Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa’s story really, really inspires. It also lays bare some of the obnoxious sides of polygamy as well as stepmother/stepson relationship. The beauty, however, is that despite everything, the man, today, has become a huge success and an inspiration to many.
Born on March 21, 1965, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who has put in decades into activism and the defence of human rights, started out ‘unradicalised’. An encounter with a lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University, in Ile-Ife, Osun State, where he read law, was to later alter everything – and since then, he hasn’t looked back.
Now a pastor with The Redeemed Christian Church of God, the firebrand lawyer who learnt at the feet of the irreplaceable and irrepressible Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, opened up to YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, like he’s obviously never done before.
From the two times he attempted suicide to abandoning his studies in secondary school and becoming a truck pusher, his rustication from OAU and the subsequent reinstatement, there was practically nothing that the Ondo State-born father of five didn’t discuss with us.
The encounter, by the way, was inside his law office in the highbrow Lekki area of Lagos and the date, Tuesday, October 1, 2019.
First, what makes a good lawyer?
Thank you! What makes a good lawyer is diligence; a lawyer must be hardworking, you must have passion for the profession, the capacity for discovery, you must have the mind to go the extra mile. In other words, what others take ordinarily, you must read extra meanings to it. You must have the sixth sense to be able to see beyond the ordinary and then a good lawyer is the one who does not assume. He doesn’t take anything for granted, he must verify. Even where he thinks he knows, he must go ahead to verify before putting his personality on it or filing a case in court. A good lawyer is the one who fears God, whose activity is dictated by his conscience and also his faith, either as a Christian or as a Muslim or as a traditionalist. You must have a higher being whom you are accountable to. That higher being is the one that you fear and because of Him, you don’t want to lie, because of Him you don’t want to manipulate court proceedings or processes, because of Him you don’t want to betray your client by colluding with the adverse party, because of Him you don’t want to frustrate the course of justice; you know that one day you are going to be accountable to that higher being. Once a lawyer is accountable to that higher being, he’s able to get direction and do things properly. And finally, a good lawyer is the one who is contented. He’s not after the filthy lucre, to just make money at all cost. He must be the one who believes in one step after the other, lines upon lines, precepts upon precepts and taking it one time, one time, one time, one time until finally he’s able to get to his destination. So, he mustn’t believe in short cuts, in trying to just hit the limelight or just get a breakthrough at all cost. No! He must go through the system; he would’ve gone through the university, you do pupilage with another experienced lawyer, where you can learn and be trained, before you set up. And then you start it gradually.
What got you interested in law in the first instance?
I suffered persecution in my early years and anything that smells of injustice, I seem not to want to like it. For example, denying people of their rights or privileges. So, naturally, I’ve always had that inclination towards making things right. But the passion for law was fired by my uncle, Chief Augustus Adegboruwa. He was in Lagos here, and my father sent me to come and stay with him so I could further my education. But when I got here, I discovered that his hands were full. He had sponsored my brothers to America, to Canada; some others were in higher institutions in Nigeria and he had his own children too. So, naturally, I had sympathy on him when he told me that I needed to wait. I then had to join him in his business, which was timber merchandizing. In the course of that business, he came in confrontation with government officials, especially forest guards who were in charge of the forest and he was a major cause of the confrontation. He will not agree, he will not accept injustice, he will not accept to be cheated, but he was an illiterate. He couldn’t read, he couldn’t write, but he was very vocal; he was very, very dynamic and he was very courageous. He was the president of Timber Dealers Association of Nigeria. In that regard, he led so many meetings with commissioners of police, with governors, with forest guards and he always took me along to be able to take down the minutes and then help him to write letters. He was always writing petitions, everytime. So, he just more or less fired me up and then he had a case which he was leading; our community in Ondo State, we had a land matter with our neighbouring community and he was the one championing it. He was the one funding it and he was a major witness. So, he will take me to his lawyer, Mr. Abayomi Sogbesan, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who was in Ijora (Lagos). I will stay there and look at this man, very tall, very lanky, very well dressed, handsome and speaks prefect English. So, I see myself as Abayomi Sogbesan, and my uncle had told me also that one day you must study law so you can take over the case.
Success, you will agree with us, is not served a la carte. For anybody to succeed in law, what must the person do?
