Taslim Olawale Elias

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International Court of Justice (1979). From right: President Sir Humphrey Waldock , Vice President Taslim Olawale Elias

Taslim Olawale Elias (born  November 11, 1914 in Lagos ; †  August 14, 1991 ibid) was a Nigerian lawyer . Among other things, he worked as Nigeria's Justice Minister and presiding judge at the country’s Supreme Court and served as a judge at the International Court of Justice from 1976 until his death , including from 1981 to 1985 as the first African president of the court. He is considered to be one of the most famous and influential lawyers in the history of his home country.


Taslim Olawale Elias was born in Lagos in 1914 and completed his legal training at the University of London , where he obtained a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree in 1946 and his doctorate three years later . In his native Nigeria, after independence in 1960, he worked, among other things, from 1960 to 1966 as Minister of Justice, from 1966 to 1972 as Attorney General and from 1972 to 1975 as Presiding Judge of the Supreme Court. During this time he was instrumental in establishing the Nigerian judicial system and shaping its legal basis. In 1963 he was a member of a commission of experts that drafted the Charter of the Organization for African Unity .

In addition to his work at the national level, he was a member of the International Law Commission of the United Nations from 1961 to 1975 . He then became a judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in February 1976 , where he worked until his death. During this time he served as Vice President of the Court from 1979 to 1982 and in this capacity was acting President from August 1981 to early 1982 after the death of Humphrey Waldock . From 1982 to 1985 he was the first regular-term president elected from an African Land in the history of the court. His compatriot Bola Ajibola was elected as his successor until the end of his regular term of office, following the tradition of the court .

He was also President of the Nigerian Association for International Law and the African Association for International Law and 1975 President of the World Association of Judges. At the University of Lagos he was a professor and from 1966 to 1972 as dean of the law faculty. He also worked as a lecturer at the Hague Academy for International Law , of which he was a member of the Board of Trustees from 1975.

Taslim Olawale Elias was married from 1932 and was the father of three sons and two daughters. He died in his hometown in 1991.


Taslim Olawale Elias was a member of the Institut de Droit international and was made an honorary member of the American Society for International Law in 1973. In 1979 he was awarded the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award, and he also received honorary doctorates from various universities. In 1984 he was accepted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences . The journal Leiden Journal of International Law devoted a special edition in 2008, the life and work of Taslim Olawale Elias. At the University of Lagos, the library's law department bears his name.

Works (selection)

  • The Nature of African Customary Law. Manchester University Press, Manchester 1956
  • Ghana and Sierra Leone: The Development of their Laws and Constitutions. Stevens, London 1962
  • The Nigerian Legal System. Routeledge & Kegan Paul, London 1963
  • Africa and the Development of International Law. AW Sijthoff, Leiden 1972
  • Africa Before the World Court. University of Nairobi, Nairobi 1981
  • The International Court of Justice and Some Contemporary Problems. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague and Boston 1983


  • Imran Oluwole Smith: Taslim Olawale Elias: A jurist of distinction. Lagos State University, Lagos 1992, ISBN 978-30268-010
  • Emmanuel G. Bello, Bola A. Ajibola: Essays in Honor of Judge Taslim Olawale Elias. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht and Boston 1992, ISBN 0-79-231426-3
  • International Law and the Periphery - Taslim Olawale Elias. Special edition of the Leiden Journal of International Law. 21/2008. Cambridge University Press, ISSN  0922-1565
  • Taslim Olawale Elias. In: Arthur Eyffinger, Arthur Witteveen, Mohammed Bedjaoui : La Cour internationale de Justice 1946–1996. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague and London 1999, ISBN 9-04-110468-2 , p. 277