Deacon Oladele Julius Adesina SAN belongs to the crop of luminaries who became very successful by dint of hard work and focus. Coming from a humble background, Dele Adesina, as he is fondly called, knew what he wanted and consistently made decisions that aligned with his ultimate goal. A perfect gentleman, Dele Adesina recognizes the place of God and divine intervention in his career journey and consistently attributes his success and achievements to the grace of God. He is a consummate bar man who has served the NBA in various capacities both at the branch and National level. He is passionate about the growth and development of the legal profession and has made countless sacrifices to ensure peace and stability among lawyers.
In this exclusive interview with DNL Legal and Style, Dele Adesina tells an inspiring story of humility, hard work and persistency.
DNL L&S: May we meet you sir
Dele Adesina: My name is Julius Oladele Adesina. I was born in April 1957, to Mr. James Adesina and Mrs. Comfort Adesina in a town called Ilawe Ekiti. It is a very big town in Ekiti State of Nigeria. My parents are dead, so, I am an orphan. My father died in 2005 at a ripe age 104 while my mother died earlier in 1995 at the age of 70. They both lived with me here in Lagos towards the later part of their lives. To the glory of God, I was able to provide for them including sound medical care within my capacity and affordability at the time before their demise. Nevertheless, I still nurse their death till today. How I wish they are still alive with me.
Growing up, I had loving parents. I cannot remember lacking what I needed which they could afford. My father was very accommodating but my mum was a great disciplinarian. I remember while growing up, even as a boy, my mum would insist that I joined her in the kitchen once it was time to cook, I had to leave wherever I was to be in the kitchen to be with her. Of course I am talking about when I was on holidays. I remember one particular day, I was playing football with my friends near the house and she came as usual to call me that it was time to cook. One woman was sitting in front of her house close to where we were playing and she told my mum to leave me alone. That I am not a woman. My mother was very furious and fired back immediately and told the woman to allow her to train her child the way she wanted.
In terms of discipline, my mum was really striking. My father will still accommodate you and advise you why you should not do what you are doing but with my mum, every mistake earns you a punishment. Despite this, I was closer to my mum. Generally, we had a very good upbringing. I was in boarding house in secondary school throughout even though the school was located in my home town and I remember that my mother never missed church service on Sundays because it afforded her the opportunity of seeing me in addition to worship. As a member of the choir, it was very easy to locate me among the crowd. Like I said earlier, I definitely had a very good upbringing in terms of self discipline, focus and determination to succeed and I have been able to translate the affection my parents gave me to my children.
I had both primary and secondary school education at Missionary Schools in my home town. I attended Holy Trinity Primary school an Anglican school and I had my secondary education at Corpus Christi College founded by St. John’s Catholic Church. I was in boarding house all through the secondary school. I don’t know whether it was by design or coincidence that my primary school was an Anglican Missionary school and Secondary school was a Catholic school but one thing I know is that at both institutions I made my mark and the training both by my parents and the schools I attended have produced in me a very disciplined individual, someone very close to God and deeply religious. Even before I became a born again Christian, I believe I have been operating under the grace of God with evidence of God’s interventions in my affairs at very critical times and period. I have never really lacked helpers in times of need.
From secondary school, I went to the University of Ife in 1978 as it was called then. Today it is called Obafemi Awolowo University and that change of name came after I have graduated in 1982. I graduated with 2nd Class Lower Division (2.2). I remember very well that with that result I was crying like a baby as if I failed and people were wondering what my problem was. I said I was not in the least expecting myself in 2nd Class Lower Division. Happily, by the time we got to the Law school, I was able to make 2nd Class Upper Division in spite of the very difficult circumstances of having to travel from Agege all the way to the Law School at Victoria island. That will tell you when I woke up each day to be able to catch a bus at Ikeja first to Palm Groove, then to Yaba, Yaba to CMS and finally from CMS to Maroko Law School as it was then known. If I got to Guinness bus stop, Ikeja any time after 5:30am I was already late. But things are better now.
Not only was transportation very few at the time, access to Lagos was only through the Cater bridge and Eko bridge. There was no Third Mainland Bridge at the time. Today, the volume of vehicles that ply the Third mainland bridge I am sure is more than 20 times the volume that ply those two bridges put together. Interestingly, it was a usual scene to see two car owners/drivers dressed neatly to work, some of them in Suit and physically exchanging blows after one accident or the other. I recall that Chief Ebenezer Obe, the great musician made a record out of this experience.
DNL L&S: Back then in your days, Student Unionism was a force. What were your highlights in the University? Were you in the Student Unionism?
Dele Adesina: I have said it over and over again in many interviews of this nature that I was totally a triangular student in the University. That is to say from hostel to the cafeteria and cafeteria to classroom. I never participated in student unionism at all even though I had very close friends who were at the helms of affairs of student unionism. These include friends like Femi Falana SAN and Bisi Ademuwagun. I was also fairly close to Wole Olaoye the then President of the Student Union. Indeed, Femi Falana SAN rose to become the Publicity Secretary of Ife Students Union while Bisi Ademuwagun was a member of the Student’s Representative Council. In spite of this, I chose my path and I strictly stayed on that path.
