“All I’ve ever done is Methodist” – Sir Justice Adebiyi

It is an honour and joy for the opportunity to write about Sir Hon Justice Samuel Durojaiye Adebiyi. He was an imitable Methodist Knight of John Wesley and one of Nigeria’s finest jurists who died on 5th March and buried on 1st May, 2020 at the age of 93. I first met Papa Sir Justice Duro Adebiyi in 1994 at the Lagos residence of Rev J. Abimbola Odunlami, a former Conference Public Relation Officer, Methodist Church Nigeria. I went through some mentoring under Rev Odunlami when I resumed work as the Conference Editor, Methodist Church Nigeria in 1993. My very close relationship with the Aremo Kunle and Obafunke Okunoren’s family also gave me more opportunity to know more about Sir Justice Adebiyi and his wife, Lady Adebisi. It is important to note that the wives of Sir Justice Adebiyi, Aremo Okunoren, Justice Desalu, Brigadier General Mobolaji Olufunso Johnson and many more in their group are ‘a camaraderie that is best imagined as possible today.’

I correctly believed that my task would not entail any difficult searching for significant accomplishments to enumerate about Sir Justice Adebiyi; rather, the toughest challenge proved to be selecting from his seemingly endless ecclesiastical achievements, generosity, and eloquent writings. Sir Hon. Justice Adebiyi’s biography documented and complied to mark his 90th birthday by Temitayo Okunore-Makindipe based on direct conversations with Sir Justice Adebiyi, his family and close associates aptly provides an authentic source and reflection.

 Sir Justice Adebiyi had a long and illustrious legal career and as one of the great minds in Methodist Church Nigeria, he was born in Lagos at 43, Victoria Street at 13.55 hours on 10 February, 1928 to Solomon Adesina and Adeline Adebiyi who were staunch members of the nearby Ereko Methodist Church, Lagos. Originally with the Oloooro as the family name from Aawe in Afijio Local Government area of Oyo State, Sir Justice Adebiyi’s self declaration, “All I‘ve ever done is Methodist” summarised how the Methodists discipline, doctrine and education equipped and brought him up. After his baptism at Ereko Methodist Church, Lagos, by Rev M. O. Dada, Sir Justice Adebiyi ‘was confirmed as a full member of the church by Rev Angus on the 21st of November, 1943 at Elekuro Methodist Church, Ibadan.’

Sir Justice Adebiyi, “Duro-man,” the last of the Igbobi College (1938-1943) lived comfortable life to ‘see four generation like Job.’ In March, 1932, Sir Justice Adebiyi started his primary education at Yaba Methodist School. He went on to Igbobi College in 1937 for secondary education. He began serving as a Sides man at Ereko Methodist Church, Lagos, under the leadership of Rev E. K. Ajai-Ajagbe, Rev E. A. Fowode, and Rev T. Akin Sodimu. In the Methodist structure, ‘Sides men and Sides ladies were responsible for welcoming members and visitors into the church, showing them where to sit, making them feel comfortable, ensuring orderliness and quietness during worship and prodding people from dozing off, if necessary.’ The qualification to be a Sides man or Sides lady calls for a serious spiritual commitment as they are ‘mainly positioned at the side entrances of the church, hence the term ‘Sides.’’

Sir Justice Adebiyi started work on 8 January, 1944, as a Railway Accounts Clerk taking over from the late Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya. It is on note that ‘in October, 1948 he left for the United Kingdom on the S. S. Banfora. He had, whilst in Zaria, taken up the study of Law. In March, 1951, he was admitted into the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple from where he was called to the English Bar on 23 June, 1953.’

