LAW FIRM: Olisa Agbakoba & Associates
Address: Maritime Complex, 34 Greek Road Apapa, Lagos
NBA President 2008
Called to Bar: 1978
S.A.N. Conferment: 1998.
NAME: AGBAKOBA, Olisa
YEAR OF CALL TO BAR: 1978
YEAR OF CONFERMENT AS SAN: 1998
CONFERMENT SERIAL NO.: 138
PRESENT POSITION: Senior Partner,
LAW FIRM: Olisa Agbakoba & Associates
ADDRESS: 34 Creek Road, Apapa, Lagos.
Olisa Agbakoba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria SAN, is a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA. However, he could easily pass for the President of the Human Rights community in Nigeria-if there was such a body. Although a maritime lawyer par excellence and seasoned technocrat, Agbakoba’s giant strides in different fields of human endeavor are easily dwarfed by his huge passion and daring activities in the defense of Human Rights in Nigeria. He is a product of University of Nigeria from where he obtained LLB degree, after he attended the Nigeria Law School and qualified with BL certification. He also holds an LL.M (London). He specializes in Maritime Law; Human Rights and Rule of Law.
His highest point, he readily points out, was a notable case in defense of human rights he won at the court of Appeal. He identifies it as:” breaking apart the chains of Decree Number 2. It took me 15 years. And the first case I did that defined the low parameters of Decree Numbers 2 was the case called Onekiya vs. the State, decided by the court of Appeal. The greatest liberty is personal freedom. And the court took a very narrow view and it took 15years, the case of Chima Ubani and SSS, for the court to finally say, I was at both ends. If you detain Chima Ubani, I’ll like to know why. So, that transformation was the highest point because, it means that the court can now question the reason for detention; for denying a person his personal liberty”
The NBA President was referring to the days of military rule; an era that also marked the peak of his human rights activism and incidentally almost cost him his life. Of particular note was his highly successful mobilization of Nigerians and all Human Right bodies under the umbrella of the United Action for Democracy, UAD, for the famous five million-man march in Lagos to counter the two million-man march stage in Abuja by a group that tagged itself, Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha: YEAA, to persuade them maximum military ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha to perpetuate his grip on the country by transmuting into a civilian President.
While YEAA’S infamous march at the Eagle square, Abuja had all the trappings of government endorsement and support despite repeated denials by security forces, the Agbakoba-led pro- democracy group was visited with bayonets and jackboots. Agbakoba, the no-nonsense Human Rights crusader managed to escape the tyranny of the military goons with a swollen face even as he almost lost an eye. He was later arrested and hurled into prison.
The above incident was in 1998, shortly before the demise of General Sani Abacha. Agbakoba, become the eventual victor as the Onitsha- born legal giant was later released from prison and conferred with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria SAN in September of that year. It was a pleasant surprise to the Human Rights body and Nigerians in general, because for unknown reasons, Human Rights activists hardly get admitted into the inner bar.
For Olisa Agbakoba, it flows in the veins as his actions and reactions were the natural responses to an innate calling. This character trait perhaps dates back to the sixties when he was conscripted into the Biafran Army during the Nigeria Civil War, as one of the youngest soldiers with a gun. Because his father, a renowned jurist and former Chief Judge of East Central State was appointed by the Nigerian government, Biafran military commanders thought young Olisa was a spy or a security-threat.
“During the war, I was in prison,” Agbakoba recalled.” I was detained, but not in any special place. I was detained in a general prison in Ntueke, one of Biafra’s worst detention camps. We were detained with ordinary criminals” Remarkably also, Agbakoba could also be rightly termed to chip off the old block. As far back as early last century, his grand uncle was the first Igbo Lawyer in the country and was working for the Nigeria government as the Crown Counsel, while his father, Hon. Godfrey C.U. Agbakoba was a Solicitor-General, and a Judge before he became the Chief Judge of the then East Central State.
Born in Jos, on 29 May 1953, young Olisa obtained his first school leaving certificate from Zixton public School, Ozubulu in 1964. He attended the Prestigious Hill Crest School, Jos, an exclusive white school, for his secondary education and obtained the West African School Certificate in 1973. In the same year, he secured admission to read law at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He graduated with honors in 1977. And by 1978, he was called to the Nigeria Bar after brilliantly distinguishing himself in his studies at the Nigeria Law School.
Olisa’s educational and career adventures took him to the London School of Economics where he bagged a master’s degree in maritime law in 1980. In 1983, he went into full time law practice, and he is today reckoned with both locally and international as one of the best lawyers in Nigeria.
He has received over 60 awards from across the country and abroad, including leading human rights awards.
His contributions in the filed of Human Rights, political and economic emancipation of Nigeria will forever have a pride of place in the history of the country. In 1987, he co-founded Civil Liberties Organization, CLO, one of Africa’s largest and most vocal human rights organizations. HONOURS & PREFERMENTS include: President, Nigerian Bar Association (2006-2008); Chairman, law Reform committee, Nigerian Bar Association (2005) Exemplary Leadership Award. Nigerian Bar Association (2007); President / Founder, Nigerian Chamber of Shipping Fellow, Chartered Institute of Arbitrators; Fellow, Chartered Institute of Mediators; Founding President, Civil Liberties Organization (1987-95); Fellow, Institute of Directors, Nigeria, Fellow, Institute of Administrative Management of Nigeria American Bar Association Awards for Human Rights and Rule of Law. Chairman, National Investment Law Review Committee; Member, Council of Continuing Legal Education; Member, Governing Council Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Life Member, Body of Benchers; Member, Nigerian Economic Summit Group; Officer of the Order of the Niger, OON.
The Statute of Limitations In Admiralty Proceedings
Model Civil Procedure Rules for Nigeria.
Federal High Court Practice Manual
Maritime Cabotage in Nigeria
Transcending The Wall: A Manual for Prisoners Reform
He also a co-founder of Inter African Network for Human Rights and Development, AFRONET, one of the strongest Pan-African organizations seeking to develop the African Rights Movement. He founded Human Rights Law Service HURILAWS, in 1997. And today, HURILAWS is a leading human rights voice in Africa and in the world. (We acknowledge that this profile was culled from The Radiance of Silk, a publication of Goodways Publications Limited) and many other sources