The Late Chief Richard Akinjide. Photo file from Channels Television.
Former Minister of Justice in the second republic, Chief Richard Akinjide, (SAN), known in legal parlance as Mr. 12.2/3 is dead. He would have clocked 89 by November this year.
The news of his death disturbed Ibadan, the land with seven hills early Tuesday morning.
His daughter former Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Barrister Mrs. Jumoke Akinjide at 4 am to confirm and in a shaky voice she said his father has passed on to glory. She could not give more details about his father’s death because she was in mourning.
The late Akinjide was born on November 4, 1931, at Ibadan, Oyo State to an influential family of warriors. He attended Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife from where he passed out in Grade One (Distinction, Aggregate 6) and travelled to the UK in 1951 for his higher education. He was called to the English Bar in 1955 and later in Nigeria. He established his practice of Akinjide & Co soon after.
The late Chief Richard Akinjide was a former minister of education in the government of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa during the second republic and the minister for Justice in the administration of President Shehu Shagari. He was a member of the judicial systems sub-committee of the Constitutional Drafting Committee of 1975-1977 and later joined the National Party of Nigeria in 1978. He became the legal adviser for the party and was later appointed the Minister for Justice. Richard Akinjide was a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
He served as a chieftain in the Olubadan of Ibadan’s court of clan nobles. It was under his watch, as Attorney General that Nigeria temporarily reversed execution of armed robbers. There was also the abolition of a decree barring exiles from returning to the country.
He was the lead prosecutor in the treason trial of Bukar Zanna Mandara. He presided over the eviction of many illegal foreign nationals from Nigeria which contributed to mild violence against some foreigners in the country. The event also exposed some weaknesses within the West African economic community.
Perhaps, the most controversial highlight of his career was in the electoral case involving Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, from which his famous alias – Mr 122/3 or “Onisiro” was coined.
In the build-up to the 1979 election, there were five registered political parties. The political parties and their presidential candidates were: Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Chief Nnamdi Azikwe of National Peoples’ Party (NPP), Alhaji Aminu Kano of Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP) and Waziri Ibrahim of Great Nigerian Peoples’ Party (GNPP).
The body presiding over electoral processes then was called Federal Electoral Commission of Nigeria (FEDECO) headed by Anthony Ani. Akinjide was the legal adviser of the NPN. The 1979 presidential election was mired in mathematical controversy. FEDECO announced that NPN polled 5,688,857 votes while its closest rival, the UPN, polled 4,916,657 votes.
Even a person hopeless in Mathematics knows which is greater of the two figures, so they had no problem with that. The problem arose when Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the UPN inquired to know if his opponent satisfied the second condition given by the electoral act for a presidential candidate to be declared a winner, which was that candidate must have one-quarter of votes in two-thirds of the states of the federation.
Nigeria had 19 states then. Shagari had 25% or one-quarter in 12 states but failed to have 25% in Kano State where he had 243,423 votes — the equivalent of 19.4% of the 1,220,763 votes cast in total in the state. The controversy on how to get the two-third of 19 led to a legal tussle between the two parties and their loyalists.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo took his case to the election tribunal and it ruled against him. Not satisfied with the ruling of the Tribunal, he headed for the Supreme Court. Awolowo employed the services of Professors Ayodele Awojobi of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Lagos, Chike Obi of Mathematics Department at the University of Ibadan, J.O.K Ajayi of the Department of History in UI.
These three people were joined by Awolowo himself to form a formidable array of intellectuals with heads for figures and history. Richard Akinjide was the lawyer for Shagari. He rationalized that the two-thirds of 19 to be 122/3 and not 13. He came to his rationalization by dividing the 13th state (Kano) into three and votes cast in two-thirds of the state constituting the figure from where two-thirds of votes were said to have been secured by Shagari, earning Shagari the constitutionally required votes in other words, through fractionating of Kano State and going for the two-thirds of the votes in the state.
The Supreme Court eventually upheld the verdict of the election tribunal and ruled in favour of Shagari. But the verdict came with a caveat: THE JUDGEMENT SHOULD NOT BE CITED AS A PRECEDENT IN ANY COURT. The triumph at the court was celebrated in the NPN’s circle and Richard Akinjide, for his fruitful mathematical cum legal manipulation, earned himself the title of a mathematician while the UPN members saw him as a shameless manipulator.
But the name stuck over the years and virtually everybody called him “the mathematician” regardless of the political party they belonged in the Second Republic. Akinjide would later be rewarded with ministerial post; his screening and endorsement on the floor of the house came with a measure of drama too.
- Eniola Olatunji with further reports from Newspot.