By Babatunde Layiwola Isiaka
The glorious exit of the retired Justice Mustapha Muhammed Adebayo Akanbi who peacefully left this sinful world to the world beyond on the 3rd of June 2018, is a clear attestation to the fact that the finality of death is never a mirage.
The late Akanbi was born into the family of Alhaji Akanbi Oniyo on 11th September, 1932 in Accra, Ghana. Posthumously, Justice Akanbi is 86 years old today. Late Akanbi was privileged to have been born in the then Gold Coast and grew up in the country before coming back to his home country, Nigeria. He was the first child, among the children of his father born in Ghana. If he had been born here in Nigeria he probably wouldn’t have had the background and the education that he had.
To a lot people, the pioneer Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practice and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and first Wakili of Ilorin, still lives on. He was widely believed to have achieved his personal career targets . Justice Akanbi’s virtues went beyond what one can exhaustively extol in a single write-up,given his invaluable contributions to service to God and humanity which brought him to limelight and unarguably made him a known figure across Sub-Saharan African and beyond.
After retiring from active service voluntarily as the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Akanbi benevolently founded the Mustapha Akanbi Foundation (MAF), and later formed another charitable organization called Massalam Islamic Foundation (MIF), the latter being an offshoot of the former and designed to support the less privileged and indigent children including the sick in various hospitals across the state financially.
Other notable initiatives of this erudite Jurist include the Nana Aisha Academy, one of the leading private schools in Ilorin, Nana Aisha Primary School, the Mustapha Akanbi Library and Resource Center, Knowledge Platform and many other people oriented programmes such as visitation to the sick people in both General and Sobi Specialist Hospitals, prisons, communities and villages across the state and presentation of gift items including money to the hosts.
He formed these institutions to influence society and impact positively on the people. Most importantly, to leave Nigeria as a better place than he met it. According to late Akanbi “What profits a man if he gains the whole world and does not touch the lives of people meaningfully. I don’t see the essence of life if you cannot influence people”. This mindset inspired him to come up with a popular poem which goes thus: “If you cannot move your world move your continent if you cannot move your continent move your country if you cannot move your country move your town or city if you cannot move your town or city move your home”.
To assert that Hon. Justice Mustapha Akanbi was an elder statesman, a colossus, a judicial icon, anti-corruption crusader, an embodiment of sincerity and integrity is to repeat the obvious. In fact, the former President of the Court Appeal has proved beyond doubt that he was a hero of this generation and generation unborn. He was an ocean of Knowledge and kindness from which everybody that came his way drank.
For over one and half decades before Justice Akanbi left for the world beyond in June 2018, I enjoyed a close relationship with him . Part of the unique stories about him is that Justice Akanbi prematurely and voluntarily retired as President of the Court of Appeal, a decision that took everybody, especially his colleagues in the profession and associates by surprise.
Having served the country in various capacities, Justice Akanbi was In September 1992 appointmented the President Court of Appeal (Nigeria), the month he clocked 60 years, the post he held until he voluntarily retired in January 1999 before reaching the compulsory retirement age of 70 .
Shortly after his retirement from the bench, the Ilorin born judge was appointed Chairman of Enquiry into embezzlement of Funds and Problems in the National Fertilizer Company Limited (NAFCON) at Onne, Port Harcourt in 1999.
His credible performance and the display of high level of unblemished integrity at the Enquiry informed the then President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo to appoint him as the Chairman of Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC). The appointment was a recognition of his impeccable integrity, honesty and forthrightness as a judicial officer having retired from the bench as an incorruptible judicial activist.
With his wealth of experience, he established ICPC and set the necessary machinery in motion to fight corruption. So many cases were filed in court during his tenure against highly-placed Nigerians such as the former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara, three senators and two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), a Commissioner in INEC and so many others who were indicted for corruption. As a man of impeccable integrity, he made sure that those who worked with him at ICPC either in the Administrative or Legal Department were also people with proven integrity who will not compromise the philosophy and objectives of the ICPC.
He served ICPC with great credit and he put in all his wealth of experience to lay a strong foundation for the anti-corruption agency. For the good job he did at ICPC, he was offered a second term by the former president Obasanjo, an offer he declined.
On retiring from ICPC, he came to his hometown, Ilorin, a decision that is very unusual among sons and daughters of Ilorin who had risen to the apex in their chosen careers. Justice Akanbi came home and set up Mustapha Akanbi Foundation (MAF) and later Ma’assalam Islamic Foundation (MIF). He equally set up an Islamic school, primary and secondary schools and then started his humanitarian services through these organizations.
He continued his war against corruption and bad governance on an unimaginable scale than when he was at ICPC using MAF as a platform. He did this, by organizing periodic lectures, symposia and by publications to educate members of the public on the evils associated with corruption and bad governance.
The symposia and lectures were not restricted to Ilorin. The first MAF lecture was held in Abuja, followed by a symposium which also held in Abuja with a gathering of the best brains both in the legal profession and in the academic world who participated in anti-corruption and offered solutions to Nigerian problems. Other lectures were held at MAF headquarters in Ilorin.
