Chief Supo Shonibare is a lawyer, a pioneer leader of the defunct Alliance for Democracy, AD and chieftain of the prominent socio-political organisation, Afenifere. He was an active member of the defunct National Democratic Coalition, NADECO. In this interview with Saturday Sun, he gives insight into his relationship with the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and more.
At what point did you join politics?
All my teenage years, I had some affection for the Scandinavian countries. I thought their system was the best system. In those days, in the late 1970s, some of us would go and engage Chief Awolowo anytime he was in London. He used to stay in Churchill hotel. We used to go and engage him on issues about how UK was not as socialist as we thought his writings reflected. He used to explain to us about how land, which was a very critical element in the concept of redistribution of wealth was not as critical in Africa as it was in Europe. Contrary to what people think, Chief Awolowo was very much of a listener, and a very affectionate man. My father was a very close associate of his as well. That made him take very special interest in me and my two friends who visit him. He was a great man and he is my political hero.
Any fond memories growing up?
I lived in Lagos, from Yaba to Surulere and Ikeja, although, I lived in Abeokuta briefly. My mother was in the United Kingdom between 1957 and 1959. I lived with my grandmother in Abeokuta for two years. I had very fond memories of my growing up. I schooled in Yaba, Our Lady of Apostles, from there to Corona, to St. Saviour’s, St Gregory’s and briefly Baptist Academy. I think I spent my Lower Six there. I spent two months in Loyola College Ibadan before I left Nigeria to the United Kingdom. But I’m a Gregorian. I don’t know about those other schools. There are fond memories of St. Gregory’s. There’s a bond among Gregorians. It was very enjoyable growing up at that time. St. Gregory’s was a place where you are exposed to other jurisdictions apart from Nigeria. Quite frankly, my schooling in England wasn’t farfetched from my being at St Gregory’s. We had foreign teachers at St Gregory’s; the food we ate was actually whatever the Rev. Father ate. In fact, we had better breakfast at St. Gregory’s. At the same time you are exposed to Nigerian tradition. It was a good grooming ground to develop one’s minds being a true Nigerian as well as being someone who was open to the rest of the world and who is aware of the rest of the world. I cherish that experience.
You look more like an academician, a core lawyer and not a politician. Many believe that politics is dirty, how did you find yourself in politics?
If you go back to the archives, you look at those who are the nucleus of Action Group, they were not people you could call predatory politicians. They are people who have their own means of livelihood. Chief Awolowo has a very successful law practice before he went into politics. My father had been one of the first sets of Nigerian managers of UAC; he had a wider exposure to business than any other Nigerian could have at that time because UAC was the entire country. We had people like Dr. Gbaja, Dr. Doherty who was an affluent businessman; we had Pa Rewane, a successful businessman. We had lots of people who you call the leaders both in the professional and business world constituting the leadership of Action Group. That is what we try to recreate, try to do, we want people to come in, people who have a means of livelihood that can evolve a better society. If you abandon the political space, politics is very important in whatever it is. If you are a businessman and you think you don’t want to get involved in politics they are going to take decisions that would affect your business. Politics is something that all of us should be engaged in. We don’t all have to seek legislative or executive positions; we must be interested in politics. Politics must be what you will in future look at and say these are groups of gentlemen, not desperate individuals.
Did Chief Obafemi Awolowo anyway influence you at any point in life?
Yes, I read his books. He was one of the people who influenced my thought process politically through his works, the writings of Karl Marx, a part of it and the writings of the socialist called Marx Webber. Those are the writings and the concept of society that has influenced my thought process about society.
After school in England, did you come back to Nigeria immediately?
I stayed back in the UK and worked for a while. I came back here in 1981. My coming back was slightly inspired by Chief Awolowo. He said, why didn’t I go back to see how Nigeria was and I can always go back to England. By that time I was a trainee solicitor in England. In one of his visits, he suggested after my NYSC as a police lecturer and I ended up being in the law firm of late Chief GOK Ajayi. He was also Chief Awolowo’s lawyer.
