Human rights activist and former President of Nigerian Bar Association

Olisa Agbakoba is a Nigerian human rights activist, maritime lawyer, and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association.

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 Nigerian civil war. He attended Government Primary School, Jos from 1959 to 1960, Hillcrest School, Jos; 1961, Government Primary School Jos, 1962 and 1963; Zixton Public School Ozubulu in 1964 and Christ the King College, Onitsha[5] between 1966 and 1967.

Olisa Agbakoba also attended the 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) from the University of Nigeria, BL from the Nigerian Law School, and an LLM (1980) from the University of London.

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).

Olisa Agbakoba is the 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 the human rights and democracy movement in Nigeria. He was also the founder of United Action for Democracy and the Zambian pan-African human rights organization AfroNet. He was a defender of the Civil Rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed, and was arrested several times because of his pro-democratic activities.

In 1990, he was honored with the Roger Baldwin Medal for Civil Liberties. Also in 1993, he was honored with the Human Rights Award of the German Association of Judges and in 1996 he was given the Aachen Peace Award.

Other awards and honors 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), Dr. Kwame Nkrumah African Leadership awards in 2006 and FRA Williams Legal Practitioner of the year 2006 amongst others.

Among his major publications are the Federal High Court Practice Manual (published by LexisNexis, South Africa), Maritime Newsletter Volumes One and Two; Manual on Election Petition in Nigeria; Maritime Cabotage 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. Others are The Legal basis of the organization of African Unity Force in 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 Babatunde Fagbohunlu (1991), Incursions into the Legal Profession, the way out 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, among many others.

Olisa Agbakoba is married to Lilian Agbakoba, who is also a lawyer by profession, has three daughters and six grandchildren, and lives in Lagos.


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