Mr. Adesina Ogunlana is the principal of Winners Don’t Quit chambers, Lagos, and publisher of the ‘The Squib Magazine.’ He holds Bachelor degrees in English Studies (University of Ife) and Law (Lagos State University).
He is known for his radical approach to leadership and made headline when he led members of the NBA Ikeja branch to protest against what he termed the “obnoxious tax increase’ by Lagos State government during his tenure as Chairman of the branch. He is a man who believes that confronting societal ills must not only be the goal of lawyers but must be done with a scientific approach. This he says entails using unconventional method to solve issues where the normal approach fails. To Mr. Ogunlana, NBA can be a tool for correcting the ills of leadership and restoring the nation to the path of growth.
In this interview, he told DNL Legal and Style about his passion for Nigeria and the NBA as well as his outlook to issues generally. He distinguished between radicalism and rascalism and noted that the former can be used to bring the desired change in the society.
DNL L&S: May we meet you sir?
Ogunlana: my name is Adesina Ademola Ogunlana, I was born on 27th July 1964. My father is Mr. Oyewole Ogunlana, he is 94 years old and is still alive and quite healthy. My mum, Mrs. Tolani Ogunlana has been long dead since 1976. I went to western school. Everybody goes to school but I went to western, civilization school. I have two degrees, first was in English Studies from the University of Ife in 1985, the second is in law from the Lagos State University in 1995. I should have graduated in 1993 but I was expelled as a student union leader in 1993. I Went to law school in 1995 and got called to the bar in 1996. I am married with children. I am the principal solicitor of the ‘Winners Don’t Quit Chambers.’ I worked three years from 1996 to 1999 December at the Remedium Chambers under Lawal Pedro SAN before setting up my own chambers in the year 2000 and that is what I have been doing since. Essentially, I am a litigator and a writer too. I am the publisher of the Squib Magazine. It was on account of the Squib Magazine that I was sent to the Disciplinary Committee on the allegation that I was defaming Lagos State judges. But for a man that became my father, Chief GOK Ajayi, I would have been telling a different story. But he stood by me and ensured that I won the case at the Disciplinary Committee.
In NBA politics, I have been this and that in my home branch NBA Ikeja. My first post was, welfare secretary, then secretary, then 1st vice chairman and then the chairman of the branch. I have been active in the branch since 2001. I am a Christian by Nigerian identification; what you may call the popular side of Christianity, not necessarily the spiritual theology. I may not subscribe to all of that. I think that Christ is what is important. I am an Africanist to the core.
DNL L&S: After studying English at the University of Ife, you went ahead to apply to study law again, what motivated you?
Ogunlana: I read law by accident. I became a teacher in the North where I had my NYSC in 1985, I was just 22 years. At that time there was already graduate unemployment, though not this severer. So, I didn’t want to start looking for a job and as a graduate of English Studies, you would naturally gravitate towards teaching or journalism. I got retained in the school I served, in a place called Senior Secondary School Kazaure in Kano State. I became head of English Department, head of Drama and Debating Society, House Master and Football Master because I could play and teach football very well, because of my relatively young age, I loved the job and even though it was a contract employment, I was not too bothered personally because I it wasn’t clear to me what I wanted to do, but I only knew I wasn’t going to end up as a teacher. In 1987, I took my boys to participate in an all Kano State schools debate and because for me, anything I put my mind to, I do it thoroughly, I was determined to get the boys to win. I had an unusual and unique way of training my boys for the debate; on the road, in the market place, on a tree, anywhere at all. So we went to the debate and defeated many notable schools in Kano and everybody marveled at these set of young boys from a rural school. We won the finals and when the debate ended I was under a tree when a lady teacher came over to me and said, “are you the teacher who brought these boys?” I said yes and she said, “why are you wasting your time being a teacher, you go and be a lawyer.” If I see the lady that said that to me again I won’t recognize her but it was as if God spoke to me like the Christians will say. But that was it, I just went straight to take JAMB. I had to redo JAMB because I recall then that the Secretary General of JAMB had this policy that said you cannot get direct entry to part two for law and after a first degree in a federal university, you must go for a state university for your second degree. So, that was how I applied to study law in LASU. I was determined to be a lawyer even though my father did not have the money to train me, because he had done his best in the circumstances of our background. In fact, it would have been sufficient having an NCE but to become a graduate and then say you want to go back for a second degree to become a lawyer was a tall dream. Not that he was opposed to it, but I had seven siblings and it was not easy for him. So, I saved money by chicken farming and holding private lessons for students to support my studies and by my second year as a law student in LASU, I entered into student union politics again, became a student union leader and got expelled.