DNL L&S: Was there a reason for this?
Dele Adesina: Not really. I think as a fairly quiet person I just wanted to give my all to my studies. My father used to say that wisdom demands that you focus on one thing per time and give it maximum concentration instead of many things per time leading to divided interest. That was the singular reason and I think that was why I cried like that when I made 2nd Class Lower in the final exams. Some people wondered what has brought me into the affairs of the Bar or why I am active in Bar politics. I always say that first and foremost, I never see my participation in NBA activities as politics but as an earnest crave and desire to contribute to my Profession and the Nation choosing the NBA as a platform. From day one I made a vow that I want to be relevant in the affairs of the Profession. I also made a vow that I want to contribute my quota to the development of the Nation using my profession as an instrument. I must admit that the desire has found fulfillment in some of the things I have been able to do and on some of the areas I have been able to operate.
For example, in 2002, I was privileged to be elected as General Secretary of the NBA at the national level and served through to 2005. Earlier before that, I had been Secretary and Chairman of NBA Ikeja Branch. I believe the Executive of the Bar at the time as well as the NBA itself made a great mark in the affairs of the Profession and the Country. Also in 2005, I was appointed a member of the Political and Constitutional Reform Conference set up by the Government of President Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR. Indeed, I was a member of the Legal and Judiciary Committee as well as a member of the Drafting Committee of the Conference. I had the opportunity of bringing to bare all that I had canvassed on delay and congestion in administration of justice and many other issues that were and are still impeding our Justice system in Nigeria. I remember that I prepared two position papers for the Conference and we came up with some fundamental recommendations to improve the justice system but like any other recommendations before and after the Conference, the report of the Conference is lying in waste in the waste basket.
DNL L&S: You have worked as in-house Counsel, State Counsel and now you have a successful private practice. Take us through the journey?
Dele Adesina: My journey I will say has been a very interesting and challenging journey. However, the challenges have produced in me a greater determination to succeed. From day one, I had a clear vision of what I wanted to be in the Profession and that is to be a private Legal Practitioner. That was my vision but I had influences here and there that were capable of changing that course but thank God, the influences did not change me at the end of the day. Again, perhaps because of who I am very focused and determined in whatever I make up my mind to do.
I was posted to Lagos for the NYSC and out of the desire to get a place where they will possibly augment my allowance; I was posted to Royal Exchange Assurance Company for my primary assignment. And within the year, somehow, somebody planted in my head that if I could combine Insurance Certificate with Law, sky would be the peak of my rising in Insurance Industry. To me, that was a distraction. Immediately after NYSC, I got out of there and started looking for where I would secure pupilage. I remembered very well that I visited Chief Gani Fawehimi’s Chambers on several occasions and on each occasion; I never succeeded in meeting with him no matter how long I waited. When this happened about three times, the Ekiti man in me took over. I thought I have had enough.
The problem was that I had nobody to really introduce or connect me to any Chambers. I could not afford the luxury of roaming about for too long, I decided to go to Ondo state. In Ondo State, I immediately joined the Ministry of Justice as a State Counsel in July 1983. Mind you, we finished our NYSC about June 1983. I was squatting with a secondary school friend of mine Mr. Anthony Ayeni who was working at the State House of Assembly unknown to me that he was neck deep in the politics of the State even at that early stage of his life. He got exposed to politics while working as a verbatim reporter at the State House of Assembly. His political friends and associates will usually come to the house to attend meetings and socialize among themselves. Occasionally, I will meet with them when I close from work. At times, I will join their discussions but holding a totally different view from their party of interest and this was during the build-up of the general elections in August 1983.
Eventually the election came, presidential election was held first and President Shehu Shagari won his second term bid. My friend and his associates gathered in his house to have a big victory celebration. I remember that I met them celebrating the National Party of Nigeria’s (NPN) victory. I sat down with them. Again, arguments and discussions ensued. Of course I don’t take beer and I wasn’t a politician and that was my saving grace in the day of trouble. The Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) was the party in power in the state with Chief Adekunle Ajasin as the Governor of the state who also was seeking a second term in office. My friend and his party friends were very sure that the NPN Candidate Chief Akin Omoboriowo will win but I told them my reservations and why they were not likely to win. As usual with them, they will say Dele was talking theory.
At the end of the day, the governorship election was held. No result was announced throughout Saturday and Sunday. By Monday, the government used its machinery to announce its own version of the result and declared the UPN Candidate as the winner of the election. However, on Tuesday, the Federal Electoral Commission announced its own result and declared the NPN Candidate as winner. Meanwhile, the people of the state have been set against themselves during the long wait for the official result. Why am I this detailed? I am going somewhere.
