OKunnu: Salute to a Law Legend at 85 – Abdulrasheed Ibrahim

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Femi Okunnu SAN

One of the elder statesmen that have fascinated me in recent time is no other than Alhaji Abdulateef Olufemi Okunnu, SAN, CON popularly  known as FEMI OKUNNU who clocks 85 years having being born on 19th February 1933. The old man is not only a law legend but also a great historian. When I decided to put the book: LEGAL LUMINARIES featuring 10 of the heroes of Legal Profession in Nigeria and I was engrossed in the thought of the right person to write the foreword the book, I got the inspiration that  Alhaji Okunnu was the right person suitable for the role.

Meeting one on one with Alhaji Okunnu and having discussion with him is usually a very interesting and wonderful experience. When in the cause of our discussion I asked him why he had not written his autobiography, his response was that he had done that long time ago and asked his Personal Assistant to show me his autobiography titled: FEMI OKUNNU – IN THE SERVICE OF THE NATION, written as far back as 2010. Apart from this 637 pages book, he equally has some other books to his credit which include ENGAGING WITH HISTORY; CONTEMPORARY STATE LAND MATTERS IN NIGERIA: THE CASE OF LAGOS STATE which x-rays the story of how he led a team of lawyers to engaged the Federal Government in legal battle in the case of Oba Elegushi & Co. Vs. The Attorney General of the Federation & 2 Ors on the legality of the Lands (Title Vesting, etc) Decree No.52 of 1993 promulgated by the Military.

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In his foreword to the LEGAL LUMINARIES, Alhaji Okunnu proved the great historian in him as knew those legal luminaries featured very well and stated what he knew about them. According to this great law legend:

‘Most of the judges whose lives are celebrated in “Legal Luminaries” eschewed excessive social life to preserve the dignity of the bench. In fact Judge T.O. Elias had virtually none. He had two loves in life: his darling wife, Mrs. Ganiat Elias, called to the English Bar about 58 years ago, was his great and first love. The other was “the law”.’

On how related Justice Taylor and Chief Williams were, the Kingsman (being an old student of the prestigious King’s College, Lagos) said:

 “Hon. Justice J.I.C. Taylor, a first cousin of Chief F.R.A. Williams, was the captain of the Nigerian Cricket XI in the inter-colonial cricket match between Nigeria and the Gold Coast (Ghana) played at King’s College, Lagos grounds, I believe in 1948 or 1949. As Chief Justice of Lagos, he would occasionally walk down the corridors of the High Court to ensure that every administrative and clerical member of staff was at his or her desk at 8 0’ clock in the morning!”

In the political history of Nigeria, Alhaji Okunnu was not a novice as he can tell you everything  about the history of Nigeria as he rightly said in his book that: “ My story is partly an autobiography and partly a portion of the history of Nigeria” . During General Yakubu Gowon’s regime, he was the Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing where he sat with the likes of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Alhaji Aminu Kano, the propounder of “politics without bitterness”  in the Federal Cabinet. He was in charge and the brain behind the infrastructures like those bridges and roads you see in Lagos and other parts of the country.

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This Senior Advocate of Nigeria does not like some of the ugly things like corruption that has crept into our judicial system .Please hear him when reflecting on the lesson to be learnt from the LEGAL LUMINARIES:

“The lesson for all judges on the bench today is to eschew corruption sadly rampart today, and to commit themselves to leave behind judgements which will stand the test of time. And to my colleagues at the Bar, inner and outer, the message is for each of us to enrich the Bar with sound advocacy to challenge each other in the law court, and test the sinews of judges on the Bench and the depth of their knowledge of the law.”

Alhaji Okunnu said something in his autobiography which should encourage our other senior lawyers and judges to come up with their own stories for the upcoming generation to learn one thing or the other from . In his words:

“It has been a long journey writing this book. Gani Fawehinmi and I met on an airplane some twenty years ago, and he said: ‘Please sir, when are you going to write your autobiography? You ought to do so. You have some stories to tell”

As Alhaji Abdulateef Olufemi Okunnu, SAN, CON celebrates his 85 years on the surface of the earth, we wish him more years of this day in happiness and good health.

Join us to wish the elder statesman Happy Birthday! Long Life and Prosperity!

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