To succeed in law is to have integrity, because, you know in our profession, we are not allowed to advertise. I cannot go over the radio to say I’m a constitutional lawyer; as you are coming here, you can’t see a signboard. We take our profession to be conservative and in that regard we believe that anybody who is well trained, who is knowledgeable will get his clients. And so, it is the work you do for a particular client, how you excel in it, that will make the client to introduce you to another client, to another client…referrals! The works of your hands must sell you. So, a successful lawyer is the one who is detailed and has integrity. You stay in your office, hours upon hours, nights upon nights, burying yourself in heavy books. So, you must be productive, you must have integrity and then you must also be very hardworking.
What do you like most about being a lawyer?
It’s the capacity to influence things. When things are happening, and people seem helpless, you could just sit down in your office and look through your law books and the next day you are in court and asking that, that thing be changed. Especially when people had thought it was not possible. And I give you example of the toll gate (in Lekki, Lagos). We didn’t have a precedent, we didn’t have any example that we could hold on to and say, well, we are going to fall upon this case as our guide. So, we sat down here, in our office here and said how do we go about this? There’s no precedent, it has never happened before. But people were complaining, Eti Osa people were already organizing protests, Lekki Phase 1 people were protesting everyday and police were repelling. So, I just called my colleagues and said, look, you know what, there are two sides to this thing – the first is that you cannot be a landlord of a house and be paying to sleep in a room in that house; if actually you are the one who built a house, then nobody can charge you money to sleep in your house. So, if it’s true that Lagos State Government constructed the road with tax payers’ money; it’s not money belonging to somebody, it’s tax payers’ money; if they built the bridge adjoining Lekki and Ikoyi with money of tax payers, why should taxpayers pay again to use what belongs to them? So, we went to court and said, well, my lord, let them explain who owns the money that was used to build the bridge. And they couldn’t deny that it was tax payers’ money. And at that time there was no law that said you must charge people to use a road. They couldn’t defend it. And we got judgement. So, the thing is to be able to use law to influence society positively and to challenge every act of impunity or injustice. It’s a wonderful thing for me.
What don’t you like about being a lawyer?
Obviously, it’s that it’s not lucrative, especially if you want to play according to the rules. It takes a long time and so our younger people are discouraged and the major thing is that it seems that when you practice law with integrity, it doesn’t sell. So, it pains me to say that integrity does not sell. People who can manipulate the system, they seem to be on the fast lane and you know, it seems like when clients come and they give you a brief and they ask you or say do you know so, so and so judge and you say no, I don’t know him, they become uncomfortable. And even if I know, here, I’m not interested. But you see the expression on their faces that they are not happy. They want somebody who can give an assurance that bring N20 million, I will get you an injunction and in another one month we will get the case done. When you can’t give such assurance, you see the disappointment; at times some don’t come back, at times some just stay because it is you. So, it’s not very rewarding or encouraging in that regard.
What is the greatest thing that being a lawyer has done for you?
The greatest thing that law has done for me is to empower me; it’s to open the flanks and change my perspective. The greatest thing law has done for me is to catapult me into that realm where I probably would not have gotten to, having regard to my background. Law has made me to become like a leveler with authorities, with the high and mighty; law has fed me, it’s been able to sustain me, give me a roof over my head, be able to take care of my family. Law has been able to help me to also empower others in terms of people that I’m paying their salaries, people that I’m sending to school, people that I am assisting. Law has helped me to also become fulfilled as a person. I like to be a philanthropist, but I don’t have the physical enablement in terms of cash to be able to give money to everybody. So, what I can’t achieve with financial assistance to the less privileged, I can use law to achieve. Policemen who are dismissed, widows who are cheated, people who are in prison, I can just assist with the quality that I have gained through law.
What is the costliest mistake that any lawyer can make?
The costliest mistake a lawyer can make is to assume. When your client comes, don’t pity him, don’t be scared, don’t let him intimidate you. If he brings a case, sit him down and take the role of the adversary and then do the devil’s advocate, challenge him, confront him, get the true facts, because if you don’t get it from him, you will get it from the adversary and it will be too late at that time in court. So, the costliest mistake any lawyer can make is to assume and then jump on top of the tree only to fall down. So, a lawyer must be methodical, and that’s why we study logic in the university. You must build your case and try to kill it in your office, try to look at the weakest link and see how you can strengthen that area before you finally blow it, otherwise they will blow it for you in the court and it will be quite unfortunate.
You just admitted that law has been nice to you; what has law not done for you? What would you have wanted law to do for you that it still hasn’t done?
