Imitations of Immortality: Sir Olaniwun Ajayi April 8, 1925 – November 4, 2016
It will be true to say of Sir Olaniwun Ajayi KJW, (as Ralph Waldo Emerson said in the book “Self Reliance”), that an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest men.
Like shadows that have no voice, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi cast a long shadow over the legal profession in Nigeria, with the greatness achieved by his law firm, Olaniwun Ajayi LP, reputed internationally to be one of the largest partnerships in Africa and best law firms in the region. Like great men before him, by muscular action and visionary thinking, he built an institution that has seen three generations – with the entry into it this year of the fourth generation: the best in class of the Nigerian law school year of 2016. No doubt, when historians look back to write about the legal profession in Africa, not just Nigeria, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi KJW will, (in spite of his height and unrelenting humility), stand out – not least because before we saw the good in disruptive innovation, and in the 20th century when most here were analogue leaped to the digital age of the 21st century – opening up his space to “outsiders”, welcoming of brilliant minds, permitting spend, at his expense, on advances in not just information technology but advanced management systems, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi was at all times a step ahead of his time. Sir Olaniwun Ajayi KJW, has imitations of immortality with what he built in the seen and unseen work of his firm, the people he sired, the work did, the landmarks he made, the systems he built, the leadership provided and on top of it all the virtues of righteousness and integrity he built.
Sir Olaniwun Ajayi LP, was however not only a defining pillar of the legal profession, as he was indeed better known for his profiles in courage, activism, struggle for democracy, good governance and end of oppression, injustice and all manner of disguised dictatorship. Prepared always to eat just his bread, so he could say his mind, lived his life to the fullest, leaving the stage doing what he loved, after love of God and his family, seeing to a just and equitable society in the widely published press interview he gave just over a day before God proved him and found him worthy for Himself, drawing him as a righteous soul to begin life anew in heavenly realms.
Sir Olaniwun Ajayi KJW, was a Solicitor and Advocate, and Notary Public of the Supreme Court of Nigeria; a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries and Administrators; was born on 8 April 1925 at Isara Remo, Ogun State, into the Methodist family of Benjamin Awoyemi Ajayi and Mrs. Marian Efundolamu Ajayi. His pedigrees, particularly on his mother’s side, are long and of which, he was very proud. His father, late Ben Ajayi was a foundation member of Isara Methodist Church, which was founded on 11 December 1893. On finishing at Wesley College Ibadan in 1949, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi taught at Wesley School Oko Sagamu for three years, between 1950 -1952. He became the Headmaster of the Junior Primary of the School in 1953, where he served for two years. For the next two years starting from January 1955, he was appointed the Supervisor of Methodist Schools in Ijebu Province (now known and called Ogun State East Senatorial District).
Around about this period of service at Sagamu (1950 -1957) Sir Olaniwun Ajayi achieved a lot, and the stage was set for things that he will stand on for the rest of his life. He met and married his wife of blessed memory: Adunola Ajayi; had his first two children: Olamijulo and Dara; got acquainted with and formed a bond with Chief Obafemi Awolowo; and made his longest friendship with Chief Ayo Adebanjo. In the period he served Church and society in various capacities. Having qualified as an Accredited Local Preacher (as they were then called) in 1948, he was appointed Secretary of Remo Local Preachers’ Meeting, Secretary Ijebu (Sagamu) Circuit Quarterly Meeting, Secretary Wesley Guild Sagamu – all of the Methodist Church Nigeria. Being a Lieutenant of the Boys’ Brigade, he was Secretary of Remo Battalion of the Movement. It was in acknowledgement and recognition of his services that he was selected as the Officer to lead the Nigerian Contingent of The Boys’ Brigade to the celebration of the centenary of the birth of the founder of The Boys’ Brigade Movement, Sir William Smith which celebration took place on the premises of Eton College, England in 1954.
In July 1957, he left for the United Kingdom to further his studies. He was admitted to City of London College, Moorgate, London (now Known as City University) where, while working at the bottom of the ladder, studied to qualify as a Chartered Secretary. He got admission to LSE (the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London) in 1959 where he took a degree in Law, again working his way through school with wife and children to cater for. During the period, he enrolled at the Council of Legal Education, Lincoln’s Inn, in 1959 and was called to the English Bar in July 1962. He was enrolled as Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on 2 November, 1962, the same day he started his outstanding legal career by joining the defence team in the treasonable felony trial of Chief Obafemi Awolowo SAN – who, along with Nehru and Gandhi, were his political mentors. Sir Olaniwun Ajayi continued his services to the Church in quite a number of ways: both to his Local Church at Isara and to the Diocese of Remo. He was the Chairman of Isara Methodist Church Building Committee. Sir Olaniwun Ajayi assisted quite a number of young people to acquire education both at secondary and tertiary levels. He assisted a few Churches in their projects and took special interest in many good causes the chief of which was to upgrade the infrastructure at the premier Methodist Theological institute in Nigeria – MTI Sagamu. Like, his great wife, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi had considerable pleasure in hosting people, from home and overseas.