DNL L&S: Tell us more about what led to your expulsion from LASU?
Ogunlana: During our time in LASU, student unionism was serious business and yielded positive results. Wale Okuniyi was the President and Sola Adaboyan who is in Canada now was the General Secretary. We used to go and catch cult boys by hand. I think we used to hunt for cult boys, because, when you have strong union, you don’t have cult and when you have strong cult you don’t have strong union and when you have a union that is blended with cult, you don’t have a strong union. We were never compromised. And of course in LASU, I had an advantage with age, because I was with people who were younger and in the hostel, I became their leader and an agitator. Of course it was not a wonder that Prof. Akande expelled us. I was expelled under a decree and it was not by circumstances that even though I was not the president of SUG, my name was first on the least of the 34 students expelled.
Back to the reason why we were expelled, ironically, it was not for student union reasons, rather it was because we were supporting ASUU and trying to prevent them from embarking on strike. There was a particular money that they were supposed to give to lecturers, they called it “refurbishment loan”, Prof Jadesola Akande had agreed to pay them and then reneged and teachers were spoiling to go on strike and this was after they had just returned from one. We could not afford another strike action and we resisted it. We stormed the school and went on rampage. We did not destroy anything but we arrested lecturers, all of them, including my Dean, Prof. Yerokun. When they brought Prof Yerokun, I recall I was wearing his shirt because his nephew one Emmanuel Yerokun used to be my friend and would bring Prof’s cloth from the staff quarters but that did not deter us.
After the arrest, around 12 we called a Student Union Congress and brought all the professors to stand in front of us, we sat down and became their judges. We did not beat them or anything like that, it was just to harass them and send a message to the school management. After warning them to do the right thing and ensure that there is no strike, we released them. But then the way we went about it, we took control of everything, Prof. Akande ran away and it was by the grace of God that students did not catch up with her, she would have been mobbed or killed and it would have been a different story. I recall that her driver used reverse to take her out of the university premises. All these aggravated offenses made them to expel us. But they failed to set up a panel to investigate the crisis because the VC relied on the provision of a decree that said she can summarily expel. We were sent away but eventually reinstated by Professor Bababunmi who took over from Prof. Akande as the Vice Chancellor.
DNL L&S: How did the school reinstate you?
Ogunlana: By another aluta and by the grace of a wonderful Vice Chancellor Professor Bababunmi. He took us back after we sustained the agitation and even went to court. Chief Femi Falana SAN was our lawyer. Long story short, when Mrs. Akande did not come back for her second tenure because of the struggle, Prof. Bababunmi called us to a meeting and wanted to know if we would give him peace if he reinstates us. Again I stood up to him and told him that they are all liars, I said to him that all professors are liars and he was shocked. I was surprised that he calmly said to me in his usual British accent, “I don’t lie”. And true to his words, he not only reinstated us, but he also gave us letters of apology for wrongful expulsion. Sincerely speaking, I value that letter of apology more than my university certificate. And keeping to our own part of the bargain in return to his gesture, student union cooperated with him and really gave him peace. Because you see, they would say, “you are militants, you cause trouble”. Yes, we were militants but reasonable. The real motto of the union is “Dare to struggle; Dare to win”. Even the Lagos State House of Assembly in its finding into that crisis came out to say that LASU student union’s attacks may seem militant but they were reasonable.
DNL L&S: Would it then be right to say that your radicalism began in your LASU days or have you always been radical?
Ogunlana: I have always been radical. Back then in Ife, I had it but only I didn’t join the union. I was writing a piece I titled ‘Junior on Sunday.’ I started Junior on Sunday when I tried to join a magazine called ‘King Cobra’ and they rejected me, so, I decided to write my own column. I would write and post on a place called Democracy Wall then in Awolowo Hall, which was the most active hall in the university. From January 1982 to July 1985 when I left the school, I wrote. When Buhari came to power in 1984, I will go around 6am and paste my column and when I now come around 9pm, I would still see people reading it. And you know, I had early education, in fact I spent only four years in primary school and that says a lot because I came from a very poor peasant family, if not, people would have said it was normal but I did, I entered primary school in 1970 and by 1974, I was in Form1. By 1979 when I was 15 I had left the secondary school and I had passed JAMB. I am the only one that I know that passed JAMB four times but that is by the way.
