My father used to be a boxer - Mustapha Akanbi's son
Prof. Mohammed Akanbi is a son of the pioneer Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission, Justice Mustapha Akanbi. He talks about his father’s life and times with SUCCESS NWOGU
Tell us about yourself
I am Mohammed Mustapha Akanbi. I am a legal practitioner. I am also a Professor of Law in the University of Ilorin.
How was it like growing up with your father?
My dad is someone who loves excellence. The kind of house he wants to build is one that is both a scholarly home and a religious one. To achieve that, he was very strict. He never spared the rod. He felt that at any point in time, we could do better than we did, so he was always pushing us to excel both in our education and religious upbringing.
Did he ever use the cane on any of his children?
Yes, I was frequently caned by my father. I still remember a day that I told a lie and how he dealt with me. When we were very young, one of my siblings took our father’s car out and unfortunately, he had an accident with it. I was the one that was asked to tell our father what happened. So, we cooked up a story which I relayed to him. Unfortunately, another brother of mine chickened out and later told him what happened. Anytime I remember it, I shiver. It was not a pleasant occurrence. He flogged us all day long. He kept flogging us in the morning and evening for a week. He did it in the presence of my now late mother.
Did he influence his children’s career choices?
It is a balance. Because he is of the old school, he favours courses like Medicine, Law, Engineering and Pharmacy. If you told my father that you wanted to study any of those courses, he would encourage you. He has his own view of professional courses. But if you told him that you wanted to do a single honours, such as History, Business Administration and so on; he would not be too pleased with it. But now, I am sure he will not kick against one reading non-professional courses as there is a brother of mine who read English and he is doing very well.
Did you enjoy any preferential treatment while in school because of who your father was?
Yes, we had our privileges and we also had challenges. His name could open as well as shut doors, depending on who you are talking to. For those who believe in integrity, if they heard our father’s name, there is the tendency that they may want to defer to us and get us involved in certain things. But some may not want to associate with us because they are scared that we may tell him about it. But it has been more of the positives than negatives.
Considering his busy nature as a legal practitioner and later as a judge, how did he create time for his family?
I did not really know him much when he was a legal practitioner because I was very young then. But he became a judge in 1974 so I saw more of him on the bench and it is now that I realise that he had many friends but when he was a judge, he was a typical civil servant. He went to work about 7am or 8am and would come home around 5pm. After that, he would spend time with his family and in the library. He wanted us to be studious, so he also created time for that. He used the spare time he had to train us. We did not really have time for leisure. He would ask us to go and read our books or the Quran at any spare time. My father had members of his extended family that he attended to. It was when he retired that we realised that he was a community person. As we grew older, we would sit with him to talk. But when we were much younger it was more of ‘go and read your book,’ ‘go to school’ and all sorts.
Did he ever have time to take his family out?
I can’t remember when he took us out. Most of the time, we were at the background. We never attended my dad’s swearing in as a judge and as President, Court of Appeal. He never put his family forward unlike today that many people flaunt their children. It is just recently and after he lost my mum that he now introduces his children to people. My father is quite a modest person.
How did he relax when he was at home?
He relaxed by reading newspapers. He likes reading newspapers in his library, sitting room, his bedroom and even in the toilet. Everybody in our house likes reading newspapers. That is one habit we got from him. He reads a lot. He loves reading. He also loves poems. Poetry is his hobby. He also loves jokes. People see him as someone who is too tense. But he loves jokes.
What are the values you imbibed from him?
The first value is to be outspoken. My dad says things as they are. Integrity and honesty are other values. He hates corruption. He does not betray his friend. He is generous to a fault. My dad will rather give out than take. He is a very selfless person. He is ready to deprive himself and his family and give out than bring in. My father would not look for job for us. He never spoke to anybody on our behalf. So, one may stay several months or years without a job until one is able to get it by oneself.
What was his reason for that?
My dad believes that God created him to serve. He loves service to humanity. He sees service as a calling and if he does it for himself or his family, he does not see it as a service. He believes that helping one’s family is selfish, that it is only when you help others that others will help you. But that may not be true in Nigeria. He is a Pan-Africanist. He does not like to be identified as an Ilorin man. He wants to be seen as someone who will fight the cause of Africans, of course, he lived part of his life in Ghana. Daddy does not cut corners.
