Being a paper delivered at the July 2021 monthly meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association, Unity branch Abuja by Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, FNCIArb, FNIALS, Life Bencher.
I want to thank the Chairman and Executive Committee of the Unity Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, Abuja for the honour of sharing with my colleagues, memories of important events in my legal career of 43 years at the Bar and almost 30 years at the Inner Bar.
As you know everything in one’s life is part of one’s history. We write our history every day and such experiences are either positive or negative but believe me, there can be no success story without its preceding pains, losses and breath taking moments. “No cross no crown” the saying goes.
I want you to remember that who you meet and what you hear from people, especially, if it is the truth, can change the course of your life for the better. The key to topmost heights is humility, obedience and faith that can move mountain. Humility comes before honour.
IN THE BEGINNING WAS GOD
The truth is that God is the designer and the supervisor of my legal career. I graduated with LL.B Hons (Second Class Lower Division) at the University of Ife, Ile-Ife in 1977. I was called to Bar on Friday July 7th 1978 at the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos at about the age of 31 years. It was a great and unforgettable celebration that day, the ceremony was the joy of lawyers called to the Bar, parents and relatives. We were not allowed to take more than one guest into the Lagos Law School dinner hall. Chief G.C.M. Onyuike SAN was the Chairman Body of Benchers and at the top table were Chief F.R.A. Williams SAN, Hon. Justices Bello Sowemimo, Idigbe, Analogu, Fatai Williams, Kayode Esho Justices of the Supreme Court and many other very senior and notable Legal Practitioners.
The joy of the day was so much but I took note of the Chairman’s charge. It deeply impacted on my life and I prayed to God to take me to the highest rank in the legal profession. From that day, I resolved to remain at the Bar, actively practising law in all courts and at all levels.
On Monday 18th August 1978, we reported at the Kwara State NYSC Camp for orientation programmes at Kwara State College of Technology. During the orientation I met an older person called Mr. Ibrahim Kuranga, a ground staff of NYSC Kwara State. He took me as a younger friend, told me about his life and he counseled that, I must, in my career as a Lawyer, be disciplined and prayerful. He told me of many lawyers, he knew, who fell from grace to grass due to inability to discipline their bodies. Through this man, I was approached by the Head of Department of Law, Kwara Polytechnic to teach Criminal Law, Evidence Law and Commercial Law for Diploma in Law classes. I taught many students from 1978 to 1982. I was at his Muslim firdaus in 2010 at Ilorin when he passed on. Today I remember him and forever I will be grateful for the impact his words of wisdom had on my growth in life. This relationship taught me never to look down on any man no matter his status. May God grant him peace forever. I made several friends at the Camp and I enjoyed myself.The Legal Aid Council officials came to the Orientation Camp and gave us one week training on procedure, advocacy and management of legal aid services to inmates in prisons in Ilorin, Lokoja, Okene and New Bussa; Borgu prisons.
DO NOT DESPISE THE DAYS OF THE LITTLE BEGINNINGS
I urge all young Legal Practitioners that in the practice of law everything is not money. Pro bono services are services to God and none is ever lost. Whoever excessively loves money can never have enough and everyman who gained freedom from prison and escaped police brutality through your efforts will never forget.
As a young lawyer, you have the potentiality to become the best and wear the highest rank and stand out among your peers. You must show readiness and pant after good works.
God bless Mallam S.B.A Laaro, the then DPP in the Ministry of Justice, Ilorin. After the Orientation Camp of the NYSC about 10 Legal Practitioners were posted to Kwara State Ministry of Justice. From the first week in the Ministry, I never allowed the DPP to rest until he began to assign case files from the Nigeria Police to me for legal opinion and possible prosecution. I committed myself to not less than 50 files within 2 weeks and most of my opinions were approved by the DPP.
My colleagues made jest at me and they called me names but in the end I was awarded the “Best Corper of the Year” and decorated by the Military Administrator of Kwara State, at the passing out Dinner. My Learned friends, know that as a Junior in chambers, you are not in competition with anybody. You must be yourself and be outstanding in whatever assignment is given to you. Disregard the noise of the market around you. Your success will attract negative reactions and discouraging comments of your peers but remain focused.
After about 6 months in the Ministry of Justice, I was moved to the Legal Aid Council. As a green wig, in the Legal Aid Council I was assigned a murder case, prosecuted by Ministry of Justice Director of Public Prosecution, to defend at the High Court, Ilorin.The knowledge I had in reviewing Police case files in the office of the DPP assisted me greatly, because the experience exposed me to the methods of police investigations. There were always loop holes in the investigation, unfortunately. I lost the case but the woman was not sentenced to death by hanging but found guilty of culpable homicide not punishable with death, subject to prerogative of mercy by the Governor. Do you believe there is power of witchcraft? She was a victim of that belief. The Honourable judge understood the plight of the young woman but the law must take its course. She was guilty and sentenced according to the law.
