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Men You Should Know: Olisa Agbakoba

Olisa Agbakoba, is a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association from 2006 to 2008 and a founding partner of Olisa Agbakoba and Associates, a leading maritime specialist law firm in Lagos. He is also the founder of Nigeria’s foremost human rights organization, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO). He became known through his work in human rights and democracy movement in Nigeria. He was also the founder of the United Action for Democracy and the Zambian pan-African human rights organization AfroNet. He was a defender for the Civil Rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa who was executed and was arrested several times because of his pro-democratic activities.

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Background and Early Life

Olisa Agbakoba was born on 29 May 1953 to Chief Justice Godfrey Ubaka and Mrs Phina Agbakoba in Jos. He later moved to Onitsha in 1965, two years before the Nigeria-Biafran war (1967-1970). He attended Government Primary School, Jos from 1959 to 1960; Hillcrest School, Jos 1961; Government Primary School Jos, 1962-1963; Zixton Public School, Ozubulu in 1964 and Christ the King College, Onitsha between 1966 and 1967. Agbakoba also attended College of Immaculate Conception in Enugu from 1970 to 1972; Government College in Ughelli in 1973; the University of Nigeria, Nsukka from 1973 to 1977, Nigerian Law School in Lagos in 1978 and London School of Economics & Political Science from 1979 to 1980.

He holds an LLB (Hons) of the University of Nigeria, BL of the Nigerian Law School and LLM (1980) of the University of London.

Early Professional Career

Fresh out of law school, he served as a research fellow in the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs’ (NIIA) Law and Intelligence Department. Agbakoba left NIIA after a year and formed his own law firm, Olisa Agbakoba and Associates, which specializes in commercial and maritime law. He has also been a key leader in the country’s pro-democratic movement and is the President of AfroNet, an international NGO dedicated to furthering the human rights cause. He is also a Principal Partner and founder of Human Rights Law Services (HURILAWS), an NGO that specializes in advocacy and law.

Aside from human rights, his work in maritime law in Nigeria has been profound. He is the founder and first president of the Nigerian Shipping Chamber of Commerce (NCS).

Some of Agbakoba’s Publications

Amongst his major publications are:

  • Federal High Court Practice Manual (published by LexisNexis, South Africa)
  • Maritime Newsletter Volumes One and Two;
  • Manual on Election Petition in Nigeria;
  • Maritime Sabotage in Nigeria;
  • Bankruptcy Proceedings in Nigeria;
  • Development Law Books (in three volumes);
  • Towards A People Constitution in Nigeria;
  • Transcending the Wall: A Manual for Prisoners Reform.

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Others from the non-exhaustive list include:

  • The legal basis of the Organization of African Unity Force in the Chad; Journal of International Law, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs 1981;
  • Journal of Human Rights Law and Practice: Nigeria’s State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No 2 of 1984;
  • Exposing the Myth of Judicial Impotence with Tunde Fagbohunlu (1991),
  • Incursions into the Legal Profession, the way out the speech given at the conference on the reform of civil adjudication, Lagos, December 1995;
  • The Statute of Limitation in Admiralty Proceedings: A Case for Fresh Initiatives in Maritime Laws and Reforms in Marine Insurance Law.


He has been honoured with the following awards:

  • Roger Baldwin Medal for Civil Liberties (1990).
  • The Human Rights Award of the German Association of Judges (1993)
  • The Aachen Peace Award (1996)

Other awards and honours include

  • The receipt of the 15 Great Legal Practitioners of Distinction in Nigeria (1993)
  • Vanguard’s 40 Outstanding Young Nigerians Award (1993)
  • Fellow and award recipient, Institute of Administrative Management of Nigeria,
  • Co-director, British Council Conference on Managing Human Rights, Abuja, Nigeria
  • The International Human Rights Award of the American Bar Association, in recognition of extraordinary contributions to the causes of Human Rights, the Rule of Law and Promotion of Access to Justice (1996)
  • Kwame Nkrumah African Leadership awards in 2006
  • The FRA Williams Legal Practitioner of the year 2006 amongst others.



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Jeremiah Aluwong

Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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