Legal Luminary Profile: Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN

Olisa Agbakoba SAN

Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN established an iconic and stellar reputation in the field of human rights in Africa and Nigeria. In 1987, he co-foundered the Civil Liberties Organization of Nigeria (CLO), one of Africa’s largest human rights organizations. In 1997, Dr. Agbakoba founded HURILAWS, a Non-Governmental Organization dedicated to advancing human rights through organized and consistent public interest litigation. He is also co-founder of AFRONET, the Inter-African Network for Human Rights and Development, one of the strongest Pan-African organizations seeking to develop the African human rights movement.

During the dreaded regime of General Sani Abacha as military president in Nigeria, Dr. Agbakoba SAN convened the United Action for Democracy (UAD), Nigeria’s largest coalition of human rights groups that fought and opposed late General Abacha’s attempt to rule Nigeria indefinitely. On 3rd March, 1998, the UAD organized a 5 million-person march to oppose a staged Government rally that was calling on Gen. Abacha to continue in office. Dr. Agbakoba was tear-gassed, badly bruised, beaten, detained and arrested by the Police. On May 1, 1998, the UAD also led a 20-city strike against continued Military rule in Nigeria. Apparently in fear of what Agbakoba might organize next, General Abacha had him (Agbakoba) arrested and detained in prison. While in prison, Agbakoba narrowly escaped assassination, and was only released on June 25, 1998, following the surprising death of General Abacha. The UAD was acknowledged as one of the major leading opponents to General Abacha in his days in office.

Born in Jos, Plateau State of Nigeria on May 29, 1953, Dr.  Agbakoba is an old student of Christ the Kings College, Onitsha, Immaculate Conception College, Enugu and later Government College, Ughelli, Delta State. He is an alumnus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, from where he graduated with LL.B (Hons) in 1977. In 1980 he proceeded to the London School of Economics and obtained the Master’s degree of Law, LL.M.  He was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1978 and was conferred with the lawyers’ rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 1997. He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, a member of the Institute of Directors and Officer of the Order of Nigeria.

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Aside from human rights, his work in law especially in the area of maritime law in Nigeria has been profound. Among his major publications are Federal High Court Practice Manual (published by LexisNexis, South Africa) Maritime Newsletter Volumes one and two; Manual on Election Petition in Nigeria; Maritime Cabotage in Nigeria; Bankruptcy Proceedings in Nigeria; Development Law Books (in three volumes; Towards A People Constitution in Nigeria; Transcending the Wall: A manual for Prisoners Reform. Others are: The Legal basis of the organization of African Unity Force in the Chad; Journal of International Law, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs 1981; Journal of Human Rights Law and Practice: Nigeria’s State Security (detention of persons) Decree No 2 of 1984; Exposing the Myth of Judicial Impotence with Tunde Fagbohunlu (1991), Incursions into the Legal Profession, the way out speech given at the conference on the reform of civil adjudication, Lagos, December 1995; The Statute of Limitation in Admiralty Proceedings: A Case for Fresh Initiatives in Maritime Laws and Reforms in Marine Insurance Law, among many others.

Olisa Agbakoba SAN is the Senior Partner of Olisa Agbakoba Legal (formerly Olisa Agbakoba & Associates)  He is a member of the Nigeria Bar Association (former president of the NBA from 2006 to 2008); International Bar Association and affiliated to many international organizations.

He has won several international human rights prizes for his work in promoting and defending human rights.

Appreciation: Prof. Toyin Falola

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