Back to my radicalism, it is majorly my temperament, I am an agitator, I don’t like injustice by nature. When I made up my mind to read law I was asking a lawyer how I would become a labour union lawyer. I have always been like that, so, my radicalism did not start from LASU. It didn’t even start from Ife, I was rebellious as a child and I had a tough mother too. She used to cook by open fire and I remember one day while she was cooking and we were both there, she was talking to me about Peter in the bible, I immediately said to her, mummy I want to be like Peter when I grow up. I admired how he was brave and attempted to cut of the ear of one of the people who came to arrest Jesus. His behavior caught my fancy. In secondary school too, my older classmates used to call me rolling dollar because, I used to spin. I used to be quite temperamental when I was younger and I had a high sense of indignation. I don’t like being oppressed. I remembered a teacher wrote on my report one time, “He is a good student but he complains too much”. It was when I grew up that I discovered that the reason why I complained too much was that I expected something better, I don’t like cheating. The essence of my life is to make things right. Money is not my purpose. Even when I do cases for client I tell them money is not my purpose. So radicalism I would say, is congenital, it is not something I learned from somewhere. Stories of heroism appealed to me from the beginning.
DNL L&S: You said earlier that you had to defend yourself for a period of ten years before the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, What really happened?
Ogunlana: The Squib Magazine! Anybody who was accustomed with Squib Magazine will know that it was a most unusual magazine with the motto: “The Heavens will not Fall”, it was defiant, confrontational, expository and it was profession exposing. It was an investigative journalism in the profession which I was a member. So, we ran into troubles a lot of times with the authorities. Squib was active from March 2001 to September 2016 and I only stopped when I became the Chairman of Ikeja NBA branch. I stopped not only because of the hectic schedule of my work as chairman who was also in the midst of a crisis but because the publication became a bit of conflict of interest. I had established my lines of news sources over the years, I had survived about five chief judges. So, I was dragged to the Body of Benchers Disciplinary Committee by NBA in 2003 after they said they found a prima facia case against me on an allegation they called defamation of Lagos State Judges on account of the fiery Squib. That was the reason for my facing trial for ten years. But I thank God for Chief GOK Ajayi SAN of blessed memory.
DNL L&S: Tell me more about your relationship with Chief GOK Ajayi SAN and how he defended you at the LPDC?
Ogunlana: Chief GOK Ajayi defended me for ten years before the Disciplinary Committee from 2003 to 2013 when we won the case. A year after we won, Chief Ajayi died. He did that case for me for ten years free and you are talking of Abuja. The money we spent on flight alone to Abuja would be more than N700,000 and he never took a kobo. In fact, I think one or twice he even paid for my flight. He was quite a giant. There is no way you can write about my life as a lawyer without mentioning GOK Ajayi. Ajayi was a father to me, I call him Daddy 3. He became a lawyer ten years before I was born and he became a SAN in 1978 when I was in Form 5, yet we became good friends. It was a father son relationship more like. He believed in me and believed that I should not be destroyed and he was all out for me all through the ten years. You are talking about the Body of Benchers of 15 panelists. The average age of those people were between 59 and 60 years and at least five of them must be Chief Judges of states. I think I would have been roasted but for Ajayi. I owe him a debt of gratitude, his family and descendants. He is part of the reason propelling people like us to work sacrificially. He was quite a handsome and excellent lawyer, fearless and courageous. He was selfless, very strong and a workaholic too.
I recall a time I had a matter at the Federal High Court Lagos and we went to Baba Ajayi’s house because we were trying to raise an objection. He worked with me from 8:00pm till 12noon the next day. He slept for only an hour by the dining table. I was so exhausted and at about 5:00am I told him “Chief, it’s my case we are doing but I won’t die before the case”, and I just left him and went to the couch to lie down, baba went upstairs and brought a blanket and covered me, he treated me like a father and rightly so, he was old enough to be my father, he was 78 years when I was 45. That incident remained in my memory. I remembered also that it was my 45th birthday and I had slept off when my junior Taiwo Adedeji informed him that it was my birthday. Baba went upstairs and brought out two bottle of wine to celebrate my birthday. I was asleep and while they were at it, one of the bottles fail and broke and he said to Taiwo, “well, tell Shina when he wakes up that we broke one for him.” For such people, we cannot but not do what we are doing, necessity is laid on us.