But in Nigeria, people see most of our politicians as desperate
That is because those who ought to be occupying it have abandoned the political space. They complain about the system not been right but it’s not enough to complain. The people in the First Republic got up and did something. Look at the nucleus of all the parties. Look at the NPC, Sarduana of Sokoto, Sir Tafawa Balewa, Inuwa Wada, they were fairly iconic leaders. Those who ought to be the leading force now have abandoned the political space; even in the north, the same in the east, and the same in the south south. Until everyone wakes up from their slumber and realizes that political leadership is the essence of the claiming to belong to a nation, that they need to control that process, until that happens we’ll just be going round in circles.
With your political struggles, why did you lock up your law chambers?
That has been a bit of a challenge for us actually. Unfortunate for me, my partner in the chamber is Mrs. Ayo Obe. We are still partners. My being actively involved in politics was not planned neither was her own being actively involved in civil liberty struggles planned because Mrs. Obe was one of the most active litigation lawyers in Nigeria. She was the head of chamber at Chief GOK Ajayi’s law firm, which was probably one of the foremost law firms at that time. So, during the military interregnum she found herself with Olisa Agbakoba founding Civil Liberties Organization. Agbakoba was the president and she was the vice president at formation. After that formation, at the time that Abacha took over as the Head of State, she was the president of CLO; you know what that would have meant for patronage in our law firm. It has been challenging but we are still here.
In all these, what lessons has life taught you as a person?
That you have more peace if you stand by what you think is right and just to your society, not only for pecuniary advantage; it gives you a satisfaction of having contributed to the evolution of the society. I feel very privileged when I don’t know people, who for some reason follow one’s choice of group participation in the polity, walk up to me to show appreciation in what a lot of us at Afenifere are doing because we are always inclined to do as much as we can to cut the favour of government patronage and when you stand by the truth in this part you don’t get near any government patronage. Even private entities try to be careful not to get too associated in what you are doing. It is heartwarming that some people do appreciate what we are doing.
How do you start your day?
I get up and drink 1.5 litres of water. I wait for an hour, I go on threadmill, I eat fruits and I come to work. I go on threadmill for 45 minutes; I eat fruits and come to work. To unwind, unfortunately, in the past two years, I have had the moments to unwind between issues of elections, between issues of national confab, between issues of putting in place structures in various parts of the country. I hope I would have moments to unwind very soon.
Your favourite travel destinations?
I like everywhere in the world; I like Italy. I like France. I’m not too familiar with America. The few places I have visited are New York, Boston, Los Angeles, but London is where I’m very comfortable in. I lived in London for 15 years. I have an attachment to London. I tell my children that they come home every holiday, but when we went to England in the early 1970s, once you go I don’t come home till five, seven years. It was expensive to fly, even phone calls you’d book to make phone calls. There were no mobile phones then. You are lucky if you get six calls a year. You are on your own; your parents don’t get constant interactions with you. They write letters to you; writing letters was the constant means of communication to your family and siblings then.
Your favourite music?
I like all kinds of music. From jazz music, to Apala music. When I was growing up, I heard a lot of Apala music; I like the music of the type I was listening to as a teenager, Motown music, music of 60s and 70s. We call it Soul music. I like reggae music. I listened to lots of reggae while I was in England. All my children are grown; they have gotten me into contemporary music these days, and I listen to both Nigerian and foreign hip-hop music now.
Is your wife a lawyer too?
No, she’s an interior designer. She makes furniture. She makes the chair and table in my office.
You met her in the UK?
Yes. She came on vacation to the UK. I met her through a Ghanaian friend of mine. The days that I went to school in England, most of the public schools had Ghanaians. It was when we had oil that Nigerians started going to England. Ghana had cocoa, though it’s a smaller country, they probably had more affluence. The school I went to in Cambridge, there were two of us that were black. We were best of friends and we are still friends. The Ghanaian invited her to a party, the guy is my friend and I went to pick them up at the Ghanaian house. That was how we met.