It is seven years today since the demise of the immediate past Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Dr. Lateef Oladimeji Adegbite who excelled in all his areas of interest far beyond the shores of Islamic leadership for which he was widely known. One of the multiplicities of foci covered by Adegbite’s professional tentacles is the legal profession which he bestrode, for almost five decades, like a colossus.
For instance, sequel to his law lectureship at the University of Lagos, he rose to become Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice as well as a member of both the Academic Council and Executive Committee of the Institute of International Business Law and Practice, which was an organ of the International Chamber of Commerce based in Paris. He was also Nigeria’s Alternate Representative at the International Court of Arbitration also based at the ICC headquarters in Paris.
Given the unwieldy nature of the scope covered by this writer in Dr. Adegbite’s authorized but hitherto unpublished biography (completed before the writer’s sojourn overseas for his doctorate almost two decades ago) and in view of the preponderance of the historical evidence gathered by the writer through orality, the analysis in this piece shall focus on aspects of Dr. Adegbite’s contributions to law as perceived by his colleagues at the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos. Some of these life stories have never featured in print.
On 30th June 1965, the University of Lagos addressed to L.O. Adegbite (Ph.D London), at his 3, Lynette Avenue, London, S.W. 4 location, a Letter of Appointment as lecturer in the Faculty of Law with effect from 1st September 1965. Consequently, he accepted the offer upon its terms and conditions by appending his hands to the accompanying documents on 4th August 1965 indicating 1st December 1965 as the realistic date for his assumption of duties as against 1st September 1965 which was stated in the Memorandum of Appointment. Owing to the crisis that had engulfed it at that time, the institution which had been closed in the wake of the crisis in June 1965 could not resume academic activities until 2nd October 1965. Accordingly, Dr. Adegbite commenced its lectureship at the institution on 2nd January 1966. Other Ph.Ds London who assumed duties as lecturers in the Faculty at the same time were Dr. D. Odumosu, Dr. A.G. Karibi Whyte, Dr. A.A. Adeogun, Dr. A.V.J Nylander, and E.M. Asomugha.
Adegbite flourished prominently as a law lecturer whose scholarship was not only demonstrated through lecture room performance and sophisticated publications but also through his active engagement with the society and in fact, his local community. Evidence of his eminence as a legal mind seems ubiquitous having been attested to by friends and foes alike. However, how much of his intellectuality can remain somewhat inaccurately unperceived even when adequate information about it has been provided through records especially by some of those who were there with him, remains a perturbing question. There is enough material in his many learned publications and fortunately records of these survive in the forms of documents and oral tradition. Therefore, there is a greater scope for an appreciable understanding of him as a Law teacher in Lagos where he had an excellent career characterized by academic success and intellectual prosperity.
Some of the factors highlighted in the foregoing later earned him an unrestricted fame and glory in the academic settings and beyond. Yet, it is noteworthy that his life as a lecturer was characteristic of a dramatic interest of hard-fought but eventually won battle. It was a professional career full of rekindled enthusiasm and arguably decisive victory which makes it pass for a successful academic career laden with scores of attractions. Honey, called by any name, will always be sweet. This is true of the common denominators in his UNILAG Law Faculty contemporaries’ portrayals of him comprise among others a good command of the subject of Law, integrity, sense of responsibility and commitment to excellence.
To Prof. A.O. Obilade, “Dr. Adegbite who was my teacher in this Faculty, was highly committed to academic work, took seriously the task of imparting knowledge and always encouraged students to take interest in Law. On one occasion, it was raining and time for his lecture. Yet he went into the classroom under the rain only to discover that there were very few students. He pointed out that that was wrong,” the Professor remarked, adding that “Dr. Adegbite was a very pleasant person, friendly and always ready to help and that he was a scholar per excellence who voluntarily counselled people on how to pursue legal education and showed keen interest in the development of International Law.” Obilade concluded by enumerating the impact of Dr. Adegbite’s leadership in International Law Practice especially in connection with the unprecedented meeting of International lawyers which he convened in Ibadan when he was Attorney-General.
In the words of Prof. A.A. Adeyemi of the same Faculty, “Dr. Lati is a brilliant fellow who had a characteristic outlook to lectureship. Lecturers are expected to teach and do research and his works are known to be excellent publications. An excellent lecturer of Law, he got his Ph.D from London University and had been admitted straight for direct Ph.D owing to his excellent result at Bachelor’s level.” Prof. Adeyemi further described Dr. Adegbite as “a complete gentleman in all sense of that statement. He is a very frank person and people don’t like such a quality but I cherish that in him. He possesses very sound evaluative power: he could make unerring judgmental pronouncements about himself and others; he could look at himself objectively and laugh at himself genuinely,” Adeyemi rationalized.
Prof. A.A. Adeogun also of the University of Lagos Law Faculty was excited by the privilege to comment on Dr. Adegbite whom he cherished greatly: “As a colleague he was a very amiable person, very open and easily accessible.”
Dr. Adegbite had collaborated with the Dean of his Faculty, Dr. T.O. Elias in the founding of the Nigerian Society of International Law for which he was elected to the position of General Secretary from the inception in 1968, with his Dean as President. Six years after, Adegbite vacated the seat of the General Secretary having been appointed Vice President of the Society a position he held from 1974 to 1985. As a valued member of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) during his lectureship days he was appointed Joint Editor of the Association’s official publishing outlet, The Nigerian Bar Journal. In a similar token, he functioned at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law as well as in the International Africa Law Association and the International Bar Association especially its Section of Business Law, Energy and Natural Resources Law.
Dr. Adegbite’s academic excellence and professional eminence transcended the geographical boundaries of his country. By the time the military coup of 1976 truncated his services as Attorney-General and stimulated his immediate return to the University of Lagos, he had earned more respect as a distinguished scholar with Postgraduate experience of 14 years, post-doctoral experience of 11 years, publications of international standard, considerable teaching work in Law, experience in interdisciplinary research, academic distinction at the University of Lagos, applied research in such fields as the development of Customary Law Reform generally and professional experience in the highest role as Attorney-General who is Chief Legal Adviser to the Government charged with such intricate duties as advising, drafting and advocacy.
These were some of the professional attainments of the genial academic and astute lawyer who was known more as a defender of Islam and advocate of inter-religious harmony, until his demise on 28th September 2012 which created an obvious vacuum, unarguably hard to fill. Dr. Adegbite is fondly missed today by religious institutions, especially the Muslim community, royalty, the academic world, the legal profession, governments at various levels, the Chambers of Commerce, the Nigerian Stock Exchange, the sports sector, the Egba community and numerous other constituencies where he reputedly belonged, for his legacies endure. May Allah be merciful to him and make the paradise his eternal abode.
Rufai (Ph.D), immediate past Dean of Education, Sokoto State University, is a Jeddah-Based Development Education Consultant working on Central Asia and the Arab World