“Children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” Wednesday was Children’s Day and I find no better Children’s Day story than the story of Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, one of today’s high-profile lawyers, a leader seen as the “new FRA Williams” and how he inspired his children to become Senior Advocates of Nigeria through a rare fatherly act of taking his children out of school to celebrate his elevation as SAN at age 39. His two sons; Dr. Dapo and Bode Olanipekun then went on to break their father’s record, taking the coveted silk at a younger age. It is the stuff that makes a great biography and I am on it. When Chief Wole Olanipekun says his two sons are more brilliant than him, you could see it from talking to them. For three hours, I was talking to Bode Olanipekun, the Managing Partner of Wole Olanipekun and Co and he shared this childhood memoir.
My dad took the silk in July, 1991. I was eight years old. I remember clearly the day he took the silk. I was in Primary 4 at the University of Ilorin Staff Primary School. My brother was also in that school as well as one of my siblings. So my dad had come to pick us at about noon. They had just finished the Privileges Committee meeting and had communicated the news that he was one of the seven successful applicants that year. Dad wanted his family to be the first he would break the news to. My mum also joined us. I recall he took us to a restaurant, prayed, broke the news and we were all excited. I didn’t know the implication of being a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. The reality dawned on me at night when we were watching the NTA Network News. The only thing that made me realize this thing was a big deal was that I saw my dad’s name was Number Seven because he was youngest on the list. He became SAN at the age of 39, the youngest in that year of elevation.
From that age, I had been seeing a towering image of my dad as a lawyer. In fact, when I was in secondary school, the only time I ever participated in drama was to act as a lawyer. About this time, Lagbaja had sung a song about trying to talk to a lady to marry him and was convincing the lady that a musician is the best person to marry. And if you prefer a lawyer to a musician, a lawyer is elejo wewe—a talking machine. It was like: Who will act the role of a lawyer if not Bode Olanipekun? Dad was already SAN then. Because I knew I was going to act that role, I had taken his wig and gown to school. To be honest, I never thought I was going to do anything apart from law. When I was going to the university, there was a serious conversation between my dad and I because I made law my first and second choice. “You don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” Dad said. But I insisted: “It is law or nothing.”
Eventually, he conceded. It was when I attempted to take the same university for my first and second choices that Dad said: “No! In life, there are times you don’t get what you aim for. So, let’s have an Option B.” That’s was why I had an Option B. But as per professional career, I never thought of doing any other thing apart from law. I had been very clear in my mind right from when I was in J.S. 1 at Olashore International School that I was going to be a lawyer. All my classmates would have been surprised if I had done something else different from law.
At some point I was going to change my mind from studying law while I was still in school. I told my dad I didn’t feel like studying law any longer. He asked: “What is your other option?” I replied: “Economics.” I was doing very well in Economics. I was getting very good grades in Economics. So I wanted Economics.
He asked: “What was the reason?”
I replied: “I have looked at lawyers. They don’t make money on time. Economics is about figures.” I then gave him a few examples of economists in Nigeria who I thought were successful in monetary terms. I said to him: “I have looked at you lawyers, you people would strive very hard before you make it.”
Dad then sat me down to say: “Son, in life, everything is not about money. If that is the only reason you don’t want to study law, it is not justifiable. What law would guarantee would be a steady income if you are consistent in working hard.” He gave the example of one Senior Advocate of Nigeria and I still remember that Senior Advocate growing up. He had worked in the law firm of another SAN for ten years before he stepped to start his own practice. He started doing well and had just become SAN then. So my dad gave the example of that gentleman and said to me: “Look at this person. You’ve known him all your life. You saw him start from very humble beginnings. He committed ten years of his life to learning and working with another SAN. But look at the point things took a turnaround for the good for him. That’s the way law is. Yes, you might struggle for a few years but once you just get that break, if you continue doing the right things, it would be a continuous rise.” He then dropped in another joker, saying Economics was single honours whereas law is double honours. So, I said “fine, I would go for double honours.” I was fortunate to have crossed out of the road because I had a dad to guide me at that point in time. If not, it would have been a very major crisis point.
From then, going forward, I really never thought this was not the right thing for me. I went for my Master’s in Commercial and Maritime Law at the University of Wales, Swansea. I came back home and had the rare opportunity of working with Mike Igbokwe, SAN and Co and I was working directly with Mike Igbokwe such that by the time I was completing my NYSC, I had already crossed swords with two SANs. I had appeared in court alone against two Senior Advocates of Nigeria that I had already confronted in court and after court they called me and said: “Well done!” So I knew that the future had something that I could aspire to and Mr. Igbokwe was one of the best people to learn law from because he taught you the right things—diligence, hard work. This is where I did my pupillage after which I started working with my dad.