Interested in excelling in the legal profession? Then, this master class session with Mr. Babatunde Ogala, a senior advocate of Nigeria and practitioner of 35 years standing will benefit you immensely. And immeasurably too. It will also open your eyes to a lot of things that hitherto you didn’t know about law and its practice in our country.
Gulping all of one hour, on Friday, February 19, 2021, you cannot read it without learning a whole lot from one of the masters of the game.
A ‘double combo’, if you like, Ogala equally delved into his political odyssey in the course of the interview with YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE as well as other pertinent issues. Enjoy…
My first question is: what makes a good lawyer?
Hmmmm! What makes a good lawyer? That, for me, is a subjective question. But I know that to excel in the practice of law takes a lot of hard work. It means work, work and more work. To be a good lawyer, you need to be abreast of the law, you need to do a lot of reading and in reading, you read everything, because a lawyer is a problem solver and all facets of our lives are regulated by laws. Even the scriptures are laws regulating our day to day lives. You need to work, read and you need to have a very good command of the language of communicating law, and as at today, it is English language. You must, of course, have a very well-stocked library, you must be very well comported, know the rules of procedure and above all, work, work and more hard work.
Why do most lawyers fail?
Did you say most lawyers fail?
I don’t agree with that! I don’t agree that most lawyers fail.
Okay, let me rephrase the question – why do some lawyers fail?
I cannot tell you why any lawyer will fail, I can only tell you what will make a lawyer successful…
Please, go ahead and tell me.
That I have enumerated – a lawyer has to work hard, you have to be dedicated to the law, you must as much as possible avoid distractions and to excel in law, you must love the law. You must live the law, you must let the law love you.
What do you like most about being a lawyer?
I will tell you – my pride as a lawyer, like I said, is that a lawyer is a problem solver. A lawyer actualizes your dreams. There’s this large misconception that being a lawyer is just about advocacy and litigation. No! To be successful in business, you need a lawyer. Even from the point of registering your company, reviewing your contracts, preparing your contracts, advising you on your day to day transactions, both in business and in your personal life, you need a lawyer.
In Nigeria today, we are still, if you permit me to use the word, ‘under-lawyered!’ Nigeria as at today is under-lawyered. Why do I say so? A 200 million-person population, I’m not too sure if the population of lawyers accounts for up to 0.5 percent of this population and for anybody, if you go to the West and those advanced countries that we try to emulate, you meet a person and before he talks to you, he will say I want to speak with my lawyer. It simply means that they all, one way or the other, have retained lawyers. If a man runs foul of the law, he says I want to speak with my lawyer and whether you like it or not, whether others believe it or not, whether they agree with it or not, law is one profession that even the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is our ground law, gives a pride of place. Even though the Constitution itself is law, our ground law, but you see, even in the appointment of ministers, those who administer your country, who administer your states, it says, you must have a position in your government called that of the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General. These are constitutional provisions. It’s the only profession that the Constitution provides for and it says the holder of that office must be a legal practitioner. So, need I say more? The law is just the first among all others.
What don’t you like about being a lawyer?
Absolutely nothing! Absolutely nothing! You can’t be at the very top and hate to be at the top.
What is the greatest thing that being a lawyer has done for you?
Hmmm! The best thing I will say about being a lawyer is that as a lawyer in the society, you cannot be ignored. In arguments, in domestic matters, in social gatherings, wherever it is, you cannot be ignored. I give you an example – you are in a discussion with people, and for one reason or the other, once you start marshaling your points, the next thing you will hear people say is well, you cannot defeat a lawyer! So, what does that say? They recognize that you are just a step above all others. So, even the society gives you that respect, your society respects and appreciates your being well and above every other profession. And the society recognizes the fact that you and that profession to which you probably belong, regulate their lives.
What has law not done for you?
