Quintessential Jiti at 50, By Lekan Alabi

Jiti Ogunye is an innovator and original thinker in the Nigerian legal space. He engineered a debate on Plea Bargain which eventually led to his publication of “The Imperative of Plea Bargaining 2005” after thorough research and rigorous synthesis of findings. However, the ruling class and their lawyers have thoroughly trivialised a concept that ought to lead to the reform of our criminal justice system.

This is the time to roll out the drums to celebrate one of very few honourable men in a country where character is a scarce commodity. Ibukun Olajinbiti Ogunye, an Ikare Akoko born legal titan is known for different reasons to different people but he is certainly known to the oppressed as their liberator, using the instrumentality of the law, as narrow as it is, to get succour for freedom fighters, labour leaders, victimised students’ union leaders and workers, in a society where the resources of all are in the hands of a few.

In his life’s journey, whether as a young person or an adult, he has been playing leadership roles in his immediate family, the students’ movement, human rights community and pro-democracy groups. If one considers his intellectual input to the struggle to liberate our society, one will be tempted to conclude that Jiti has been around for well over eight decades. His life best captures the aphorism that says, ‘not how long but how well’. For Jiti, it is ‘so far, so best’, if I am permitted to use the phrase.

In the past three decades of his life of struggles against oppression and evils embedded in the market theology, Jiti has not taken a neutral position on national issues. To him, neutrality in a moment of decision is moral bankruptcy. No wonder, as a union leader in the late 80s and the early 90s in the University of Benin, a period in history that coincided with the era of military dictatorship and rulership, he played a patriotic role in rallying patriotic youth and student activists, in collaboration with other progressive movements in different part of the country, to fight against the military regimes and their attendant reactionary policies. Being an organisational person, he alongside with his comrades, organised a methodical resistance against military rule. They campaigned and protested against the commercialisation and privatisation of education in the country. In alliance with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), they also demanded for university autonomy and academic freedom for the benefit of all.

Upon being called to the Nigerian Bar in November 1992, being a Marxist Leninist ideologue who fully understood the Marxist Theory of Jurisprudence, consequently his natural habitat was to work in the law firm of the fiery Femi Falana Esq. (SAN). It should be noted that Falana is the arrowhead of the Aka tradition of radical legal practice, a pro-people approach to law as a weapon of fighting economic and political injustice. His experience in Falana Chambers as a Marxist lawyer was a watershed in his professional career and he was highly fulfilled in working in peoples’ chambers. Under the military regimes, in leading Jiti and other progressive and radical lawyers, Falana was a torn in the flesh of the military oligarchy, particularly in the area of expounding and widening the scope of human rights practice. This was also within the purview of the suspension of the Fundamental Rights provision of the Constitution via Decree 107 of 1993 enacted by the ruthless Abacha Junta.

People are the cornerstone of his existence. Principle is his way of life. Fairness is in his blood. Love, a large sense of empathy and humaneness animate his heart.

Jiti is highly resourceful, which is a quality of he’s maximally drawn upon by his allies in the human rights community. He assiduously worked within the circle of pro-democracy groups and human rights bodies, which include but are not limited to the following: Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADL) Campaign for Democracy (CD), National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Joint Action Committee of Nigeria (JACON), and Lawyers’ League of Human Rights, etc. He is a consultant to the Civil Rights Congress, Female Leadership Forum and other non-governmental organisations. Jiti Ogunye is a household name as a public affairs analyst in the mainstream print and electronic media in Nigeria.

I will never forget May 1, 2002 when Jiti informed me that his perspective in the legal profession was to be a constituency builder of radical and progressive minded lawyers who were and are still in short supply in the country. Being a union leader from Ife, he offered me instant employment in Jiti Ogunye Chambers where I cut my teeth in legal profession. While working with him, I closely observed him as a man of industry and high intellect. Many of the public interest cases he took on were done pro bono. They were centered on workers’ rights, students’ rights and the rights of the downtrodden who were the victims of the anti-people policy of various management bodies. He is a public interest litigator per excellence. He deployed his redoubtable legal prowess in the defence of the victims of the executive lawlessness of the military and their agents in the university community. NEPA VS. OSOSANYA &ORS, W.A.E.C V. ADEYANJU (2008) 9 NWLR (PT. 1092) 270 W.A.E.C V. AKINKUNMI (2008) 9 NWLR (PT. 1091) 151, PROF POJU AKINYANJU V. UNIVERSITY OF ILORIN, AZUBUIKE V. MILLAD LAGOS STATE & ORS (1 NPILR), RUFUS OYATORO V. OSOGBO STEEL ROLLING COMPANY, ADENEKAN ADENIYI AKANNI & ORS V. OAU & ORS: SUIT NO: FHC/OS/CS/15/05, ALABI ADEBAYO MOJEED V. OAU & ORS SUIT NO: FHC/OS/CS/16/05 are among the landmark cases he has handled with vigour and conviction up to the apex court. In those cases and others, it is a sad irony that the human angle to the society was lacking in a temple that ought to have it in the highest dose. But what is important is the principle behind the taking up of the defence of the victims of the system to a logical conclusion, regardless of where the pendulum swung at each level of the cases. On the issue of principle, Jiti is uncompromising; he is as hard as Ikare-Akoko rock.

Jiti Ogunye is an innovator and original thinker in the Nigerian legal space. He engineered a debate on Plea Bargain which eventually led to his publication of The Imperative of Plea Bargaining 2005 after thorough research and rigorous synthesis of findings. However, the ruling class and their lawyers have thoroughly trivialised a concept that ought to lead to the reform of our criminal justice system. People are the cornerstone of his existence. Principle is his way of life. Fairness is in his blood. Love, a large sense of empathy and humaneness animate his heart. This is celebrating my benefactor, a radical lawyer, public intellectual and socialist as he clocks 50 in a society where it is a grace and privilege to attain such an age. Kindly join me in rejoicing with him as he dances his loved music, “Baba Ara”.

Lekan Alabi, a lawyer, writes from Lagos.

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