Immediately after the announcement of the result, because we anticipated the possibility of trouble, we packed a few things in his luggage to get out of town and within 10 minutes of that broadcast, escape had become impossible with news of conflagrations in town with evidence of burning of houses and in some cases burning of identified political leaders. With the help of the landlord, we were able to hide my friend inside the toilet and locked him up there. At about 2’o clock in the afternoon, we saw a huge crowd of mob approaching the house. They got to the front of the house and stopped and commanded everybody to come out of the house and ordered that we should bring out my friend. The mob mentioned his name and they described him. The way he was described and the way they rushed into the three rooms apartment we occupied, showed very clearly that they were people that were very familiar with him and with the house. Now this will shock you. Some of them who were in his house to celebrate the presidential victory earlier were the ones that strangely identified me. In a jiffy, the mob had emptied all our belongings in the house which included clothes, beds, televisions etc out to be burnt. Then a miracle happened. One particular individual in the crowd stepped out and said; “We know this man, he is not one of them. He is Ajasin sympathizer.” “He is just living with Tony.” With this identification, I was asked to pick my belongings from the properties brought out to be burnt. I begged them to spare all the properties insisting that it will be unfair of me to take my properties alone. A voice erupted from the crowd and said “he’s wasting our time.” I saw clearly that I was taking my luck too far. So, I stepped forward and removed only my wig and gown and that was the only thing I was able to save among all the properties I acquired during the NYSC period and I took to Ondo State.
All the clothes, everything were all burnt along with all the properties of my friend. Let me say that the burning of the properties was not our concern but how to save a life. To cut the long story short, we succeeded under the cover of the night to smuggle my friend to his cousin’s house who was a judge of the Ondo state high court at that time. The unfortunate thing is that he did not survive this set back until he died some years thereafter.
After the incident, one of my kinsmen, Prince Adeyeye Adefolalu who is also late now, saw what happened and even though he was thrice my stature came to give me an oversized suit which I took to a tailor to adjust. Because so many staff of government Ministries fell victim of the massive destruction of their properties during the political crisis, the State Government set up a Committee and requested that those affected should submit list of what they lost. We submitted very hopeful that the government will do something. Unfortunately nothing was done by government. In December of that year, I left Ondo State Ministry of Justice and returned to Lagos empty.
Again, all efforts made to get a Chambers did not succeed. I had no alternative than to rely on my NYSC experience to join an Insurance Brokerage Firm called Hogg Robinson Nigeria. I became a Legal Officer in the claims department and immediately enrolled as a student of Chattered Insurance Institute, London. There were 9 papers to qualify as a Fellow of Chartered Insurance Institute (FCII). Within two years I passed 6 Courses. Notwithstanding this feat, one day, I asked myself, what am I doing in this place? I imagined a scenario which was purely hypothetical. “Suppose there is a problem at home and some people decide to go to my father and say, sir, you are aware of this problem we are having in the town, we want to go and see “our son”. In Yoruba land, a good son is a son of many fathers. We thought it fit to let you know because we believe he can handle this problem”. As a proud father of a Lawyer, my father tells them “oh no problem he is your son, go and meet him. By the grace of God, he will sort out whatever the problem is”. I asked myself the question; will I go and look for another Lawyer – a Litigation Lawyer to solve the problem for them? I said to myself No. It was me who spoke to myself in this manner. Nobody did. There and then, I took my pen and resigned my appointment in the Insurance Company. Please note that it is a very good thing for one to always speak to oneself on any issue of life. You must think aloud occasionally to appraise not only what you are doing but also and most importantly appraise yourself too.
Two General Managers, a Briton and a Nigerian, spoke to me to dissuade me from leaving the Company because they believed I had the potential to get to the top there but I was determined to leave. I told both of them that I wanted to go into private Legal practice and that I was not fulfilled in what I was doing in the Company. The Nigerian General Manager from Ondo state invited me, wanting to know why I was resigning. I insisted that I wanted to go to private practice. He asked if my mind was made up and I said yes sir. To my amazement, he said that he has also thought that I would be better off in private practice than being in the Company. Now as a young man, I asked him “why didn’t you tell me this before?” He responded that, “I can’t do that because that would amount to sending away one of our future hopefuls in the company, but now that you have taken the decision yourself, I owe it a duty to encourage you.” He then asked which Chambers I was going to join and I told him I didn’t know yet. There and then, he gave me his complementary card with a note to his personal external solicitor. That was how I joined one Chief Doja Adewopo with whom I served pupilage of six years from 1986 to 1992. I founded Dele Adesina and Co. in 1992.
