“He was an anti-corruption czar who fought the malaise both in and out of office. He lived what he preached and you could see there was no pretence about him.” — Bukola Saraki, Senate President.
If death had spared him, Mustapha Akanbi would have hit 86 in a few months, but it was his time. His fight was over. Akanbi was done, so he took a bow and made a gracious exit.
At 85, he had lived well, and achieved aplenty. He was one of the finest jurists produced by Nigeria and an illustrious son of Kwara who “spoke truth to power during his lifetime”.
Akanbi, a former president of the court of appeal, was appointed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2000 to chair the then newly established Independent Corrupt Practice and other related Offences Commission (ICPC).
“President Olusegun Obasanjo kept saying that even if there were ten people, I was the one to be picked. It was the reputation I built on the bench,” Akanbi said, in retrospect, years ago.
ICPC ‘FRUSTRATED’ UNDER AKANBI
In 2004, four years after the creation of the ICPC, not many convictions were recorded, and Nigeria didn’t rate better in its fight against corruption.
Akanbi, in an interview that year, blamed the situation on a lack of funds to investigate complaints. Of the 1, 270 petitions received, Akanbi explained that the commission, at the time, was able to investigate only 608. He would add that of the 608, only 34 made it to the court.
He had raised his concern with the then President Obasanjo, asking why his government would appoint competent people to the commission “only to frustrate it from performing by starving it of funds”.
Akanbi also made known his opposition to the law restricting him from investigating former heads of state of Nigeria.
“The truth of the matter is that even if the commission receives complaints about these people, there is little or nothing the commission could do because it cannot investigate any corrupt practices that occurred before the commission was established,” he had said.
‘NOBODY EVER APPROACHED ME WITH BRIBE’
Akanbi had a reputation for being incorruptible and having an unshakeable knack for upholding the law and standing for the truth.
They were values he was very proud of and often wielded as a trophy, and justifiably so.
Over the years as a career judge and later as head of the ICPC, Akanbi was never alleged to have been involved in a bribery scandal.
“I know when I was a judge, nobody ever approached me to bribe me in a case because as you make your bed, so you lie on it,” he said, proudly, in an interview.
“That was why when I was appointed, I challenged anyone who had given me anything before to come forward and say it.”
FRUGAL AND MODEST LIFE
Mustapha Akanbi Foundation, to promote transparency, accountability and good governance
Akanbi lived within his means. He maintained a modest and simple lifestyle.
With his social status as a retired judge and pioneer chairman of an anti-graft agency, Akanbi wouldn’t be questioned if he enjoyed all the luxuries that come with his class, but that was not the case.
In an interview during his last birthday, Akanbi said it was until recently when his pension was increased that he was able to fork out some money to renovate his house.
“I built this house in 1985. I was living in my family quarters in my house at Awodi when my father died, because he insisted I must remain in that house during his lifetime. When he died in 1985, I built this house. We moved here sometimes lying on the floor. We didn’t even collect our beds and so from Awodi to this place and little by little we did it,” he said.
STRONG BOND WITH HIS FATHER
Like every other child, the influence Akanbi’s father had on his son cannot be easily discarded.
But for his father, Akanbi would have probably become a senior advocate of Nigeria.
“My father insisted that I should accept judgeship because he felt it was more honourable to become a judge from what he had seen of the lawyers in Lagos,” he once said.
“I started my chamber as Akanbi and Co, later it became Akanbi, Ibrahim Abdullahi and Co. I would have been a SAN long time ago,” he added.
Akanbi’s father didn’t have a formal education but he vowed to ensure his son was lettered, if not for anything, to write his letters.
“He was a trader and an illiterate and so, he used the services of a letter writer,” Akanbi explained.
“But after my father had ordered goods, the letter writer used to tell people that Akanbi had ordered for goods and he was selling. So my father felt if he gave us education, we would be his letter writers; so I was.”
MET HIS WIFE JUST ONCE — AND KNEW SHE WAS THE ONE
Akanbi on his 85th birthday
An interesting part of Akanbi’s life was how he met Munfaat, his late wife.
Akanbi said he met his wife “for one day,” and after interviewing her, examining her antecedent and family background, he determined she was the one.
Despite schooling in England, he had made up his mind not to marry there and had always resolved to return home to find a bride.
“In just a day, I started preparing for marriage,” Akanbi said.
“When my father learnt of our relationship, he wasted no time in solemnising the union. Her father intended to go on Hajj then. The man said he may not return alive, hence the solemnisation should be done before he left.”
In the decades that Akanbi lived with wife, he boasted that not once did people come to settle quarrels between them.
BORN IN GHANA, STUDIED IN THE UK
Former chief justice of the supreme court, Mohammed Uwais, with Akanbi
Although Mustapha Akanbi earned his stripes and made his name in Nigeria, he was born on September 11, 1932, in Accra, Ghana. He got his secondary education in Ghana and he worked as an executive officer in the Ghana civil service.
Coming to Nigeria, Akanbi got a scholarship to study law at the Institute of Administration now Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. This was completed with legal studies in the United Kingdom, and in 1963, he was called to the English Bar. A year after, he was also called to the Nigerian Bar.
In 1992, Akanbi became president of the court of appeal.
Akanbi had wanted to die in peace, and hopefully, he got his wish when he left this world Sunday morning.
Like one who had glimpsed what no one else could see, during his last birthday, he said: “I tell myself even if I am going to die, let me die in peace and comfort. So, that when I go to meet my creator, I will feel fulfilled.”