Adetokunbo Ademola

Ademola Adetokunbo
Ademola Adetokunbo. Photo: National Archives, U.I.

Ademola Adetokunbo was born 1 February 1906 to the Alake of Abeokuta, Ladapo Ademola. Adetokunbo was the first Nigerian Chief Justice of the federation and the longest serving, also a co-founder of the Nigerian Law School. He schooled at St Gregory’s Grammar School and in 1925, he passed out of Kings’ College Lagos and took the Senior Clerical Examination, which qualified him to take up a full time appointment in the colonial civil service. Adetokunbo was sent to England to study at Selwyn College, Cambridge. His father wanted him to be a medical doctor, but he chose to read law. He was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple in 1934. On his return to Nigeria, he worked briefly at the Crown office as counsel in Lagos. In 1935 he was made an Administrative Officer at Enugu in the Eastern Region and was doing private practice in Lagos till 1939, the year he got married to Kofoworola Moore, when he was moved to the Bench as a Magistrate. In 1955 he was appointed Chief Justice of Western Nigeria and was elevated to the principal judicial position in the whole country in 1958 following Ghanaian independence and subsequent abolition of the West African Court of Appeal. He retired in 1972.

Adetokunbo’s influence extended beyond the judiciary, and he had been effective in convincing the new military government of Gowon against secession when the Northern coalition in the military wanted to, because of the 1966 coup, which they had just avenged. His attempt to set a precedence of the Judiciary reviewing military decrees was nipped in the bud. Also, the Nigerian 1973 census that he supervised failed. Adetokunbo Ademola’s role in the struggle for the independence of the judiciary, even under the military regime, is noteworthy. His brand is a prestigious one and a major street in Victoria Island in Lagos is named after him. He died at the age of 86.