He was a legal icon, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria who handled sensational political cases involving late Chiefs ObafemiAwolowo, AdekunleAjasin, Bola Ige and Bashorun MKO Abiola. Chief Godwin OlusegunKolawoleAjayi,popularly called G.O.K. Ajayi, was a progressive lawyer. He was particularly close to the late sage, Chief ObafemiAwolowo. He was always at the head of the legal team of the Second Republic Unity Party of Nigeria and pursued most of the election cases of the party. He died on Friday March 28, 2014 in Lagos at the age of 83 after an age-related illness he had battled for some time.
The late Ajayi would be particularly remembered for the way and manner he prosecuted the electoral petition of the late sage (Awo) against the election of Second Republic President ShehuShagari of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria. It was in that case that the famous 12 2/3 of 19 theory credited to Chief Richard Akinjide who was then the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation emerged. The apex court delivered a controversial judgment in the matter in favour of Shagari, while the only dissenting voice, late Justice KayodeEso, gave a minority verdict that was widely published and is still being referred to till date.
Other landmark cases he handled were the electoral petitions of the late Chiefs AdekunleAjasin and Bola Ige during the Second Republic in 1983. Ajayi represented and obtained victory at the Supreme Court for the late Ajasin over the victory of his estranged deputy, Chief Akin Omoboriowo, in the 1983 governorship election in Ondo State. To contest against his boss, Omoboriowo had defected to the NPN. The party had perpetrated electoral fraud in the election then and the Supreme Court voided that election and awarded victory to Ajasin. But Ajayi was not able to win back Oyo State for the late Bola Ige who had also challenged the victory of Dr.OmololuOlunloyo of the NPN in the governorship election in 1983.
The late Ajayialsoprosecuted the case of the late Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12 1993 presidential election, over the treason charges slammed on him by the late General SaniAbacha regime after he declared himself president. It was as a result of Abiola’s defiance in his challenge against the annulment of June 12 by the military President Ibrahim Babangida regime. The late MKO died in 1998 in detention into which he was clamped.
Apart from representing MKO Abiola, one of the high profile cases for which Ajayi would be remembered was his handling of the deportation of the late Majority Leader of Borno State House of Assembly, AlhajiAbdulrahmanShugabaDarman, a prominent member of the Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP). Shugaba was dramatically deported to a village in Chad Republic in 1980 on the orders of the Nigerian Internal Affairs Minister Bello Maitama during former President ShehuShagari’s regime.
Ajayi had taken the embattled Shugaba’s case up to the Supreme Court, which reversed the politician’s deportation order. There was also the case of General ZamariLekwot and a few others from Atyap, a community in Kaduna State, who were charged with murder before a military tribunal over the ZangoKataf disturbances of the 90’s. GOK Ajayi sensationally pulled the accused back from the jaws of death. In appreciation of the fearless Ajayi, who won them freedom from the jackboot, the community bestowed an honorary title of the “AchokAtyap”, which means “The Guardian of Atyap” on GOK.
The late Ajayi also represented the late human rights lawyer, GaniFawehinmi, against the Federal Government several times.
Ajayi was born on May 29, 1931 in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State. He was educated at Saint Saviour’s School, Lagos (1938-1940); CMS Grammar School, Lagos (1941-1948). His quest for more knowledge took him outside the country to the United Kingdom where he attended London School of Economics and Political Science. He undertook legal studies in the United Kingdom and was called to the English Bar (Middle Temple) in 1955 at the age of 24. Two year later, he was called to the Nigerian Bar.
Until his demise, he was one of the quartet remaining of the lawyers promoted to the rank of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on January 12, 1978, those commonly referred to as the Second Set. GOK bagged the highest legal title in the same year with other Silks such as Chief Awolowo; Chief RemiFani-Kayode; T.A Bankole Oki, KehindeSofola; Chief OlisaChukura, Dr.MudiagaOdje, Chief Richard Akinjide; P.O Balonwu; and Professor Ben Nwabueze.
Reacting to his death, one of the two remaining 1978 Set of SANs, Chief Richard Akinjide, had said: “He was a brilliant advocate, a friend and a professional college. His death is a great loss to the legal profession. We had many cases against each other but he remained a great professional colleague.”
Ogun State Governor IbikunleAmosun said of the late Ajayi: “He was a progressive lawyer and that explains his closeness to the late sage, Chief ObafemiAwolowo. His death is a great loss to the legal community”.
Former Attorney-General of the federation and Minister of Justice, Chief BayoOjo, in his tribute, said, “The death of Chief GOK Ajayi has drawn the curtains on possibly the finest era of legal activism. He was at the forefront of law for the benefit of humanity. He stood permanently on the side of the oppressed. You can always predict where you would meet him; on the side of justice”.
Legal Practitioner, Mr OlisaAgbakoba, said:“it is a sad moment for the legal profession. G0K was one of the finest forensic craftsmen in the Nigerian legal history ranking with the all time greats FRA Williams, GCM Onyuike, HA Lardner, KehindeSofola, etc. He came and conquered and deserves his rest”.
Human Right lawyer, Festus Keyamo, described Ajayi’s death as an “indelible and irreplaceable loss to the entire legal profession.”
GOK was a devoted Christian both at Saint Peter’s Church, Faji, Ajele, Lagos and in his Ogunhomestate. He held the traditional title of the Odole of Ile-Ife bestowed on him by the Ooni of Ife, Oba OkunadeSijuwade. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.