Aka Bashorun - A Life of Inspirations


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Aka Bashorun - A Life of Inspiration




Femi Falana




culled from THISDAY, November 13, 2005


As the former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Alao Aka-Bashorun is laid to rest today, one of the lawyers who served in his chambers, Femi Falana pays tribute to the late legal icon who will be most remembered for his fight for the respect of rule of law


Alao Aka-Bashorun was born on December 5, 1930 to a fairly comfortable Lagos Island family. He was educated at the Christ Church Primary School, Broad Street, Lagos and the Eko Boys High School. Upon the completion of his secondary school education he worked briefly at the United African Company (UAC) headquarters in Lagos. Because of his courage and organizational ability he was elected the secretary-general of the workers’ union. He repositioned the union to fight the racist and exploitative practices of the UAC management.

At the material time most of his contemporaries were rushing to the United Kingdom for the Golden Fleece. But having been influenced by Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe who had studied in the United States of America Aka secured admission to read Physics and Mathematics at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. However, he made a brief stop over in London to attend a lecture required by the Pan African Movement. Inspired by the lecture delivered by Dr. William Du Bois and impressed with the activities of the movement Aka decided to remain in the United Kingdom so as to contribute his quota to the African revolution.

In 1954 he enrolled for a law degree at the London School of Economics. He completed his LL.B Programme in two years. He also obtained a Diploma in Industrial Relations. Of his ideological transformation Aka stated thus “LSE marked the apex of my revolutionary life which started from the bitterness of the style of the colonial masters when I was young”. As an undergraduate he was fully involved in the activities of the Nigerian Union of Students (NUS) and the West African Students Union (WASU). In 1957 he was elected the WASU President. In that capacity he interacted with students from the entire African continent. In particular, he mobilized Africans in Europe to enlist in the struggle for independence in their respective countries.
With the encouragement of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah the President of Ghana Aka engaged in full time revolutionary activities. He founded the Committee of African Organizations. In 1958 he visited the Soviet Union as representative of the UPC – the Cameroonian Liberation Movement. He seized the opportunity of the visit to convince the Kremlin to provide scholarships to African students. Aka successfully organized the first anti-apartheid meeting in the United Kingdom in 1960. He was part of the team sent by Dr. Nkrumah to prepare the constitution of Uganda. After that assignment he was co-opted into the West African Committee whose members were Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Dr. Sekou Toure of Guinea and Dr. Felix Mourne of Cameroon and other progressive nationalist politicians. The Committee also assisted in fashioning the Constitutions of Malawi, Zambia, Kenya and Tangayika (Tanzania).

Aka returned home in 1961. Because of his belief in the role of the peasantry in the socialist reconstruction of Nigeria he engaged in full time farming at Badagry, Lagos. But the shock of the sudden death of his senior brother, Sylvester in 1963 forced him to go into legal practice. After a 3-month training at the Nigerian Law School he was called to the Bar in 1964. Aka set up the Peoples Chambers where he provided legal services mostly to the disadvantaged segments of the society. He joined the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). He discovered to his utter chagrin, that the Bar was unable to arrest the systematic collapse of the rule of law and the descent to anarchy and chaos in the First Republic. He and his close friend, Fola Sasegbon Esq. therefore decided to re-organize the NBA to play its historic role in the affairs of the society. The duo linked up with lawyers of like minds in several parts of the country. Their efforts culminated in the change of leadership of the Bar in 1965 when the Late Chief F.R.A. Williams (SAN) stepped down as the National President after 9 years in office.  The Lagos branch of the NBA was also re-organized when Aka became its Chairman in the 70s.

When the Nigeria Labour Congress was to take off in 1978 he provided the necessary legal support.  He worked closely with Comrades Hassan Sunmonu and Ali Chiroma to frustrate the desperate moves of the State to take over the Nigeria Labour Congress in the 80s. Apart from waiving the payment of professional fees for the trade unions on several occasions.  He personally funded many activities of the labour movement and other progressive organizations. According to Baba Omojola, his childhood friend “throughout the period of the civil war Aka single-handedly funded the publication of the "Nigeria Socialist”.


I joined the Peoples Chambers as a new wig in July 1983. Aka charged me to catch up very quickly as time was not on our side! A few months thereafter the military struck and returned to power. Apart from his meticulous supervision of my work he gave me the opportunity and assistance to make meaningful contribution to the pro-democracy movement. I equally enjoyed the co-operation of other colleagues in Chambers especially W. Bob-Manuel Esq. S.B. Alli Esq., Tony Akika Esq., Olukayode Babalola Esq. and Biodun Owonikoko.

