by Richard Akinjide, QC, SAN
July 9, 2000
Lagos – I was in the first cabinet that was overthrown by the military in this country. I entered parliament in December 12, 1959. And I remained in Parliament until January 15, 1966 when the Government was overthrown. I was the Federal Minister of Education in that cabinet.
I woke up in the morning in my official house in Ikoyi to discover that my telephone was not working. I had never experienced coup before nor did I know that it was a coup, thinking it was just a telephone fault; until a colleague of mine in the cabinet Chief Abiodun Akerele, came in and told me there had been a military coup. So I had the fortune or the misfortune of being a victim of the first coup ever in this country.
Many people may not know that I spent 18 months in detention in prisons across the country. I’ve spent the time in Kirikiri prison, Ilesha prison, Ibadan prison and the Abeokuta prison. Two of us who were in Balewa’s government emerged when the military handed over to civilians in 1979 as part of the civilian Government. In Balewa’s government, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was the Minister of Works while I was the Minister of Education. When the Military handed over to us after about 14 years, Shagari emerged as the President, while I became the Attorney – General and Minister of Justice. Again, Shagari’s government was overthrown just a few months after I left the cabinet. Of course, we suspected it was coming.
A lot of things that happened between that period and now would never see the light of the day. When you are in government, you know a lot of things; you see a lot of things. A lot of things you know or did or saw will die with you. This is the practice the whole world. People have asked me to write my memoirs, I just laugh because there are certain things I can never reveal. When I was in Tafawa Balewa’s Cabinet, all Cabinet ministers had access to written intelligence report every month. That was the practice at that time. But when Shagari came in, for reasons, which I cannot explain, that practice was no longer followed. But by virtue of my duties as the Attorney – General and as a member of the National Security Council, I continued to have access to some sensitive matters.