Nothing! Law is the only thing I know, it’s the only thing I’ve done. Since I qualified as a lawyer; and all my life, I’ve just worked around the law. Even when I joined politics; politics itself is law. It’s governance and governance is law. Government of laws. You see, there’s this saying that government should be of laws. When I went into the House of Assembly, a political office, it was as a lawmaker, and who is best suited to make laws? Someone that is entrenched in the law. That’s as a public office holder. Even when I held a party position; I held party positions, first, many years ago, as a legal adviser in my local government. And then, nationally also in my party as a legal adviser. So, all my life, I have always been around the law and by the grace of God, today, I also rose to the pinnacle of the profession in Nigeria, being a senior advocate of Nigeria. So, it’s all about law for me. That’s all I’ve done for the past 35 years.
Is it a plus or a minus to be married to a lawyer? I know that your wife (Justice Oyindamola Ogala) belongs to the Bench while you belong to the Bar…
Well, it’s interesting! Contrary to what people think; it might even interest you to know that my son is also a lawyer, my daughter is also a final year Law student. So, it’s a family of lawyers and I think it’s been exciting for us. As lawyers, it makes life easy for each and every one of us. You have a knotty legal issue to tackle, to your left, you have one person you can consult, to your right, you have another. And when you even go to the office, you have your colleagues at work to consult. So, it’s been some great advantage for me – one who understands my profession, one who understands the demands of the job I do, one who can tolerate my late nights, my travels, can appreciate my thinking. I can go on and on. So, for me, being married to a lawyer has been of some advantage and in fact, a great advantage. I also think that if you ask on the other side too, it’s vice versa. Imagine a judge sitting down late in the night trying to sort out some ruling, judgment and there are issues that need to be resolved, because an adjudicator has to resolve issues – different positions before him or her. And the judge can say look, I now have a block, you can just go and wake somebody up from the bed and say please, to use the word of my wife, she will say, ‘let me tap your brain!’ You know you have brains you can tap. So, all around me, I also have brains I can tap.
What do you normally consider before accepting any brief?
What I consider most before accepting a brief, and as dictated by the ethics of the profession, is – one must first of all look at the law itself; you look at the morality, you look at the chances of success. Because the profession enjoins us to advice our clients. You don’t need to take every brief. In fact, the ethic says if you see a bad case, you are expected, or not just in a bad case, in any case, you are expected to advice your client on the position of the law. And let me say this – a lawyer can only apply the law to the facts you supply. He cannot manufacture facts. Though people, wrongly or rightly, say lawyers are liars. No lawyer lies.
If you lie to your lawyer, it’s your case he will go and present. Those are the facts he has and if you tell him the truth, which is in your interest, to tell the truth, it will be in your favour. The lawyer, I’m sure, is not somebody you can lie to… So, for me to take a case, it depends on a lot of factors. Of course, I must also remind us that the law is business. It’s not a charity. Even though we do a lot of charity work that we call pro bono cases, mostly for indigent members of the society and sometimes the state. I do quite a few of that. So, those are considerations. Of course, like I said, it’s a business, I pay taxes on my income. Then, you must also consider the ability to perfect your brief.
What brief must a lawyer not accept?
Like I’ve noted, there are quite a few. It also depends on individual circumstances. I know colleagues who may not accept cases of robbery, I know colleagues who will tell you for one reason or the other they won’t accept divorce, I know those who will say they won’t accept cases of murder, but it depends on individuals. But by and large, your obligation is to state the law as it is. A lawyer is first and foremost an officer of the court. You are an officer of the court and not an officer of your client. So, your duty is to the court – to treat the law as it is and state your client’s case before the court and apply the law to it.
What is the costliest mistake that any lawyer can make?
I think the costliest mistake any lawyer can make is – I will look at a few 1. To go and get personally and emotionally involved in a matter. A lawyer must distinguish his personal interest from the interest that he serves in a matter as an officer in the temple of justice. That will be a big error. Another error you could make is not to be a master of your case. You must be a master of any brief you take. If you take a brief, you have a duty to give it the best shot. But by and large, I would say the costliest mistake is not to be on top of your case. Not to be a master of your case.
So, how do you feel anytime you lose a case?