It hasn’t changed society. Law has been very sluggish to transform society, law has become a slave in the hands of those who are in power; they have been able to capture it. Law has not been able to maintain equilibrium, law has not been able to close its eyes to status, law has been manipulated by the rich and mighty, law has been caged, law has not been able to become a tool in the hands of the common people, law has become a weapon of the rich and that is unfortunate. I didn’t like that at all. I had wanted law to become something that will be used, notwithstanding whose ox is gored; law is for A, law is for B, it is white and white and black and black. Law has not been like that. And it has failed the common people in particular.
Let’s go back a little. Can you recollect your first time ever in court and maybe any memorable thing that happened?
Yes, I was in Gani’s chambers…
What year was this?
It was in 1995. Yes, my first ever appearance in court. I was appearing for a client, against Abiola Bookshop. They supplied some materials and there was a failure of the contract. So, we sued Abiola Bookshop and I was assigned to go and handle the case at the High Court in Lagos. I appeared before Honourable Justice Sotuminu, who later became the Chief Judge of the State. I had an application to enter judgment in default of appearance and defence. Abiola Bookshop had not entered an appearance, they had not filed a defence. So, I was to go there and convince the judge to give us judgment in default. And the client was there. They had tutored me in the office on what to do, but I got there, I couldn’t talk. I stood up, announced my name reluctantly and then the judge asked me, ‘what can I do for you?’ I couldn’t talk, and he kept asking, ‘counsel, what do you want?’ I couldn’t talk. My client was furious. He jumped up, but, of course, he couldn’t take my place. Yet I didn’t know what to say. So, the judge then said, ‘I assume that you are a new wig?’ Some other senior lawyers there said yes, obviously, he’s a new wig. So, a lawyer got up and came and joined me and quickly checked through my file; the judge was angry, she rose and called off the court and went back into her chamber. So, all the other lawyers gathered around me, they began to tell me what to do when the judge comes back and what to say: ‘I have an application for judgment, there’s proof of service…’ When the judge came back, good enough, they had put me through and we got judgment that day. The client eventually was very happy.
In the course of your career, can you recollect the most memorable case that you have handled and why?
There are two occasions. The first was when we went for the Ogoni Civil Disturbances Tribunal, trying Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ledum Mitee and the Ogoni 9. We stayed in Ken’s house at GRA, Port Harcourt. So, in the night, the senior lawyer whom I followed, Mr. Nnaemeka Amaechina, former deputy head of Gani’s chambers then called me and said we have another matter in Port Harcourt, in the High Court. I will lead other lawyers to the tribunal, you go and handle this matter. So, he gave me the file, gave me the Law Report. I opened and read and discovered that it was a case of Prof. Jaja Chinwa, who was an activist professor in the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. Lt. Col. Dauda Komo, who was the military administrator of Rivers State then had sacked him. So, he ran to Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Chief had filed a case for his reinstatement, challenging his expulsion. That’s the case they gave me and I said how can you do this to me? Well, I had no choice, I went to the Rivers State High Court, I met Prof. Jaja and he said where’s Chief? I said he’s not around. What of Amaechina? I said he’s not around. He said you are not serious. Is it you that they sent to come and do this case? He said it’s not possible. So, he started to make frantic efforts to reach out to Chief, but he couldn’t get Chief; Amaechina was already in court at the Ogoni Tribunal, so he couldn’t also reach him. And the Attorney General of Rivers State was in court, with all his retinue of lawyers. Students of the university, Rivers State University of Science and Technology, were in court. The court was filled up. I didn’t say anything. But it was no longer like before! I had gone through the fire. So, we started. It was to move an interlocutory application for an interlocutory injunction to restrain the military administrator from sacking the lecturer. So, we moved our application, cited all authorities and the judgment was in our favour. By the time I came out, the students were already carrying drums and so on. Prof. Chinwa carried me, but the students took me from him and throughout Port Harcourt, everybody was just coming out. So, in the evening, he invited me to his house and had brought other lecturers, his family and there was a sumptuous dinner. He was beside himself and was very, very happy.