He equally used MIF, which is an offshoot of MAF, to propagate Islam, giving out alms to the needy in the society, wiping off tears from faces of underprivileged and several other related helps and assistance in line with the tenant of Islam. The annual visitations to various villages and communities, hospitals, prison yards during Ramadan with provision of food items and cash donation to the host community was another unique way he used his widow’s mite to uplift the life of the needy.
Late Justice Akanbi was widely rewarded for his meritorious services not in terms of financial gains alone but in the area of recognitions and recommendations which culminated into hundreds of national and international merit awards presented to him .The Federal Government awarded him a Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR), his home traditional institution turbaned him first Wakili of Ilorin, various Tertiary Institutions awarded him Honorary PhD and many communities, Non Governmental Organizations and institutions gave him many more honours.
He demonstrated that he was a completely and totally detribalized person who was also interested in the welfare and well-being of people, particularly the poor, needy, oppressed and the suppressed. It is difficult to find a man of his status in life In this part of the world.
My lord as he was fondly called was a man of high intellectual and capability. He opened his doors for everybody and identified particularly with people who are down below. He was a man whose name has never been heard in any scandal whatsoever.
Usually, in a society like this where people are so battered and thoroughly disturbed and oppressed, people tend to resign to themselves but Justice Akanbi was one of the very few available to put smiles on the needy and downtrodden from his personal money as a pensioner.
If the country is blessed with his type multiplied across the nation, then life would be more meaningful to leave on and the resources we have will be well managed for the wellbeing of the citizenry.
Hon. Justice Mustapha Akanbi was very honest man that is why his appointment as ICPC was a welcomed decision by the President Olusegun Obasanjo at that time.
A Few years back, he visited his primary and secondary schools he attended in Ghana.He was given a rousing welcome and accorded warm reception. In his usual character , the son of Alhaji Akanbi Oniyo donated generously to the schools.
The life of the jurist truly shows that: ‘’What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal’’. ‘’Truly great people in history never wanted to be great for themselves. All they wanted was the chance to do good and be close to God’’. The above two quotations are words from two great heroes, Albert Pike and Muhammed Ali respectively, who philosophically posited that doing good to others is the needful. Baba as we fondly called him used to liken himself with a desert where no crop germinates like Saudi Arabia but miraculously those living in the Saudi Kingdom have direct access to not only fresh groceries but also get them at a cheaper rate.
Still fresh in my memory was how the Ladi Wali hall of the famous Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, was filled to the brim on November 26th 2014 during the launching of Justice Akanbi’s Autobiography titled ‘The story of my two worlds: Challenges, Experiences and Achievements. The launching of the 412-page autobiography had former President Olusegun Obasanjo as the chairman of the occasion while the Oba of Lagos, Oba Ridwan Akiolu was the chief launcher. The occasion featured twin books in his honour on that day. The second book is titled ‘M.M.A. Akanbi: A Life of Service and Grace (perspectives shared). The 374-page book was funded by Justice Akanbi’s course mate during the law programmes in London, Justice Muhammed M. L. Uwais (GCON), former Chief Justice of the federation.
The demise of Justice Akanbi’s wife, Hajia Munfa’atu Aduke Akanbi in 2013 could not be forgotten in a hurry. Late Mrs. Akanbi, a loving woman of noble character left a serious vacuum in her husband’s life.
But the widower, children, family and friends took heart and immortalized her with a Central Mosque and library complex.
Justice Akanbi has firmly launched himself as one of the famous and highly respected legal icons in Nigeria before death came calling . His contributions towards repositioning Nigerian judicial system were enormous and profound.
In his words during one of last interviews with an online publication platform www.highprofile.com.ng, Justice Akanbi said “I will like to be remembered by history as a man who came, saw and conquered. I will like to be remembered by history as a man whose special interest was a service to God and humanity and I did my best to the society. I left my mark as a state counsel, as a private legal practitioner, as a judge, as a man who also tried as much as possible to influence and touch the lives of people so that Allah in His infinite mercy will look at me, on the day of resurrection, and say ‘O that my faithful servant, I appreciate what you have done, pass through the gate of Aljanat Fridaus without looking back”.
The world is today and always remembering him for the good indelible mark he has made in the sands of time. God has been very kind to him. In all ramifications. Shortly after his demise, one of his children and the only daughter, Magistrate Asmau Tanwa became the Justice in the Federal High Court, Professor Mohammed Mustapha Akanbi of the Faculty of Law University of Ilorin has equally elevated to the iconic position of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
Justice Akanbi lived a credible life worthy of emulation. A special prayer would be held today at his GRA Residence in Ilorin by his children, friends and relatives to commemorate his 86th posthusmous birthday and to offer prayer for God’s mercy and blessings upon him. May his gentle soul rest in peace.
Babatunde Layiwola Isiaka writes from Directorate of Corporate Affairs, University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria. 08032246844