How do I feel? Well, we’ve lost so many, we’ve also won so many. But we are not the victors. The clients are the ones who win or lose cases. We don’t win, we don’t lose, we only present your case to the best of our ability, based on the facts you have provided to us. So, I do not consider myself as losing a case or winning a case. It’s my clients that win and lose cases. And so, when we to go to court and the case is decided against my client; I won’t use the word lose, it’s decided against my client. If I think there are issues that could still be explored, we go to the higher courts to still test it and when the higher courts or the highest court of the land pronounce and give decisions, we abide. No hard feelings! And we move on. Like one of my colleagues used to say; he says a lawyer is like a taxi driver. You drop one passenger, you pick another. No emotional attachments, no personal attachments. You just go do the work. It’s like a doctor. A doctor has no personal interest and that is why even the ethics of our profession forbids us from taking matters in which we have personal interests, because you may not be able to manage your emotions in such matters.
Tell us the most memorable case you have handled and why…
Hmmm! Most memorable case! There are quite a few – but I want to look at which I will say is the most memorable. Hmmm! Hmmm! Tough one, Azuh. This one got me thinking and thinking. Ah! Ah! But I will look at a few cases – one, was a divorce matter which I handled and where the couple was living in the same house and in divorce, they say they must be separated for a certain period of time as the grounds for divorce. And I was able to convince the court that despite living together, they were constructively separated. At the point we filed the matter, they lived in the same house, but we were able to convince the court that they were constructively separated. Because they were at best non-speaking flat mates or housemates who were not talking to each other.
So, that was for me quite memorable. Yeah, I will take that as the most memorable. I would also love to quickly mention a case of a few years ago and that was a pro bono case I had to do. Incidentally, it was against the Lagos State government. I think that was about five years ago. And what was the matter? If you recall, I think it made a lot of news – a task force purportedly did a raid on night clubs and I came in on behalf of the four people who were arrested and transported in Black Maria, and detained. We went to court on their behalf and we were able to convince the court that there was an infringement on their fundamental rights, to dignity of their persons, their freedom of movement and assembly and we succeeded. That was for me a memorable case, because of my position – being a past member of the House of Assembly, my position in politics in Lagos State and still having to bring a suit against Lagos State government.
Now, the interest in law, what propelled it? What triggered the passion to want to be a lawyer?
Azuh! Difficult question. And I will be sincere with you – I can’t place a finger on it. I tend to answer that question by saying the law found me. The law came for me. Yes, why do I say that? Right from, maybe childhood, I’ve always been one that is a little bit agitated. Sometimes they say argumentative, sometimes they say I probe, sometimes they say I resist, and it was just a natural thing. Because when I was going to seek admission into the university, I had very, very limited choices. Law, first. I think then we used to have three choices or so. I think Law was my first and second choice and Mass Communication was my third choice. And here I was, took my JAMB and the law took me. I mean, I say that because people say because my father was this or that. I had nobody that I looked up to, to want to be a lawyer. It was a decision that just came naturally and that’s why I said the law just found me and I went and I answered the call of the law.
If you had not opted for law, which other profession would you have gladly gone into?
Mass Communication and advocacy. That would have been it, because I’ve always been interested in the media. You know at some point I veered into the media – legal adviser of The Guardian back in late 80s, early 90s, up to 1994. And when I was in The Guardian, which was also a media environment, before I knew it, I also got consumed, I started writing columns, I started writing The Guardian Law Report, the law pages of The Guardian, I wrote for African Guardian and because of also, the atmosphere and friends in the newsroom, the likes of Nduka Irabor, Gbenga Omotoso, Taiwo Obe, Emeka Izeze and the rest of them in the then The Guardian newsroom. Of course, I always gravitated towards them. You won’t believe it – I also started writing about general interest up to the point – was it Ani Laurence or Taiwo Obe – that made me start writing about food and restaurants! I was contributing to the food pages of The Guardian Express and The Guardian itself and also to Lagos Life. I wrote about parties. I became a reporter. But again, that was because of the environment and it is something that if I had not done Law, it would have been Mass Communication.
The journey so far, how would you sum it up?