As the NBA President (1987-1989) he ensured that the Bar was in the fore-front of the defence of the independence of the judiciary, human rights and the rule of law. Apart from designing schemes to address the welfare of members Aka handed over to the NBA a befitting national secretariat at the Ozumba Mbadiwe Avenue, Victoria Island, Lagos. During his tenure the NBA took precedence over other bodies in the legal profession. In particular, Aka was allowed to address any gathering of lawyers and judges before the leader of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria. To protest the incessant disobedience of court orders by the military junta Aka organized the first national boycott of courts. He led the bar and the bench to fight the notorious Decree 2 and other obnoxious laws. Despite his radical bent he unified all ideological divides in the legal profession.

He organized a legal defence team of over 270 lawyers led by Chief G.O.K Ajayi (SAN) when Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) was charged before the Transition to Civil Rule Tribunal in 1989. He also intervened to prevent the Tribunal from proceeding with the trial of Alhaji Balarabe Musa after the Lagos High Court had issued a prohibition order. When I was dragged for contempt before Justice Moshood Olugbani he personally led 50 lawyers to defend me. He made a number of trips to Accra and Lome where he met with military presidents Jerry Rawlings and Gnassingbe Eyadema to secure the release of the detained leaders of the law societies of Ghana and Togo respectively. The detention of the NANS President, Gbenga Olawepo and his colleague, Gbenga Komolafe under the State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No 2 was struck down by Odunowo J. of the Federal High Court following Aka’s brilliant submissions. He collaborated with Chief G.O.K. Ajayi (SAN) to defend Chief M.K.O Abiola when the Sani Abacha junta charged the winner of the June 12, 1993 President Election with treason and allied offences.

In the course of his active legal practice of about 35 years Aka handled thousands of cases. Some of his reported cases include Ede v. The State (1986) 10 C.A. 22; Fawehinmi v. The State (1990) 1 NWLR (PT 127) 486; Anya V. Iyayi (1988) 3 NWLR (PT 82) 359; NUPENG v. Nigeria Labour Congress (1986) 4 C.A (PT II) 62; Nigerian Civil Service Union v. Essien (1985) 3 NWLR 306 CA; N.U.T.G.T.W.N. v. Atlantic Textiles Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (1980-81) NICLR 81, A.S.S.B.I.F.I.E v. AIICO(1986) NICLR 212; Management of Fanstar v. NUFBTE (1986) NICLR 58 and NUR v. NRC (1984-85) NICLR 150. In spite of his positive contributions to the legal development of the country Aka refused to apply for the title of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria on grounds of principle. He also rejected the several offers made to him by the Babangida junta to become the Federal Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. His personal satisfaction however knew no bounds when he realized that his 2-year presidency of the NBA earned the bar a place of pride in the struggle of the Nigerian people for the restoration of democracy.

Not unexpectedly, Aka’s progressive tenure forced the IBB junta to hijack the leadership of the NBA. Disappointed but undaunted Aka moved swiftly to re-organize the pro-democracy movement to reclaim the soul of Nigeria from the soiled hands of discredited military dictators. He was involved in the formation of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) n 1989. When all the human rights and pro-democracy organizations came together under the crisis of the Campaign for Democracy (CD) he was unanimously elected its first national Chairman. He was also made the Chairman of the Democratic Alternative. He led credible civil society organizations to campaign for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference. Notwithstanding the threat issued by the Babangida junta to charge Aka and other pro-democracy leaders with treason all arrangements were made for the Sovereign National Conference to commence at the National Theatre, Lagos on September 6, 1990. But as delegates converged for the historic conference platoons of gendarmes stormed the venue and violently aborted the assembly.

Despite the official opposition to the demand for the Sovereign National Conference every successive regime has attempted to bastardize the concept by either organizing a constitutional conference or national political debate. In the same vein it ought to be pointed out that the Sovereign National Conference was not designed to be a conference of ethnic warlords but a genuine meeting of the accredited representatives of political, social, professional and other interest groups in the country. The PRONACO leaders may wish to revisit some of the documents prepared by the National Consultative Forum led by Aka. Indeed, the greatest tribute that can be paid to the bar leaders is for all civil society organizations including the Nigeria Bar Association to rededicate themselves to the defence of democracy, rule of law and human rights which are relapsing under the current pseudo-democratic dispensation.




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