“I appeared before two senior advocates and they are talking that is Robert Clarke, who is not a senior advocate…look at how Robert Clarke had shown them”
Robert Clarke is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who likes talking about the state of the nation and other issues. But in this interview with Effects, the octogenarian at his Ikoyi, Lagos office spoke about his journey as a legal luminary and others.
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You have spent so many years in legal practice, but you didn’t get to be a SAN early, why?
I became a SAN in 2006. At the age of 32, I was studying law in England, and I did my entire LLB London as a private student. As a trade unionist, I also did a diploma course in industrial relations for nine months in London. I came back to Nigeria in 1967 to my old-job as the general secretary of NPA workers union. I decided to go back to study Law in 1969 when most of my mates in England were coming back and I know that I was technically better than them. So, I decided to go back to read Law but I was told that I should read in the Nigerian university, that if I go to finish my LLB in a London university, I would still come and do the Law school here. So, I decided and applied to four universities that were offering Law; Nsukka, Unilag, Ife and ABU. They all took me and I decided to stay in Unilag.I entered Unilag in 1970 and 1973, I represented Unilag in Phillip Jerson (International program for law students study International Law). I came first in Nigeria, myself and late George Akiri. Two of us represented Nigerian universities in Washington and we came second all over the world. As soon as I finished my law degree, I went back to Nigeria Port Authority as a legal officer and I decided after two years to go into private practice, which I have been enjoying since then.
Let me tell you, at an early age, I was the lawyer to Shagari in 1979, relatively young lawyer about 5-6 years in practice then. In the 90’s, I was the sole counsel to NRC (National Republican Party), so most of my practice was geared towards representing political parties. I can travel the whole 21 states in Nigeria then doing election petition cases, if you really want to become a senior advocate, you can’t be a lawyer to politicians, because those cases do don’t relate to the requirement of being a senior advocate.To be honest with you, I applied to become a SAN, even though I knew I was very good but for seven good years, for one reason or the other best known by the people in charge of awarding it, they refused to give it to me. It was the year that I felt I was no longer going to apply again and I did one case in the Supreme Court, one of the judges on the panel called me. That day, I appeared before two senior advocates and they are talking that, that is Robert Clarke, who is not a senior advocate, look at the other two who are senior advocates, look at how Robert Clarke had shown them. They called me, that I should not lobby again, they will ensure that the next session, they will do it and that was what happened. In 2006, Justice Belgore in his good wisdom and the other judges then decided to honourme with a SAN without much complaint or otherwise. But I don’t want to say my experiences from the period I was being refused. I know a lot that was happening there but I will keep quiet about that. I would always say, not all senior advocates are good lawyers and not all good lawyers are senior advocates. There are many young lawyers today who are very good lawyers but they are not given. Believe you me; there are many senior advocates today who are not good senior advocates, who are not supposed to be there. But it is the system and you can’t quarrel with the system.
You handle divorce cases too, any memorable experience doing that?
I have handled lots of divorce cases. There’s a television programme, ‘Uduak Connection’, I did about four editions on marriage, divorce and many other things. I’m not boasting, but I can assure you that in Nigeria today, if there are cases where you want to know where alimony has been paid to women, I had won alimony in the sum of one million dollars; I also won N500 million as alimony. I still continue to do many matrimonial cases. I love criminal cases and matrimonial cases but constitutional law is my area of specialty.
Today, that man has appealed at the court against that N500 million but the man I got one million dollars to his wife is a very rich man and he graciously paid the money immediately.
What would you say is the reason for high divorce cases in Nigeria?
You see, somebody told me that research shows that out of 10 marriages within a period of five years, at least four of them break up to the point of seeking for divorce. That is in Nigeria today. Many of them don’t even last till five years. If you ask me what is the problem, the problem is not what you and I can talk about. Human relations, the man a woman thinks is the worst man and divorces that man may tomorrow be the best husband to another woman.
So, in a marriage, it is the individual that makes up the marriage that determines how it ends. Many girls will go and marry rich people’s sons, many sons will go and marry rich people’s daughters insearch of security and when they go into marriage, they find many realities, incompatibility. I think that the society has contributed more. Our lust, our desire to accumulate money, may be one of the main reasons. I am not too sure because no man can give advice to another man on how to relate to a woman. No woman can give advice to another woman on how to relate to a man. It is your experience in that marriage that determines it.
How do you relax?
I’m no longer a young man, I’m 80 years old. My relaxation consists in the number of cases I go out to do every day. Ilove advocacy and that is why many of my cases are done pro bono because by leaving my house every morning going to my chambers, going to court
I do the normal exercise that a man of 80 needs. Normally, medically speaking, I do slight exercises; walk around in the morning but by going out in the day time, go to the airport, take flights, that is where I get the exercise. At 80, I believe I’m still very healthy and strong enough. I don’t feel the pains of going out and waking up at six to be in court at 9 a.m. I don’t have any serious mode of exercise more than just go out every day to work and climbing the stairs in my house.
Do you have any food you eat to keep in shape?
For the past 15 years, I have been taught to take my last meal at 6 p.m. or latest 7 p.m. everyday. I have discovered by doing that I don’t have that heavy feeling before going to bed. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t still have that heavy feeling. My food would have digested before I sleep at 10 p.m. Immediately after the network news at 10 p.m. I go to bed, which means that if I had eaten at six, two, three hour is the period the food digestion takes place. Before 9 p.m.,my food would have been digested. If I feel a bit crampy or feel like chewing something I do take biscuits or have a cup of coffee around 8 p.m. but after 8 p.m., I don’t take anything. I have two main meals in the day; I take my breakfast, when I’m going to court I only have coffee in the morning. When I get to chambers, I eat but if I’m at work, I wait till about 10-11 a.m., if I’m not going to court, I have my full breakfast and I have my dinner in the night. So, I don’t eat more than twice a day.
Though, I may take snacks in between. I eat Boli (roasted plantain) and groundnut or any fruit that is in season. If there’s mango or corn that is in season, I make sure I take it in the afternoon.