Legal Nigeria

Justice Bolarinwa Babalakin exits

• Nigeria loses another great jurist, mediator and philanthropist


Two narratives on the life and times of distinguished jurist and retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria Bolarinwa Babalakin situated him professionally and socially. His death on December 4, at the age of 94, prompted striking reminiscences of his life.

After he retired from the Supreme Court in the early 1990s, according to his son, he also retired from material pursuits. “One day I came to meet him that we have a very big arbitration in my office and everyone has suggested that you have the calibre to be one of the arbitrators,” Dr Wale Babalakin (SAN), Chairman of Resort International Limited (RIL), narrated at a posthumous event in Gbongan, Osun State, the hometown of the late jurist.

“I asked if he would do it but he kept to his word of not doing anything that concerned money again. I went on pestering him that $250,000 is the amount that will be paid for the job, I mentioned one of his bosses and friend who is the second arbitrator, yet he rejected the offer.”

This story reflects not only Justice Babalakin’s expertise but also his rise above materialism. He focused on settlement of disputes that required his mediation skills but without the promise of material enrichment, and devoted his life to charity.

The second account was about his intervention in a long-standing fight between two prominent Yoruba traditional rulers, the immediate past Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade, and Owa Obokun of Ijesaland, Oba Adekunle Aromolaran.

“There was a day I called him early in the morning and I asked what he planned doing for the day,” his son recounted. “He told me that he was reconciling Ooni Sijuade and Oba Adekunle Aromolaran… He said God would do it. Two weeks later, he called and said ‘didn’t I tell you? The matter has been resolved.’

The pursuit of peace and belief in God were dear to him.  He was a former president of the Muslim Ummah of South West Nigeria (MUSWEN), and an active member of the Muslim Association of Nigeria and Ansar- Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria, a Muslim organisation formed in the 1920s to promote education among Muslims and boost their moral and social development.

Significantly, he was greatly interested in developing the country’s youth and preparing them for a fruitful future.  He was involved in the activities of Educare Trust, a group based in Ibadan, Oyo State, devoted to youth, health and education. Under his chairmanship of the group’s board,  it succeeded in introducing a ‘Co-Curricular Period’ in the Oyo State Education Class Programme, championed the concept of ‘Holiday School Programmes’ to use school facilities during holidays, and campaigned for more Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds from Corporate Nigeria for youth activities.

Justice Babalakin was called to the Bar in England in the 1950s, and his rise to the exalted position of Supreme Court Justice demonstrated his quality. Indeed, President Muhammadu Buhari, in a condolence message, noted that as one of the final legal authorities during his time as a justice of the highest court in the land, he enriched Nigerian jurisprudence. He served in an era when the country’s judiciary was well regarded and enjoyed public respect, which sadly cannot be said of today’s judiciary.

Notably, many of the posthumous tributes to him emphasised his good reputation both as jurist and citizen. It may well be that the depth of his religious devotion influenced his goodness.  Former President Olusegun Obasanjo said he valued him “very much for his wise and sagacious counsel.”

His life of contentment possibly contributed to his longevity, which should serve as a lesson in a world driven by acquisitive impulses. His legacies include a good name, riches of the mind, non-materialistic lifestyle, serious spirituality, and social conscience.