So, that was the journey. I say it is a challenging one because if I had a good contact or connection immediately after my NYSC, I wouldn’t have had to go to Ondo State. Again, as providence will have it, the political violence of August 1983 forced me back to Lagos. Throughout this period, the desire not to be jobless for one day made me to take those quick decisions. What is important in all these is the need for one to have a clear vision of what he wants to be in life and then how you want to get there. When it gets to living a purpose driven life, there should be no game of chance. That is what I say to my junior members of the Bar like a song, either during our Friday meetings in the office or anytime I have the opportunity to speak at any young Lawyers’ forum. Most of the times, I used to tell them my personal story because I believe that “the secret of men is in their stories.” The idea is not to blow any body’s trumpet. No. The idea is to let them know that if people like us can succeed with commitment and determination to the course that we believe in, you too can succeed even much faster than we did if you take the same step of single minded pursuit of your identified vision with all passion believing that your life depends on it.
Let me tell you another story that played a major role in my early career. In the course of my pupilage I did a matter in Ikeja High Court. After proceedings one day, I came out of the court and somebody walked up to me and asked if I was the son of one Chief Adesina. My father was not a Chief, so I told the person I was not. On another day, another person asked the same question if I was the son of Chief Adesina from Ogun State and I said no that I am from Ekiti State. He apologized and left. I became curious and I wanted to know who was this popular Chief Adesina. I got to know that he was a very successful business person. I caught a vision from this engagement by saying to myself that a time is coming by the grace of God, when somebody would announce his or her appearance in the Court room as Mr. or Miss. Adesina and somebody will ask if he or she is the son or daughter of Mr. Dele Adesina. That is to say I must also succeed like this Chief Adesina that everybody knows about.
That prophecy has found fulfillment today as two of my children are members of the Legal Profession. This is pure grace of God. As a Christian, I never allow things to pass me by. I believe I am a very strong man of faith with high sense of imagination. Remember God says no one can stop them what they have imagined to do. Imagination is a powerful force in the school of success. By the time I joined the Winners Chapel it was a new level of faith altogether. Not long ago, my son went to handle a matter at the Court of Appeal, Calabar, Cross River State and one of the Justices of the Court asked him if he was related to Mr. Dele Adesina SAN and he replied yes, he is my father. That is the power in spoken words by a man of faith. Let me also recommend this way of life to you
DNL L&S: There is a controversy out there on which is a better lawyer; the practitioner who goes to court or the corporate/in-house counsel. You have had the rare privilege of having experience with both aspect of practice, what is your take on this?
Dele Adesina: You see, I don’t really fancy the argument about superiority of one over the other. I prefer the discussion to be centered on what contribution we are all making to the Profession. First and foremost, whether you are an in-house Counsel as Company Secretary or Legal Adviser/Officers, a commercial Practitioner or a core Litigation Lawyer, we are all doing the same thing in different ways. Basically we are Lawyers trying to interpret and apply the law. The Company Secretary is there to give legal advice and guide his Company against committing any infraction. If you are talking about superiority, they may claim superiority by saying that they prevent their establishments from running into trouble. They can say it is better for people to avoid problem than to be looking for solution to a problem. So, while Litigation Lawyers are looking for solution to a problem, we are the ones preventing problem from occurring.
Sometime ago, I was discussing with some bankers and one of them said, “as a banker, a business minded person and a strategist, I want to be guided as to how I will not run foul of the law than for you to come and defend me after I have run into problem. Commercial Practitioners or Transactional Lawyers are doing what they know how to do best by putting businesses together. Of course without business, a Litigation Lawyer may not have anything to litigate because in the course of business relationships, disputes are inevitable somehow, some times. So, the commercial Practitioners can also claim to be more important than the Litigation Lawyer. Here in this Office, 90% of our briefs are corporate litigations. The difference between me and commercial Practitioners is that I litigate commercial issues, questions, disputes while they put it together to ensure that companies do exist and in the event of any dispute, they sort it out through Arbitration or reference to a Litigation Lawyer. So, my own take is that everybody is important at what they are doing. The key issue is the contributions every sector is making to the Profession, the Nation and the economy as a whole.
You also talked about Lawyers in the Ministry. We call them official bar. Today, the greatest employer of labour is still Government. The greatest spender in the economy is Government. So, there will always be interaction between Government and individuals, Government and Contractors and what have you. That is why in all Ministries of Justice, the two (2) most important departments are the Civil Litigation and Directorate of Public Prosecution. Of course you also have Legal Drafting Department, Citizens department etc. All these departments must be manned by Lawyers so as to assist the Government to run smoothly. They are also as important in the Profession as private Litigation Lawyers. Private Practitioners like me are also important in our own right because if there are no mechanisms to resolve disputes, people will resort into anarchy. So, whichever area you are, there is one golden trend that underlines everything we do and that is the Rule of Law and due process. The Company Secretary/Legal Adviser must be able to advise his establishment on due process and compliance with the relevant laws. The commercial Practitioner must know that when he is preparing his agreements and wedging those businesses together and so on, due process is given priority. For us Litigation Lawyers, we are there to interpret the agreement that has been put together. We are there to ensure that dispute is resolved through lawful means without people resorting to anarchy. So, directly or indirectly, everybody is important. That is the summary of what I am saying.