We just thank God. It’s been a fruitful journey. The dream of every lawyer is to get to the pinnacle, and what is the pinnacle for a lawyer, at least, in Nigeria? It is to be a senior advocate. And who is a senior advocate? He’s the one who has excelled in the practice of law, has contributed to the development of law. It’s very stringent conditions to be a senior advocate of Nigeria and if the privileges committee and the profession have found me worthy to be in that exclusive class of less than 700, till date, dead and alive Senior Advocates, out of about a hundred thousand lawyers, that had been produced in Nigeria, what more can one ask God for? I feel very happy. So, I must thank God, I must thank the profession, I must thank the law for finding me worthy of being elevated to that esteemed rank of senior advocate of Nigeria.
At some point, you were a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly – of course, by contesting and winning an election. What triggered your interest in politics?
That is an interesting one. You know, prior to 1992, doing a little bit of activism here and there, when the June 12 crisis of 1993 came, I naturally found myself in the pro-democracy struggle – from speaking, writing to joining bodies like Democratic Vanguard, NADECO, and from my interaction with persons and what have you, I got involved. And the struggle went on for about seven years. In 1999, there came a point where the then military administration decided that they must continue after we believed we had conquered the military. They later rang the bell to say okay, now, we want to return to democratic rule. For those of us who were in activism, we said okay, fine, we had won. But some persons said to some of us, you had fought for democracy, if you do not get involved, those who do not appreciate the struggle will take over and you will be back to square one. So, for those of you that cherish democracy, who struggled to achieve democracy, you cannot but get involved. And it made sense to me. I looked around me, many of those that were involved in the struggle, some got involved, many ‘siddon look’ and what have you.
I just considered – for all its worth, let us go there and see what it’s like. Behold, I got involved, I started getting sucked in and I said to myself, if good people stay away, who then do we expect to make things happen? If wise men stay away, foolish men will make foolish laws that the wise must obey. And with all sense of modesty, I consider myself a wise man and I resolved that as a wise man, we should also get involved. And that was the starting point. And contrary to what people say that politics is dirty. Yes! It may be dirty. Business is also dirty. A lot of the things we do are dirty. But if we say it is dirty and those who can clean it up stay away, it can only but get dirtier. And these dirty people will regulate the totality of our lives and make our lives dirty. So, we that believe we have something to offer, we ought to get involved. We that believe we have some education; it gets very strange when I hear things like it is the low class people that dare. Yes, they are the ones that will go out to vote, the elites stay away…
There’s this motto by ICAN – Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, which says ‘If you CAN, ICAN! So, if I can be in politics, Azuh can and the more of us that go in there, the more we can change the orientation. It does not matter how long; just do your little bit. I, on my part, I’ve tried to do my little bit. I remember when I first got involved; I know a crop of young people that I mentor and to the glory of God, they all moved away from just being political rascals and decided to go to school and they are all better for it today. And they are still in politics. Including holding public offices now. So, that was a big motivation for me. Let us go there and make the change. It is a gradual process, it may be resisted, but just do your little bit. Today, I will tell you – in politics, you need not like Tinubu. You love him, you hate him, but you will not ignore him.
In politics today, if you talk about somebody who has made leaders, he’s made a vice president, he knows how to discover talents, he’s made governors. That is the way it should be. So, we too should also be able to make some persons. We should be able to bring an Azuh and say look, Azuh, you have something to offer, go and run in the House of Assembly. Be a local government chairman and that’s the way it grows. So, we now grow the field to produce more great people for quality representation, quality management of our affairs. We can change things. Look, today, we criticize the government and it’s healthy for everybody, because we have created the awareness. Criticism is very, very healthy. If we had all folded our hands, like it was under some administration or in some other countries where you get somebody being the ruler for 40, 30 years, where would we be? So, it’s healthy. We must continuously bring in new people and we must continue to criticize constructively, challenge and put our rulers and our leaders on their foes.
From being a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, you rose to become the National Legal Adviser of the ruling APC (All Progressives Congress) until months back when you relinquished that position. What exactly does that role entail?
