Remembering Prof. Michael I. Jegede

Professor Michael Iyiola

Professor Michael Iyiola Jegede

I FEEL hugely privileged to give this brief tribute on behalf of the numerous former students of Professor Michael Iyiola Jegede, SAN – a creative scholar, a gifted teacher, a mentor and an outstanding former dean of our esteemed University of Lagos faculty of law – as we celebrate his long and distinguished career

As a teacher of the law (of which he was so immensely proud), but also as an accomplished administrator, as the fourth substantive dean of the esteemed law faculty of the University of Lagos, whose tenure heralded the establishment of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, with him as its first coordinating Director; in the establishment of the excellent University of Ibadan law faculty, as Visiting Professor and Head of Department; and as a successful private legal practitioner and publisher, who achieved the highest distinction of the profession as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

Never a man of many words, his understated calm and dignified quiet demeanour, masked a strong will and character, whose firm contours were integrity, principle and selflessness.  These were the hallmarks of his leadership of the faculty of law that he joined over five decades ago as an assistant lecturer in 1964 –  first as acting dean between 1972 and 1974 and again towards the end of 1975 – when I and many others here entered the faculty. Soon after, he became substantive dean, between 1976 and 1980. These were also the qualities that endeared him to all, and enabled him carry colleagues and students alike, along his path of devoted service to the UNILAG law faculty and its students .

He was a part of the foundation and essential fabric of the faculty for over two decades. As dean, it was he who introduced the innovation of departments in the faculty of law for the first time, a practice that was soon to be adopted by other faculties of law across Nigeria, and beyond. His shining brilliance as a scholar and revered teacher, was only surpassed by his self-effacing humility and grace as a human being.

Obviously all of us, Professor Jegede’s former students – generations of now accomplished professors of law and legal scholars; private practitioners; Chief Judges and Judges in the highest courts of the land and pre eminent public servants and political office holders – will have warm personal recollections of our former dean in this foremost law faculty, that will be as varied, as they are inspiring.

Suffice it to recall how easy it was to love and admire Professor Jegede in his trademark French suits, with his athletic gait and generous smile. He was conscientious and cared deeply for us his students and about improving our law faculty. He was always available, extremely patient and courteous to all, even to the least of us – academic, non-academic staff and students alike.

If he had even a hint of appreciation of the extraordinary impact he had on our lives and the extent to which he sharpened our minds and thereby shaped our individual and collective successes through the memorable academic experience of his tutorship, and his person, he never showed it or drew attention to it, as some are wont to do. He simply took unselfish pride in the attainments of his former students.

Being a teacher and mentor, and to elicit our untapped potential, was his divine calling, for which he sought neither acknowledgement nor reward.

As a law teacher, and an elegant and persuasive writer, Professor Jegede was perhaps best known as an unrivalled expert in property law and a first rate scholar in the related subject of equity & trusts. His famous books, “Principles of Equity” which was published a year after he left the deanship in 1980, and Trusts, Bankruptcy and Administration of Estates (1999), quickly became standard works on the subjects.

Soon after in 1984, he founded the famous MIJ Professional Publishers which soon became the new face of professional publications with an impressive list of law and other professional titles. Within its stable is the seminal masterpiece “Among Giants – Memoirs, Deans of the Faculty of Law, UNILAG (1962 -2012)”, to appropriately mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of our famous law faculty.

Professor Jegede’s lectures, especially tutorial classes, were an unforgettable experience that changed the way one approached the study of law and legal problems generally. He sharpened our analytical skills.

In the practice of the law one soon had a full appreciation of the truism of the maxim that “equity follows the law” as so much of what Professor Jegede had so ably taught us, took on real and practical meaning for us, whether as private practitioners or as one of the many judges that he had taught and was later to appear before, in his befitting silk robes, as an equally successful and resourceful private legal practitioner that he was, for the last three decades of his life.

A famous law professor once posited that there was an inexorable connection between the Law and Jazz! He meant likening an exceptional law professor to a great jazz conductor! The missing link was this: since no two legal actions can be exactly the same, but only in ‘pari materia’, lawyers and judges must necessarily improvise, in adapting past arguments and precedents, every time they argue or decide a case. Every judicial decision is thus in some sense, a specie of improvisation.

Both jazz and the law are therefore open to infinite possibility and both the professor and the conductor are essentially about facilitating such improvisation. By resisting the urge to dictate or conduct every move, in order to instil in the jazz musician or student of law the confidence and joy to explore their subject, knowledge and improvisation (which is impossible without rigorous prior preparation) are enabled, at their best.

In this regard Professor Michael Iyiola Jegede was a maestro. He instilled confidence in us and thereby brought out the best in us. For that we honour him and pay him this tribute.

Let me end this tribute with words adapted from the famous Jewish text Pirkei Avot – “Ethics of the Fathers” “He who learns from his Fellow a single chapter, a single verse, a single expression, even a single letter must pay Him honour”.

Professor Jegede taught us well. By devoting his life to the creation of an environment in which we acquired the skills we needed for the rest of our professional careers, he taught us much more than letter, expression, verse or chapter. He gave us our wings for a lifetime and has, like all great teachers, left an indelible imprint on the lives of several generations of successful lawyers in varied careers, who were privileged to have been taught by him. And for that, we honour him.

• Ajumogobia, SAN and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, delivered this (Excerpts) from Tribute to Prof. Jegede, on July 9, 2015.

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