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Tribute: Akanbi’s demise and the rest of us

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Abubakar Imam, Ilorin

Every soul is sacred.Every life is important.Every human being is precious.No human creature is useless! We are all created to achieve something towards the greatness of all. That is the humanity in you and I.

While we all play one significant role or the other in the oiling of the engine of life, even if we do not know or we pretend not to know; the services and existence of some individuals would always be more precious and coveted than those of others. This may be due to age, royalty, vitality, courage,humility,wisdom, knowledge, integrity and dignity or any other factor. This fact is associated with the life we all live!

Sadly, three devastating deaths struck the people of the southernmost Emirate in recent time like no other! The first was that of Shaykh Abdulganiyu Aboto, an Islamic scholar and preacher, who after his unfortunate transition to the great beyond,was universally acknowledged as a quintessence of dutiful Islamic scholars who exemplify their preachings, in their lifestyles. The second one was the demise of the second Vice Chancellor of the Kwara State University, Malete, Prof. Muhammed Mustapha Akanbi, SAN; as if that was not enough, a day after, the transition of the Honourable Justice Safiya Titi Daibu was also announced.

The passage of the second personality, which occurred on Sunday, November 20, 2022, is currently trending in town as that of His Lordship. It has thrown the entire people of Ilorin Emirate and their friends into a pensive mood. Many are left speechless, pained and uncontrollably emotional by the transition. A number of compatriots cried their eyes out as if doing so has any impact on our collective fate.

I must say that the death of Prof. Akanbi,just like those of the two other compatriots, was received by yours sincerely with shock, disbelief and discontent. I had just returned home from Abuja where I had gone to attend the 47th annual national convention of the Northern Zone of Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union (IEDPU); and I was trying to catch sleep in the comfort of my bed when the Chief Executive of one of the increasingly popular Ilorin-based radio stations called to inform me of the unfortunate development. I asked him whether he was sure of his facts and he confirmed to me that he got the information from a credible source.

A few minutes after, the social media became awash with the news of the death of the third child of the third President of the Court of Appeal, in Nigeria. For the next few hours, sleep deserted me despite the physical exhaustion from the trip! I kept thinking about the departed as much as I was ruminating about my journey through life. The futility of life dominated my thoughts:what would happen to all the plans of the gentleman for himself, for his family and for the institution he was privileged to preside over?

I concluded that there was evidently nothing in life! You exist today!! You are no more tomorrow!!! I convinced myself that there was no need fighting anyone on any issue and reminded myself of the fact that most of what we struggle over, end here. But all said and done, some live for themselves while a few live for others. The deceased lived for all of us.

Prof. Muhammed Mustapha Olaroungbe Akanbi was a man who deserves to be emulated and celebrated in life and in death. His life has shown us that “bi won ba bi ni, o ye ki a tun ra eni bi”(if you are born into greatness you must strive to be become truly great).That is when your birth would not be inconsequential.

The late Vice Chancellor was born great and into greatness. Yet, he never allowed the greatness he was born into affect his pursuit of greatness. He pursued it and eventually earned it. He left his name imperishable in the sand of time as he would continue to be remembered as an astute scholar, a great lawyer, a prudent administrator and a real patriot who attained the peak of three different pursuits under the age of 50, in death. What a series of colossal achievements in a single and relatively short life time!

The deceased was a Professor of Law at 41. He became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria at 47. He got appointed as Vice Chancellor at the age of 49. Achievements like these, which have to do with scholarship and personal ability rather than inheritance, are quite uncommon in our contemporary time, and they remain elusive dreams to attain in the lifetimes of many who are much older.

Critics might ask of what was unusual in those accomplishments, considering the calibre of Prof. Akanbi’s background? I respond with a string of rhetorical questions. Are there no distinguished medical doctors who did not have medics among their children as there are many judges that do not have a single lawyer among their children? Haven’t we seen landlords whose surviving children live in ghetto?Don’t we know rich individuals whose direct descendants became beggars? Are we not aware of eminent teachers whose children are nitwits?

