By Sunday Saanu
Left to him, his 70th birthday anniversary would have come and gone without boisterous bunting, loud drums and dance. He doesn’t really believe in celebrating one’s birthday once a year.
Rather, to him, every day is one’s birthday. In this regard, therefore, it has always required a subtle persuasion and diplomacy on my part to convince him into agreeing to a yearly publication of a tribute in his honour, in which I regularly tell his story of his goodness towards humanity.
Chief Oluwole Oladapo Olanipekun, Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) have ascended to the level of such eponymous figures recognised only on a first name basis such as Awolowo, Balewa, Zik, Soyinka, Shakespeare among others on account of his professional achievements, phenomenal philanthropy and immortal ideals and the noble values he represents. In a world that is surfeited with toxic individualism, conceited polarisation and selfish aggrandizement, it is gratifying to see the like of this megalithic legal luminary, who is all out preaching the cultivation of Omoluabi cultural values which in line with the motto of his high school, Ilesa Grammar School which says “e huwa omoluabi” meaning, behave with integrity.
The Omoluabi is a Yoruba philosophical and cultural concept of describing a person who believes in hard work, honesty and respects the rights of others, values integrity gives to the community and believes in fairplay, justice and equity. All these and more are what Chief Olanipekun represents. He wears his legal ministerial garment with gusto and grace and it fits him so snugly. He is rich and righteous. Indeed, he is a man of means, a man of affluence and influence who is gifted with remarkable verbal felicities of both English and Yoruba languages.
Luckily, I got the rare privilege of getting closer to Chief Olanipekun when he was appointed Chairman, University of Ibadan Governing Council in 2009. And being a specimen worthy to be studied, I never allowed the opportunity to slip off my hands. Perhaps it is no happenstance that he brought me closer. I wish to state with an unmistakable exactitude that among his numerous mentees all over the country, I am happy and honoured to be numbered. I have been a recipient of his generosity in innumerable ways.
As UI Chairman of Council in those days, he did a dandy job. His contributions were both largely interventionist and redemptive. He spent his personal money to assist UI. He never took a dime from UI. To mark his tenure in UI, he built a 400-seat capacity lecture theatre. He brought a private orientation into the public sector in UI and changed the operational styles. For instance, I remember 17th November 2012 when the then Education Minister, Prof. Ruqayyat Ahmed Rufai was to commission Ajibode road, Wole Olanipekun lecture theatre before proceeding to the convocation ground, Olanipekun dazed everyone with his attitude to work. He called me around 5:35 a.m. to know if the chairs and canopies were already at the site. I couldn’t tell him it was not my responsibility. He called the then Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Isaac Adewole to know the level of preparations. This legal leading light was calling everyone to ensure that the minister was not embarrassed. He practically took over and was directing all of us towards success and perfection.
He is a man without wishy-washy equivocation, spartan and abstemious in lifestyle, honourable and noble in personal outlook who never waivers in his ideological commitment. He is indeed regal, resplendent and riveting. He is gracious in goodness, generous in giving as he is a man of excellent manner. A man of sterling integrity and zero tolerance for corruption.
Olanipekun is a great man that has been used by God to raise many men. Thousands of children of the poor have been raised through his scholarship scheme which gulps millions of Naira every year. I equally benefitted from the scholarship for my Ph. D programme. What can we say about upcoming lawyers? He has assisted many lawyers in their careers with his uncommon largeness of heart. Clearly, when some people are committed to self and selfish interests, Olanipekun is committed to the good of the generality.
He is generally respected for his great humility in spite of his daunting intellectual exploits and professional achievements. He has no time to think about petty subtleties of unethical conduct. This legal panjandrum has always maintained a dignified silence and quietly tucked in his rather intimidating corner. He believes it is better to react to some life’s irritations with no reaction. With him, you are assured of wise-cracks, profound thoughts, spiritually ennobling insights, sublime statements and words of wisdom. Not too long ago I ran into turbulence and solicited his intervention. After listening to my case, Olanipekun looked at me and quipped, “Sunday, who taught you wisdom but failed to teach you the value of foolishness?” It took me a while before I decided the import of his epigrammatic rhetorical question!
Interestingly, it is on record that not long after finishing his tenure in UI as Chairman of Council, Olanipekun was also appointed the Chairman of Council of Ajayi Crowther University (ACU) Oyo. He is still there, replicating all the good work he did in UI. He has built several structures for ACU, tarred roads and keeps spending his money just to guarantee the optimal human happiness.
To corroborate the saying that charity begins at home, this legend has done so much for his ancient town, Ikere Ekiti. He built a multi-million Naira ultra-modern church for the Anglican communion. He donated computer centres to some secondary schools in addition to the Health Centre, just as Wole Olanipekun Scholarship scheme though which many indigent but brilliant students across the country get the educational succor keeps running after 20 years. Yet, this suave gentleman does not demonstrate egomaniacal pomposities. He is prudent and parsimonious, preaching the virtues of humility, dedication and nobility. He speechifies with awe, just as he essentially remains puritanical in his indulgence and eternally transparent in his dealings.
Without a doubt, Olanipekun who is no less a paladin of moral, legal, social and political rectitude lives a life of sacrifice and service with his deep benevolence finding expression in his genial looks. To me, a life that touches others lives forever. This meek man of stellar character has achieved historical immortality with many lives he has touched. From his sartorial preferences to his leadership style, he stands pretty tall and far away from the archetypical lot. His signature smile is attractive, sparkling and memorable. His is a story of decency and dignity.
Call him a deft minefield walker, you will probably not be wrong. Olanipekun has successfully meandered through some of the many traps of life, characterised by treachery, betrayal and outright envy. He is therefore an institution of learning, school of wisdom and mobile library who is true; a rare embodiment of courage, charisma and credibility. His exemplary life remains mnemonic.
As he celebrates his 70th birthday, one can only pray that the Chief will not tumble from his tower. May he continue to be sensitive to the leading of the Lord as I ask for greater grace for greater glory for our collective benefactor in many years to come.
Born in Ikere Ekiti, Ekiti State on November 18, 1951, Olanipekun attended Amonye Grammar School, Ikere Ekiti between 1965 and 1969 where he obtained the West African School Certificate (WASC). His academic brilliance informed his appointment as the Senior Prefect. He proceeded to Ilesa Grammar School in 1970 from where he obtained the Higher School Certificate (HSC) in 1971.
At Ilesha Grammar School, the young Olanipekun manifested his innate leadership qualities, thus becoming the Editor-in-Chief of the school magazine (The Spike). He was also the chairman of, Students Representative Committee in 1971. In 1972, he gained admission into the University of Lagos where he bagged the Bachelor of Law degree in 1975. As light drawing moths, Olanipekun attracted many friends and admirers with his enchanting brilliancy which led to this election as the secretary-general of, Students’ Union between 1973 and 1974.
He attended the Nigerian Law School, Lagos from 1975 and 1976 and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1976. He was a junior counsel in the Messrs Oniyangi & Co Ilorin between 1977 and 1979. In 1980, he became the Principal Partner of Messrs Wole Olanipekun & Co. Perhaps one can only remind Olanipekun of what God says concerning him and he’s like in the book of Isaiah 3:10, “Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.” Happy birthday, chief.
Saanu is with the University of Ibadan.