Honourable Justice Mustapha Adebayo Akanbi (CFR) (rtd), a father, Wakilin of Ilorin, an elder (non-partisan) statesman, a man of impeccable integrity, an intellectual by all measures and an untiring judicial activist turns 80. His globally acknowledged courage, patriotism, pan Africanism and above all compassion for human advancement are worthy of celebration. The cliché is; not how long, but how well. Remarkably, it’s been well, worthwhile and long for Justice Akanbi. Activists of alternative social order are often critical of state judicial officers in particular and men and women of “law and order”, in general.
History is rich with abundant evidences of how laws, some lawyers and indeed many judges were parts of the strong links in the chain of class oppression, exploitation and tyranny against the weak. Judges sentenced Nelson Mandela (himself a lawyer!) to life imprisonment. His crime: dare to fight against apartheid. Madiba spent 27 years of his precious life behind the bars “legally”. “Rule of (apartheid) law” once prohibited what turned out to be icons like Nelson Mandela (of royal extraction), Desmond Tutu, and Winne Mandela from making use of White Only toilet. Unjust apartheid laws for a century criminalized and segregated toilet usage! The apartheid “laws” were certainly drafted by some “lawyers”. Some “judges” also enthusiastically enforced the “laws” with all the brutality associated with them! Here at home, not few Judges, lawyers and judicial officials enlisted on the side of injustice and dark dealings.
It was a judge who granted the infamous injunction putting on hold a process of free and fair elections in 1993. The annulment of June 12 election by IBB dictatorship was “”legitimised”” by “legal” drafters of draconian laws of that dark era of our life. It was a Judge who judicially murdered Ken Saro Wiwa, a globally acknowledged writer and poet. It is important to recall these others and their sordid legal misdeeds to underline the significance of the dignity, courage and honour Honourable Justice Mustapha Akanbi brought to bear during his eventful tenures both at the bar and the bench. Record shows that retired Justice Mustapha Akanbi is an acknowledged judicial officer with integrity, steadfastness and fairness in the process of adjudication on the bench even under a hostile military regime.
Following the brutal murder of four ABU students in 1986 by Mobile special Police on the order of the university authority led by Professor Ango Abdulalhi, students crisis erupted which degenerated and assumed national dimension. ASUU, NLC and NANS were united in protest in protest against the Abisoye Panel set up by the regime to whitewash the administrative mess of Ango Abdullahi leadership of ABU. The crisis of confidence that rocked the Abisoye panel compelled the regime to set up a more credible judicial commission headed by Justice Mustapha Akanbi. His commission restored confidence such that National Association of Nigeria’s Students, (NANS) and other civil society organizations freely and confidently participated. The perception was that with Justice Mustapha on the bench, there would be justice for all.
The Commission’s problem solving (not persecution methodology) characterized by openness allowed for free expressions. The high point was the courageous sensational testimony of the intelligent police officer, Alozie Ogbubuaja who freely offered suggestions on students-police relations with a call for the improvement on the conditions of service of the police in general. He made a case for reform of the police and made his historic damning pepper soup remark and coup plotting. Honorable Minister of Communication and Information, Labaran Maku (then NANS PRO) owes his university graduation from Jos to the historic sense of justice of the commission’s findings which were reformist not punitive as the military regime desperately desired.
As the founding Chairman of the ICPC, in keeping with the mandate of the Commission to apprehend public graft in 2003, ICPC intensified its search light on the activities of senators among other public officers. Some senators under the leadership of Senator Pius Ayim moved to weaken the ICPC through a belated review of its enabling Act in a way that would insulate senators from accountability and prosecution. Remarkably the retired Honourable Justice Mustapha made a case for anti-corruption at the chambers of the Senate insisting that any attempt to tamper with the ICPC Act means truncating the anti-corruption crusade. He was even determined to resign his chairmanship of the Commission rather than allowing the Commission to be compromised by the legislators. The public sympathy was in favour of Justice Akanbi-led Commision, largely on the account of the integrity of the Chairman. Justice Akanbi is a living library of progressive and spiritual ideas for the younger generation. His life shows that, age is no barrier to value addition, hard and smart public work. Within a short spell, with maturity and determined systemic approach, he mainstreamed ICPC from nowhere as an institutional bulwark against public graft.
Notwithstanding the limitations of resources and political hostility, ICPC under him investigated and arrested some judges of the High Court, customary court and Sharia court for collecting bribes. The judges were eventually dismissed by the NJIC. To the credit of his legendary modesty Justice Akanbi bowed out of the Commission in 2005, even when he had the right of tenure extension. Here Justice Akanbi shares the great value of resignation with great leaders like Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. Neslon Mandela said:” I must step down when there are one or two people who admire me”– Justice Akanbi actually stepped down when many actually admired him.
On retirement, he set up Mustapha Akanbi Foundation (MAF). Inaugurated in Ilorin, Kwara State on 12th of September 2006, MAF has added value to national discourse within a short time. Out of simple and enduring noble objective to serve as “…a veritable platform for promoting democratic values and fostering sustainable and viable democratic development in Nigeria”, MAF has left bold imprints in areas of Education, Human empowerment, health, Anti-corruption campaign and Good governance. The Foundation is acting local but thinking global through high profile public agenda setting lectures. The singular commitment, passion and courage of Justice Akanbi manifest in yearly topical themes that elevate public debate from the pedestrian. Today Mustapha Akanbi Foundation (MAF) is giving so much in a country of official non-giving, official grabbing, elite greed and state denials of roads, light, water and security of lives and property. To understand Justice Akanbi’s tremendous contributions to jurisprudence, national and continental development we must come to terms with his roots in Islamic jurisprudence of the great ancient city of Ilorin that has produced other equally great jurists like retired Justice Alfa Moddibo Belgore and Justice Ayo Salami.
Significantly too, we must appreciate his profound ideological and historical grounding dating back to the progressive ideas of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in the 40s and 50s, Sekou Toure of Guinea and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. Justice Mustapha’s contribution has shown that spiritual/ideological/political consciousness is indispensable for lawyers to maintain and sustain integrity both at the bar and on the bench. We recall with nostalgia ideologically conscious lawyers like late Aka Bashorun, late Gani Fahemihin SAN Femi Falana SAN among others. A visit to the Africa’s Peoples Hall, the Head Quarters of MAF in Ilorin says it all. An inventory of the consciously arraigned portraits of the great African Leaders and trade unionists from Kwame Nkrumah to Nelson Mandela, Gamel Nazer to Tom Mboya, Patrice Lumuba to Sekou Toure will attest to the ideological preferences of the role model, Justice Mustapha Akanbi. With uncommon valuable service at 80, he is ageing gracefully but also mentoring a new generation to take over. His recent bold comments on national issues such as state police and independence of anti-corruption agencies underscore his intellectual clarity and sincerity of purpose at 80.
ISSA AREMUmni ([email protected])