Sir Ajayi was the first Legal Adviser of the Diocese of Remo and later its Lay President. In 2001, the Conference of Methodist Church Nigeria accorded Brother Olaniwun Ajayi the highest and prestigious title of honour — Knight of John Wesley (KJW). He became the Archdiocesan Lay President of Ibadan Archdiocese. Just as Sir Olaniwun Ajayi contributed his quota to Youth Work and the Church, so he did to his community. Thus, for about twenty years starting from 1968, he was the President of Isara Progressive Union (IPU). Under his leadership IPU executed a number of laudable projects including the tarring of all township roads, acquiring, clearing and surveying the present site of Isara Secondary School; construction of Isara Town Hall; carrying out extension and providing modern amenities to Isara Health Centre which subsequently became a General Hospital. Later, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi was elected the Chairman of Isara Community Development Council during which period the Council ICDC supplied beds, mattresses, bed sheets etc. to the General Hospital. He more or less singularly built the town hall at Isara, and provided many a comfort to his people. At the national level, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi was appointed a Commissioner for Education, later for Health in the former Western State of Nigeria (now Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ogun and Ekiti States) from 1971-1974. Between 1975 and 1979, he was a member of the Federal Inland Revenue Appeal Commission. A member of the defunct Action Group (AG) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). He was a founding member of the then Alliance for Democracy (AD) and other political formations – searching at all times for better meaning in the narrative of our country and the land of his birth. He was a founding member of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), and the Patriots – writing for us a Constitution that works, but one yet ignored. He seized on the opportunity afforded by President Jonathan Goodluck to rally the troops, despite of opposition even of his own, around Yoruba land to join the national discourse on a peaceful constitutional root and branch reform. Though ending with a sub optimal compromise, he rued to the end the failure of state to begin with those little steps of ensuring Nigeria’s political imbalance were used in big strides towards a restructured society of true peace and unity – a land following with milk and honey. Sir Olaniwun Ajayi KJW was one of the leaders of Afenifere, a Pan-Yoruba political and cultural organization – which remains relevant in the equation of our national mathematical equation.
A very proud and noble Yoruba man, he went high and low in trying to bring unity and peace that the land saw after the longest civil war in history – the Yoruba 100 year war that ended with an armistice in Okemesi. Sir Olaniwun Ajayi wrestled with tyranny and corruption in public spaces and private quarters. He confronted and challenged the Church to fulfill its mission and not get entangled in the lowliness of corruption. He called on the people to go high when their traducers go low; he served time underground and in detention. He confronted the evil of the day, and with wisdom from above and grace of his Master, he turned the other cheek, and never, even when opportuned, repaid evil even with bad. Rather, with good he repaid evil, and enveloped himself in the love of God, swimming in His grace and living on His blessings.
He was father to many and friend of all. He was kept youthful by his army of young friends; his deep research in spiritual, political and world affairs. He loved to travel, to read and write. In the last decade of his life he became a prolific author – scripting seven books, with the last just off the press on his native people, the Remo and their neighbours. He enjoyed good company and was never wanting in sartorial embellishment. As if his shoes were not big enough to fill, in imitations of immortality, he had so many custom made shoes of different stripes to match his full Yoruba clothing and occasional western dressing.
Sir Olaniwun Ajayi was married to former Miss Adunola Sode-Adegunle former Senior Teacher at Sagamu Girls’ School, then later Principal of Nigerian Hotel and Catering Schools who retired as the Co-ordinator of Federal Government Hotel and Catering Schools in Nigeria. They were richly blessed with two sons and two daughters and many grandchildren.
Speaking of imitations of immortality Oputa JSC, of blessed memory said in Adegoke Motors v Adesanya: “…we are final not because we are infallible rather we are infallible because we are final.” So it was for Sir Olaniwun Ajayi KJW, whose experience and words of wisdom were so deep, when he spoke it was more or less final. Yet he was fallible only because he was mortal, but infallible to the extent that his love for Christ, and search for God, was unwavering, as was his ministry as a prayer warrior, a righteous man who was a living sacrifice in the words of Paul in Romans 12:1. Now we know he was so great, yet so humble; he was so intelligent yet so self-effacing; he was so disciplined yet so jovial; he was small of frame yet had such a large heart; he was so Yoruba, yet so passionate about Nigeria.
Though he was friend to many and foe of none, even those who took issues with him, especially for his hard stance on probity and rightness, will agree to say, (in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson in “Self Reliance”), of Sir Olaniwun Ajayi KJW, that: “Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design; and posterity seems to follow his steps as a train of clients. A man Caesar is born, and for ages after we have a Roman Empire.” Sir Olaniwun Ajayi fought a good fight for the cause of his people; he ran a good race for the success and rebirth of his country; and wrestled well for this age and that to come. Imitating immortality, did not have enough time and space to accomplish his vision – though he finished his mission – like Moses, who he admired. But he looks down from heaven now glad with the work he did – knowing as Ted Turner said that a true visionary never completes his work for they are so great it requires near immortality to complete.