RICHARD Akinjide (1931 -2020), Nigeria’s Minister of Education under late Prime Tafawa Balewa, then and Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation under the government of late President Shehu Shagari etched his name in the country’s political history in a way that it would be hard to forget his role even after death.
Akinjide, a respected lawyer and statesman practiced law for over 60 years before he breathed his last on Tuesday morning after a brief illness in Ibadan, Oyo State capital and his home town.
He is the father of Olajumoke Akinjide, a former Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) under former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The magical twelve-two-third
No one has used Mathematics like Akinjide did to define the country’s political history aftermath of 1979 general elections.
He was the lawyer hired by Shehu Shagari, the presidential candidate of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) who polled 5,688,857 votes against 4,916,657 votes polled by his closest rival, Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). Five parties were registered by the Federal Electoral Commission of Nigeria (FEDECO) headed by Anthony Ani.
Other candidates were Nnamdi Azikwe of National Peoples’ Party (NPP), Aminu Kano of Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP) and Waziri Ibrahim of Great Nigerian Peoples’ Party (GNPP).
Akinjide was the legal adviser of the NPN.
Though by number of votes, Shagari had more votes than Awolowo, he had to also fulfill 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.
This was where Akinjide’s mathematical ingenuity played out against a team of seasoned mathematicians assembled by Awolowo who had gone to court to challenge if Shagari had satisfied the requirement of one-quarter of votes in two-thirds of the states of the federation.
Shagari had 25 percent or one-quarter in 12 states but failed to have 25 percent in Kano State where he had 243,423 votes — the equivalent of 19.4percent 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.
Awolowo took his case to the election tribunal but the ruling was not in his favour. He headed for the Supreme Court. Awolowo engaged the services of Professors Ayodele Awojobi of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Lagos, Chike Obi of Mathematics 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.
While defending Shagari in court, Akinjide argued that the two-thirds of 19 is 122/3 and not 13. He came to his rationalisation 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 fractionalising 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.
When Shagari became Nigerian president, Akinjide was rewarded for his “Mathematical Wizardry” in court with the portfolio of Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation but he was never in the good book of the opposition who described him as a “Shameless manipulator.”
Rated Awolowo as the second greatest politician ever produced by Nigeria
Akinjide and late Obafemi Awolowo were in opposing party and it was not clear if they were in good terms till their end aftermath of the twelve-two-third court saga. But the late former legal luminary described Obafemi Awolowo as the second great politician ever produced by Nigeria after late Nnamdi Azikwe, the first president of Nigeria.
“The greatest Nigerians we have ever produced in our history, politics and journalism were the likes of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe. He was the greatest Nigerian we have ever produced in politics. Second was Chief Obafemi Awolowo who produced the Nigerian Tribune and also worked towards the progress of Western Nigeria. After him, was the second Premier of Nigeria, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, who also did a lot for the development of the country,” Akinjide said in an interview published by the Vanguard in 2016.
According to him, the biggest mistake that Awolowo made was going to the centre
“He thought he could become the Premier but he did not. I don’t want to talk much about the past. We should leave the things that belonged to the past like that,” he said.
Military coups as Nigeria’s biggest mistake
The late Akinjide believed Nigeria’s problems started when the military ventured into government.
“We got it wrong through military coups because the military, instead of staying in the army, interfered several times in politics and some of them became politicians. I think that is the biggest mistake we made in the history of this country and I hope we will never make that mistake again,” he said.
Agitation for breakaway will not succeed
Akinjide was a member of the Parliament when Nigeria was granted independence on October 1, 1960. He was a member of the Confab called in 2014 by former President Goodluck Jonathan to chart a way forward for Nigeria.
But he opined that it was a wrong recipe for somebody or group to say they would break away.
“We are one and we will remain one. It is total nonsense for anybody to talk about breakaway. And if anybody tries it, they will never succeed.”
He stated that the Niger Delta has been a problem since the colonial days.
“In fact, it was the economic problem in the country that brought in the army so to say. I don’t think anybody should think of breakaway.”