How many of your father’s children are lawyers?
Four of his biological children are lawyers. I am in the academics, two or my immediate brothers are in practice and the last born, a lady, is a magistrate. But he has trained six lawyers, four of his children and two cousins of mine. One of his grandchildren is also poised to take Law as a profession.
How many wives did he have?
My mother died last year. He married my mother in the early 60s. In the mid-70s he experimented on polygamy for two years but it did not work. He was married to my mother for almost 50 years.
Who are some of your father’s friends?
He has many friends. He has close friends and most of them belong to a club called Amicus International. He also has the people that worked with him and those that still work with him. He also has some judges and retired judges as friends. He even has friends in Ghana. The poet, Kofi Awoonor, who was killed by terrorists in Kenya, was his friend. Also Justice Muhammed Uwais, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, is his friend. He has many other friends, including his one-time partner in practice, Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim.
How do you feel being his son?
I am proud to be his son. I also share his name — Mohammed Mustapha Akanbi, and I have a son, Mohammed Mustapha too. In our house there are about six boys with such a name. Almost all the girls that have male children named them after him. It is exciting to be his son.
What is his favourite meal?
He loves Ghanaian food, Banku. He also loves taking tea. He takes tea any time of the day.
Does he love sports?
Yes, he loves sports. He loves football, boxing and table tennis. He was a boxer when he was young. He loves watching football.
Can you remember his favourite quote?
I know one, though I may not be able to put it the way he says it. It goes thus: ‘the heights which great men reached and attained were not attained by sudden flight but while their companions were sleeping, they were toiling.’ He loves that particular one.
How sociable is he?
He is very sociable. People do not know that my daddy used to dance. He used to host parties, but age has made him to cut down on socialising. He was, however, not socially irresponsible. He listens to music, including Ghanaian music. He also loves to stand. Every time he is giving a speech, even at this age, he will insist on standing. He sleeps very late. It was when my mum died that we knew the depth of my father’s love for her. I drafted her epitaph but my father wrote the one on a calendar and it was very moving. He was really devastated by my mother’s death. I never knew my dad as an emotional person. They were married for almost 50 years. My mother was always in the shadows even though the shadow stuck to him because my daddy will not go on any transfer or any major occasion without my mum.
Did anybody settle quarrels for them?
They are normal human beings. It will be untrue for me to say that for almost 50 years, they never had misunderstanding. My father has a vision of excellence. When he feels that things are not going the way he wants, he will take it up with everybody in the house because he believes that all of us will have to take responsibility collectively. If they had a problem, they solved it between themselves. However, there was a day I attempted to mediate. My mother turned on me. She said to me, ‘never in your life should you come in when I am discussing with my husband.’ That day I felt very embarrassed. She told me to go and apologise to my father. They sorted out whatever problem they had well. They never allowed the intervention of a third party.
Does he wear special attire?
When he was younger, he loved suits. He has many of them. But immediately he retired, he was always in his native attire, agbada. But when he lost his wife, he started becoming simpler. Except there is a big occasion, he would be in kaftan. He used to be clean shaven. But he started wearing a beard in the mid-80s. I have been his barber since 1983. No other person cuts his hair. I am the only one that has that privilege. Now, I cannot touch his beard. He always tells me, ‘I have lost my wife, I am going to keep the beard.’
How does he spend his day?
He has a foundation. He also has a primary school and a secondary school. He has an Islamic charity organisation. He wants to attend to all these. He wants to attend the parent-teacher association meeting, meet with the parents, compose the school anthem, teach poems in the assembly and teach them English Language. He is also a chief in Ilorin. He takes people having community problems to the Emir. He attends some social and religious functions. When he comes back home, he does Islamic prayers. Around 9.30pm, Mr. Leon, his Ghanaian friend, who lives with him, leaves his room and joins him in the sitting room where they start their own parliament. It is just a parliament of two people. Mr. Leon would have read all the papers and brought out issues which they would discuss until they are tired. Then they would go to bed.
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