Like President Buhari will say, when we were in office; he said that is the Attorney-General of the party. You are the custodian of the constitution of the party. You are, as the name says, the legal adviser, you are the one that has the responsibility to make sure the party is run strictly and in accordance with not just the Constitution, but the laws of the land – from the electoral to the Constitution and all the laws.
So, you are like the engine room; an engine room of the party. You advice all offices on the law, you are the problem solver for the party. So, it was a huge responsibility and while there, we contributed our little bit to make it a better-run office.
As the National Legal Adviser of APC, what would you describe as your greatest achievement in that office?
My greatest achievement in that office was to make it a law office. When I resumed, I saw what I met on ground and I resolved and I called the staff of the legal department, the secretariat staff, that look, I have come here for us to run a law office. The office of the Attorney General of any state of the country is a law office. This is a law office and not a transit office. So, we must practice law. So, the first thing was to remodel my office to look like a law office. Then, I made sure we ran it as I run my law firm, albeit without the commercial end of it. So, that is the greatest achievement and I think with all sense of modesty, it speaks for itself. Those who encountered us attested to that. We got a lot of commendation, from lawyers, from party men, from disputants and to the glory of God, the legacy is there and I’m sure it will remain for a long time to come.
You recently got elevated to the rank of a senior advocate of Nigeria. How does that make you feel?
How does it make me feel? In one word, fulfilled, as a lawyer.
The first time your name was announced as one of those shortlisted, what was the first thing you did?
Well, the first thing is to thank God for prayers answered, my hard work recognized. Because to be a senior advocate is not a tea party. No! It’s not a tea party. It’s not! I will tell you a little – to be a senior advocate, you ought to have done a minimum number of years as a practicing lawyer. It is only for those advocates, those who are court room lawyers and some slots for the academics. And for the academics, you must also have contributed greatly to the development of the law – your publications, books, articles, how you have influenced the law and all put together. To be a senior advocate, you need to have a certain minimum number of cases – twenty in the High Court within a time frame. It’s not forever. Certain number in the Court of Appeal and certain number in the Supreme Court. So, for you to even be considered at all, you must have practiced law through all hierarchies of the superior courts. Then, you must have a minimum level of practice. I think a minimum of five counsels, you must have a minimum standard of equipment in your office, you must have a defined minimum quality of legal resources – from your library, through the equipment and what have you. Then, you must also have some recommendations, both from the Bar and the Bench. Once you scale that first minimum filter, and that also includes, you must be known to be a good tax payer, a good citizen. You cannot afford to have had disciplinary issues in the Bar or have issues with the law. Then, after you’ve scaled that first filter, they inspect your chambers, then you now go for the qualification interview. So, for even 70 of us to have been appointed, try to imagine how many applied, how many scaled the first filter, second filter, chambers’ inspection, interview and recommendation.
Recommendation comes from three places. Every judge before whom you have done a matter in the High Court must attest to your industry or the quality of your work; judges of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal must attest to your capability and don’t also forget, these names are published in the newspapers for objection. So, even members of the public must have confidence in you as a fit and proper person. So, to have scaled all of those hurdles, for you now to see your name shortlisted among those to be interviewed, you heave a sigh of relief. Then, after the interview…The day of the interview, you now go home and get your result. Once interview is being concluded, within hours, the names are announced. In fact, it was a friend from somewhere who told me, who called me to congratulate me and I said no; he said you have been appointed a senior advocate of Nigeria.
I said where did you hear it from? They are still at the meeting, but he said they had released their list. The integrity that is attached to that process… So, it’s not what they will say after the interview, make una go come, we go get back. No! The moment the interview is concluded, they have their meeting and announce the result. And I must tell you, the standards are extremely high. There’s a marking scheme. So, it’s a score from one hundred percent and imagine a situation where the cut off is about eighty percent. So, when people say oh, senior advocate is… some say it’s political, it is that, it is this. Even if it is so, you must meet that minimum qualification.
For you to even apply at all… Many want to, but they cannot even apply. Because even we; it took us a while to apply because we needed to meet that minimum qualification.
