The life and achievements of Lateef Femi Okunnu, a legal luminary and a statesman as he turns 90 years old, are worthy of celebration, as he has made significant contributions to the development of Nigeria in various capacities.
Born on February 22, 1932, in Lagos, Nigeria, Lateef Femi Okunnu attended the prestigious King’s College, Lagos, before studying law at the University of London. He was called to the English Bar on February 9 1960, and admitted to the Nigerian Bar on September 16 1960. The young lawyer then began his legal career in Lagos and quickly rose to prominence, earning a reputation as a brilliant legal mind. He was engaged in private legal practice with Messrs. Remi Fani Kayode and Sowemimo Law Chamber and remained in practice save for the period of almost eight years when he was the Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing (May 1967 to December 1974). He resumed legal practice in January 1975 and founded the firm Femi Okunnu & Co soon after.
In 1992 he was elevated to the coveted rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria in recognition of his distinguished career at the Bar. At this point, it is important to note that Alhaji Femi Okunnu, S.A.N., CON, was first elected to the Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association in 1963 and remained a member till 1968, when he assumed public office.
A brilliant legal mind, Femi Okunnu served as a member of The General Council of the Bar from 1966-1967. He was also the Editor of the Nigerian Bar Journal, an annual journal of the Bar Association between the periods 1964-1967.
Over the years, his numerous achievements include being a former active member of the Nigerian Youths Congress, where he featured prominently in the agitations against the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact and the Detention Act. He was also appointed as Leader of the Federal Government Delegation to the Organization of African Unity Consultative Committee on Nigeria Peace Talks to end the Civil War in 1968, and in 1969, he was appointed Leader of the Nigerian Delegation to the O.A.U. Ministerial Conference. He was later appointed Deputy Legal Adviser to the National Party of Nigeria (N.P.N.) in 1981. In 1980, he was a member of the Nigerian Delegation to the General Assembly of the U.N.O. and was pro-chancellor of the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, in 1982.
A prolific writer, Alhaji Femi Okunnu is the author of the following books, among other publications:
“No Pact No Base”, a critique of the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact.
King’s College, Lagos: The Early Years, 1909 – 1959. (1984; 2016).
Engaging with History (2003).
Contemporary State Land Matters in Nigeria: The Case of Lagos State (2003),
The Sharia: Adultery As a Case Study (2003; 2017).
In The Service of the Nation – an autobiography (2010).
The World of Islam in Turmoil (2016).
In his honour, a book, Law and Development in Nigeria, was published in 2004. It was edited by Prof. I.O. Smith, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Lagos University and contains well-informed and well-researched articles by erudite law scholars and teachers.
In the course of his career, Femi Okunnu has appeared in several high-profile cases, especially in constitutional and land laws, before the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the Court of Appeal, Regional and State High Courts challenging abuse of power by the Federal, Regional and State Governments.
As he turns 90, his life and achievements serve as an inspiration to many Nigerians. His dedication to the legal profession, his philanthropic activities, and his contributions to the development of Nigeria as a nation are worthy of emulation. We wish him good health and the best for his life. Happy Birthday, Sir.