A former National President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) and human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, on Friday expressed grief over the death of a one-time Justice Minister, Dr Olu Onagoruwa, describing him as a liberal lawyer and a fighter.
Agbakoba, who said he was saddened by his passing, described him as a compatriot and fighter in the struggle for democracy in Nigeria. “The news of the death of Dr Onagoruwa is indeed a sad one; he was a personal friend of mine, who played a very crucial role in the struggle for democracy and had come across very turbulent times.
“For us in the legal profession this is indeed a sad loss, but like I always say in situations like this, it is the will of God to recall people. “It is indeed a sad loss, but certainly the will of God,” he said in Lagos.
For Falana (SAN), Onagoruwa was a liberal and an upright man, who lived for justice, equity and law and order. He said: “Dr Olu Onagoruwa was a liberal lawyer, who believed in the bourgeois concept of the rule of law. “When the late Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) and I were detained on several occasions by the military government, he always challenged our detention in court. “His principled commitment to the defence of the rule of law made him to clash with the legal establishment, and at the time the system reluctantly admitted him to the inner bar, he had called it quits with the legal practice. “He was convinced that a fascist and corrupt system (late Gen. Sani Abacha’s dictatorship) could be reformed from within; so, he accepted to be Attorney-General and Minister of Justice.” Falana commiserated with the family and pray to God to grant them the courage to bear the loss.
Also, a veteran journalist and accomplished court reporter, Mr Richard Akinnola, extolled the virtues of Onagoruwa, describing him as a brilliant lawyer. “His intellectual fecundity was not in doubt particularly on constitutional law. For years, in conjunction with his then struggle soul- mate, Gani Fawehinmi, he was a thorn in the flesh of the various military governments. “Each time Gani was incarcerated, he stood as his lawyer and vice versa. I recall that under the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida-led junta, it was a usual practice for him and Gani to have midnight phone conversations. Then, there was no GSM but land phones. “Fully aware that their phones were wire tapped and their conversations being recorded by the security agencies, both Dr Onagoruwa and Gani would deliberately spew forth expletives against the government. It was their ways of getting back at the government which had incessantly harassed them. “But when the dark-goggled Abacha came on board as the Head of State, he sent Dr Onagoruwa’s (Odogbolu in Ogun) kinsman, Gen. Oladipo Diya to Onagoruwa and his mission was to appoint Onagoruwa as the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. “Onagoruwa informed his bossom friend Gani of this offer and Gani sternly warned him to stay clear and reject the offer. But Onagoruwa was inclined to accept, trying to convince his friend of the need to use the opportunity to correct what they had been clamouring for. “However, the assassination of his son, who worked for the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), a very brilliant boy with Ph.D, Onagoruwa was totally devastated that he had stroke and he never fully recovered till he died today,” he said in an ode.
Onagoruwa authored several books including the Nigerian Civil War: Fundamental Human Rights and International law 1969, the Amakiri Case; Press Freedom in crisis 1978 and Law and Contemporary Nigeria Reflections 2004. Onagoruwa, who attended the Academy of American and International Law Center, USA on a full scholarship, served as a law lecturer in various Nigerian institutions including the Nigerian Institute of Journalism. He was appointed the Minister of Justice in 1993 and the African representative to the body that drafted Ethiopia’s constitution same year.
Dr Onagoruwa was also the Group Legal Adviser/Company Secretary of Daily Times Nigeria for several years. He obtained LLM and Ph.D. in Constitutional Law in 1968 and was a member of the Inner Temple of the English Bar. (NAN)