Home Interview How I Won Case Against M.K.O’s Installation As Aare Ona Kakanfo For...

How I Won Case Against M.K.O’s Installation As Aare Ona Kakanfo For Alaafin — Afe Babalola


Senior advocate and founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, Chief Afe Babalola, who was the counsel for the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, in a landmark case in January 1988, stopped the ex-parte motion billed to stall the installation of Chief M.K.O. Abiola by the Alaafin as the Aare Ona Kankanfo of Yorubaland. Thirty-two years later, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria tells Saturday PUNCH’s ABIODUN NEJO how hard work, industry, and preparedness helped him win the case for the Alaafin and Abiola

Chief M. K. O. Abiola was installed as the Aare Ona Kankanfo by the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III on January 14, 1988, but it did not happen without drama as there was an ex-parte application to stall it. Can you recall the day you got a call from the Alaafin to take up the matter?

Google search engine

The Alaafin of Oyo is a respected monarch in Yorubaland. I started to love the Alaafin when I was in elementary school. In those days, we studied Yoruba history, we were told the Alaafin was a royal majesty, whose empire extended to places like Dahomeh, now Benin Republic; Togo; and to River Niger in the North and to the East. Fortunately, when I became a lawyer and was practising, the Alaafin, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, approached me to handle a number of cases for him.

The first was the one between him and the Ooni of Ife on who was more supreme between the two of them. I think the way I handled the case endeared me to him. Thereafter, I became his personal lawyer.

Incidentally, I was also the counsel for Chief Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola, at that time. I represented virtually anybody who was somebody in Nigeria, from Presidency to governors, to senators, the banks, World Bank and other people.

Abiola was a very wealthy popular philanthropist. He had admirers here in Nigeria and throughout the world. The Alaafin announced that he wanted to make Abiola the Aare Ona Kankanfo, a very powerful, most respected grandfather of all titles. Abiola and the Alaafin had set a date for the installation. Abiola had invited people from all over the world for the installation which was scheduled for Saturday, January 14, 1988.

At about 2pm on Tuesday, January 10, the Alaafin phoned me that there was an urgent matter, I asked ‘what is it?’ He said somebody told him that a suit had been filed against him and Abiola that he had no power to install Abiola as the Aare Ona Kankanfo of Yorubaland. You can see that there was an intrigue there – to be sued by your own man, your own chief. They were very clever, they did not file it two or three weeks earlier, they filed it only a few days to the event. They had filed what was called an ex-parte motion. Ex-parte motion means an order you can get when the other does not know anything about it against that person, then you can come and defend it. It was deliberately planned to stall the installation.

As a very hard-working young lawyer, I can tell you that I was fearless. I drove myself straight from Ibadan to Oyo. I got there some minutes before 3pm, before the closing hours. You cannot rely on verbal instructions in such a matter. I paid the requisite fees to search for the file. A lawyer has the right to search for a file whether you are the owner of the case or not. That was what I did. I saw what they filed, paid to get the certified true copy of it and went back to Ibadan.

When I got to Ibadan, I prepared a motion to be filed on Wednesday, challenging the action filed. Ordinarily, when you have not been served with a case filed by your opponent and the only thing they have is an ex-parte motion, you have no right to be heard. Ex-parte means without the other side. So, the lawyer for the other side was happy that they were going to get an order on Thursday preventing Abiola from being installed on Saturday. If they got that order and served it, that would have been the end of the programme. In law, you are not allowed to challenge it.

What made you think you could argue the position and be heard?

I was daring. I went and did my study. I was lucky to get authorities from other countries which permitted somebody to challenge an ex-parte motion.

How did you go about it?

On Thursday, the day when the motion was to be heard, I went to court. Lawyer Olagunju, who filed the motion for the Asipa of Oyo (Chief Amuda Olorunosebi), was in court. When he saw me, he asked what I wanted. I told him I wanted to challenge his ex-parte. He said, ‘But you have no right to appear’, but I said to him, ‘Don’t worry, today is a battle day.’