DNL L&S: One may easily say that one of the many reasons why private practitioners may be seen as more important or even superior is because they are the ones who can attain the rank of SAN. In house counsel no matter how good they are at what they do, do not have the opportunity to get such privilege or elevation. What do you think can be done in this regard?
Dele Adesina: I am happy you asked this question and I thank you for it. I had a discussion this morning with a visiting colleague in this office. I was shocked when he told me that the reason why they are talking about a radical change in NBA is because they want a Bar Association that will not concern itself with the politics of the State. A Bar Association that will concern itself strictly with the issues in the Profession and I laughed. I laughed because whether you like it or not, as a Lawyer, you are an integral part of the society. Sapara Williams of blessed memory was quoted to have said that a Lawyer exist for the advancement of his people. A Lawyer is a leader. If you do not relate with your people how do you advance their course?
Now coming to your question. The rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is equivalent to Queens Counsel (QC) in the U.K. You see, there can never be an end to learning or improvement in the life of a Nation or a Profession. During my vacation in the UK in September this year, I was privileged to attend a programme titled First 100 Years, The Firsts Gaining Foothold 1919-2019, talking about women in the Profession. There I learnt for the first time that there was a period when no woman had the rank of QC in the UK. Indeed, I learnt that in 1937, about 0.7% of practicing certificate holders and 2.7% of Barristers only were women. That it was only in the 1960s that women began to make their mark at the higher levels of the profession. That is no longer the story. There was also a time in this Country too when the rank of Senior Advocate was limited to private practicing Lawyers only. That is not the case anymore. Later eligibility was extended to Lawyers in the academic world. Again, much recently, eligibility for the rank was extended to Legal Practitioners skillful in Arbitration. Today, the way you have litigation Lawyers, is the way you have academic Lawyers and Lawyers who are experts in Arbitration.
The point I am making is that systems grow over time. The growth of any system is a product of the knowledge, exposure and capacity of those that are operating the system. The first answer to your question is that those who think that the conferment is limited to private Legal Practitioners are living in the past. That is no longer the case now. The scope has been expanded and it will continue to expand through creative ideas into how to recognize people of excellence in their chosen area of practice and their character. When A.B Mahmoud SAN was NBA President, he tried to propose an amendment to the Legal Practitioners Act. The draft Bill has many initiatives including additional means of recognizing experts who are neither Litigation nor Arbitration experts. Leaders must constantly think out new ideas and better ways of doing things. Leadership is the ability to think up new ways and ideas on how things can be made better. If the initiatives of A.B Mahmoud SAN go through and a new Legal Practitioners Act is enacted with those suggested provisions on award and recognition, another level of recognition of excellence would have been put in place by the Profession.
By the way, the purpose of this conferment is not for self-aggrandizement. When I am in Court, I do not ask Lawyers to leave the inner Bar just because I am a silk. All I need is just a space to sit down and place my files. I recall that one day at the Federal High Court, Abuja, I insisted that Lawyers who were already sitting at the inner Bar before I arrived Court should remain seated and the presiding Judge said that it is the Court that can grant permission and not me. I had to apologize to his Lordship. There is nothing to show that I am better than others who are not SANs. I remember very vividly that one of the Lawyers who was struggling to carry his files to leave the inner Bar then has since become a SAN. This is my view about life. So, for those who believe one set is more superior than the other, I believe they are missing the point. It is self-aggrandizement to think that way. It is an unnecessary pride and if there is a Profession that pays premium to humility and honour, it is the Legal Profession. That is why we say that it is a noble and honourable Profession. Every member is presumed to be noble and honourable.
DNL L&S: Every successful lawyer has a turning or reference point for his turnaround. For some it may be getting what is informally called “the Brief” by young lawyers..What event or occurrence can you recall as the catalyst for your success.
Dele Adesina: First, let me say that success is not a destination but a journey. For me, success is when everyday is a plus to the previous in your career and chosen profession or vocation. Chief Ayanlaja SAN, a highly respected senior member of the bar said this to me one day at a strategy session in his office when we were handling a matter together. He said that – If a Lawyer is hard- working, no matter how late, his “the Brief” will come one day. For me, I won’t say I have had that “the Brief” but there have been a lot of cases that have made a turning point in my career at one time or the other.
The first one was a land matter which I handled for a widow pro bono. She was up against a retired Police Officer who was also a Lawyer. The woman really suffered harassment and intimidation in the hand of this Lawyer Plaintiff. One day she came to the office and said she heard that the Plaintiff was planning to burn her house situated on the land in dispute. The house was just a small bungalow. It was a classical case of David vs. Goliath or the story of King David and Uriah. You remember the story in the Bible of how King David who had many wives and Uriah had only one wife yet King David still went ahead to take Uriah’s wife. I remember I told her to calm down that no Lawyer will do what she said. When she insisted, I collected the documents which in the main were purchase receipt and tenancy agreement. I made photocopies and gave her and kept the originals in the office. Behold, within three days, the woman ran back to the office crying, that her house has indeed been set on fire.