Ajayi was a special lawyer, this was a man who was Awolowo’s lawyer in the Shagari vs. Awolowo case; he was Shugaba’s lawyer in 1980 in Shugaba vs the Ministry of Internal Affairs; he was Bola Ige’s lawyer, he was general Zamani Elekwo’s lawyer, he was Gani Fawehinmi’s lawyer, he was Chief MKO Abiola’s lawyer and he was my lawyer. A very humble man, the very best, I would have rated him higher than FRA Williams but FRA was by far richer and more eminent. But those two dominated the Supreme Court of the late 60s to the early 80s, it was always FRA Williams and GOK Ajayi. Even though a conservative, he was a fighter. He was not an activist like me but he was a fighter and a very decent man. So, I must say that if I have taken time on Ajayi, he deserves it because without him, you would not meet me here because I was just 7 years at the bar in 2003 when I ran into trouble waters. He didn’t know me but he was reading the Squib and he told me, “I would always be there for you”, and he kept his promise. He never sent a junior to represent me. I owe people like that who believed in me and my mission a gratitude. I have for long time been regarded as an antiestablishment figure in the legal profession especially in the Lagos State Judiciary but, Ajayi believed in me, I am very emotional now because how many people are like him?
DNL L&S: Do you think NBA is doing enough in terms of its engagement with the Government on the state of the Nation?
Ogunlana: Well, the presidency of NBA is an assignment and I consider it a patriotic one. I dare say that anybody who is leading the NBA now with the sole traditional intention of doing the normal programs to revamp the NBA is being unscientific with the issue and that is what they are all doing now. I am not attacking them but the nation is sick. The Nigerian social political environment is fouled up and I am lending the NBA to the salvationist task of revamping this country. You cannot leave politics to the politicians, not these politicians. For me, it is an assignment. We need to open the eyes of the citizens, the Nigerian citizens are docile, the leaders are wicked but they get away with blue murder because the citizens are dominated, they are frightened and have been corrupted and misled. I hold firmly the Saperian philosophy (Sapara William), he said way back in 1888 that a lawyer leads for the advancement of the nation. If you are a bread and butter lawyer and you are interested in mercantilist lawyering, then you have forgotten that it is when the tree is standing that the birds can perch on it. If Nigeria is not standing, where will the NBA stand? The Roman said where the guns boom the law keeps quiet. See what happened in Kogi state. Was that an election? Look at what is happening in courts, if Sowore for instance didn’t have a lawyer of Falana’s caliber, they will say he got a small boy lawyer, but the most prominent human right activist in Nigeria now has been rubbished by a tyrannical government. A government that is determined to roll back democracy in the country. They might be well intention but the Federal Government of Muhammed Buhari does not understand the essence and nuances of democratic culture and practice. That is the truth. My organization; ‘Lawyers For Change’ participated in bringing him to power because of Yemi Osibanjo. That is the historical fact. Anybody that was around in 2015 must have heard of our organization. This was the headquarters, we matched all over the southern part of the country, up to Abuja and Ilorin drumming up support . But now, they are not doing well, they are killing the very essence of Nigerian now which is democracy. People cannot allow that. I have said that 1999 to 2019 have been the greatest era of professional boom for legal practice in Nigeria. It was because democracy expanded the scope for legal practice, everywhere. Before 1999 we were used to inscriptions like: Military zone keep off” do you still see such? When you have problem then, you go to naval or military barracks, who goes there again? It is in democracy that a Navy Commander can be taken to court over human right abuses. Who could do that before 1999? Now this government is destroying that democracy, nullifying and spitting on the court and you have an NBA whose motto is “Promotion of the Rule of Law” and we are wearing bow tie and taking soup.
When Ambode came with his land use charge, I didn’t go to court, I was the leader of NBA Ikeja. I am very proud of the NBA branch of my era. NBA Ikeja before me had been cognomen the tiger bar, but I give glory to God that under me, it reached the highest apogee of that name. I didn’t approach the court because I understand politics from the sociological aspect; Why did Governor Ambode bring that land use charge, why did he have the confident to do that mad increase? It is because he took it for granted that there would be no resistance. If you don’t understand sociology, you cannot fathom it. It was because he thought he would get away with it. There was no political opposition, there was no union, the citizens were docile but he didn’t take into cognizance that there was a branch of NBA called Ikeja with a chairman called Adesina Ogunlana . I brought the troops, we were ready to die. I put my life on the line, drones where following me, I was being monitored, politicians offered us money, the palace of Oba of Lagos called me four times and when we were doing the second protest, you remember that police invaded NBA secretariat the night of March 28 and I said I will go on with my protest we would do it. I said I will give you concession, we would not do it in Ikeja where Buhari is coming we would not do it in the morning but we would do it and to the glory of God, we did it and of course when we left, the retired Chief Judge of Lagos, Justice Oke brought an interesting rules of court and got away with it. When I did Squib I was ready to die. If I become the President of NBA, I would be ready to die. I am saying it that all the others that would contend with me, they are professional seniors and they are all very successful and far more qualified than I am but all of them put together do not have what I have. The preparedness to die for my country. I am not putting them down. It is the truth. They don’t have the pedigree, they may want to do it but they cannot. Because they are not veteran war horses.