BE CAREFUL, PEOPLE SEE YOU AND KEEP NOTE OF YOU EVERYDAY
After my youth service, I joined the Law ofiice of Tunji Arosanyin & Co Ilorin in 1979. There was the general election to the office of the Governor of Kwara State and the Legislature. My boss was a big man in National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and so the office was involved in election petitions at the Tribunal, I was exposed to Senior Legal Practitioners like Chief Remi Fani Kayode SAN, Chief Sobo Sowemi SAN, Chief Richard Akinjide SAN and I as one of the junior Counsel for Alhaji Adamu Attah, the NPN Governor-elect. I was charged with daily recording of proceedings, research and drafts of most of the submissions. It was my first challenge and exposure to private practice under a Senior Counsel. Let me reiterate that the heights that these great men of the law reached and kept was not accidental or achieved by sudden flight but through years of hardwork.
They commended my good conduct throughout the hearing at the Tribunal presided over by Honourable Justice Ovie Whiskey who was then the CJ of Bendel State. I learnt so much from these Seniors but I must say it was without pay. (laugh)
I will always remember how they encouraged me and fired me to face my adversary with courage. They were giants at the Bar who had made notable names as we read in Law Reports and famous for political offices they once occupied.
RELATIONSHIP WITH COURTS/COLLEAGUES
I ask you to show utmost respect to the Court-Judge in session. Do not wear wrong uniforms otherwise the Court may not see you.
Do not patronize the Judge, be polite and courteous. Be alert to take hints, from the Bench which most times are helpful.
Don’t attempt any act of familiarity or show that you know the Judge, even if you do. Avoid argumentative traits which may show you as arrogant or disrespectful. They have the law in their bosom from where the Bar draws from.
Do not dress or undress in the face of the Court, it is disrespectful or contempt in the face of the Court. I see this very often in our Courts unfortunately even by Senior lawyers removing their wigs and gown in the open court room.
Avoid harsh and impolite language against the judge or your colleagues whether orally or in writing. As a junior, I was a “radical” but as I grew older at the Bar, I realized that Judges discuss the behavior of Counsel who appeared before them and compare notes. You may be marked down and lose help when you need their discretion.
Do not quarrel with colleagues because of any client. Clients come and go. Your “Learned Friends” are your “best friends”. If anyone insults you, ignore it and don’t be distracted. Annoyance or anger will rob you of success and losing cases drives away potential clients.
Do not share your fees with anybody. If you are lucky to have cases that ought to feature as headlines in the media but did not, for any reason, don’t worry yourself time will soon come when the media gentlemen will look for you.
Avoid undue emotional involvement or entanglement with any client concerning money. In divorce matters, avoid intimacy, particularly, with the women, otherwise your fees may not be paid or your marriage may be affected. It has happened before and may happen to you. Avoid fleshy lust and be professional in dealing with your clients and adversaries.
KEEP USEFUL AND TRUTHFUL FRIENDS; RECOGNIZE TALENTS OF JUNIORS AND REWARD THEM
I have always believed that a good professional friend is an asset. Cultivate the friendship of lawyers whether older than you, your age or junior to you. Chief Charles Akinlolu Olujimi SAN was my confidant and friend from Ife. He met me at Ilorin in 1979 when he came to serve as a Youth Corper. We lived together in a flat.
He was and still till today a man who value and respects his friends, extremely matured but can be too blunt in fact. He and I cultivated the habit of reading at least one judgment per day and update our practice notes; learn from us. We went through All Nigerian Law Reports, West African Court of Appeal Reports, All England Law Report and Nigerian Monthly Law Report and took notes of all decisions. We still continue our reading habit till date. I was lucky that Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN my senior, and I related as brothers and friends. He is a man of excellent character, meticulous and a bold advocate.
In 1983, Mallam Yusuf Ali (now SAN) joined my chambers as a youth Corper and remained with me for about 11 years before he opened his own law office. He became SAN a few years after. He was very loyal and committed to maintaining the Code of ethical Conduct of Awomolo & Co. We NEVER bribed any Judge and I did not receive any complaint about him even when I went to Osun State to be the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice. He was responsible, disciplined and accountable. He is my pride at the inner Bar. Indeed all my juniors, learnt something from me, I can say today some of them are SANs and Judges of Superior Courts.