I went there and I saw the house on fire and I became furious. I renewed my commitment to the case. One day, a witness was on Subpoena Testificandum and he happened to be the vendor that incidentally sold the land to both parties. Under cross examination, the witness confirmed to the Court that the portion of the land he sold to the Lawyer Plaintiff was different from the portion of the land he sold to my client, the subject matter of the dispute. That case was decided by Honourbale Justice Morenikeji Onolaja. A very brilliant and articulate Judge. He is late now. At the end of that proceeding that day, the witness called me and said he appreciated the dedication I gave to the case of the woman even though he knows that she may not have got money to pay my fees. He said, “God will bless you. What will I do for you oo. Ok, I will give you a land”. I thought it was a joke. He asked me to meet him at the court premises on a scheduled date and on that day, he took me in his car and we drove off. I was wondering whether we were going to my house because we were driving towards the direction of my house. Eventually, we passed by where I was living, stopped at 4 Plots after my house, parked in front of a vacant plot of land there and said “I give you that land”. I was dazed. It was indeed a miracle. That was how I had my first landed property in Lagos without paying a dime. I completed a building on the land in 1998. To me that was a turning point. From a case I was virtually paid nothing.
In yet another matter involving a malicious damage to property, the claim was in excess of 700 Million naira at the time. While I was doing cross examination of the star witness, I could see that my client was very impressed. At the end of the case I joined his car to bring me to the office. In the course of the journey, a discussion ensued and he asked why I was not running my own Chambers. According to him in view of this superlative performance in Court. I said I had no money to establish the kind of Chambers I will like to have. Despite this dream of a standard Chambers at the time, my office was a kitchen converted to an office in a three bedroom flat. It was a ply wood that was used to cover the sink I put my files. Nevertheless, I had a clear idea about what I wanted and what my dream office should be.
The next thing the man said was, “I can invest in you.” One thing led to the other and we started looking for office space. I eventually got a space at No. 55 Allen Avenue, Ikeja. The Client funded the cost of establishing the Chambers up to 75%. Payment of rents and purchase of equipments inclusive. That was how I started Dele Adesina and Co in 1992 and by the time we expanded, we left the three bedroom space in No. 55 Allen Avenue and moved to No. 63 Allen Avenue in 1998 where we occupied a whole floor in a 5 storey building. For me that was a turning point again.
However, it must be noted that breakthrough in the Profession is both a function of hard work and determination to succeed. So the lesson from all these is that “the brief” can be a combination of many briefs. A reward for diligence, commitment and dedication to practice. If anybody lacks these fundamental qualities, “the brief” may never come.
Two years ago, you celebrated what you tagged triple milestones; 35-25-10. What motivated you to have that celebration?
It was my 35 years of legal practice, 25 years of establishing Dele Adesina and Co and 10 years of my conferment with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria. I recall that in my short address that day, I summarized the reasons for putting the event together. First was to thank God and ascribe all the honour and glory to Him and to say “Lord you are our Ebenezer and thank God for where you have led us.” When you keep giving glory to God, he will keep adding to you, but the day you stop to appreciate Him and you begin to take Him for granted, He will shift his attention away from you to someone else. May God not shift his attention away from us.
The second reason was to make the program a source of inspiration to junior members of the Bar. It was to show them that in spite of any inadequacy, once you have a clear vision and you are driven by the vision with unreserved commitment, dedication, the required discipline and the determination to succeed, you are unstoppable. It was an avenue to say that God is no respecter of anybody. If I can succeed, you too can also succeed.
There is nothing I do without a purpose, by the time we dedicated this office, there were discussions as to what manner of dedication we should have. I said let us invite people and let them see how far we have come with the hope that the dedication will provide necessary inspiration to also invest in the profession. I went to Asaba on the 1st of October to dedicate a friend’s office building; the building is by far bigger than this office. Similarly, I was at the opening of mu good friend’s Biodun Owonikoko SAN’s office here in Lagos. I was excited when he stated that he got the vision for the office when I dedicated mine. This is the very essence of leadership. Leadership is about providing influence, hope and inspiration. There is nothing God has done in the life of one person that he cannot replicate in the life of another provided if that other person is in right standing with God.
You have served in various capacities in the Nigerian Bar Association; you were Chairman of Ikeja Branch, NBA General Secretary and have participated in several committees of the NBA both at the branch and national level. Looking back at that time and now, what is your assessment of the affairs of the NBA presently?
Dele Adesina: Thank you very much. As you have already pointed out, you are touching the area of special interest and love for me. What is driving me to do what I am doing in NBA is my love for the profession. In life, I have three lovers if I may say so; first and foremost, God Almighty, next, my family and then the Legal Profession. Like I said before in the course of this interview, from day one, I made up my mind that I want to make a positive impact in the Profession. Just like I also said to myself that I want to be relevant to my State, to contribute my quota to the development of the State without being a politician.