Restructuring NBA to become IBA standard is not what Nigeria needs now. What Nigeria needs now is to be put aright politically. Whoever controls the political space must affect your life. And I am sorry to say this about Christians who say, “my economy does not depend on the economy of Nigeria, my economy depends on the economy of heaven, I pay my tithe.” You are ignorant because whoever control your political community must affect your life.
DNL L&S: When Lagos Government introduced the ‘toxic tax’ you talked about, many were against the strategy of lawyers holding protest because as you know, the profession is a noble one and as lawyers there is a proper way to do these things. A lot of lawyers did not think we should go to the street. Do you think that lawyers are ready for radicalism as a means of changing the attitude of government?
It was said of Napoleon Bonaparte that when the emperor comes to the battle field, he is worth more than 40k troupes, the presence of Napoleon was worth more than 40k troupes. A lot of this depend on leadership. I see a lot of sense in what you have said, that a lot of lawyers believe that what you are supposed to do is go to court, file a motion, get an injunction but with due respect, they are not being realistic. They are only being traditional and I think there is a maxim that says you compare likes with likes. In the British legal system for example, if I file a suit against you, immediately you have a notice of it, you stay, even when the court is yet to grant injunction, it is called the doctrine of lis pendens right? In Nigeria, go and file an action and even get injunction, I tell you, if you get injunction and you do not get thuggery to support your injunction, they will do the thing and nothing will happen. Injunction in Nigeria will not help you, and that is the society you are trying to do go to court, file injunction, move motion? I try to be as much of a social realist as possible. Adaptability is the first law of survival in nature; the ability to adapt to your conditions. That was why the dinosaurs went extinct. Being radical doesn’t mean you are a rascal. When you say you are an activist it doesn’t mean you are an anarchist, but you are saying that you are prepared to oppose oppression. Yoruba says “alagidi, l’ oga alagbara, (the stubborn person is the master of the powerful person). Yes, once a person says I am ready to die, you cannot make that person your slave. To be a slave master, there must be somebody who is prepared to be a slave.
What I am trying to say to answer your question is, that getting people to buy into radicalism is not difficult, you need to inspire the people. Ikeja had a tradition but my people saw that this was a leader that was leading from the front, honest, transparent and ready to put everything forward. I was always at the bar center working. And when I got there as chairman, I said we have come so that we may have practice and practice more abundantly. I told my people I am not interested in building bar center. That was not my focus, my focus was to make the Lagos state judiciary work better so that we would expand our market, and I worked at that. I set up committees and I made publications and I presented a finding. I paid 1.4m to Punch to publish our opposition to the position of the Lagos state House of Assembly, we walked out on them when they were trying to play games over the land use charge. Just so you know, an average lawyer has been miseducated. Right from university they give you false sense of superiority complex. Yes, you are a law student and what makes you superior to the medical doctor, engineer or even a volcanizer? These are bourgeois capitalist tendencies, there is nothing superior about you, that is my believe. When I was contesting for the chairman of Ikeja branch well-meaning persons came to me and were talking about packaging, and I said if people are going to vote for material things they should go and vote for those who have cars, you have known me, I was welfare secretary and general secretary vice chairman but this is still my car and I am not going to change it. Even now that I am running for presidency, this is my office, I am not ashamed of it, mine has been a life of impact. So, as lawyers we have had wrong education that makes us believe we are superior. Who told you that agitation is illegal? Is it criminal? Is demonstration unlawful? It is not. You are aping a society where things work, a society where a judge can entertain your motion even in his bathtub, that was what we were taught that wherever the judge sits is the court. But you are in a society that is semi jungle and you are now wearing bow tie and drinking soup in Sheraton and thinking that this method will change the mind and might of people in governance. So, if our people have been thinking this is the way, my question to them is, “is the way working? This 2019 rules scale through because I was not in power, I had no pedestal you know it, they know, if I was still the Chairman of NBA Ikeja, Justice Oke would not have gotten away with that. Even alone as a person I went to court and they said I lost and slammed me with five million naira cost, we are on appeal. Look, the role of a leader is to inspire, show the path.
DNL L&S: Talking about integrity, you are presently facing a criminal trial over allegations of financial misappropriation, the case is subjudice, so we cannot go into the details of the allegation but just on the peripheral, do you consider that ongoing criminal trial a witch-hunt?
Ogunlana: Yes it is a witch-hunt. And I am not bothered about it, if I am bothered about it I would not be indicating interest to run for the NBA Presidency for instance, I will be scared, but do you see me looking scared? I am not the judge and I cannot preempt the case but I want to tell anybody that cares to listen that I am having a feeling of dejavu. In 1993 I was expelled and in 1994 I was recalled. I read about my expulsion on my way back from Oyo state. I just saw a news headline on Guardian Newspaper; “34 LASU students expelled” and knew immediately that my name would be there. I bought the paper and my name was number one. I must admit that from that point to around Redeem Camp towards Lagos, I was very troubled, I was thinking about my life, coming from a poor home and trying to breakthrough. I was the first lawyer in my family and my girlfriend had also warned me to stay away from student unionism and focus on my degree but you see, when you have this activist thing in your blood, you cannot control it, that is how God made you and that is what brings you fulfilment and happiness. So, I was troubled, but, I started rediscovering myself, I got home and went to my girlfriend’s house and broke the news to her and said to her do not cry, if you do, you will make everybody weak, because we were preparing for our wedding. That same day, we went to Balogun to buy the materials for our wedding, the very day it was announced that I was expelled. So, it is a feeling of dejavu, remember that I was under professional trial for ten years in Abuja. I am like David, if I may say, killing Goliath. When he told the people he will kill Goliath and they doubted he said to them, but I have killed a bear and a lion before. God has helped us to kill both lion and bear before, this Goliath must go. My confidence is in God.
DNL L&S: Did you mismanage the funds of NBA Ikeja?
Ogunlana: No. if you want me to comment on it I will, but like you pointed earlier the matter is in court. They will come and prove that in court. But I didn’t. but I was a very strong leader and the powers that be, the Senior Advocates in my branch felt offended and I said and I am still saying, I didn’t need their money. In my two years as Chairman, no Senior Advocate donated any money. And you know the first year was the year of real crisis because we had problem with the Alegeh led Presidency and we survived, for one whole year there was serious trouble, I was taken to the police station seventeen times by the factional group and we survived it and triumphed but we made enemies and I am saying it, anybody who has been my opponent on the field must attest to the decency. You may not like my style and it is okay because people don’t always like strong characters, they don’t like self-confident people because they mistake it for arrogance and conceited, but I am not. I am fair and open and transparent and their own problem is that you do not kowtow to them, you are not subservient to them. I remember that part of their annoyance was that I wrote letter to the Lagos State judiciary and said if you are doing any program of the judiciary where you will allow Senior Advocates to speak before branch chairmen, I will never attend such program. I was the leader of Ikeja branch that was what I told the Chief Judge. When we are in the courtrooms, let the Senior Advocates take their privileges, but when I am holding my meetings, I preside over Senior Advocates and everybody, you cannot now come to judiciary functions and you are calling body of Senior Advocates, you may call the Attorney General because he is also the leader of the official bar. That is the truth but they do not have the audacity to say it, but we do and we will say it. Personally I am respectful to people but in holding a position of leadership, I will not betray the mandate. These are the things that annoy them and I am still saying it.
DNL L&S: During the election crisis in your branch, there was a gentleman agreement that after your tenure as Chairman, you would handover to the present Chairman but you reneged. Would it not be right for someone to say that you are not a man of honour?
Ogunlana: First, people are entitled to their opinions but I am not going to be judged by their opinions. And when you are as radical and strong minded as I am, you are bound to make enemies and people are bound to oppose you and interpret your actions from the perspectives of their own bias. I am a man of honour, Dele Oloke opposed me for one year. They tried all they could, including the police, the national body eventually refused to recognize me and said there would be election, the evening before the election, Oloke caved in because they knew they would be defeated. But, if I was not a man of honour I would claim two years because I became the only Chairman I know that was sworn in twice. When you are sworn in, when does your time start? I had two years but my first year, I was not recognized even though I was the effective leader of the NBA Ikeja but I said honourably there is no point. If I may say here too, I stop Squib because the news I was publishing could have easily been misconstrued to mean I am using my position as chairman even though I had become entrenched into the Lagos State judiciary and everybody have come to know Squib to have reliable stories who would protect his sources, but as chairman, official things were coming to me even though I would still have gotten them unofficially and I decided it was not honourable. Nobody stopped me, I did myself.