How many times did you apply before eventually making it?
2004-2006 or thereabout, we gave it a shot. But 2007, politics took me away. I was a member of the House for a couple of four years. Like I said, the case you apply with must show that you are current. They must be recent cases. By the time I spent four years, of course, as a member of the House, I could not practice law. So, that expired. By the time I came out in 2011, I had to start the process all over again. And you know what it takes for you to run a case from the High Court to the Supreme Court. But to the glory of God, by the time I was applying, I was able to throw in twenty seven High Court cases contested, I was able to throw in at least ten Court of Appeal and about ten in the Supreme Court. Even though I needed four and six, but I mean, it’s better to be very, very and almost over-qualified than to be found wanting at all. So, it was a lot of hard work and hard work and hard work over that period to get these qualifications together.
What will change about you now that you have become a senior advocate of Nigeria?
It comes with a lot of responsibility. A lot of it! First, you are a Bar leader. The society expects a certain basic minimum from you. There are things I’ll say now, people will say SAN! In fact, sometimes we are in an argument and some people want to express their opinion, you will hear let’s listen to the senior advocate. Suddenly, you no longer have a name. When you express certain kinds of opinion, you will hear a senior advocate is talking like this. So, expectations are high. You are a Bar leader, you are a societal leader, your conduct in and out of the Bar is public, your carriage, your dressing, your presentation. In fact, it almost changes the totality of your life. Almost the totality of it. Things that I will ordinarily do and get away with, two, three years ago, I no longer can. Because that becomes a focus. I mean, even here, you have introduced me as Babatunde Kwame Ogala, senior advocate of Nigeria. You didn’t even say lawyer first. So, that is the responsibility, that is now my selling point. When the clients come, they are coming to you because they believe you are a repository of the law. So, it means more hard work. If you go to court, if you are not ready, ha, the judge will tell you, senior counsel, the juniors are watching you. Yes! I tell you, as young lawyers, back then, when we go to court, in the 80’s and early 90’s, and when we do our matter and we hear that a Rotimi Williams is in one court or a G.O.K Ajayi, Kehinde Sofola and the rest of them, Akinjide (Richard), Abayomi Sogbesan, late Chief Onofowokan, when you hear that those persons were in court, and you had finished your matter, rather than going to the office, you go and watch them. The way you watch cinema. So, today, I believe my presence in court or indeed the presence of any senior advocate, all the juniors in court are watching you. You have become not just a senior advocate, you are also a teacher, because you are teaching the younger ones. Your comportment, your delivery, your knowledge, your articulation, your dressing. You can no longer go to court with your shoes unpolished. You cannot go with your clothes rumpled. Your dressing. Anything about you changes. The expectations are higher, because you are now the leaders of the Bar.The juniors are watching, your colleagues are watching, the public is watching, the judges are watching. So, you become a gold fish the moment you put on that silk. So, it comes with a lot of responsibilities, like I said.
What are the advantages of being a senior advocate of Nigeria? A number of lawyers aspire to become one and join the exclusive league…
Well, it’s a privilege. Of course, it comes with advantages and responsibilities. A part of the advantage is; that’s why they say you are a Bar leader. In the courts, you have a pre-eminent position. You can measure your case ahead of all others. So, it simply means, when you are in court, well, time saving, sometimes. But that is also a responsibility. Because in a full court and the judge sits and says you should mention your case first, you are the focus, you are the cinema for every other person waiting. When you are the last, nobody sees you. Everybody would have left. But in this case, you are the cinema for everybody to watch. So, it has its own privileges, I will call it. Being a senior advocate does not make you the best lawyer. It only means you are seen to be good enough to be elevated.
What distinguishes Babatunde Ogala, SAN as a lawyer?
What distinguishes me? Ah! I think it is you that can tell me. Because I still try to be who I was. I don’t think anything has changed other than, like I noted, the responsibilities and the focus on one. Other than that, I don’t know what else has changed other than the high expectations. And the expectations of the Bar and indeed the profession.
Who is your favourite Nigerian lawyer and why?
Tall order! (Thinks) Living and dead?