IMBIBE THE CULTURE OF INTEGRITY AND HONOUR
Clients must trust you and the trust is earned. Your integrity will and should be your selling point. The attitude of clients to appeal in Kwara State then, was to leave all lost cases to God. Counsel compiled records and transmitted same to the Court of Appeal, Kaduna. Wole Olanipekun SAN and few of us like Bayo Ojo SAN, Lawal Rabana SAN, Yusuf Ali SAN, Bayo Adelodun SAN and few others used to drive together from Ilorin to Kaduna for appeals until the Ilorin division of the Court was created. We related as friends even when we had to oppose one another in Court. We ate and drank together as friends.
We accorded highest respect to seniors like Chief D.A. Akintoye, J.O.A. Ijaodola, Chief Tunji Arosanyin, Mr. Faloranmi, J.A. Alhaji Aliu Salmana SAN, Alhaji A.G.F. Abdulrazaq SAN, Mr. David Folusho Babalola (later Hon. Justice). All these were role models that impressed us. It was a great opportunity to cross swords with them in courts. They were always available to help provided the case was not one in which they were interested.
Most of the cases we had were land disputes or chieftaincy cases and most clients found it convenient to pay counsel with land or crops like yam, corn, palm oil etc. I learnt never to turn a client away because he could not pay my fees. You must take the brief first, put in your very best and that will encourage the client to pay his fees as you record successes or refer to you those who can pay. In fact, we were more concerned with cases to engage us or keep us busy. Idleness and lack of work to do is like dying slowly after reading and reading with nowhere to apply it.
BE A MAN OF YOUR OWN MIND
In choosing a path or career in the legal profession, you must know yourself, your capacity and follow a career path that you can optimally utilize to achieve your potentials. You have great potentials and the capacity to beat my record of being elevated to the rank of SAN at 14 years at the Bar. Few younger colleagues have beaten my record though. I assured myself that I needed the covering of a Senior after the NYSC. I am one of those who subscribe to the idea of 5 years tutelage after the call to Bar. It is dangerous and unhelpful to open a law office directly after being called to the Bar. You need the guide of a Senior Lawyer. You need the clout and exposure under a Senior for you to succeed.
WHATEVER YOU SO SOW YOU WILL REAP
In 1992 January Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN was appointed the Attorney General of Ondo State and myself as Attorney General of Osun State. On 7th July 1992 when I was about 14 years at the Bar, I was elevated, preferred and decorated with the rank of Senior of Advocate of Nigeria on 20/07/1992. I did not know any member of the LPPC. I did not even know the date of the meeting but I was told that because I was just 14 at the Bar, I would have had to wait for the following year. I later heard that some members of the Committee pleaded for me. Therefore, be good to all who come across you in practice. It is uncharitable for anyone to plant into your head that you need several millions of Naira to bribe anyone to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. It is all lies. I will forever be grateful to Aare Afe Babalola SAN, Hon Justice Kabiri Whyte JSC, Hon. Justice Saidu Kawu JSC, Hon Justice T.A Oyeyepo CJ Kwara State then and Hon Justice Akin Apara the CJ of Osun State then for their contributions to the elevation.
NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION:
AS A LAWYER YOU MUST SUPPORT THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION
When I got to Kwara State in 1978, the Bar Association was synonymous with a Senior who had been Chairman for over 10 years. Wole Olanipekun, Bayo Ojo, myself and few other “young radicals” of like minds forced the holding of the Ilorin branch election and we elected young lawyers as Chairman and Exco members. In subsequent elections, we repeated election of young Lawyers as Chairmen and this boosted the public image of the Bar Association. We conducted Law Week Programmes, Seminars and Public Lectures. In 1990 I was elected the Chairman of the branch with a narrow margin of one vote to defeat my opponent.
Since 1987 I have been attending the meetings of the National Executive Committee of the NBA. The membership of the NEC exposed me to active leaders of the Association across Nigeria. I became very familiar with Presidents and big names at the Bar like Chief B.O. Benson SAN, Charles Idehen, Chief R.O.A. Akinjide SAN, Prince Bola Ajibola SAN, Chief Dr. Mudiaga Oje SAN, Mr. Alao Aka Bashorun, Dr. Nwakama Okoro SAN, Chief N.N Anah SAN, Chief Olisa Chukwura SAN, Chief A.N Anyemene SAN, Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim SAN, Chief Philips Umeadi SAN, L. Ladapo SAN, Sir Clement Akpambo SAN, Chief Debo Akande SAN, Chief Anthony Mogboh SAN, Chief A.A Fadairo SAN, Kehinde and Idowu Sofola SAN, Mrs Aderinsola Balogun, Kanmi Ishola Oshobu, Otunba Ajayi Okunnaga SAN, Alfro Fayoku, Mr. J. B Magiyagbe SAN of Kano, Alhaji Ali Kaloma, Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu, Galadima Adamawa, Murtala Aminu, Sir Alfred Eghobamien SAN, Chief Bankole Oki SAN, Chief (Mrs) Priscilla Kuye, Chief T.O.S Benson SAN, Gally Brown Peterside SAN, G.A Graham-Douglas SAN, O.C.J. Okocha SAN, Olisa Agbakoba SAN and many others. Knowing and relating with these respectable members of the Bar helped in building recognition and contacts. You need to know and relate with respectable seniors at the Bar.