Sir Justice Adebiyi passed the Bar Final coming 6 out of 331 students after obtaining his ‘Bachelor of Laws degree from King’s College, London.’ He enrolled as a legal practitioner of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on 31st August, 1953. Sir Justice Adebiyi started work as a Pupil Crown Counsel in the Federal Legal Department on 1st September, 1954, ‘from here, on study leave, he went in January, 1956, to read in the Chambers of the late J. H. Buzzard, a Treasury Prosecuting Counsel at the Old Bailey. On returning home, his new experience was put to work in prosecuting at the Assizes in Victoria, Kumba and Bamenda in the then Southern Cameroons. Again, in September 1957, he had the opportunity to do graduate work at the prestigious Harvard Law School and graduating Master of Laws in June, 1958, became the first Nigerian to take a Harvard Law degree. On returning to Nigeria, he was once again posted to Buea, Southern Cameroons for a spell as Acting Legal Secretary and member of the territory’s Executive Council.’ He worked under the late Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh as the first Legal Adviser to the Federal Ministry of Finance from 2nd January, 1959. This appointment which ‘covered the then Board of Customs and the Board of Internal Revenue’ gave him ‘the opportunity to be a member of Nigeria’s Economic Missions, World Bank and IMF teams as well as teams to negotiate various loans from foreign governments as Nigeria became an independent country.’ With his promotion in February, 1962, as Deputy Solicitor General, Federal Ministry of Justice, his assignments involved ‘the treasonable felony case … the Apapa Wharf extension, the Railway extension in the North and the establishment of the Nigerian Industrial Development Bank (N. I. D. B.), In April, 1964, he was appointed the Director of Public Prosecutions of the Federation.’ Sir Justice Adebiyi was appointed a judge of the High Court of Lagos State in October, 1967 and ‘took Assizes at both Lagos and Ikeja. In 1969, he was appointed the Sole Commissioner to inquire into the Lagos Land Registry and later he became Chairman of the Judicial Inquiry into the assets of some employees of the Lagos Executive Development Board (L. E. D. B.).’ Sir Justice Adebiyi led the Nigerian delegation and addressed the Conference on Human Rights in Tehran, Iran in 1968. He also led the Nigerian delegation at a session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The testimony of Sir Justice Adebiyi’s driver of over 35 years, Frank Ato Fletcher is very inspiring. Frank, as confessed by some relatives of the family based on his dedication to Sir Justice Adebiyi is ‘stored as Frank Adebiyi on their phones.’ According to Frank, ‘one thing about Master is that he always keeps to time. He doesn’t like wasting time at all… He doesn’t play with church matters. People know him. Most of them in Ereko know him…on Sundays, he doesn’t joke with his own church, Ereko – that’s where he goes.’ Sir Justice Adebiyi as a stickler for time with punctuality as is his second name was a believer in strict Methodist upbringing to achieve a great things in life.

In April 1967, Sir Justice Adebiyi as a founding member of the Young Men Progressive League of Ereko Methodist Church was elected as the first President. In 1968, Sir Justice Adebiyi was elected as the Junior Circuit Steward of Ereko circuit under the leadership of Rev E.A.O Idowu. He was later became the Senior Circuit Steward based on his meritorious service and commitment to the growth of the church.

Sir Justice Adebiyi voluntarily retired at the relatively young age of 48 from the public service into private life on 4th October, 1976, and ‘busied himself in promoting commerce and industry.’  He retired when he was on assignment and appointment as the Chairman of another Judiciary Inquiry that looked into the affairs of Trade Unions by the Military Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo. What was a retirement for Sir Justice Adebiyi from the public service was not into private life but into a church ministry. He became actively involved in the Drafting Committee for the formulation of the 1976 Constitution of Methodist Church Nigeria set up by Patriarch Professor Bolaji Idowu. It is important to note that ‘the main focus of the revision was to establish the modalities fro the church to operate an episcopacy.’ Sir Justice Adebiyi was elected as the first Lay President of the newly created Diocese of Lagos inaugurated on the 24th of January 1976 at Wesley Cathedral, Olowogbowo, Lagos. He served from 1976 to 1980.

