Fallen Legal Heroes: Chief Ayo Gabriel Irikefe, SAN OFR, CON, GCFR

Late Chief Ayo Gabriel Irikefe

Chief Ayo Gabriel Irikefe (March 3, 1922 – August 1, 1996) was born to the family of Aduwa and Theresa Irikefe. He was born at Ikorodu, a local government area of Lagos State in south western Nigeria. He started his education at a CMS school in Okitipupa, then, went to St John’s School Okitpupa, St Mathews Catholic School, Ode-Ondo and St. Gregory’s College, Obalende, Lagos where he obtained the West Africa School Certificate. He initially studied at the College of Marine Engineering and Communications, Manchester between 1945 and 1946 before deciding to study law in 1949.

He was called to the English Bar on July 1, 1952, the same year he established his own law firm. He was in legal practice in Warri from 1952 until 1955. In 1955, he rose to the position of a Crown Counsel to the Western Region of Nigeria where he served at Ibadan and later transferred to Benin City. He was a leading counsel to the committee that probed the activities of the Owegbe cult and The recommendations of the committee led to the proscription of the “Owegbe Cult” ; in 1956 was awarded a red bag by Miss rose Heilbron of the high court of England; he was later appointed a judge in the High Court of Mid-Western Nigeria. In 1966, he became the Attorney General of the Mid-Western State, He was First Chairman of the Robbery and Fire Arms Tribunal of that State until he was appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court of Nigeria as Justice.

He was also the chairman of two major panels constituted by the Murtala and Shagari administration. In 1975, he headed a panel on state creation and later in 1980, he was head of the Crude Oil Sales Tribunal of Inquiry, the tribunal investigated allegations of a missing $2.8b in NNPC funds.

On August 7, 1975, Justice Irikefe was called on to help the new Murtala administration to review the 1967 state creation framework as head of a panel on state creation. The panel in its report, adduced that state creation movements are mostly made vibrant by the view held by the agitators that new states leads to increased development of the areas agitating for it; and the political importance of the movements and the potential for diffusion of political and economic power were important reasons for state creation during the period. The panel recommended various suggestions many of which were approved by the Murtala administration leading to the re-organization of Nigeria from 12 states to 19 states on February 3, 1976.

On April 16, 1980, in a national broadcast, the then president Shehu Shagari appointed a commission of inquiry into allegations of payments of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation funds into a private account. The inquiry was headed by Ayo Irikefe. The commission was saddled with the responsibility to find out the whole truth about the situation. In its report, the commission was of the view that the Nigerian petroleum corporation was able to account for most of its funds according to stated contracts entered into with oil majors.

 In 1985 he became a member of the Nigerian Body of Benchers, He rose to the Peak of his Career with his appointment as Chief Justice of the Federation from 1985 until he retired in March 3, 1987.

He was given the following National Honours – OFR (1976), CON (1981) AND GCON (1990). He was a First Class Advocate and a Master of the Art of Advocacy. In addition to his sound decisions as a Justice of the Supreme Court and good Leadership as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Justice Ayo Gabriel Irikefe will forever be remembered as the Architect of the 19 States Structure then constituting the Federal Republic of Nigeria. His last Public Assignment in1988, led to the lifting of the ban on Nigeria by FIFA.

He died at the age of 74.


Adenike Adesanya is a Brilliant young wig who is passionate about preserving the legacy of the legal profession. Nike wishes to bring back to our memories our heroes past. Email to Nike: nikey06@yahoo.com

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