Back to NBA, I have been active in the affairs of NBA since 1986. Between 1987 and 1989 I was one of the ardent followers of Alao Aka-Bashorun. We elected him President of the Bar in 1987. In 1990 or thereabout, I became the Secretary of Ikeja branch and in 1998 I was elected the Chairman of the branch. Since that 1990, I have remained at the National Executive Council of the NBA till today. There is hardly anybody there who will say they do not know Dele Adesina by virtue of my humble contributions on the floor of the NEC. Today we have four storey Bar Centre building nearing completion at Ikeja. The idea of Bar Centre was conceived by when I was Chairman of the branch.
During my tenure as the General Secretary of the NBA, we were fortunate to have a President in person of Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN who had a clear idea and vision of what he wanted for the Bar and I ran with his vision very effectively. The executive was very cohesive, purposeful and idea driven. Many of what you can refer to today as legacies such as the creation of Section on Business Law and Section on Legal Practice, the innovation of stamp and seal and the mandatory Continuing Legal Education for Lawyers are products of that executive. The Association was a force to reckon with in the affairs of the Association of professional Bodies of Nigeria. That was the level the Bar was operating at that time. Very vocal and proactive.
Let me also recall that between 1987 and 1992, during the heavy days of military dictatorship, the Association stood tall to check the excesses of military dictatorship. It fought against disobedience of Court orders and Judgments and sustained arguments for the defense and protection of Rule of Law and fundamental rights. It fought Decree 2 which was used to detain and imprison people at the whims and caprices of the military government. The presidency of Mrs. Pricilla Kuye was very instructive and decisive on this point.
Another very important point is that at anytime I hear there is a crisis in any branch, I am always willing to promote settlement and reconciliation. I believe that in unity we stand and divided we fall. If we are divided among ourselves, we cannot serve the profession and the Nation properly. I have always believed that we can make the Nation better but we must make the NBA better first. Regrettably, some of the forces responsible for the lack of sustained progress and development of the Country have also crept into the profession. The worship of money is becoming the order of the day. The idea that everybody has a price, so, find out the price, pay and get what you want is becoming the order of the day. If this continues, I am afraid for the future of the Association. Anywhere in the world the Body of Lawyers in any country must be able to make concrete and constructive suggestions to government including proffering alternative policies on issues on maintenance of law and order, obedience to principles of Rule of Law and democracy. This is because we are the only ones that are trained in that path.
If the society must run well, the lawyers must be the guard and watch out to condemn when there is need to and commend when someone is doing well and offer alternative suggestion when ideas are not going on properly. For me, my attempt at running in the election is premised on the fact that if I have the privilege of leading the Association, I believe I will make impact not only in the profession but also in the Nation through the instrumentality of the profession.
DNL L&S: You spoke about having interest in ensuring that there is no dispute in NBA branches, however, recently, the NBA Ikeja branch had a crisis which led to the EFCC storming their monthly meeting to make an arrest. Presently two past chairmen are being prosecuted over alleged financial misappropriation. You are a member of that branch and one of those who are alleged to have sponsored the petition to EFCC. How do you react to that sir?
Dele Adesina: Before I answer this question, permit me to make one or two calls. I have just right in your presence made calls to Mr. Ogunlana, one of the Chairmen involved in the case and Mr. Dare Akande, the leader of the group to ask if I, Dele Adesina was among those who petitioned the two Chairmen to the EFCC. I am sure you heard the two of them saying No. One thing that baffles me and which I have ultimately learnt to live with is why people manufacture rumours or why people can just deliberately lie against the person of Dele Adesina. Maybe because they feel that by mentioning that name alone, people will listen to what they have to say. Even when I am far away, my name is always near to many. Perhaps this is because I happen to be a past General Secretary of the NBA, one of the highest National offices of the Association who is still active in the affairs and activities of the branch and so I am seen as the face of the branch. Other past General Secretaries before me from the branch had either relocated or late. Regarding this case, if anybody told you that I was one of the petitioners, the person has not only lied against me, he has lied against God. The truth is that I was not and no senior member of Ikeja branch was a party to the petition. I was not aware of the petition like many senior members until the matter had gotten out of hand. This is because for several months many seniors were no longer attending the branch meetings. So, we didn’t know anything until after the EFCC had stormed the monthly meeting I think of March 2019 to make an arrest.
After the arrest, I got calls from senior members of the Bar asking about what was happening in the branch and because I also did not know, I had to tell them to give me time to find out. I invited the Chairman to my office and asked what brought about the problem. He narrated that he set up 2 Committees on finance and insurance of the branch and the Committees indicted the two past Chairmen who are being prosecuted. He said specifically that a member died in the branch and when they tried to process his insurance payment of about N1m, they discovered that the branch did not pay premium to the insurance company and as a result the insurance policy was canceled. Meanwhile, the branch was collecting premium dues from the members including the deceased.