Ah! Azuh, that’s a corner you have boxed me into. My favourite Nigerian lawyer, I’m always going to say, Babatunde Ogala. Because that’s a very tight corner – because there are quite a lot that I look up to. I used to look up to… Hmmm! It’s tough! G.O.K Ajayi, do I say? Chief Williams (F.R.A)… there are quite a few. I can’t place my hand on one. Because, like I said, in being a lawyer, I didn’t look up to anybody to aspire to be a lawyer, but I learnt from a lot of masters. Alhaji Femi Okunnu was my principal. I learnt a lot from his chambers. Fola Akinrisola, I learnt a lot from and even my seniors in chambers at that time – Lanre Oyetunji, Seinde Kareem; they were my seniors in chambers and these were also fantastic lawyers that I learnt from. I have a lot of respect for Lateef Fagbemi, Wole Olanipekun. Yusuf Ali gave me the push. In fact, if it might interest you, I mention these names because they were inspirations. These are people who will call me, ‘Tunde, what is wrong with you? When are you going to apply? We are expecting you! And when I got there, they were the ones who said thank God, at last. Long overdue!’ One other inspiration that I had was the day I was in Supreme Court and I had a matter, after I argued my matter and a justice of the Supreme Court said, ‘We are expecting you in the inner Bar! Yeah, those are the people who gave me the kick in the ass, as I call it. I had people like that, so to mention a favourite is tough for me. It’s really tough. A lot of them played different roles in different ways. Alhaji Okunnu will say young man, take this file, go and do it; you can do it. I remember Chief Akeresola – I got to him during my youth service. I had been posted to the Army. That’s another interesting part of my life. When I left the Law School, I wished to be a law teacher at that time. But behold, I was posted to the Nigerian Army. Bonny Camp, to be precise. The first week we were there, nothing to do. Second week, nothing and then some day, somebody said instead of you people sitting idle in the library or in the conference room or wherever we used to, that is the Mess, you can be going there. And first day, second day, you know, young men, excited and one day I said look, am I going to start my career drinking beer every day? And I told myself, let me go and find a place to practice law. I found myself with Akinrisola. And the first time I was going to appear alone in a matter, they just threw a file at me and said two days from tomorrow, you are going to Onitsha (Anambra).
Ha! Onitsha, ke? Onitsha, loun – loun? Okay, go and move this application and all. Fine, I took up the challenge. I got to Onitsha High Court. You can imagine a lawyer of one year standing at the Bar. My matter, I think, was about No. 10 or so on the list. But they called it first. A senior advocate, Chief Chimezie Ikeazor, one of the fine advocates this country ever produced was on the other side. And behold, when they called the matter, it was my matter. Ah, my God! Won’t this ground open up and swallow me? Me against this giant? Well, I moved my application, I argued it, I was a little bit nervous, frightened, intimidated, all put together. But the judge kept saying young man, go ahead, you are not doing badly and the ruling was eventually in my favour. That gave me the confidence to fire on. So, by the time I got to Femi Okunnu & Co, within three years at the Bar, Alhaji will say okay, he calls me young man – ‘Young man, go and take that file, prepare your brief, you are going to the Court of Appeal! Initially, you know you first want to dodge the assignment. Natural instinct for a young man is to want to dodge. But you did the first one, second one and the confidence grows. Well, the rest, they say, is history. One can only but thank those giants. Chief Olanipekun, I remember we did a matter together, where he led me and on the Bench, I was just reading and I saw a particular authority that determined that matter. I don’t want to mention the case because it’s a very popular political matter. The moment I gave him the authority, the total line of argument changed. He cited that singular authority, he said look at it my lord and that was the end of the case.
From all the things you have shared with us, God, no doubt, has done so much for you. What more do you want from him?
He has been kind! Wisdom, wisdom and more wisdom. Long life, good health and like they pray, may He continuously guide me on the right path. God has been kind, God has been kind. He has been kind. Let God bless me according to His wish. Not my doing, not my making. It is His grace. So, let Him continue to just grant me that grace.