The second occasion was after we finished the Saro-Wiwa case and he was executed. We were then battling with what you call the Ogoni 19, to get their bail. They were the remnant of the Ogoni activists, who were in prison in Port Harcourt. So, Chief filed an application for bail. He sent me to come and argue the application. I used to stay in Ledum Mitee’s office in Port Harcourt. I filed the application, but when we got to court to argue, the Attorney General raised an objection, that the people who signed the affidavit could not have signed it, because they were in prison. How did I get them? Because the Commissioner of Oaths said before me. So, I should explain how these applicants were able to do it. I could not explain. But the judge came to my rescue and said I will adjourn, go and put your house in order. I was scared to come back to Lagos, because I don’t know what Chief will say, because the press had carried it. So, I was preparing for sack, because when you do that kind of thing with Gani, you know where you are going. When I came, I prostrated before Chief, I wept, but he said no, I’m impressed. For the first time in the history of that chambers Chief was not angry, he didn’t bang telephone, he didn’t scatter the office. Nothing unusual happened. He then called Ledum Mitee and said I will send the boy again, put him through and let them carry the Commissioner of Oaths, from the court and go to the prison and re-file the application. So, he applied to the Chief Registrar of Oaths to follow me to the prison. Chief was even very magnanaimous, he gave me money to go back and I did what I had to do, filed it and they were granted bail. I was very happy.
How does it feel to eventually become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria – and especially after all you’ve been through?
Well, I think that, to the extent that it is the highest attainment for now in the legal profession, and given where I’m coming from, I have a sense of fulfillment and I feel honoured that the Bar and the Bench have honoured me. It’s a privilege! Before now, the thinking was that people within the human rights community cannot attain this feat easily, having regard to the experience of Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Mike Ozekhome; Keyamo (Festus) applied for like seven years. So, I didn’t want that narrative to continue; most people within the human rights community have written off this system, as either that you have to pay money, you have to lobby or you have to be silenced or you have to give some commitment. So, I’m happy that I didn’t go through that regime of long application and that it came on the second application. To me, it’s to send a message to our colleagues, in the human rights community, that I have not signed an undertaking for anybody; nobody came to my office to give me conditions and I didn’t pay money to anybody. So, I want to use myself as a model to my colleagues, especially in the human rights community, that if you get your acts together, if you are determined, if you can be passionate concerning the quest for elevation, you may not get it immediately, but eventually you will get it. So, I am happy, and before when we talk, it will look like it’s because you are not a Senior Advocate, that’s why. But you are now in a position to be able to assert authority, to speak with confidence, to speak with some kind of backing, knowing that it’s not because you are frustrated; it’s not because you are not there and then it gives me an opportunity to also carry out some reforms. You know, a lot of people want this system to be more transparent, especially the process of awarding the rank. So, I’m in a position to now reach out to my colleagues in the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria to be able to achieve a lot of reforms, even though the system is quite transparent. But I’m sure we can achieve more.
What was the first thing you did when your name was announced?
What happened was that all of us went for interview, July 2nd, July 3rd, in the Supreme Court in Abuja. So, we appeared before panels of Judges and other very Senior Advocates. We concluded the hearing on the 3rd of July and the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee would meet on the 4th of July to finally shortlist those who will be awarded the rank. So, the evening of the 3rd to the 4th was a night of tension. So, my wife called me; she said leave Abuja, I don’t want you to go and sleep and don’t wake up, the tension is too much, come back home. And I took her advice, packed my bag and came back. So, in the midnight I could not sleep. And we started praise and worship; the following day I could not concentrate, I didn’t know who to call. I then said instead of remaining here and go and develop high blood pressure, let me go to court. So, I went to court, to appear before Justice (Prof.) Obiozor. The case dragged for so long. It was a case I was doing for the Independent Petroleum Marketers of Nigeria; they were having some issues. The argument took so long that I didn’t eventually remember that that was the day they were going to meet. So, we were there at 2 O’clock and still arguing; 3 O’clock, still arguing and my phone was no longer with me, because the argument was quite tough. I concluded that argument at about 4:30 and I sat down. And suddenly, I remembered that the committee would have met by 10am. Let’s know the outcome. So, I picked my phone and I saw congratulations. At that point, I didn’t know what to say. So, I jumped up in the court, I said, ‘My lord!’ He said what happened, I said, ‘My lord, it has happened’. He said what happened? I said I have the news that I have been elevated. The whole court scattered! Journalists, my clients, fellow lawyers, the judge, everybody prayed for me. That was the first time. So, I got to know in the course of active work really, inside the court. By evening time, the news had gone out, calls started coming in. So, it’s quite a wonderful thing.