Sir Justice Adebiyi was ‘the Grand Patron of the Cathedral Choir, Grand Patron of the 6th Lagos Company of the Boys Brigade Nigeria, Ereko Methodist Cathedral, National Patron of the Association of Methodist Brigades (AMB).’ He served as the Chairman of the Methodist Church Nigeria Bookshop Ltd and his ‘benevolence to Methodist Church Nigeria, at all levels, knows no bounds…’ Under Sir Justice Adebiyi as the Chairman, Development Committee of the Ereko Methodist Church, the following projects were completed: Constructions of the Church building, Presbyter’s Manse, 3-floor building with shops on the ground floor, Ereko House – Bishop’s house and office, Ministers’ apartments and Boys’ quarters. Without forgetting his Aawe township roots, Sir Justice Adebiyi with his brother Dayo Adebiyi established a farm in the town. Sir Justice in memory of his father built Adesina Adebiyi Methodist Church, Aawe and was dedicated by His Eminence Mbang on Saturday, 3rd September, 2005. On the creation of Oyo diocese in 2012, Sr Justice Adebiyi built the Bishop’s office complex.

On the Methodist crisis that led to the fractionaliation of the church  between 1983-1990. Sir Justice Adebiyi explained that ‘the crisis began to evolve immediately after the momentous ‘Asaba Retreat’ of February 1-3, 1974, where The Rev Prof Emmanuel Bolaji Idowu unfolded his plan of reformation.’ Among the contributory factors including ‘some long-brewing personal undertones’ to the crisis according to Sir Justice Adebiyi ‘was that some Ministers and members felt that the Patriarch had become autocratic and authoritarian.’ There was also the unresolved friction and tension generated by issues surrounding the 1976 Constitution between Patriarch Idowu and members of Wesley Cathedral, Olowogbowo, Lagos. In December 1983, Methodist Church Nigeria broke into two factions – the Patriarch and the Presidential sides led by Pre-Eminence Bolaji Idowu and Rt Rev Adeolu Adegbola respectively.

Sir Justice Adebiyi’s position as an in-law to Patriarch Bolaji Idowu and his role in the reconciliation and reunification of Methodist Church Nigeria was very forthright. His friendship with Rev Abimbola Odunlami, a member of the then ‘Patriarchal Methodist Church was part of the grassroots nucleus and ideas of reconciliation. Using the words of His Eminence Sunday Mbang, “God had done it.” A meeting of the two sides with selected speakers took place on 14th July 1989 at 11:00 am at Methodist Church, Ijoku, Sagamu, with a congratulatory advertisement in a newspaper by Dr Kumolu Johnson. In the words of Papa Familusi, the long meeting ended with the appointment of a 30-man Committee under the Chairmanship of Hon Justice G. B. A. Coker, the Vice Chairmanship of Hon Justice Duro Adebiyi, Chief B. O. Benson as Secretary, and Chief D.O. Denloye as Assistant Secretary to review the 1976 Constitution. Sir Justice Adebiyi as the Chairman of the Arrangement Committee for the service of reunification was one of the main voices that spoke vehemently against the postponement of the service. His Eminence Mbang announced the date of the Reunification Service at the Hoare’s Memorial Church, Yaba, Lagos, with the declaration of prayer and fasting between February 25 to March 4, 1990. The Conference  and the Church Service for the ratification of the new constitution and the presentation of the Prelate took place on 24th May, 1990, at Hoare’s Memorial Methodist Church, Yaba, Lagos.  

In 2001, Sir Justice Adebiyi was appointed an Officer of the Order of the Niger (O.O.N), the same year he was made a Knight of John Wesley, the highest honorific award for lay members, Methodist Church Nigeria. He fulfilled his dream of the transformation of Ereko Church into a Methodist Cathedral in 2016.

Happily married to Mabel Adebisi Adebiyi who died on Friday, 3rd August, 2012, they were proud Grandma and Grandpa with seven children, eleven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Worthy is the Lamb!