Early hours of Sunday, 3, June 2018, news trickled in that Mustapha Akanbi, a legal luminary, notable philanthropist, traditional leader, trade unionist and latter day anti-corruption crusader passed away peacefully in his Ilorin residence after a protracted illness. Baba Akanbi as he was fondly called was 85.
A prominent lawyer and thoroughbred administrator, Akanbi was pulled out of retirement by President Olusegun Obasanjo to serve as the pioneer chairman of the newly formed Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in 2000. The ICPC was together with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to form the crux of Obasanjo’s anti-corruption drive.
One of his sons, Mohammed Akanbi, a Professor of Law at the University of llorin, Mohammad confirmed the death of the former Appeal Court chairman to Vanguard newspaper. A condolence message from the presidency issued by Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity on behalf of President Buhari, described Akanbi as ‘’a remarkable man who put personal integrity and selflessness before the desire for money outside his legitimate income.’’
He has since been buried in his Agba Dam GRA residence in Ilorin, Kwara state, according to Muslim rites.
After leaving the ICPC in 2005, Akanbi dedicated his time and resources to engaging actively in charitable activities, educational endowments, and philanthropy. These interests would lead him to establish the Mustapha Akanbi Foundation in Ilorin the following year with a mandate of strengthening civil society groups, governmental agencies and private businesses. Akanbi’s lifelong preoccupation was to engender transparency and accountability.
Akanbi also joined the board of the Justice and Law Enforcement Reformation Organization, a non-profit organization seeking to curb corruption and poverty from the perspective of the judiciary and law enforcement agencies.
In the beginning
Born on 11 September 1932 in Accra, Ghana, Akanbi attended the African College for his primary education as well as the Accra Royal (Middle) School. He would later move to Odogono Secondary School.
Though not formally educated, Akanbi’s father, Bello, was an Islamic scholar and trader who admired Western education and actively encouraged his son to study Law. Akanbi would later say about his chosen profession, ‘’I am really grateful that I read Law because I used my knowledge of Law as an instrument of fighting the cause of the just, fighting hard to build a just and good country. So I have no regret whatsoever. I think the best thing that happened to me was that I read Law.’’
After secondary school education, Akanbi worked briefly as an executive officer in Ghana and was an executive member of Ward 11, Convention Peoples Party, CPP, in Accra. When he returned to Nigeria, he was appointed Assistant Executive Officer with the then Government of Northern Nigeria. Akanbi also scored a stint at the School Broadcasting Department of the Ministry of Education.
Akanbi was among twelve fellows offered admission to study Law at the Institute of Administration, now Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1960 on a government scholarship. He proceeded to the United Kingdom to complete his bar final examination and was called to the English Bar in 1963. He attended the Nigeria Law School and was called to the Nigerian Bar the following year.
Akanbi joined the Ministry of Justice in the Northern Region as a Pupil State Counsel and four years later, was promoted to Senior State Counsel. When new states were created, Akanbi was deployed to then Benue-Plateau State as deputy to the Solicitor-General. Disillusioned by the level of tribalism and discrimination in the service, Akanbi was forced to resign.
In June 1969, Akanbi established his own firm, Sharia Chambers in Kano with branches in Ilorin and Kaduna but it wasn’t long before he received a call to national service. Nigel Reed, the Chief Justice of Northern Nigeria, had established the Federal Revenue Court, now known as the Federal High Court, and Akanbi was invited to join the Bench. On advice from his father, who felt the judgeship position was more honorable than lawyering, he took up the offer. While serving in this capacity, Akanbi was posted to various states across the country including Lagos, Rivers and Osun.
Akanbi was later promoted to the Court of Appeal where he demonstrated his superior intellect, and a careful insistence on fairness and integrity, all qualities that would contribute to his eventual elevation in 1992 to President, Court of Appeal. He would voluntarily retire from this position in 1999.
ICPC and the rule of law
Akanbi was appointed Chairman of Enquiry into embezzlement of Funds and Problems in the National Fertilizer Company Limited (NAFCON) at Onne, Port Harcourt and it was his stellar performance on this assignment that encouraged President Obasanjo to insist on Akanbi’s appointment to the ICPC.
At the ICPC, Akanbi’s appointment came with a lot of expectations but his efforts were frustrated severally, on account of the nature of the act establishing the commission. Suffering from a legitimacy crisis, Akanbi’s ICPC was essentially a toothless bulldog as he spent the first two years in court battling several state governors who went all the way to the Supreme Court to challenge the legality and powers of the body. A June 7, 2002, Supreme Court ruling, affirmed the status and powers of ICPC, paving the way for the commission’s eventual two corruption-related convictions, out of 85 cases brought to trial.
The ICPC under Akanbi, battled administrative, legal and resource deficiencies with staff deployed on secondment from various institutions. Akanbi publicly criticized government’s role in undermining the commission by depriving it of funds to work with. ‘’ Sometimes we had no money to run the place and then we were inundated with cases in court ‘’ he reminisced in a recent interview with Punch newspapers. The law also hindered the commission from investigating corrupt practices dating before the creation of the ICPC.
Akanbi’s ICPC however for the better part, avoided the sensationalism and politicking that would come to characterize the sister EFCC led at the time by Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. When his tenure of five years was up, Akanbi declined a second tenure on principle.
After leaving the ICPC, Justice Mustapha Akanbi moved home to Ilorin where he set up the Mustapha Akanbi Foundation (MAF) as well as the Ma’assalam Islamic Foundation (MIF). He founded an Islamic school, in addition to primary and secondary schools. In November 2016, Justice Akanbi officially commissioned a private library, the Mustapha Akanbi Library and Resource Center, in Ilorin. These outlets provided avenues for the education and upliftment of many indigent young persons from Kwara state.
A trade unionist, teacher and writer, Akanbi in 2014, supervised the launch of his autobiography titled ‘’The Story of my two Worlds: Challenges, Experiences and Achievements.’’ He lost his first wife, Alhaja Musatu Aduke Akanbi in 2013 but is survived by six children, four of whom followed in his footsteps and studied Law. Akanbi held the traditional title of the first Wakili of llorin.
Throughout his lifetime, Akanbi lived by example and maintained a modest lifestyle that frowned at ostentatious displays of wealth. He was conferred with the medal of the Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFR) in recognition of his services to the country. In his tribute, Olusegun Obasanjo described the late Mustapha Akanbi as ‘’a distinguished Nigerian, an icon, a paragon of rightness and rectitude, whose life is devoted entirely to the service of his nation.’’