Home News AKINJIDE:Malice As Virtue | Sam Omatseye

AKINJIDE:Malice As Virtue | Sam Omatseye

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We don’t make politicians like Richard Akinjide anymore. Or even lawyers. He was a man who understood malice and turned it not only into a virtue but also into a sort of glamour. But first, he made a good career of it.

I could not but ruminate on this idiosyncrasy of this man when he died last week. He belonged to that class of statesmen who did not believe in joining the other group. He did not love the quality of compromise. He shone in his own ideological skin. He did not envy the “wicked.” He did not aspire to the pollution of the age.

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He was Akinjide, conservative, virulent, brilliant and successful. Yet many would deny him the tag of statesman because he was thought an ideological retrogressive. This writer thinks so, but I do say so with a sort of envy. He did not belong to the mainstream of his tribe. But he was a toothache that gave worry to the whole jaw. An Ibadan man whose group found a way to lose virtually every poll since the 1950’s, Akinjide still stuck to his position to his dying day. He was a loser as glamour.

He was successful as some people might say. He was a federal minister. He was attorney-general of the federation. He was a lawyer and made senior Advocate the same day with his great foe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He did that in spite of the cauldron of disaffection from his own people. He ran his race, and he cut the tape, in spite of his Yoruba race.

When he became a SAN, he might have embraced Awo. But what history recalls was not their joint celebration but celebration as grudge match. In the same hotel in Victoria Island, they clinked glasses in different rooms. Awo thought Akinjide a political wayfarer of bad warfare who turned the law to the service of servile causes for profit. Akinjide thought Awo was a naïve lawyer who he defeated all the time and was not a SAN worthy of his – Akinjide’s – luminous robe.

Akinjide did not need anyone’s praise. He did not need anyone’s money. He did not need anyone’s epaulette. He was a proud and contented hater. He had peace just to see his enemies squirm because of him. And they did squirm.

Even when you defeated him, you knew he was down but not out. So you did not beat him. Your victory was Pyrrhic. When Bola Ige of the acerbic tongue flunked him out of the debate floor over whether his family bred thugs from Awo’s free education, he suspected Akinjide would come back. He returned in the camouflage of the garrulous Olunloyo to flush Ige out of Agodi as governor of Oyo State. Till his dying day, Ige ached at the mention of Akinjide’s name.

As for Awo, he must have thought of Akinjide like Jefferson and Adams thought of each other in their dying moments. John Adams and Jefferson were foes to the death. And when Adams lay dying, his last words were, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” Jefferson had died five minutes earlier wondering the same thing of Adams.

The point though was that Akinjide conceded Awo’s superiority in political organization. But that was obvious. He said Awo was an inferior lawyer. He also thought Awo was no better in wisdom. In stature though, Akinjide is a puny figure to the Ikenne titan. He did not admit it, and the Awoists are not happy that he still arrogated to himself a position of grandeur that belonged elsewhere.

This peacock element of Akinjide made him a source of admiration to his friends and foes. Where he thought he did the most harm was on the legal pulpit of what is called twelve two third. Many see it as a legal battle, but it was both legal and political, and he won. Awo and Awoists will go to their graves grieving, but that is the singular battle ground that the Ibadan warrior exacted his pound of flesh – raw, bleeding and juicy. They never got it back.

If Akinjide turned to the other side, his prestige and myth might have diluted. He didn’t. He remained the ideological foe. The man who looked the other side. The man who scorned when he smiled, the peacock who strutted and preened.

We don’t have them today. He remained the metaphor of the politician without compromise. He was with the NPC with his Akintola crowd of NNDP. He was with NPN. He was with NRC. He was with PDP. He was, in the words of Henry Thoreau, not a joiner who are like pigs who come together in a sty to feel warm. The only time he had common cause with Awo and the progressives was in the early days of the Ibadan People’s Party when his coalition saved the west from Zik’s onslaught into Yorubaland. After that, he was done. Unlike Lot’s wife, he never looked back. The Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler wrote that “it is easier to fight for one’s principle than to live up to them.” Akinjide was one rare personage who lived up to his. We cannot say so of the politics of today.

Many we see in PDP today were in APC. Many in APC were in PDP. This is an age of the harlot, of convenience. You may call him a quisling to his race, a lawyer as carpetbagger, a serial dissenter. But he was Akinjide. His apology was to none.

I had a short shave with him shortly after I started this column. He called this essayist. I was in the car and I picked up the phone. “My name is Richard Akinjide,” he announced. I recognised the voice, but I still ventured mischief. “Is this the Richard Akinjide sir.” He said yes. He was impressed with my writing and he would want to meet with me. I eventually saw him at his office in Lagos.

It was quite a good conversation marked by bonhomie of ideas and he introduced me to his daughter and future minister Jumoke, who was then beneath the public radar. We discussed many contemporary issues and he was such a mind. As he accompanied me out of his office, I saw a cartoon applauding his Twelve Two-third cause celebre. I said, “I like every other thing on the wall except that.” That was the last moment of our friendship. He would not speak with me after that.

His enemies wished they are like him in an age of harlotry. He was what the writer said, “My enemy is gone. A soul divine like myself is dead.” His malice paid off.

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