Taslim Olawale Elias

Infobox Person
name = Taslim Olawale Elias

caption =
birth_date = 1914
birth_place =
death_date = 1991
death_place =
spouse =
father =
children =
parents =
resting_place =
known_for =
occupation = Jurist
nationality = flagicon|NGA Nigerian
alma_mater =

Taslim Olawale Elias (1914 - 1991) was a Nigerian jurist. He was the President of the International Court of Justice. He also modernized and extensively revised the laws of Nigeria.

Early life

Taslim Olawale Elias was born in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, on November 11, 1914. He received his secondary education at the Church Missionary Society Grammar School and Igbobi College in Lagos. Marriage to Ganiat Yetunde Fowosere occurred in 1932; the couple would have five children together (three sons, two daughters). After passing the Cambridge School Certificate examination in 1934 he worked as an assistant in the Government Audit Department. In 1935 he joined the Nigerian Railway and served in the Chief Accountant's Office for nine years.

While working at the Nigerian Railway Elias became an external student of London University, and later he passed the intermediate examinations for the B.A. and LL.B degrees. He left Nigeria for the United Kingdom in 1944 and was admitted to University College London. As this was during World War II, with London the target of frequent bomb attacks, he spent some time at Cambridge's Trinity College. He graduated with a B.A. the year he entered University College London and two years later received the LL.B. In 1947 he was called to the bar at the Inner Temple, where he was a Yarborough Anderson Scholar, and in the same year received his LL.M degree. He continued his graduate education at University of London and in 1949 earned a Ph.D. in law.

Entered Academia

In 1951 Elias was awarded a UNESCO Fellowship to undertake research into the legal, economic, and social problems of Africa. Later that year he had his first academic appointment, the Simon Senior Research Fellow at Manchester University. There he was an instructor in law and social anthropology. It was also in 1951 that he published his first book, Nigerian Land Law and Custom.

Elias moved from Manchester to Oxford in 1954 when he became the Oppenheimer Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Nuffield College and Queen Elizabeth House. He continued his research into Nigerian law and published Groundwork of Nigerian Law in the same year. In 1956 he was visiting professor of political science at the University of Delhi. He was instrumental in organizing courses in government, law, and social anthropology and in establishing the African Studies Department. Elias also lectured at the universities of Aligarh, Allahabad, Bombay, and Calcutta. In that year he also published two books, Makers of Nigerian Law and The Nature of African Customary Law.

He returned to London in 1957 and was appointed a Governor of the School of Oriental and African Studies. As the constitutional and legal adviser to the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (which later became the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens), he participated in the 1958 Nigerian Constitutional Conference in London. He was one of the architects of Nigeria's independence constitution

Legal career

In 1960 Elias was invited to become Nigeria's Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. He served in this capacity through the whole of the first republic. Although later dismissed after the coup d'état in January 1966, he was reinstated in November of that year.

In 1966 Elias was appointed Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Law at Lagos University. Four years earlier he had received the LL.D. degree from the University of London for his work on African law and British colonial law. In 1967, Elias was appointed Nigeria's Commissioner for Justice and five years later, in 1972, became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

In addition to contributing to Nigerian and African law, Elias had long been active in the international legal world. He was a member of the United Nations International Law Commission from 1961 to 1975, he served as General Rapporteur from 1965 to 1966 and was its Chairman in 1970. He was the leader of the Nigerian delegations to the conference held to consider the Draft Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States in 1963 and to the Special Committee on the Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in 1964. He was a member of the United Nations Committee of Experts which drafted the constitution of the Congo, 1961-1962. He also helped to draft the charter of the Organization of African Unity (O.A.U.), and its Protocol of Mediation, Conciliation and Arbitration. Elias also represented the O.A.U. and Nigeria before the International Court of Justice in the proceedings concerning the status of Namibia.

As Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Elias had to contend with a sometimes tenuous political climate and the repercussions of an oil boom that made some Nigerians rich a bit too quickly. He was ousted in 1975 by Nigeria's military regime after an investigative paper published a story accusing him of trying to influence a court case involving his brother. Those who spoke out in support of Elias noted his incorruptibility and the fact that he lived quite modestly. Furthermore, unlike other esteemed Nigerians in leadership positions, Elias had never used his high position to reap financial reward.

International Court of Justice

In 1976, Elias was appointed a judge of the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The government of Nigeria did not voice any objection to this appointment, since the elevation to the International Court of Justice carried with it a great deal of prestige, and its judges were considered to be the most exemplary (thus ethics-minded) jurists. In 1982, after the death of Sir Humphrey Waldock, Elias was elected President of the International Court of Justice, and became the first African jurist to hold that honor. Five years later Elias was also appointed to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague as well.


Elias died on August 14, 1991, in Lagos, Nigeria. Sadly, he was never able to refute charges of corruption, and attempted to sue the paper that first raised them, but he passed away before the case could be decided. No doubt his 1969 treatise Nigerian Press Law was cited at some point in the legal documents.

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