MY ROLE MODEL
YOU MUST CHOSE A ROLE MODEL
The wise man says humility comes before honour and only the humble will inherit the world. Learning the law, Practicing the law with integrity and honour are the best any lawyer must aspire to be. However, your first 5 years of legal practice would determine how far “a green wig” can go. You must choose a role model, a mentor and a respected leader in the profession from whom you will gain inspiration as they will sometimes be available to encourage you at downtimes. There are senior Lawyers who are perceived to be involved in the “infamous conduct” of compromising the Bench, they are known by the juniors. There are some that juniors see as “Janakara Practitioners”. You must avoid them in choosing your role model or mentor. Avoid any confrontation with any senior.
I was lucky to have the privilege of Aare Afe Babalola SAN as my father in the Legal Profession. He was available to give me a shoulder to rest on. He gave me every chance and opportunity to grow in the knowledge of the law. He was a workaholic and dogged advocate. He taught me to be “charitable and kind to everyone around me, be generous and be a giver, a giver never lacks, as you give so you will receive”. So he taught me. I am grateful, Oga. A junior must not expect a rosy beginning. You must trust that tomorrow, notwithstanding what today may appear to be, will be better.
Juniors worry much that they, like Seniors do not enjoy patronage. Everything takes time. You can without offending the Legal Practitioners Act, market yourself in this modern day of social media blow your trumpet. Market yourself by writing articles in legal journals and other media. Chief Tunji Arosanyin gave me the platform and opportunity and I will forever remember because he gave me his office to practice, manage and to cut my legal teeth from 1979-1983.
LIFE AS CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEE OF CHAIRMEN AND SECRETARIES
In 1992, the Nigerian Bar Association at its annual conference held in Port-Harcourt was unable to conclude its election of officers. This was followed by various court orders and counter orders obtained by aggrieved members. The falcon did not hear falconers and all the efforts of the seniors at the Bar failed in resolving the “impasse”. The Federal Military Government under General Sanni Abacha, intervened at the instance of the Body of Benchers with a Decree that dissolved the NBA and gave the Body of Benchers powers to appoint administrators for the NBA.
The NBA members all over the country did not agree to the Decree and at a joint meeting of Ikeja/Yola branches held in Lagos in 1996 to fashion the way forward, the Chairman of Ikeja branch Mr. Ogunniyi nominated me and I was appointed the Chairman of all the 44 branches Chairmen and Secretaries. In that capacity, I travelled across the country and held meetings in almost all the branches between 1996-1998. We thereafter organized the Jos Conference. At the Jos plenary conference, we amended the Constitution of the NBA and limited officers tenure to 2 years only. The members of Sub-Committee, as evidence of our integrity disqualified ourselves from contesting any office. We conducted the election to the office of President and other officers of the NBA. Mr. T.J.O. Okpoko, SAN from Warri branch was elected the new President of the NBA in 1998.
Today I feel happy that the Nigerian Bar Association still exists in Nigeria. There is no need to quarrel or “fight to finish” on NBA elections to serve. In our days, we paid for our transport and received no remuneration for being officers of the NBA. As a legal practitioner, you must be committed to the ideals of the NBA. You must be ready to serve in whatever position you are considered suitable. It does not matter whether you are appreciated or not. Never expect any reward or commendation from anyone.
BEING HUSBAND AND SENIOR OF A LAWYER
It is a divine design of God that my wife became a lawyer. Before she became a lawyer, she annually accompanied me to all Lawyers’ conferences in several locations in Nigeria. She also went with me to all International Bar conferences as our annual vacation. She was a graduate of Chemistry which she taught for about 10 years. She knew all the big names I related with in the legal profession. Perhaps, the exposure to the good life at the Bar was part of the attraction that made her to become a lawyer. In 2013, she became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. She was my biggest critic and restraint against youthful “shenanigans” at conferences, because she was my “conference material” But suffice it to say that she was and still is a great asset in research and financial discipline. She is my only junior that cannot resign or set up her own law office. Since she knows how hard it is to get money she also checks the reckless spending and “unnecessary or unworthy charities” God was at the beginning. He saw me through all the stages, because he designed it and I am very hopeful he will see me to the end to truly end well. I give Him glory.
Thank you again for the honour to be here to share my professional life with you and I hope you have all learnt one thing or another.
God bless you all.
Asiwaju Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, FNCIArb, FNIALS, Life Bencher