Now that you are a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, what is going to change about you?
Well, you know that by virtue of section 5 of the Legal Practitioners Act, the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria catapults you to an officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And that explains the title, Senior Advocate of Nigeria. What that imposes on you is leadership. So, what has changed is that I am occupying a leadership position and I must be careful where I go, I must be careful what I say and I must be careful what I do. As much as possible, I will no longer be able to appear in magistrate’s court, because that’s an inferior court and if I’m going to court now I must go with a junior lawyer who can learn from me and be trained in the course of it. What has changed also is that the kind of preparation for the cases I handle will be different, because when you go to court, everybody wants to listen to you; the kind of work that is done must bring some excellence, there must be some distinction and then your life must also become like a model for society in terms of your appearance, and also in terms of how you influence people positively, especially those who are working under you. So, what has changed is that one has gained maturity and must now continue in that position of leadership and not bring reproach to that rank. When you recall that in Nigeria there are about 120,000 lawyers, averagely. Those who have been elevated to Senior Advocates of Nigeria are just about 500 and by the time you take away those who have died – Chief Rotimi Williams, Obafemi Awolowo, Gani Fawehinmi, Graham Douglas, Louis Mbanefo, you will see that those of us who are in active practice, we can’t be more than 200 or 300. So, one is occupying a privileged position and must not abuse it; you must continue to partner with judges to achieve justice. I’m in a position now to behave like a judge and advise a client to say I can’t pursue this, it’s beneath me, I cannot take this and I will advise you to seek alternative dispute resolution, because I cannot take this to the court.
You became an activist right from your days at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State. What triggered it?
Two things triggered my passion for activism. In year one, in the Faculty of Law, they didn’t allow us to take law courses. We were distributed to various other faculties – Faculty of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts. So, in the Faculty of Arts, we were taking a course called Phil 101, Philosophy. And that course was being taken by Dr. (now Prof.) Dipo Fasina, Jingo! He was a radical lecturer. And it’s not possible for you to take two lectures in a row without being infected. So, sitting under Jingo and listening to him, I became transformed. From there, I became the liaison officer for part one students. So, by the time we finished part one, I had become totally radicalized. In year two, I contested for election as the PRO (Public Relations Officer) of the students’ union and I won and by that time I had already been sucked in…
You were rusticated from school at some point. What actually happened?
Yes, I was the PRO of the students’ union and the year the Federal Government was contemplating a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Nigerians were opposed to it, but nobody could confront the military. So, it fell on students and Ife was considered to be the headquarters of radicalism, both lecturers and students. So, it fell on us to bell the cat. I led the students on a protest and the university was shut for six months. The university authority set up a panel and the panel came out with its report and dismissed 62 of us. Myself, Bamidele Aturu, Ogbara, Biola Akiode, Adeola Soetan, all the leaders. We were all summarily dismissed, and you know, having regard to all that I suffered to be able to go to school, I could not come back home to tell my uncle that this man whom you wanted to become a lawyer had been dismissed. So, I remained in Ife and joined Mr. Gboyega as an apprentice printer. I became his apprentice and he was giving me some stipends until Chief Gani Fawehinmi came to our rescue…
How did Chief Gani Fawehnmi come into the matter?
One of us, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, had always been an activist and the matter was reported in the newspapers. So, Chief sent for him and asked him to bring all of us to his chambers in Lagos. When we got there, he fed us and assigned lawyers to take our brief and gave us money to go back and said we shouldn’t worry, that we will get back to the university and he followed through, filed the case, argued it himself, got judgment, went to the university, served them and sat down in the senate building until they were ready to comply with the judgment and that’s how we were reinstated.
You joined Chief Gani Fawehinmi’s chambers after your graduation. What fond memories of your days with him can you recollect?
