiaries have so far benefited from the Foundation.
He was the Pro-Chancellor & Chairman of the Council, University of Ibadan between 2009 and 2013, and during which time he also doubled as the Chairman, Court of Governors of the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan. Throughout his tenure in these two positions, he did not receive or collect a dime as allowance or even for transport reimbursement; rather, he not only gave all the allowances due to him back to the university, but also made available more funds to the university for the purpose of awarding scholarships to students. In November 2014, the Proprietor of Ajayi Crowther University, comprising of all the Bishops of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) in the Supra Diocesan Board West, unanimously called upon Chief Olanipekun to ‘come to the Anglican Church’s Macedonia’ to assume office as the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the 16-year old Anglican University – Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo State, with a charge that he should replicate the milestones previously achieved at the University of Ibadan, at the Anglican Church’s coveted university. He has since then assumed office as the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Council of ACU. To the Glory of God, the university is presently growing in leaps and bounds to the satisfaction of not only the Proprietor, but also to all and sundry.
In February 2021, Chief Wole Olanipekun was appointed as the pioneer Chancellor of the newly established Bamidele Olumilua University of Education, Science and Technology, Ikere, Ekiti State, in recognition of his noteworthy contribution(s) to the advancement of education in Nigeria.
Chief Olanipekun was called to the Nigerian Bar in July, 1976. He became a Notary Public in 1987, and attained the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in July, 1991 in recognition of his forensic contributions to the advancement of the legal profession in Nigeria. Between 1992 and 1993, he served as the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in the old Ondo State. He was elected the 20th President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in August, 2002. His tenure as the NBA President has been associated with remarkable success and adjudged one of the best in the annals of NBA history. In March, 2021, he was elected as the Vice-Chairman of the Body of Benchers. At different times, he has served as a member of the National Judicial Council (NJC), Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC), Council of Legal Education, Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, General Council of the Bar and the Ondo State Judicial Service Commission. He was also, at a point in time, the Acting Chairman of the Council of Legal Education. He became a life member of the Body of Benchers in 2004, and he is also a life member of the National Executive Committee of the NBA. While he is still an active member of the International Bar Association (IBA), Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association (CLA), Pan African Lawyers’ Union (PALU), and West African Bar Association (WABA), he was, between 2002 – 2005, a member of Council of each of the international law bodies.
On 28th October, 2016, Chief Wole Olanipekun was appointed the Chairman of the Visitation Panel of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, Oyo State, which was inaugurated on 28th October, 2016 to look into the affairs of the university and recommend solutions to the problems which engulfed the university and crippled its academic activities. His panel’s all-encompassing report and recommendations contained therein led to the immediate reopening of the university which had been shut down for over a session.
Chief Wole Olanipekun is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (FCIArb.), Fellow, Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators (FICMC), Fellow, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (FNIALS) and Fellow, College of Education, Ikere (FCEI). He was awarded with the degree of Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa (LL.D) by the University of Ibadan in November, 2014 and on 4th November, 2021, he was conferred with the degree of Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) by Redeemers University, Ede, Osun State. He holds the National Honour of Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFR).
He has, at different times, been conferred with the distinguished alumnus award of Amoye Grammar School, Ikere; Ilesa Grammar School, Ilesa; and the University of Lagos. When the Federal Government of Nigeria, under the watch of President Goodluck Jonathan, attempted to change the name of the University of Lagos in 2012, he not only led the large team of Senior Advocates and other counsel who challenged the action at the Federal High Court then sitting at Ikeja, but also substantially made funds available for the prosecution of the cases filed by both the alumni association and the students. The legal team obtained an injunction against the Federal Government, restraining it from implementing the name change.
A stickler for excellence, Chief Olanipekun is the Principal Partner of the law firm of Wole Olanipekun & Co., with offices in Lagos and Abuja; with legal practice covering diverse areas and fields, both nationally and internationally, including but not limited to Land Law, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Labour Law, Maritime, Arbitration and Dispute Resolution, Admiralty, Banking, Insurance, Election Matters, Aviation, Telecommunications, Chieftaincy and Intellectual Property.
Chief Olanipekun, within and outside Nigeria, has mentored hundreds of Lawyers who see him as a teacher, counsellor, role model, father and shepherd. Several Lawyers have also passed through his chambers, starting from 1982 to date, and a good number of them occupy high and vintage positions at the Bar, the Bench, in politics and the corporate world. Ten distinguished learned colleagues who cut their legal teeth under him, including his two sons, Dr. Dapo Olanipekun and Bode Olanipekun have both attained the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
This legal potentate and respected citizen of Nigeria is happily married to Princess Omolara Olanipekun (Erelu), and the marriage is blessed with four children who are all lawyers; two boys and two girls, all of whom are also happily married. Like their illustrious father, they are members of the learned and noble profession of law. His two sons, like their industrious father, are also Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
May Chief Olanipekun find himself surrounded by all of the love, service and care he has been giving to humanity in the last 70 years. As the legal luminary looks back on 70 years well lived, may he remember all the joy and laughter he has given.
JOHN AJAYI IS A LAGOS BASED JOURNALIST AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR