As Justice Adejumo Bows Out (I): His Birth, Early Life, Career

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NIC President Justice Adejumo

Come 1st of October, 2019, Honourable Justice Babatunde A. Adejumo, President of the National Industrial Court shall attain the compulsory retirement age of 65.

DNL Legal and Style brings to you our insightful chat with His Lordship on his birth, early life, career amongst other things.

DNL L&S: My Lord, we are grateful for this rare privilege granted DNL Legal and Style to sit with you sir.

Justice Adejumo: I welcome you to our office. It is a pleasure to receive you. We are willing to do what we can to encourage younger ones like yourselves.

DNL L&S: We understand that my Lord is a native of Ikaramu-Akoko in Ondo State. We would like Your Lordship to tell us about growing up.

Justice Adejumo: I was born on 1st October, 1954 to late Olaniyan Adejumo and late madam Awawu Giwa. My father died three months before my birth, so I only saw him in photographs. It was my maternal grandparents that took care of me. I began my schooling career at Roman Catholic Mission School, Lokoja in 1960, later went to Muslim Primary School, Ikaramu Akoko for about 2 years and finished my primary education at St. Patrick School, Owo. I could not go to Secondary School because there was no money after passing entrance exams to Ajuwa Grammar School. School fees then was 60 pounds per annum for boarding students. Later, I proceeded to Lagos where I sat for entrance examination to Federal Government Trade Centre, Yaba. I succeeded but was not given admission. I had the intention of working in a factory as many of them were springing up around Oregun, Ikeja then, but my cousin advised otherwise because I was still too young. I eventually became an apprentice shoe maker for 3 years and after I graduated from there, I worked in Owo. I went back to Lagos and was enlisted to the Nigerian Prison Service in 1975 as a warder trains man. During the period, there were bricklayers, shoe makers, tailors, who were enlisted as prison warders purposely to train inmates. In 1977, we were sent to Enugu Prison Training School at Ogbete Market Enugu; 313 of us drawn from all parts of the country, at the end of the six months training I emerged the best student all round and was given the baton of honour. This singular event of coming out best among even those that have school cert, gave me a hint that I could read and write very well. When I got back to Abeokuta which was my station, I enrolled into the Teachers’ College in 1978. I was sleeping on top of the bunk in college and my senior bunk mate (Mr. Azeez, now a chartered accountant) was always reading at night even after light out. Back then at the Teachers’ College, light out was 10.00pm and nobody dares to switch on light aside from the seniors. I approached my senior bunk mate and asked him to put me through and he taught me how to read very well. In 1979, I tried my luck in an external exam, meanwhile any student caught writing external exam is to be expelled but with the help of my house master I would sneak out of the school premises as early as 5.00am moving from Otta to Agege till I was able to finish my papers. When results came out, I had 4 credits and 2 passes including English and Mathematics. This further strengthened my conviction that I could indeed read. Some of my friends advised that I go to the College of Education but I thought to myself and I told them that I enrolled at the Teachers’ College for a purpose and I must fulfill the purpose. In 1981, I left the Teachers’ College and was posted to Olugbo Comprehensive High School where I taught Economics, Government and Commerce and was at the same time doing my A ‘Levels exams.  I had many Ghanaian friends who had come to study in Nigeria, they bought me books and we studied together. Then, I bought a tape recorder called “International” at N45 and also bought cassettes where I recorded all the subjects and listened to them religiously; I also bought past questions, marking scheme and prepared very well for my A’ Level exams such that I knew that I would pass the exams.  In 1982, when the result was out, I had BB, CB in my A’ Levels.

Legal Career

 After I had passed my A’ Levels Exam, I heard that University of Ife was a hot University, so I wanted to see what was so special about the university, so I applied for direct entry and was given admission to study Law in 1982 for 3 years and graduated in 1985 and proceeded to the Law School in Lagos. That was how my career as a lawyer started. I did my attachment at Osulola Ojo & Co and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1986. I could not go for National Youth Service as I was 30 at the date of my graduation so I went back to Osuolale Ojo & Co. for my pupilage as a lawyer and I was with him for 5 and half  years even though I was not being paid but he taught me and I enjoyed it.

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Venture into Politics

In 1991, my people from Ikaramu Akoko in the old Ondo State solicited that I contest as an honourable member of the House of Assembly. I declined, but my uncle Dr. Olusuye and my mother convinced me after so many emissaries from my people appealed to me, I conceded and accepted their offer barely six weeks to the election. My party, the SDP purchased the nomination form and also printed my posters without any contribution whatsoever from me. I won the election overwhelmingly and was further elected Chairman of the House Committee on judiciary, Human Rights and Public Petition after I declined being appointed as the Speaker as well as the Deputy Speaker of the House. We were there until 1993 when the Abacha regime came and displaced us.

Return to Law

I was offered Commissionership under Torrey, the then Military Administrator of old Ondo State but I rejected it out of principle and political discipline. So for one year, I was doing nothing but I keenly followed the June 12 events as they unfolded. By the 13th month, I was appointed Chief Magistrate in 1993 in the old Ondo State and was posted to Ikere-Ekiti and I was there for one year and one month. In 1995, I was appointed the Deputy Chief Registrar 1 of the Supreme Court of Nigeria alongside the present Chief Judge of the FCT who was DCR 2.  He left after about two years to become a High Court Judge while  I spent 35 months in the Supreme Court as a DCR and was also appointed a High Court Judge.

DNL L&S: What was that significant thing my Lord did as a parliamentarian?

Justice Adejumo: We did a lot. I was not alone then. For instance, in the present day Nigeria, Ondo state is one of the oil producing states. My self and about 4 others moved the motion that led to this after travelling to the riverine arrears of the state. We went on flying boat to see things ourselves and were convinced that Ondo State should have been one of the oil producing states. We came back and moved a motion on the floor of the house requesting our governor then Evangelist Olomilowa to seek that the state become an oil producing state. Then, Baba Shonekan was coincidentally coming to visit Ondo state as interim head of Government. We appealed to our governor to plead with him that he should declare Ondo State as an oil producing state. This was done by the Governor and when the head of interim government went back to Abuja, he announced on the 3rd day that Ondo state is one of the oil producing states. And that is the income that still comes to Ondo state today with which they are running the government. The second thing I would like to remember was when the Ijaw speaking people of Ondo state were being wooed by nearby states who speak the same language to leave Ondo State. They didn’t speak Yoruba and we didn’t understand each other’s language so they wanted to use that as an excuse to join their people. We reasoned that if we allowed them to go our oil producing status would go with them; so we sponsored another motion and I moved that the Ijaw speaking people of Ondo State who are our people and who could not understand our own language that we speak at Akure should be accommodated, that the Ondo State Radiovision corporation (OSRC) should introduce Egberi (which means news) to be spoken in Ijaw language. Secondly that Government should provide Schools, hospitals, portable water and other basic amenities for them. This was done and today, the Ijaw speaking area of Ondo State is still an integral part of the state. There are many other things we did but these are two major achievements that I would continue to remember forever.

DNL L&S: My Lord, was there any regret joining politics?

Justice Adejumo: I have no regret whatsoever though I would not like to go back there now. Then, politics was without bitterness. You don’t spend money. You don’t bribe anybody. When I contested I didn’t spend any money. That was why throughout my stay my house was open to everyone. And in the political front we were not fighting. Both NRC and SDP were eating together and playing together. If you move a reasonable motion everyone supports. If you move an unreasonable one even your own party members would reject it. It was one house seeking the development of our people. Whoever brought a good idea, you cannot just say no because he is not from your own party so that was the politics then. I have no regret having a bite in politics.

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DNL L&S: My Lord, what do you think is missing in the present day politics?

Justice Adejumo: I think the politicians are in the best position to answer this question as I am neither in the Executive nor Legislature, I am only in the judiciary and our duty is to interpret the law as it is. So I have no mandate to talk on that.

DNL L&S: My Lord, what was the drive behind my lord’s penchant for success so far?

I garner and Tap inspiration from those around me and my environment

It is only Almighty God that motivate and gives drive, if you have a drive and God doesn’t want it to be accomplished, there is nothing no one can do about it. I garner inspiration from people around me. My father’s friend who took me to Owo happens to be a Chief Magistrate and I took interest at first in his job seeing the way he does it but because I didn’t go to school, that idea was almost buried.  Even when I had the opportunity of going to the university to read law, I never thought I would become a judge, I thought as a former warder I would go back to the prison service or join police at a higher level and retire either as a commissioner or a comptroller of prison. That was my intention but as God would have it, when I finished and joined a chamber and my principal then was teaching me, and I thought I could have it and I was opportuned to have appeared before very fine judges, the Justice Baloguns, Justice Candid Johnsons, they would drill you and put you on your toes, I became interested in practice, I felt it was a fine job, the respect was there. The money wasn’t there yet but it was fulfilling.

I remember when I became a Chief Magistrate and I was adjudicating, people like late Baba Ogedengbe  a one time Director General of the Nigerian Law School, and Fesobi called me after they had lost a matter before me and said to me, your worship I appeared before you and I lost but it was a very well-considered judgment, your worship your seat is not here but up there. Several of them told me this so I became interested in becoming a judge but I was no 17 as a magistrate. One day I called my then registrar Mr. Oke and I told him “Oke one day I would become a judge” and Mr. Oke replied, “will you kill all those in your front to become a judge?”  I told him we don’t know the plan of God and we both laughed.

After becoming the Deputy Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, I worked with Late Justice Bello and after he retired, I worked under Late  Justice Ogundare and Hon. Justice Uwais, they were fine gentlemen who do not take no for an answer. And seeing the way they worked, I became so interested in all they did.  While I was the DCR 1 I was also the Secretary to the Advisory Judicial Committee now NJC. All the Chief Judges in the federation and the Attorneys General were members of the Committee, so I had to prepare their working papers and make sure everything was in order. No nonsense was tolerated. I was doing this and at the same time and I was the Secretary of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee. And I was doing these three jobs and reporting to my boss Justice Uwais and I became interest in all these people and that was my infatuation until God blessed it and I became a high court judge in 1998 and I was there for 5 years and some months.

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After I was appointed, I called Mr. Oke  on a lighter mood and told him that I am now a judge but I didn’t have to kill anybody to become a high court judge. He said to me “My Lord, I was surprised too”  because then I was the 2nd person to have become a High Court judge from the Magistrate. As at the date of my appointment as a judge of the High Court of Ondo State, I was just 11 years post call.

To be continued

View original interview here 

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