In Gani’s chambers, there’s the general spirit of team work, so to say. We engage in intellectualism. There was robust debate of legal issues. You don’t just take a case and go to court. You are engaged, you are challenged and then the sweet part of it is that lawyers in Gani’s chambers were exceptionally brilliant and up to date and the reason is because he doesn’t just push you into the court. When you enroll in Gani’s chambers, you are benched for the first six months or one year. What he does is you are reading the Law Reports. He was publishing the Nigerian Weekly Law Reports. So, what happens is that they pass judgments to you for proof reading, you will be eliminating errors and then when you graduate in that, you start reporting. So, in proof reading the judgments, you assimilate the basic principles of law contained in those judgments. By the time you proof read for three months, you would have traversed virtually every area of law – contract, matrimonial causes, land law, everything! So, by the time you are ready to go to court, you are ‘smoking’. And that was a very wonderful way of building people. But I think the most notable moment for me was when it became clearer that I will be working with Chief, when the Tinubu (Bola Ahmed, former governor of Lagos) matter came about his certificate. He assigned the case to me and it required reseach – go to India, travel to America, not physically o! As in, go and consult their books. I finally prepared and we went to court. When we were in court; this is one history I can never forget – Chief was there; Chief Afe Babalola came to represent Tinubu while Mr. Sunday Ehindero, then CP, Legal, represented the Police, because we were asking the Police to commence investigation, to ascertain the certificate. So, we argued. But I didn’t know that supporters of the governor were in court and they were outside in the car park, plenty, carrying placards. Immediately we finished, they ambushed Chief. Some were carrying big stones, some were wielding sticks and they wanted to lynch him; as in lynch and mob and kill! He just bought a Pajero sport utility vehicle then, so the driver, Mr. Ajibade, knew what was going on, so he brought the SUV inside the premises of the court and smuggled Chief inside. But unknown to us, there was another set of these fans waiting along that Queen’s Drive (in Ikoyi, Lagos). So, they ambushed him again, but what Mr. Ajibade did, because I wasn’t there; Chief narrated it to us – Ajibade faced them with the SUV. So, in the fear that he may run them down, some of them jumped off the road. But one that was carrying a big stone smashed it on the SUV and it completely scattered the windscreen. Chief didn’t repair the SUV, he kept it as an exhibit. So, Chief left. But I didn’t know that they knew that I was still in the court. So, they were now saying it’s still remaining that small boy, let us see how he will come out. The court registrars came and told me – don’t dare go out o! So, I left my car in the car park, they smuggled me into the registry, because the registry has a cage. They kept me in the registry and I waited there. They came and called me around 3.30pm that they had left, so I called Chief and he said I shouldn’t come back to the chambers, I should go home. So, I packed my things, entered my car and went home. The case, it was a memorable one for me.
What would you describe as the greatest lesson you learnt from Chief Gani Fawehinmi?
Courage! Courage! Courage! He was a very courageous man. Never scared. And the other thing is that he was a very industrious person and very caring.
You were with him for years. When did it dawn on you that you needed to set up Adegboruwa & Company, to be on your own?
Well, one day, we were in the office, a colleague of mine (Tony Nwuya, he was my classmate), he came and said he wanted to know my secret or ‘native doctor’. I laughed. I said Tony, there’s nothing like that o! Once you do your work, and if Chief likes you, he likes you to a fault. The only secret I see here, I told him, is the necessity for some kind of proficiency. But when I got home that evening, it then dawned on me that indeed the legal profession may be structured that way and also we’ve heard all manner of stories about people belonging to secret cults, of lawyers getting to court and not being able to open their mouths, some develop stroke, some will just fall down and die. So, I then got that understanding that I needed to find a way to exist. But the thing that finally opened my eyes was that Chief sent me to Ondo State, to take the brief of Awuye community, which was about oil spillage. They wanted to sue Chevron. So, Chief asked me to do a comprehensive audit of the environment since I was involved in Ogoni and I know a lot about environmental pollution. So, I stayed there eventually for three days, in that community, moving around, detailing all the evidence. By the time I came back, I met a letter of termination. I had been sacked! What happened? No one told me. I tried to reach him, no way! I did everything, it was still not possible. Ha! At the peak of one’s career! So, I went to Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, now SAN, who was the deputy head of chambers at some point. He too said I don’t know. He then counseled me to go and see Mrs. Ganiat Fawehinmi. So, I went to their home in Ikeja and met madam. With tears in my eyes, I said I don’t know what happened and Chief won’t tell me. At least, let me know what I have done. So, I sat down there and she gave me food. Because I had lost my mom, that memory just came back, because she was very motherly that day. She said forget about your problem, settle down first, eat. So, I ate. She asked me to sit down under the tree outside. She went inside to meet Chief, upstairs, stayed for sometime, came back and said Chief has nothing against you, he couldn’t say anything, maybe he had a wrong information. But it later dawned on me, because there were three people in the chambers, who were like hot people – Mr. Festus Keyamo, Dr. Sam Amadi and Mr. Bayo Omotobora who I was somehow associating with. They were like Chief’s main lawyers, who were helping him in his human rights and political cases. But they were also very volatile and had a mind of their own. So, at times they also challenged him. Anytime people see you moving close; they call them the triumvirate. Anytime they see another lawyer in their midst, they will think you’ve become an enemy of Chief. So, I was thinking in my mind, maybe they think I had joined that team. But long and short of it was that I was asked to resume the following day. But what that dawned on me was that this is not my father’s house. I could have been sacked in that manner. So, it made me become conscious that I needed to do something.