So, we had this agreement that you would succeed me but we never agreed on how you would succeed me, it was the mistake on both sides because NBA Ikeja was not about Oloke and Ogunlana factions. The others who were not in either of the group were saying how can two groups impose themselves on us. What Oloke and his Senior Advocates friends wanted was that there should be no election for him. I said I am not going to do that, because NBA Ikeja is not about the two of us. There would be an election and I called all of them; Oloke Seyi Olawunmi, Kembi and one other person and said we can appeal to people not to run against him but election has to hold in a democracy.
DNL L&S: So, are you saying that Adesina Ogunlana did not have a candidate that he was supporting?
Ogunlana: No. That was the allegation but that was not true. They would say, he was supporting this and that and I said, whoever is coming out to contest will run with Oloke. I conducted the election, couldn’t I have nullified it, even if it is to create crisis as a man tagged dishonourable? Ask yourself. They were desperate, the election was not perfect, there were lots of shenanigans, Oloke had lost several elections before that time. He knew he was not popular. So, it was that fear and suspicion that is causing the crisis up till today. Because when he won the election, I came out and congratulated him and went back to my room and said we are going to have AGM on Thursday where he was supposed to be sworn in. That is because by the constitution, you must be sworn in at the AGM. Oloke got himself sworn in that day, I told them that what they were doing was wrong. What I later heard from him was that everybody was afraid that if they allow the swearing in till the next day, that I may nullify the election. But what does it take to nullify an election? Does it go beyond sending an sms to the service provider that that election is cancelled? But I am much more a democrat than that. I believe that he had won the election and I had done my bit and that was it. So, that permutation of me not being a man of honour was what they believed. I am not moved and that is part of what annoys them that I don’t see myself from the mirror of their own perspective.
DNL L&S: Activism in the Nigerian legal space brings just one name to mind. Though long gone, he is still remembered for his tenacity, consistency and courage. I am talking about Chief Gani Fawehinmi of the blessed memory. Did you ever have the privilege of training under him or being influenced by him while he was alive?
I didn’t train under him like a junior, I never worked for him but both of us admired ourselves greatly. I was not close to him like I was to Chief GOK Ajayi. Gani had special admiration for me, he used to buy my magazine During his annual program he would buy like hundred copies to give out but we were not close. However, historically, when you say Fawehinmism today, it was me that coined it. That program came under the chairmanship of Adekunle Ojo, he was Chairman 2004 to 2006. In 2004, Adekunle Ojo called me and a few others of the progressive caucus of the NBA and said let us honour this man in his life time before he dies. So, we brainstormed and I said we could call the program Fawehinmism and we went to him, sold the idea to him and he bought it and promised us that day that he would support us in life and after life. He said to us that that day that when he is dead and his Will is being read and NBA Ikeja is not a beneficiary, then we should know that it is a fake Will and truly, in his Will NBA Ikeja was made a beneficiary to receive N1m every year for the organization of the Fawehiminsm lecture and to be increased as per the exigencies of the time. He was someone I greatly admired, of course like every other human being he was not perfect but occasionally we used to go to his house. May be if I had gone to his chambers when I finished, may be the bond would have been higher but you know, I was doing a task that he himself did not do. Squib was the only magazine in living memory that is profession questioning and the publisher is also a member of that profession. To the glory of God that is quite a huge sacrifice. Gani of blessed memory was attacking government and that was a very wonderful thing to do too but he didn’t focus on the judiciary, in fact he was defending the judiciary, making cases for the improvement of their living condition but Squib was saying the judiciary is corrupt, the bench is corrupt, the bar is corrupt, it is not today that we started saying this. And you know, in those days, it was an anathema to say that the judiciary is corrupt but I put my head there. So, it was mutual admiration, I wish I am as rich as him because that is another aspect of him to give kudos to. He was an activist who knew how to make legitimate money and you have to admire him for that.
DNL L&S: During Gani’s time one is able to identify and believe activists but not anymore. Nigerians now have the opinion that activists are just opportunists and they give you instances even with lawyers, do you agree with this assessment and if yes, what do you think changed.
