Lawyers are a rare breed. I wonder where they come from. They must be from Mars, a fantasy planet of erudition filled with books and books and books. Books are the oxygen of the legal profession. Without books to feed the mind, a lawyer will simply asphyxiate into irrelevance. That is why law firms are filled with books—the main arsenal of the legal profession. It is not for nothing that lawyers are called “learned gentlemen.”
I am happy to announce that lawyers top the list of professions that bought my latest, bestselling book: “50 NIGERIA’S BOARDROOM LEADERS—Lessons On Corporate Governance and Strategy.” How on earth will you call yourself a corporate lawyer, a Company Law firm and you won’t have this book bringing together the best of Nigerian boardroom gurus sharing their boardroom experiences? At the price of N40,000, perhaps the costliest book in Nigeria, if not the whole world, they are still grabbing it. Bought mostly by discerning Senior Advocates who see in the book what the ordinary eye cannot see.
On that score, I saw a niche waiting to be tapped. I decided to switch to writing books targeted at lawyers. I went around Lagos, interviewing Senior Advocates sharing their stories for my next book. The more lawyers I interviewed, the more ideas I got for different kinds of law books. I am writing one titled: “WHAT THEY DON’T TEACH YOU AT LAW SCHOOL.” I have another titled: “50 NIGERIAN LEGAL MINDS.” I am also thinking of the biographies of legal giants dead and alive—legends like the late Frederick Rotimi Williams, Gani Fawehinmi, G.O.K Ajayi, Justice Kayode Esho, Afe Babalola and possibly Chief Wole Olanipekun and his family of Senior Advocates. So much to do. May God help me!
Don’t ask: “Is Mike Awoyinfa also a lawyer? Why is he now writing law books?” Well, the fact that I am not a lawyer even makes it interesting. It fuels my curiosity, zeal, hunger to know and a point to prove. A lawyer is like a journalist. We are all curious animals. We are born to question. We both need writing skills to persuade. We both think out of the box. We are both trained to look for the extraordinary in the ordinary. We are both investigators. We are both actors trained to play divers roles.
That is why it would be easy for me play the role of a lawyer in this new challenge. I like the words of Prof. Joe Irukwu, SAN, who told me: “In life, whatever a man puts his mind to can be achieved.” From age 12, Irukwu wanted to be a lawyer, but coming from a poor family, his parents couldn’t afford to send him abroad to study law as was the case then. He had to work hard and saved money to go train as a lawyer abroad. He was called to the English Bar in 1962. He is Africa’s foremost professor of Insurance Law and author of the classic “Insurance Law and Practice in Nigeria.” He gave me a copy recently.
Irukwu is not the only lawyer with a childhood fantasy for law. Ronald Otaru, SAN, will tell you as you enter his office that right from birth, “my father gave me the name lawyer. I was Lawyer Joseph, Lawyer Otaru and Lawyer Ronald when I was baptized in 1975.” And true to his Joseph-like dream, he became the “first lawyer in my family, first lawyer in my community, in my clan, and to the glory of God, the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria from Edo North and the first SAN from my 1985 set, University of Benin.”
Louis Mbanefo, one of the leading authorities in Maritime Law in Nigeria says as a child, “the obvious inspiration (to read law) was my father. By the time I was born, he was already making a big name for himself as a lawyer in Onitsha. As a little boy growing up in the house, they said I was very inquisitive, always asking questions. And everybody was saying, ‘He is going to be a lawyer.’ And I just grew up believing I was going to be a lawyer.”
Adewale Atake, SAN, a partner with Templars says: “I was influenced by my environment. My dad was a judge of the then Midwest Bench. At that time, the Justice Quarters used to be close to the High Court. What I saw around me were the members of the legal profession. I was fascinated by the way they dressed and spoke. As a young boy, I will go to the High Court to listen to proceedings. I had interactions with lawyers at that time in Warri.”
Godwin Omoaka and Paul Ananaba are two Senior Advocates whose dads wanted them to become doctors but they both couldn’t stand blood. So they opted for law. As a boy, Ananaba recalls how “two old men in the village used to call me Barrister but I didn’t know what it meant.”
Wale Adesokan, SAN, remembers as a kid a judge living down the street and “you will not dare walk by his house anyhow. You have to comport yourself and not make any noise near his house. Law commanded respect, so I went for law in 1983 at the University of Lagos.”
The celebrated forensic attorney Chief Wale Olanipekun was tempted to follow his role model the literary scholar Niyi Osundare into studying literature. And he almost changed from law to mass communication at the University of Lagos but for divine intervention. A respected cousin even confused him more pointing to a neighbourhood lawyer and saying: “You want to be like that lawyer down the street whose Volkswagen people help in pushing every morning? Why don’t you go for English?”
Olumuyiwa Aduroja, SAN, wanted to be a geologist, but after working at the Federal Ministry of Justice close to the legal giant Taslim Elias, “everything changed in my perception of law, my future career and the realization that law is so vast with many departments.” He went to read law at the University of Lagos. Titi Akinlawon, SAN, wanted to read economics but didn’t have credit in mathematics but “had high points that qualified me to read law and I didn’t need mathematics.”
Human rights lawyer Olisa Agbakoba tells me: “It is not by accident that most of the great statesmen around the world are lawyers. As a former Biafran soldier, I was very much in love with military discipline which I still like. Joining the military was my inspiration, but my dad didn’t want that. He managed to veer me into reading law, for which I have no regret. For me, law was like a woman looking for a proper husband, to husband it in a proper way, to husband it to reorder society, to create equality, to create development.”
My dear reader, welcome to my “100 Super Lawyers and Rising Stars,” a weekly series that brings you untold humanized stories of some of the best lawyers around—dead and alive. And look out for my law books and biographies. When I grow up, I too will become a lawyer.