Fallen Legal Heroes – Chief Kehinde Sofola, QC, SAN

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Sofola

Chief Kehinde Sofola, QC, SAN, MON, CON (March 1924 – April 2007)

Chief Kehinde Sofola, QC, SAN, MON, CON (March 1924 – April 2007) was a prominent Nigerian Jurist and Minister of Justice during the Second Nigerian Republic.

Chief Sofola was born on March 10, 1924 in Ikenne, Remo Ogun State, south-western Nigeria. He is the second set of three sets of twins delivered by his mother, late chief Salamotu Adefowora Sofola, the ‘iya Suna’ of Ikenne Muslims. His father was late chief Sanni Sofola Odulana, Seriki of Ikenne Muslims, one of the first indigenes to accept Islam in Ikenne.

He attended C.M.S school Sagamu from 1938 to 1939 and went to Baptist Boys’ High school, Abeokuta in 1940 to complete his secondary education. Between 1944 and 1945, he sat for and passed with flying colours, the London Matriculation Examination, whilst working at the Nigerian Railway Corporation as a clerk. He worked until 1951 when he left for further studies in England.

On arrival at England, he enrolled at Lincoln’s Inn for the bar examination and he passed the bar finals in 1953, he was called to the English bar in 1954. He also graduated with his L.L.B in 1954. He was enrolled as a legal practitioner in Nigeria, in 1954. He achieved distinction at the bar and was conferred with the rank of an SAN in 1978. He was also appointed as the Attorney-general and Minister for Justice of the Federation. Mr Sofola held many international and professional appointments like Director of Nigerian Airways, Director, board of customs and Excise, Vice-Chairman, Bank of India (Nig.) Ltd and many others. He was elected as the chairman of the Nigerian Body of Benchers in 1994, and in 2002 he was honoured with the national merit award of Commander of the Order of the Niger.

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Mr. Kehinde Sofola made his mark on the legal annals of Nigeria in over 500 notable judicial cases. His cases contributed to shaping our law of evidence and civil procedure. For example, around issues relating to the construction of wills in ADEBAJO v ADEBAJO & ORS (1975) NSCC 204; JADESIMI v OKOTIE – EBOH (1996) 2 NWLR (Pt.429) 128 and the resolution of the contentious case on locus standi at the Supreme Court in the case of OWODUNNI v REGISTERED TRUSTEES OF CELESTIAL CHURCH OF CHRIST (2000) 6 SCNJ 404 where his wealth of experience and deep grasp of the law manifested with the novel argument that resolved the legal issues at stake.

The impact of his cases also went beyond legal practice and helped formulate law. It must be recalled that the minimum wage for Civil Servants in Nigeria, came on the heels of the action instituted by Mr Kehinde Sofola at the Nigerian Industrial Court, on behalf of the Nigerian Civil Service Union.

His Speeches and Writings Equally notable were his speeches and writings at august occasions, such as the inauguration of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, retirement of Judges and Chief Justices, advice to incoming Presidents of Nigeria, and various lectures at the Nigerian Bar Association

An Exemplary statement by Mr. Kehinde Sofola (his preferred title) is the excerpt below, delivered at the swearing-in ceremony of new Senior Advocates of Nigeria, 26th September 2005

“The Bar has a duty to respect the court and the court ought to be treated with extreme courtesy and deference. Respect begets respect. Members of the Bar must, through hard work, thorough preparation of their cases before appearance, purposeful cross-examination, beauty of language, strict adherence to the unwritten laws of the legal profession, sincerity and truth as the basis of success at the Bar, command the respect of the Bench.

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It is the Bar and the Bench that are supposed to protect people against abuse. The courts are truly the last bastions of the populace before anarchy. We all must accept that the main function of the court is to preserve the kind of society which ensures that all men are equal before the law and have equal opportunity for themselves and for their children.”

Mr. Sofola was the Principal Partner and Head of Kehinde Sofola & Co, also known as Ewenla Chambers, established in 1954. He devoted a significant part of his career to training new wigs who served tutelage in his chambers. He was not just a lawyer, but a teacher of lawyers. He trained numerous legal practitioners, legal officers and judicial officers. Kehinde Sofola Alumni include two Justices of the Supreme Court, the late Justice Michael Ekundayo Ogundare JSC and late Justice Olajide Olatawura JSC, Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Abimbola Obaseki- Adejumo, former Chief Judge of Lagos State, retired Justice Ayo Phillips etc, numerous Senior Advocates of the Federation like Kehinde Onofowokan, Dr. Mudiaga Odje, Prof. Gbolahan Elias Mrs Phoebe Ajayi-Obe, Olumide Sofowora, Lanre Ogunlesi, and innumerable, successful legal practitioners. He trained his own family to be lawyers, too: his brother, Idowu Sofola, SAN; his nephew, Kunle Sofola; and three of his own children, Kayode Sofola SAN, Dr. Olatokunbo Sofola and Ms. Adefowora Sofola.

The late Chief Gani Fawenhimi, SAN had this to say about him:

“He is a legend. That is indisputable. He is a legal icon. That cannot be controverted. Kehinde Sofola is one of the few whose stamp on the rule of law and its development has helped to shape the legal profession since the emergence of the Nigerian legal practice in the 19th century. Highly brilliant, extremely intelligent, exceedingly hardworking, courageous and strictly disciplined, Sofola has become a living legal role model”

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Mr Kehinde Sofola, SAN, CON, died on the 25th of March, 2007. He left an indelible mark in the legal profession in Nigeria.

‘Nike…

Adenike Adesanya is a Brilliant young wig who is passionate about preserving the legacy of the legal profession. Nike wishes to bring back to our memories our heroes past. Email to Nike: nikey06@yahoo.com

 

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