By his transition to the great beyond on Friday, September 16th 2022 at 92 years, Ibadan again lost one of its finest community leaders, a great coordinator of friendships and all good things, a highly cerebral lawyer and a defender of all that is noble and virtuous, Baba Karimu Oladele Latunji, popularly known as K. O. LATUNJI.
The likes of Chief Richard Akinjide, SAN, Chief Bode Akindele (Parakoyi Ibadan) and Chief Adebayo Adetunji (Baba Onisiga), being of the same age-bracket, had earlier pre-deceased Baba Latunji in the glorious payment of the debt that we all owe. They and the others still alive were the first set of Ibadan educated elites who excelled in their various chosen careers and championed the course of Ibadanland to the best of their abilities. My earliest recollection of Baba Latunji was about 1972 through my age-mate and friend, Kola Afolabi, who was at Comprehensive High School, Aiyetoro while I was at Ilesa Grammar School. Kola usually dropped his name as if he was his biological father! Baba Latunji was his idol. Later I got to know that Kola’s mother and Chief Latunji were of the same paternal parentage. Chief Latunji hailed from Itabale Olugbode (with concurrent ties with Oranyan) both in the present Ibadan North East Local Government. My late mother being from Iyalode compound at Itabale Olugbode was also familiar with Chief Latunji being one of the earliest lawyers of the time. In 1973, my mother had won a shop at the Shopping Complex built by Ibadan City Council at Agodi Gate through competitive bidding. Chief K. O. Latunji also had his office in the area.
My mother had apparently ran foul of some of terms of tenancy agreement and she was going to be dispossessed of the shop. The person holding onto the shop for her while she was in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (where she was an itinerant trader) was playing a fast one and had sought Chief Latunji’s retainership without my mother’s consent. On a particular day in 1976, upon my return from Ilesa, I led my mother to Chief Latunji’s chamber and, lo and behold, we met that particular man in the lawyer’s office! As the man and Baba were speaking in English and I couldn’t understand much of their conversation, my mother, sensing injustice, got impatient and left furiously! The rest is history now. I later became very close to Chief Latunji and he honoured me with his presence in all the social gatherings that I duly invited him. He would attend usually in the company of Basorun Kola Daisi. Baba has a good sense of history and I readily remember his various interventions on critical issues involving Ibadan, be it in the appointment of commissioners, chief judges, justices, including the location of important facilities, and dates of settlement of misunderstanding. He once told me of his influence in the resolution of the impasse between a military Governor and late Labanji Bolaji, a very highly respected and incorruptible journalist in the Sketch newspaper.
Being trained in the best tradition of the English Bar, justice, equity and fairness were his watchwords. About two years ago, a friend of mine had approached me about a land that belonged to Baba which he bought through a third party and a ranking lawyer but he never perfected the deal. He himself now wanted to sell the land. I led my friend to Baba Latunji who remembered the allocation very well. Chief asked him to go back to the lawyer who sold the land to him in order to perfect the deal and collect the relevant documents. He said it would be unprofessional for him to give out copies of the document. Moreover, Baba said that the lawyer was the son of his long-standing friend and fellow lawyer (now deceased). Sensing that my friend didn’t want to go back to the lawyer to collect the document, Chief Latunji told him that he could send for the lawyer right now and he would come. My friend said that he preferred that Baba should conclude the deal for him. Baba then told my friend pointblank that he would still charge his professional fees from the ranking lawyer anytime he turned up. Baba would not have the devious way of my friend who wanted to cut corners and play one lawyer against another lawyer! As we left Baba’s house, my friend confessed that it was the fear of possible payment of additional fees that made him to seek Baba’s help in the matter. Generally, Baba was very jovial and accommodating; he would listen patiently to you before offering a response. Just before he turned 90, he started to will his legal obligations to younger lawyers including the chamber where my daughter-in-law worked. I must not fail to add that Baba enjoyed a good social life. During one of my daughters’ wedding, I had him served with some juice and mineral drinks. He beckoned on me and asked, “what are these?” and added jovially “if you don’t have red wine, just pack them”. I supplied his taste immediately and sought forgiveness from God later.
About six years ago on his prompting, I brought Baba Latunji to my mother’s house at Agodi Gate after a social reception at Ibadan Civic Centre. Baba couldn’t climb the staircase while my mother couldn’t come down, both due to old age. They both exchanged pleasantries from the distance and Baba sent a token to my mother. Baba Latunji still recognised a number of buildings in the area, including Baba Abondejo House, Adelakun House, Oloko House, Popoola House and Omitade House even though he had not visited the vicinity for over forty years. The last time my mother and Baba Latunji met was at the International Conference Centre, UI in 2019 during my daughter’s wedding.
I saw Baba last twice this year. First, I met with him on March 30th in company of my senior brother after the 8th Day Fidau prayer for my mother to give him a copy of the brochure, and on July 19th after my retirement from the University of Ibadan to give him a copy of my book. He was already weak, armed with the proverbial boarding pass and awaiting the take-off to the hereafter! May Allah illuminate his grave, forgive his sins and grant him Aljanah firdaus. Ire o!
Gani Adeniran writes from