When the judge came out, the lawyer announced himself for his motion ex-parte. You know, I have no right to appear, but I stood up. I said, ‘My Lord, I appear in this case.’ The judge said, ‘No, you can’t appear because you are not a party to it’, but I said, ‘I had filed a motion and it will satisfy Your Lord that not only do I have locus standi to do so, but this particular case must not be heard.’  The judge then said he would listen to me.

Olagunju was so confident that it was impossible. I addressed the court for about three hours with authorities from Australia, Canada, and England that our law which said we could not be heard was wrong. So, I sat down. The judge called Olagunju to address the court. He was not even aware of the existence of the books that I brought to the court, let alone the cases. After he had addressed the court to say that the Nigerian law said we could not do this and that, the judge fixed judgment in the case for Friday.

Is it true that some people called and told you not go to court on Friday and that you could send your junior lawyers because of the tension?

Yes! I went back to Ibadan that Thursday. But in Ibadan, people started to advise me not to go to Oyo for the judgment on Friday because Oyo was tense; this and that. But I had always been a very fearless person, so I went there.

But were you not afraid for your life considering the warnings?

Who will not die? Well, I have been told many years back, in the words of William Shakespeare, that ‘cowards die many times before their death’. Yes, I knew the implication, but I went. If I died, that would be the end of it. Who will not die? So I went.

It was said that there was actually tension everywhere; can you describe the situation?

Yes, there was tension everywhere. I tell you, all the police officers in Oyo State were on the road from Ibadan to Oyo. When I got to the court, police officers outnumbered civilians. They searched everybody going inside the court, but I was allowed in. I am sure the judge himself was also afraid for his life.

What was on your mind when the judgment was to be delivered?

I knew I had made a very good submission. So, when the judgment was read, Justice Aderemi upheld my submission. Not only that I had the right to be heard, but he also dismissed the motion.

And what was the reaction to the judgment?

It was a glorious moment. With the few chiefs who had the courage to come to court, we went to the palace of the Alaafin rejoicing. They didn’t allow me to go to my car; people lifted me shoulder-high and carried me to the palace like that. It was a glorious day for me. When we got to the Alaafin and they told him about the judgment, he burst into tears. He said that was how they conspired against his father who was then sent into exile.

How was the judgment received by the public?

There was joy everywhere; all the way to the palace. The people were chanting: ‘Afe, Abiola, Alaafin; Afe, Abiola, Alaafin; Afe, Abiola Alaafin.’

Some people would think that it was the influence of the personalities involved like Abiola, Alaafin and you that won the case – how would you react to that?

Certainly not! It was a matter of industry. If anything, I am not the most knowledgeable person in the world, but I am clearly one of the most hard-working and industrious persons in the world. The Supreme Court has acknowledged it in a case where they said ‘we acknowledge the industry of Afe Babalola and we have learnt a lot from his submissions which would not be limited to only Nigeria’. That is what I do in all my cases. I prepare not only the case of my clients, but the case of the defence. I prepare what I would say and I would also prepare what the opponent ought to say.

Another school of thought might think the judge being a Prince of Ile Ife only carried out the wish of a sister royal family. How would you react to that?

No. The judge was persuaded by law. It had nothing to do with that. At that time, our law courts, our judges enjoyed the credibility of the people. Lawyers knew when they would win, because of the submission they made. I could tell you, in any case, when I made my submission, that there was no question of failing in the case. Let me give you an example, there was a case which was decided by Justice Akinola Aguda, one of the best judges we have ever had. It was a case that had to do with land in Ondo.

In my chambers, we hold conferences on every case before the lawyer involved goes to court. We raised objection to a case filed in Ondo. The young man went with all the files; when he got to court, the judge said ‘this is a motion challenging the competence of a case filed by the other side’. The lawyer for the applicant said he was ready to go on and that there was nothing in the case, and the judge asked him to go ahead. The lawyer from our chambers went ahead and cited several cases supporting his submission on the incompetence of the case. When the lawyer of the applicants, who had earlier said there was nothing in the case, was asked to reply, he said, ‘Sir, I am not prepared for this case, I didn’t know they were going to cite all those cases.’