Ogunlana: I think the assessment is fair. It is not completely true but you cannot dismiss it with a wave of hand. I may not go to particular assessment of individuals but the truth is that there is a basis for the general perception that many activists are deceivers or people just bidding their times and that when they get what they want, not only would they abandon the masses but they even become worse. I cannot dismiss this. So, it is the activist that must really do soul searching. I told you, when we were doing the Land Use Charge struggle, politicians came to me, offers of money were made to me, calls were made from the Oba’s palace, we could have taken advantage of all these and may be today, you would have seen an office saturated with AC and may be two jeeps and all that and well, they said we stole NBA money, our lives have not changed from where we are, this is still the office of the person who looted money and I can only speak for myself but the criticism of activists is fair and people say because the economy is parlous, people contrive to do a lot of things to survive. Just like people criticize pastors, you cannot dismiss it because these are true. It is also the case with Muslim clerics.
DNL L&S: You said you are also a writer, have you written any book?
Ogunlana: Yes, I have written four books all centered in the legal profession. The first was when I was just four years post call, titled “The Secret Of Successful Lawyers”; I wrote the second one in honour of Chief FRA Williams which I titled, “FRA Williams: Life and Times of Nigeria’s Greatest Lawyer” then, I wrote a jurisprudence book called, “Why Lawyers are Angels but Other People Say No”. I also wrote “The Life and Times of GOK Ajayi; Nigeria’s Sweetest Lawyer”.
DNL L&S: What other profession would you have taken to outside the legal practice?
Ogunlana: May be journalism, a writer, a political person, teaching, I love teaching, I love impacting people. I don’t think I would have been a businessman. I have some gift of singing too. I sing Yoruba native songs, so, may be a singer too or even a farmer because I love animals and I have a few birds in my house.
DNL L&S: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Ogunalana: Saint Peter in the bible inspires me a lot. He was a radical. Remember he drew a sword to defend Jesus in the midst of the crowd? He didn’t care, all that was on his mind was how to defend his master. The idea of being zealous for the underdogs and the downtrodden. Like I said, my soul hates injustice naturally and I don’t cheat people, I don’t try to take advantage of people, so, it makes me uncomfortable to just sit and watch injustice. If I was born during slave trade, I know I would have been killed because I would not keep quiet. Oppression is humiliating. Look at how Sowore has been kept in custody even after perfecting his bail. That is somebody annulling the court. Government is not playing by the rules. It is called impunity. NBA needs a leader who would dare the government for this. You have a nationalistic duty, you say that you are in a noble profession and you keep quiet in the face of social injustice? And you say you are the wise men of the community, the learned ones and you are respected in the society and you are quiet? How dare you say you are the best of the people and you are not leading them out of darkness and oppression? How would you now be doing Egba amofi, and Eastern bar forum, tribal and zonal rotation. I will be opposed to it. Adesina Ogunlana will not go to any forum and let me say this, I have told Olumide Akpata to his face, that if I believe you are the best I will vote for you, all those tribal sentiments are the ones that are not advocates of merit and it should not be found among lawyers. Assuming Olumide is the best, so because of Alegeh, he would not be voted in, is he going to be the president of the mid western forum? But how can we be doing this as lawyers. We should lead by example.
Let me now say this, I have looked at the people that are going to contest with me this NBA election, they are eminent. They are rich and successful in their rights and I appreciate that. If Nigeria is prosperous and politically stable all these people are more capable than I am. Many of them are more cosmopolitan, they have been doing million naira transactions and wining and dining with the high and mighty, they are polished but this is war. Nigeria is at war and you send a warrior to the battle field. What we should apply is the principle of appropriateness. You cannot be talking about how to develop business and create opportunities for lawyers when Nigeria is not okay. My Political mentor is Jesus Christ. Something is special about that guy. Only three years was what he spent and got his job done. No political kingdom. He had no home, no money. Even his betrayal had to be by a kiss, it means he blended so well with his followers that he could only be identified by an insider, that is leadership. Look at our direction.
DNL L&S: How do you relax?
Ogunlana: I love my children. I have a little girl, anybody that is friends with me on facebook will know the two of us. Elle daddy, daddy’s special girl. Her name is Akinkumi. It is a man’s name but that is her name and it means a valiant person has joined my rank and she has been living up to her name. she reminds me of my childhood a lot, very rebellious. I am especially close to my children because I don’t want to be like many activists. Your first disciples ought to be your children. For that I salute Fela Anikulapo Kuti. At least two children doing well in what he has put down. Naturally it is those close to you that imbibe your values. I spend substantial time with them. I relax also by singing. I sing Yoruba songs a lot, philosophical songs. I like working, I cannot go for holiday and be resting, a life of peace and tranquility does not appeal to me, three days into a holiday, I am restless. I always feel there is something to be done, emancipation to be done. There is hunger and hardship in the land.
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