I received the very sad news of the death of Chief Frank Akinrele which happened on Xmas day, December 25, 2018. Although he died at a ripe age of 88 years, I still did not expect his death because I was never aware that he had any trace of ill health. He lived a very discipline and humble life.
My first contact with the Akinrele family was when I was admitted into Victory College Ikare in January 1952 where his father, Rev. Canon J.F. Akinrele,was the Principal. The great educationist was an excellent disciplinarian and those of us who had the privilege of passing through his tutelage benefited immensely.
Chief Frank was a carbon copy of his late father. I first met him while I was in Victory College Ikare. The occasion was when he and his late senior brother came to visit their parents in Ikare shortly after they returned to Nigeria after completing their studies abroad. The two of them were introduced to us by their father. Frank was introduced to us as a lawyer while his brother was said to be an economist. Both of them were said to be holders of masters degree in their respective field of studies.
The aim of our Principal was to impress on us not to limit our educational pursuit to what we would receive in the College. None of us had the privilege of speaking with them on that occasion. But I still have the picture of the two men taken by a popular Ikare photographer who was around and who later came to sell the print out to some of us interested. I was then in either form two or three in my six year course in the College.
I was aware that the late Chief was in Legal Practice in Lagos while his brother was employed in the Central Bank also in Lagos. I passed out from Victory College Ikare in December 1957 and not long thereafter our Principal retired from teaching service to become a full time Anglican priest where he retired as an Archdeacon.
My decision to go into the legal profession was no doubt greatly influenced by both Hon. Justice Akinkugbe and Chief Frank Akinrele, the two great leaders in the profession from Ondo, my part of the country. They were cousins. The two men are from Ondo town while I come from Idanre, a nearby town. During my legal studies in London, it got to a stage when I had to register as a student at Lincolns Inn. One of the requirements was that I needed to be sponsored by two senior legal practitioners.
I was worried as I did not know how to get the sponsors. But some other students who had scaled through the same problem gave me the names of reputable legal practitioners in Nigeria who used to oblige people like me and how I could contact them. Chief Frank Akinrele and Chief T.O.S. Benson were on the list. I quickly made my request to the two men which they obliged.
I became closer to the family after I returned to Nigeria after completing my legal studies in England and was employed as a Federal State Counsel in Lagos. I knew that the late Chief was the second of the four sons of his parent. His immediate junior brother is a scientist who pioneered mechanized production of gari while he was head of the Research Institute at Oshodi, Lagos. He was then named ‘Akinrele onigari’. The fourth was an engineer.
I was closer to the engineer and his wife until I left Lagos in March 1978 upon my appointment as a High Court Judge. We were about the same age group so we related very well. But not long after I left Lagos, his wife died and he too died some years after of his wife. The eldest of the four brothers, the Economist, had died much earlier thereby leaving the Chief and the scientist, his immediate junior brother.
The late Chief was a very humble man who also loved me so much. As a legal practitioner, he was one of the top class in his generation. He was a specialist in criminal matters, particularly criminal appeals and the old law reports would confirm this assertion. According to the insertion in the 2019 diary of the Supreme Court, he is number 21 on the list of those conferred with the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria which was conferred on him on March 6, 1980. He was the fourth among the living holders of that rank as at the time he died.
As an Ondo man and Ondo State indigene, he was always involved in all the activities in the area whenever his presence was needed. One of such roles he played excellently well was in the case involving Oba Adesanoye, the then Osemawe of Ondo and Prince Adewole. He led a team of about twenty very senior lawyers from Ondo to prosecute the appeal in the Supreme Court. Among his juniors in the case were late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, and Prof. Olawoye. I was expected to be on the panel which was to hear the appeal as I was then in the Supreme Court. But I declined on the ground that I was too close to the parties in the appeal.
His love for me cannot be quantified. One example was some years ago when I was made the overall chairman at the annual harvest in my home church, St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Idanre. He got to know of it and he drove to my house in Idanre. I was surprised to see him. He said that he had come to give me the needed support. There was no year his chambers would not deliver an expensive Xmas hamper to me through Mr. Adewalure. He used to communicate with me too and treated me like a junior brother. Through such communications, I was able to attend the funerals of both his parents.
The Chief lived a very decent and successful life, he was also blessed with four brilliant sons like his father and all of them are in the legal profession, two of whom are already Senior Advocates of Nigeria. I will miss him very dearly. So also will his home town, Ondo , his home state, the legal profession and Nigeria in general. My prayer is that his great soul may rest in peace and that God grants the family he left behind the courage to bear the irreparable loss occasioned by his death.
His remains will be buried after a funeral service at the Cathedral Church Of Christ Marina Lagos on Friday 11th January 2019.
TRIBUTE BY HON. JUSTICE SUNDAY A. AKINTAN, LL.M, PH.D., C.O. N., RETIRED JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT, AND MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL JUDICIAL COUNCIL (NJC).