What the above explains is that, as enabled by Allah, the late Vice Chancellor made personal efforts to become what he became. He worked hard to emerge as a star and a front liner not just in his primary calling-the bar; but also in the academia.

The late Vice Chancellor reportedly told an interviewer that he worked for all he achieved and never depended on the fame of his dad. Socratically, Prof. Akanbi, while responding to another question, asked his interviewer whether the academic credentials he possessed were brought to him at home. He added that he applied for the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria thrice and that it was only on his third attempt that he succeeded. The Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) never felt that since his father was once a member of the Committee, the title should be conferred on him,without application and without going through the required evaluations. Many are also aware of the hard work deployed, which eventuated in his appointment as the Vice Chancellor of KWASU.

Many lessons could be derived from the life and times of Prof. Akanbi. The first is that children of the successful must work hard to attain success. They need to work twice as hard as people from humble backgrounds because yardsticks for the evaluation of their successes by the cynical members of the public will be much higher. Secondly, young people who desire greatness should brace up for it on time as no one knows when death would come calling. The third lesson is that we can succeed in more than one front if we are determined to do so.

The exemplary Prof. Muhammed Mustapha Olaroungbe Aremu Akanbi, a lawyer, academic and university administrator was born on January 24,1971 in the commercial city of Kano. His father was the Honourable Justice Muhammed Mustapha Adebayo Ajao Akanbi, the third President of the Court of Appeal of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and pioneer Chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) as well as the first Wakili of Ilorin. The late Hajia Munfaatu Aduke Akanbi was his mother. The deceased was a member of the popular Magaji Kemberi family whose ancestral home is situated in Awodi area, Sobi Road, Gambari Quarters, Ilorin.

This illustrious son of Ilorin obtained his primary education from several schools across the country: In his ancestral home of Ilorin and in Kano, when his father was a legal practitioner, as well as at Port-Harcourt and Ibadan, where his father served as a Judge of the Federal High Court and Justice of the Court of Appeal. For his post-primary education; the legal luminary attended the Federal Government College, Okigwe, Imo State.

Prof. Akanbi graduated from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, with a Bachelor’s degree in Law in 1993. He thereafter, attended the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos, where he also bagged his final bar examinations. He was subsequently called to the Nigerian bar in 1995 at the age of 24.

As a young, brilliant and determined fellow who did not want to hide behind the alluring greatness of his illustrious father, but create a niche for himself, Prof. Akanbi proceeded to the prestigious University of Lagos for his Master’s degree in Law. He completed his programme in a record time and deservedly earned his LL. M in 1998.

Determined to attain the highest obtainable rank in scholarship, this great son of Ilorin Emirate left the shores of Nigeria for the United Kingdom where he attended the famous Kings’ College, University of London, for his doctorate degree. He diligently pursued and eventually earned the seal of academic attainment from that globally famous institution between 2004 and 2006. As if that was not enough, Prof Akanbi also earned a Graduate Certificate (Non-award Route) in Academic Practice (GCAP), from the same University of London in 2005.

He commenced his brilliant working career as a Member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in the course of which he served as a Legal Assistant in the Legal Unit of the Central Bank of Nigeria between 1995 and 1996. Sequel to the completion of his mandatory youth service, Prof. Akanbi worked at a number of Chambers in Lagos including the services of Wole Bamgbala & Co., and Olawoyin and Olawoyin & Co. He as well worked as a junior in the law firm of Ayodele, Gafar & Co., all these early career sojourn lasted between March,1996 and May,1998.

In August 1998, Prof.Akanbi joined the services of the University of Ilorin as a Lecturer II at the institution’s Department of Business Law. In fidelity with his characteristic hard work and perseverance, he rose through the academic ranks and was appointed a Professor of Law in the Department of Business Law of the University in October 2012. In 2014, he was also appointed an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Kings University College, Accra, Ghana, for a period of one year.