Other than Chief Gani Fawehinmi, which other lawyer has affected your life and how?
Dr. Osagie Obayuwana, who later become Attorney General of Edo State. He was that time a lawyer, with his office on Kano Street, in Ebute Metta (Lagos). He set up an organization called Mainland Progressive Youths Movement. We used to meet in his house. He was a radical to the core, but very courageous and very lanky and huge and very bold. He, at that time, struck me as a model of who a lawyer should be. I was very inspired by his mentoring and his lifestyle. And, of course, I can’t but mention Mr. Femi Falana, who has greatly also inspired me with all his works. The reason I mentioned Falana is that before becoming a Senior Advocate, it’s easy to just go the whole length and scatter the ground, but becoming an SAN, it’s like you are now part of them. So, I now know how tough it is for somebody like him to continue to maintain his balance. So, he’s an inspiration to me also.
You have an outstanding grass to grace story. In one of your Facebook posts, you said you even attempted suicide twice. Can you summarize the story for us?
Well, maybe I was unfortunate my mom passed away…
How old were you when your mom died?
I was in primary 4! I was very young. I didn’t know then that she was in labour, she was to have a baby and had a delayed labour. No hospital, no facility! They took her to the church, my father was a pastor and founder of the church. They prayed, but the second day when it was clear that she was getting faint and weak, they then put her in a canoe to manually paddle her over several kilometres to the local government headquarters where she could have access to medical care; she died on the road in the canoe. Obviously, it was a polygamous setting. My stepmother didn’t want to see any of us. So, she became very wonderfully hostile and she was always inciting my dad against me. In fact, there was nothing I could do that will please her. And I was the first son of my mom and I was very brilliant. The first in the class every time. So, my aunties came, they said, well, we are sorry o! We can’t continue like this; we were three – myself, my sister and my younger brother. So, they took my younger sister to go and be staying with my grandmother and took my younger brother. But my father refused to release me and said this is the first born, at least, he ought to be here. So, one night, I couldn’t take it again. And I ran away from the town, into the forest. My thinking was that I could come cross some wild animals who would just devour me, and I had not eaten. My stepmother used to starve me of food. So, the whole town had become restless. My father was devastated. But I had gone far and I had gotten lost. The following day, in the afternoon; it now occurred to somebody that there was a giant bell in the Anglican Church which they used to ring to notify people that service was about to start, and it’s very big, very loud. So, they started to ring that bell and I was hearing it faintly in the bush. Hunters were all over the place looking for me. So, I started following the sound of the bell and ran into some of the hunters who were on the search party and they brought me home. The community met with my father and said you can’t continue in this manner. You have to do something. But he was helpless! It continued.
