Onagoruwa dies, Amosun, Agbakoba, Falana mourn

Former attorney general of the federation and minister of Justice, Dr. Olu Onagoruwa (SAN), is dead.

Onagoruwa, a human rights activist, died in the early hours of yesterday at the age of 80.

In his reaction, Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun, in a statement, signed by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Dayo Adeneye, in Abeokuta, said the death of the former human rights activist was sad and would be deeply felt by the downtrodden and oppressed Nigerians that he passionately championed their cause.

The governor recalled how the commitment of the late senior advocate towards the emancipation and welfare of ordinary citizens, made him a subject of attack by the authorities, particularly during military regimes.

Amosun said: “We cannot also forget his patriotism, which was in the interest of the generality of Nigerians, when as attorney general of the federation and minister of Justice during the regime of the late Gen. Sanni Abacha, he condemned and dissociated himself from some draconian decrees promulgated without his knowledge.

“This action caused him (Onagoruwa) and his family great discomfort, but he was uncompromising. Even when his health was failing, he continued to speak against bad governance and human rights abuses.”

The governor described Onagoruwa as a distinguished rights advocate and exemplary public officer, saying his stand, during his brief tenure as minister, was worthy of emulation by elected and appointed government officials, who truly desire a vibrant and people-orientated public service.

In the same vein, a former national president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), and human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) yesterday expressed grief over Onagoruwa’s death, describing him as a liberal lawyer and fighter.

Agbakoba, who said his passing saddened him, described him as a compatriot and fighter in the struggle for democracy in Nigeria.

“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 told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos.

Falana said Onagoruwa was a liberal and an upright man, who lived for justice, equity and law and order.

“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.”

Onagoruwa authored several books, such as 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.

He attended the Academy of American and International Law Center, United States on a full scholarship, served as a Law lecturer in various Nigerian institutions, including the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, and was appointed Justice minister in 1993 and the African representative to the body that drafted Ethiopia’s constitution same year.

Onagoruwa, who obtained LLM and Ph.D. in Constitutional Law in 1968 and was a member of the Inner Temple of the English Bar, was also the Group Legal Adviser/Company Secretary of Daily Times Nigeria for several years.

The murder of his son by unknown policemen adversely devastated the erudite lawyer, as his health began to fail shortly afterwards.

He eventually suffered a stroke attack some few months after the murder and never fully recovered from the attack.



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