Corporate lawyers rarely make it as Senior Advocates of Nigeria but A.U. Mustapha, SAN, is one corporate lawyer who broke the glass-ceiling to become a Senior Advocate. “To become a Senior Advocate, you have to be in advocacy,” he explains. “You have to go to High Court several times. You have to go to the Supreme Court.” And these are what he did to earn the coveted Silk. Mustapha is among to the top Senior Advocates interviewed in my forthcoming book: “COURTROOM AND LAW FIRM STRATEGIES—Senior Advocates Share Their Experiences.” He talks about his heroes and mentors:
When it comes to choosing my heroes and mentors in legal practice, I will mention Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN and Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN. I have worked with almost all important lawyers around. But in terms of industry, in terms of advocacy, I respect Chief Olanipekun. Chief Olanipekun is one of the few lawyers who do not ask for extension of time to file processes. And when Chief is standing in court, for one word or one statement, he can use seven different adjectives to qualify it. When he speaks in court, he speaks clearly, not loud, but in such a way that he commands respect and grabs your attention. He is a spellbinder. When he stands up to talk, you will listen to him. I try to study people and learn from them. I have had the privilege of doing cases with him and against him severally. I have stood up against him several times in many cases. And that is the beauty of it. But the respect I have for him is unwavering. Like him, hate him, you cannot but respect his industry. He represents one of the best traditions in terms of industry in advocacy.
Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, is a man of impeccable integrity. He has a gigantic office in Abuja and he allows all lawyers to stay there without paying any amount of money. He is somebody that if things are not going well for you, he advises you. He is a philosopher and a damn good man—a man that is good within and without. He is somebody that if you know him, you can be sure that you would have your back. He is a humanist. I have a lot of respect for him. And I am proud to be associated with him. I remember an incident. I was with him and he asked me to drive. And at a point he told me to park. We stopped by a woman hawking banana. And he told me to buy for himself and buy for myself. We got into the car and we were eating the banana with groundnut. And he said to me: “Do things that would remind you that you are just an ordinary human being created by God. You should always humble yourself.” There is no day I go to Chief Agabi and he does not teach me something new, either biblical passage or philosophy or law. He is an all-rounder. I am proud to call him my mentor.
A mentor is someone you can look up to, someone you want to benchmark against. Someone that when you are confused, when you don’t know what to do, you ask yourself: “If Chief were to be in this position, what will he have done?” Or somebody that you will study and those aspects of you that you feel does not measure to his own, you want to remove. Or those attributes that you see in him that you want to imbibe, you try to take away with you. So anytime I go to him, I always know that I have a takeaway. And I normally tell him. It is important for those growing up to identify people like that that will inspire them as role models and mentors to look up to. I believe people like that who do the right thing should be celebrated so that they would know they are doing the right thing and people can learn from them.
Yusuf Ali, SAN, has all these attributes too. He is a philanthropist per excellence. I have seen libraries, hospitals built by him, paying school fees of indigent students, scholarship schemes, paying medical bills. It’s not just money alone, he tries to give back to society. And he doesn’t just do cases because there is money in it. If it is not ethical, he would drop it. For me, that is important. Over time, I have seen him drop cases when it doesn’t meet his value system. I have done that severally too. I have been offered cases that the money is there but I declined. A man sells land to two, three, four people, conscious that all it takes is to go to court and argue, they have the money for the police, money for the judge and they have seen a good lawyer willing to play ball. Anybody can jump at that type of money but it doesn’t comply with my value system.
Outside the law profession, Governor El-Rufai is more than a mentor. El-Rufai is my leader. Unlike what a lot of people read in the press, he is a very humble person who tolerates people around him. But he sets very high leadership standards for himself. He is an extremely serious-minded person, he has capacity. El-Rufai was the one who forced me to go to Harvard. He goes to Harvard every now and then. There are times I see him with certificates and he tells me whenever he has money, he goes to enhance his studies. He is not a materialistic person. He is somebody who puts we before me. He is a leader per excellence. As a leader, he is too bold and too blunt for a lot of people. The fact that you are Mallam’s friend does not mean you will begin to enjoy special favours from him. As his friend, you will have to conform and do the right things. If you are his friend, you are his friend, if you are not his friend, you are not. There is no pretense. He is a very predictable person. He is not driven by materialistic things. He is rather by service.