Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State while rounding off the announcement of the demise of the late Dr. Abdu-Lateef Adegbite recently, said the fallen nationalist “… shone like a star in the field of law and was well known across the world as the mouthpiece of Islam in Nigeria”.
The Abeokuta, Ogun State-born Dr. Adegbite (CON), was a statesman, religious leader, peacemaker and until his death, the Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA). He died in his Lagos residence on September 28. We think those few words by Governor Amosun aptly captured the life and times of the late Islamic scholar.
Born on March 20, 1933 into an Egba Moslem family in Abeokuta, Adegbite obtained a scholarship to attend King’s College, Lagos where he was a co-founder and the first National President of the Moslem Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN).
Shortly after his secondary education in 1956, he was offered another scholarship by the then Western Region Premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, to study Law at the University of Southampton in England, where he bagged a Bachelor of Arts degree in law in July 1962.
From there he proceeded to the College of Law for Solicitors, Lancaster Gate in London; and Gray’s Inn (1963-1965). He later obtained yet another scholarship from the Commonwealth for post-graduate studies in England. On his return to Nigeria in the early 1970s, Adegbite in 1971 was appointed by the then Governor of the defunct Western Region, General Christopher Oluwole Rotimi, as the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters; and was re-assigned as the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney- General of the Region in 1973. He also had a stint with teaching at the University of Lagos, where he was a law lecturer until 1976 when he retired to private legal practice in Lagos, specialising in commercial and corporate law.
A typical Egba man, Adegbite exerted social influence on the Rock City when he co-founded the famous Abeokuta Social Club in 1972. The Abeokuta Social Club was at the time a reflection of that dream, reputable and influential institution the cream of Egbaland socialites craved to associate with. He held the twin traditional titles of Seriki and Baba Adinni of Egba Muslims.
He was once the Chairman of the Ogun State Pilgrims Board and a member of the National Pilgrims Board. A sportsman and notable sports philanthropist, Adegbite served as the President of the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) from 1972 to 1985. In recognition of his love for humanity and commitment to community development, he was appointed between 1984 and 1990 as the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of the University of Maiduguri; and variously served as a member of the Executive Committee, Lagos State Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Director, Industrial and General Insurance Plc.
President Goodluck Jonathan appointed him as Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Public Awareness on Security and Civic Responsibilities on March 9, 2011. Most visible, perhaps, was Adegbite’s role as a selfless Moslem leader and bridge-builder. At the Constituent Assembly in 1976, for instance, he led the argument for the establishment of Islamic Courts of Appeal in the southern states for Moslems.
The low points in his religious cause being when he joined the late Chief MKO Abiola to agitate for the introduction of Sharia in the southern states in the early 1990s; and when he supported the Sharia-for-all-Moslems call during the sensitive period of Sharia riots under former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s civilian government in December 2002. Nevertheless, Adegbite’s failure to pull through some of his dreams never undermined his firm commitment to the nation’s oneness.
While in the saddle as the NSCIA scribe, he exploited every opportunity to not only serve his immediate Moslem community, but used his exalted position to promote justice, peace and religious tolerance; as well as building bridges to link Moslems and Christians in the country and the rest of the world.
Adegbite, in most of his dealings in his lifetime, blended religion, law and morality. He, indeed, excelled as a nationalist and statesman. He will not be missed by the Islamic world alone. The loss will be felt by all peace lovers across the world.