In the course of his over two decades eventful career at the University of Ilorin, Prof. Akanbi held several administrative positions, chief of which were: Sub-Dean, Faculty of Law and Head, Department of Business Law. He was also a Deputy Director at the institution’s Centre for Research Development and In-House Training (CREDIT) as well as the Director, School of Preliminary Studies, Fufu, University of Ilorin.

On April 1, 2020, Prof. Akanbi was appointed as the Vice Chancellor of the Kwara State University Malete. With the appointment, he became the second substantive Chief Executive of the University, which was established in 2009.

This distinguished scholar had over 60 national and International publications in reputable peer-reviewed journals with a bias in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Arbitration Law to his credit. Other research areas of interest to him include Conflict Resolution Laws and Corporate Management Law and Practice. In 2017, Prof Akanbi completed a BADEA-UNITAR Online Course on Private Sector Development (2017) with specialisation on Ease of Doing Business in Africa and was awarded a Certificate of Completion by Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa and United Nations Institute for Training and Research (BADEA-UNITAR).

Prof. Akanbi attended and presented papers at several national and international conferences, workshops, retreats and seminars. He supervised to completion many postgraduate students in Law and Peace Studies at Master and doctorate degrees levels.

This erudite scholar also served as a professorial assessor, postgraduate and external examiner to more than 20 reputable universities within and outside Nigeria. He also served on the editorial boards of several reputable journals and law reports of public and private institutions.

In addition to the above, he was also very active in his professional field. Between 2007 and 2009, he was the Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ilorin Branch. From 2007 to 2011, he also served as a Member of the Council of Legal Education in Nigeria. He was also a Member of the Board of Institute for Continuing Legal Education among several key interventions he offered to the study and practice of law in Nigeria.

On September 24, 2018 and in recognition of his contributions to the development of law and legal profession in Nigeria, Prof. Akanbi was conferred with the award of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), which is the highest distinction in the legal profession in Nigeria.

This great academic was a distinguished member of many professional bodies including the Nigerian Bar Association, the Nigerian Association of Law Teachers’ Society, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, United Kingdom and Nigeria ; and Institute for Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, Nigeria.

The place of Prof. Akanbi in history is assured. He was the fourth son of Ilorin Emirate appointed as Vice-Chancellor of a public-owned University. He was also one of the two indigenes of Ilorin Emirate who attained the pinnacles of the two careers of law and teaching; and certainly the younger of the two. He was also the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria from Kwara State who will be appointed as a Chief Executive of a University.He was the second youngest indigene of Ilorin Emirate conferred with the prestigious honour of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

Prof. Akanbi was happily married to Hajia Shakirat Folake Akanbi (also a Lawyer by profession) and they were blessed with children.

It is on record that within the two and half years he served as the Vice Chancellor of the Kwara State University,Malete, Prof. Akanbi worked hard to leave indelible legacies in service delivery and patriotism,which his children would be proud to emulate after this period of intense melancholy. They should relish the fact that their father was a great son of his outstanding father and a worthy patriot and ambassador of Ilorin Emirate. The family as a whole should take solace in the fact that “a decade full of exciting accomplishments is
far better than a century spent in anonymity”and also note that for every drop of tear they shed, Ilorin Emirate, the academia and the world of legal studies and practice shed a million tears with them.

In resignation to this divine decree, I sympathise with the Governor of Kwara State, Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq; the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji( Dr) Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, (CFR); the good people of Ilorin Emirate; particularly members of his family on the death of this outstanding son of Ilorin Emirate. I particularly sympathise with his elder brother, Dr Usman Dipo Akanbi, and his other siblings. May I also condole my brother, friend and colleague, Mallam Ishaq Babatunde,who served the late Vice Chancellor as a Personal Assistant. I pray Allah to grant Prof. Akanbi total forgiveness and an abode in Aljanat fridaous. May Allah envelope his widow and children with far better warmth and care beyond what he would have offered as as a mere mortal, which we all are. Aamiin.

Imam is National Secretary, Ilorin Emirate Descendants Progressive Union.

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