Henry Theodore Okeade Coker (1929-2015)



CHIEF Henry Theodore Okeade Coker SAN, OON (popularly known as Oke) was born in Lagos on November 6, 1929. He was the sixth and last child of the late George Baptist Coker and the late Mary Talabi Coker (nee Williams).

His father was a baker and an auctioneer and was the first Asiwaju of Lagos, while his mother was a renowned seamstress and cake maker, specialising in wedding packages.

Oke’s siblings were the late Hon. Justice (Dr) G.B.A. Coker, Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria; the late Mr F.C.O. Coker, a Chartered Accountant, former Lagos Municipal Treasurer and Secretary to the first Lagos State Government; the late Mrs. Oye Akintola-Williams (Mama MUSON), a professional Health Nurse and later a Patron of the Arts and ardent environmentalist; the late Mrs. Hilda Omolola Johnson SRN, SCM, Founder and Matron of Logemo Hospital; and his surviving brother Chief (Dr) F.B.A. Coker, OON, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, and Chairman, Victoria Island Consultancy and Hospital Services.

Oke attended Olowogbowo Methodist School for his primary education, and Eko Boys’ High School at Ajele Street Lagos for his secondary education from 1944 to1950. On completion there, Oke served as a law clerk for some years at the chambers of his brother, Dr G.B.A. Coker at 13 Idumagbo Avenue Lagos.

He later proceeded to the United Kingdom to study Law at University College London where he obtained his LLB Hons degree in 1960. He then joined the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn where he was called to the English Bar on July 12, 1960 as a Barrister at Law. He was admitted to the Nigerian bar on July 5, 1961 as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

While still in the United Kingdom, he met his sweetheart, Miss Virginia Obafunke Akerele through her aunt Dr (Mrs) Awoliyi (nee Akerele), Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and Head of Lagos Island Maternity Hospital.

The relationship blossomed and they were married on December 26, 1960 in London. The marriage was blessed with four children: Mrs. Olatokunbo Adewole, LLB, LLM London, BL; Mr. Babajide Coker, B.Sc. Econs (Hons), LLB (Hons), BL; Mrs. Tolulope Desalu, B.Eng, MSc (DIC), MCIPS; Ms Ibijoke Coker, B.Sc, MCD (MCDST), I.A. BABTAC.

On his return to Nigeria as a Barrister at Law of Gray’s Inn, he practised Law, first at the chambers of G.B.A. Coker & Co., and later at H.A. Lardner & Co. He thereafter set up his own practice at Balogun Street, Lagos. Finally, he and an English Barrister, Mr. Gerald Impey, formed the partnership known as ‘Impey & Coker’, a firm that exists till today. Oke had a very successful legal practice, both alone and in partnership with Mr. Impey, specialising in Admiralty, Energy and Air Law. He was admitted to the Inner Bar as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 1982, with serial no. 32.

The late Coker was a legal giantand handled several leading cases in the fields of Land Law and Shipping and Admiralty law, often successfully against other legal giants like Chief FRA Williams, Fidelis Nwadialo and A.L.A.L. Balogun (later Justice A.L.A.L. Balogun) to name a few.

Over the course of the years, as many young lawyers joined his practice, he trained a lot of associates who went on to become professionals in various fields of Law. One of them is Mr Lanre Ogunlesi SAN with whom Coker maintained a strong relationship till his death.

In the corporate world, apart from his directorships in various companies, he was the Chairman of CITI TRUST MERCHANT BANK from inception till 1995. He was also the Chairman of HOESCH Pipe Mills Nigeria for over 30 years. In addition, Coker was a Fellow of the Institute of Directors (UK).

He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (UK), and a Baden Powell Fellow, Nigeria Boy Scouts, where he was a Commissioner. He was a member of the Governing Council of Ahmadu Bello University (1963-1967) and served the University meritoriously with great pride.

In 1993, he was conferred with the title of ‘AGBA OFIN’ of Lagos by the late Alaiyeluwa Oyekan II, the Oba of Lagos. Coker was awarded the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) by His Excellency, President Olusegun Obasanjo for meritorious work, particularly with the time and effort he devoted as a member of the Governing Council of The Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Coker was at his best amongst his friends. At the Metropolitan Club, he was a long standing member and indeed a Trustee of the Club. He was also the ‘Chairman Emeritus’ of Table 2 (the largest table and perhaps the most influential at the Club) at the Tuesday lunches and a bon viveur. He was also a member of the Ikoyi Club and the Yoruba Tennis Club.

Coker was an urbane gentleman of good taste, a good listener who would carefully choose the right time to put his point across. Above all, he was a man of old values, quintessential in manners and grace, always smartly dressed, complete with his gold fob watch chain hanging elegantly out of his pocket.

He died peacefully on Thursday, May 21, 2015, aged 85 years. He will be sorely missed.

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