The second occasion – my father used to have fish ponds around the house, where he was harvesting fish and doing fish farming. So, at another night, I jumped into one of the ponds and guzzled a lot of pond water and then passed out. They searched for me and found my lifeless body inside the pond and took me to a hospital. I woke up on the seventh day. I was unconscious for seven days. It was then my father now realized that he needed to move me. So, he then asked me to go to a secondary school far away from home, where there would be boarding facilities, and so that I will spend more time in school than at home. But, of course, at my tender age, either 12 or 13, he wasn’t coming. Immediately I got to the boarding house, the senior that I met there took all the things they gave me, all the food. The only thing they left was toothpaste. So, instead of starving, I kept the toothpaste, and I will lick it in the morning and drink water. The tummy becomes protruded and you can stay with that for a whole day. But I could not continue for long. So, I dropped out of school and found a way to eke a living because I couldn’t be begging. Begging was not something popular in those days. So, I teamed up with a man called Arogbo, who had a transport company where they had manual carts (omolanke). I was in secondary school at Atijere, in Ondo State then. There’s a town called Ehinosa, which is like an outskirt, just like Ajah is to Lagos. So, they were manufacturing local gin and we will go and bring the gin manually through the truck to Atijere so that boats will come from Lagos and take them. But in those days there was no tarred road. So, imagine dragging tyre on sand. It was very sandy. And the man insisted that we must overload the truck. So, in most cases we got stuck on the sand and we had to bring down everything to free the truck and then put them back again. At times I stay in front to be directing the thing, but when it is beyond me somebody else will join and I will go to the back. And I did that for a year. I had actually forgotten about school. Once in a while I also took part in the gin, so I had become terribly wild and naturally rascally. But at least he was paying me and I was able to eke a living. So, one day, some of our people who came from our town saw me and said is this not so, so and so? So, they went back to my father and said it’s a lie o, Ebun is not in school, he’s an omolanke person. My father was very, very distraught. So, he came, he didn’t say anything, he just got to my room and packed everything and took me back and enrolled me in a new school. Under his watch I was able to repeat. But now I was a big boy, as in I was already grown up. So, if my stepmother or anybody tried anything we will fight (laughing). When he saw that I was still not having a good time with my stepmother; she couldn’t persecute me or beat me up any longer; we were not having good times, he said well, instead of you remaining here and be fighting, go and join my younger brother in Lagos so that from there, you can then take up your education. That was how I came to Lagos.
So, your stepmother, what is your relationship with her now?
Well, I’ve forgiven her and she’s very old now. But what I have done is to place her on a salary here. We pay her every month from the chambers.
Interesting and inspiring story. To attain success in the legal profession and also sustain it, what must one do?
I think, first of all, it’s to get the equipment of your trade – the books, The Law Reports and then your staff. If you are doing a case and money comes your way, take some of the money and invest back in your trade, buy the latest books. And then look at the lives of your lawyers; the one that deserves to drive a car, assist; maybe they are coming from a far place, accommodation is a challenge, call them and find out and see how you can assist. Because you need to invest in them since you can’t do the work alone. Today I’m in Abuja, next tomorrow I’m in Kaduna, somebody has to be here in Lagos. So, you must be faithful to the profession, to the work that you are doing. Not to get every money and then you hop on a plane and you are going for holiday. Invest in the business itself and ensure that you are up to date. So that there’s no case that comes before you and you are not able to handle it, because you don’t have the capacity and then let your staff also be up to date.
Away from work, what are the other things you do with your time?
The thing that gives me passion is the ministry, doing God’s work. I’m involved is sanitation, in cleaning toilets and the environment in the Redemption Camp, assisting Pastor (Enoch Adejare) Adeboye to ensure that those who come for programmes are comfortable. And so I lead a team that cleans the altar, I lead a team that cleans the environment and washes toilets in the Redemption Camp and that has become a passion for me. I am also a minister of God, I pastor a church, where I mentor young people to live righteous lives. So, if I’m not in court, I will rather be in church. And that has become a passion for me too.
Your wife is also a lawyer. How does it feel to be in the same profession and in the same office with someone’s spouse?
I think that it is a blessing for me in the sense that she’s in charge of administration, because it is at times challenging. Especially when you look at the case of Chief Mogbe Sagay whose juniors are in court now in respect of alleged diversion of money. So, it’s a challenging thing to find faithful people. But, of course, the person you know cannot deceive you or betray you is your wife. So, for me, she’s an added advantage here – and so we go to court together, she handles her own cases and combines it with administration. But what now happens is that she closes earlier in order to join the children to check and supervise assignments and get the home properly well done. But she’s been a fantastic support in that regard and I am blessed to have her.
Can we meet your family?
Yes, they are all in school. My daughter (Ayomide) has accepted to study law…
You have just one child?
No, I have a lot. I have five children. Ayomide is studying law; Ibukunoluwa hopes to study medicine; Abisola is in school, she’s doing well; Ebunoluwa is also doing well and the baby of the house, Titilopemi.
What’s madam’s name?
She’s Oreka; Mrs. Oreka Adegboruwa
Finally, what is your own personal definition of law? Not the ones you picked up from books…
My personal definition of law is using legal knowledge to confront the unconfrontable; my personal definition of law is using law to break grounds, it’s using law to challenge the unchallengable, it’s using law to climb where you cannot get to ordinarily. Definition of law, for me, is using law to bring people out of crises and problems; definition of law, for me, is using law to achieve a stable society where everybody is equal, where they call black, black and they call white, white.