The judge said, ‘I warned you. Behind that (our) lawyer, there are 10 unseen lawyers. In other words, he is with the heads of 10 lawyers.’ At that time, you won in court not because you knew somebody or government, you won on the basis of the competence of the lawyer and the preparation made by the lawyer.

Before you became involved in the matter, how did you receive the news that the Alaafin had chosen M. K. O. Abiola for the title?

I believe and I was satisfied that Abiola was more than qualified for the position. He was regarded as the wealthiest Nigerian; he was regarded as the best philanthropist in the land and was known to be very enterprising. He was a successful entrepreneur.

Then, did you foresee any legal battle?

I never knew that anybody was going to file any motion that the Alaafin was not competent to confer the Aare Ona Kankanfo title on him. In history, it was the Alaafin of Oyo that appointed or installed Aare Ona Kankanfo of Yorubaland, so I did not know that anybody could come to say he was not competent.

What do you think about the title – Aare Ona Kankanfo?

Aare Ona kankanfo has been the title, from time immemorial, given to an important personality in Yorubaland who can be called upon in the time of war to represent the Alaafin. He is the generalissimo of Yorubaland.

Some people believe the title is cursed and that those who held it in the past died mysteriously. Did you try to warn Abiola against it?

Well. I never did and I would not have done that because, to me, God is the owner of one’s life. God is the one who would decide when a person would die. Even if 10 had died before him, it did not mean he would die prematurely. Unfortunately he died prematurely too, but I never warned him. We all know the way he died, maybe it is right in linking it to the belief, but honestly, I never warned him.

But do you believe in the assertion that the title is cursed?

I still don’t believe so because his own death had nothing to do with the Aare Ona Kankanfo or Oyo. We all know the circumstances of his death. You know, I was his lawyer when he was granted bail. Rotimi Williams and I had prepared bail for him then. Some people advised him not to go on bail. They said he must be declared president of Nigeria. If he had listened to my advice, maybe he would not have died.

What was the advice?

My advice was that he should accept the bail given to him and go back to Lagos, but they said no, that he should continue to stay in prison until he was given his mandate as president of Nigeria.

How would you rate the Are Ona Kankanfo case on the list of your legal successes?

I was looking at my autobiography recently, at the number of cases I handled as a lawyer – land cases, civil cases, criminal cases, chieftaincy cases and I said ‘thank God, this man worked hard indeed’. There are so many important cases I handled and on each occasion, I would come out and feel ‘oh, this is the best of your cases’. I cannot rate it as the best, although it was a landmark case. I handled so many landmark cases. Take for instance the case where I made N1bn at a go. There was a case involving a syndicate of banks that I obtained N3bn for. My fee was one-third of it so I took N1bn.

There was a case involving one of the ex-presidents and I appeared in court for only once. It was the Court of Appeal as he had lost at the lower court and my fee was N2m. I took N1m before I went to court and when I won the case the following week, I took another N1m. I can keep telling you so many cases either where I made money or where I succeeded in getting judgments that remain landmarks in themselves. I have handled so many cases and cannot describe one as the best.

What else do you remember about the Aare Ona Kankanfo case that you may want to share?

I want to say that this case has been reported in many cases. The case is a chapter, subtitled, ‘Uneasy Lies the Head: How Abiola Became the Aare Ona Kankanfo’ in Onigegewura: Echoes Across the Niger’, written by Lanrewaju Akinola. Many times, people have reported it as one of the landmark cases in the country.

Previous articleOPINION: Oyo And NURTW | Femi Akindele Lawson
Next articleICPC Insists UI Among Institutions Involved In Salary Padding Allegations


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here