That this led to two or three members including the personal friend of the deceased to send a petition to the EFCC. That it wasn’t the branch that petitioned the EFCC. He explained further that Mr. Adesina Ogunlana had earlier been arrested and released on bail and that the EFCC came when Mr. Yinka Farounbi was not honouring their invitation. I told the Chairman immediately that they did not handle the issue well. Some of those who called me and some other leaders of the branch were Chief Lanre Ogunlese SAN and Chief Niyi Akintola SAN. I promised them that I will get the elders to address the problem.
The Elders have always timeously intervened at any period of crisis and I think we have had quite a great dose particularly on branch elections. For instance I still recall that when the same Yinka Farounbi and Monday Ubani contested for the chairmanship of the branch and Ubani was elected, Yinka went to court. Ubani went to Chief Olisa Agbakoba SAN to get him to defend him and Chief Agbakoba asked him, “is Dele Adesina not there? Go and meet him. He will sort it out.”. Olisa later called me and I told him that he should not worry that we would resolve whatever the issues are.
I waded into the matter with other leaders. I went to court without robbing and pleaded with the Court to adjourn the matter and allow me and other elders of the branch to seek out of court settlement and the judge obliged. That was how the issue was finally settled by appealing to Yinka Farounbi to wait and allow Monday Ubani to run his tenure. Yinka later succeeded Monday Ubani as Chairman. The same problem reared its head again when Mr. Ogunlana and the present chairman Mr. Dele Oloke contested. It was a tedious time trying to resolve the protracted crisis that followed the election.
Coming back to the prosecution, what I did immediately was to assure concerned phone callers that leaders will intervene. I believe leadership is all about resolving problems. So, I called the Leaders meeting which was held in my office on 8th of March 2019 and I must say that the meeting was well attended. Seven Senior Advocates were present with past Chairmen and the present Chairman of the branch. Lasisi SAN being the most senior SAN from the branch presided over the meeting. I remember I said to them in my opening remarks that I am the convener of the meeting over the branch problem but that I did not have the slightest idea or suggestion about how to go about solving the problem. That one thing I want to impress on the meeting is that we must find solution to the problem. That it is embarrassing for every one of us that law enforcement agents had to storm the branch meeting to make an arrest. That much more embarrassing is the allegation that officials of EFCC were mal-handled.
Some leaders were indeed very angry and their positions were that if people have burnt their fingers with the money of the branch, they should suffer the consequences. Others were of the view that people owe it a duty to render account for their stewardship. That the two gentlemen made a serious mistake of not honouring the invitation of the branch Committees that investigated the accounts. At the end of the day, the elders resolved that steps must be taken to as it were, apologize to the officials of the EFCC and secure the release of Mr. Farounbi who was then in EFCC custody. That the branch chairman should send copies of the Committee’s report to the two past chairmen who were directed to forward their responses to the Committees and that the Committees final report should be sent to the branch auditors and whatever is found to have been misappropriated should be refunded. Thereafter, the petitioners will be appealed to, to withdraw their petition.
Consequent upon this meeting, Mr. P.O Lasisi SAN, myself and the branch chairman Mr. Dele Oloke paid a visit to the office of the EFCC at Ikoyi where we held meetings to apologize to the concerned officials allegedly assaulted and to seek for the release of Mr. Farounbi on bail. This eventually led to his release. The elders were still on this process when we heard that the matter had been charged to court.
I have gone as far as suggesting at one of the branch meetings that the branch should find a way of sourcing for fund to pay the family of the deceased and others who legitimately have a claim on the insurance policy. Unfortunately, this suggestion did not go down well with members who believed that the failure of the executive to remit the money which led to the cancellation of the policy was wrong and that the past chairman should bear full responsibility for this wrong. This is the position of the branch. There was nothing the elders could do. Indeed, the elders did not want their efforts to be mis-construed as covering or condoning fraud. All efforts to call further meeting did not succeed.
I must add that some were even accusing the Elders of trying to shield the two gentlemen from rendering accounts to the branch which is not true.
DNL L&S: If it wasn’t law, what would have been Dele Adesina SAN’s profession?
Dele Adesina: If it wasn’t law, I don’t know what it would have been. Honestly, I didn’t give myself any option. I was inspired very early in my life to be a Lawyer. I followed my father to a court back then in Ado Ekiti, I think when I was rounding up my primary school or my early period in secondary school. There I had my first encounter with Lawyers. I was fascinated by what I saw as a very young boy. I admired the wig and the gown they put on. On enquiry, I was also told that it was the Lawyers that brought the big cars I saw at the car park. The appearance was a big source of inspiration to me to want to be like them in future. I was so committed to this initial determination that when I got to class three at the secondary school, and we were to choose subjects, I had to ask from my class teacher to tell me the subjects that will afford me the opportunity to read law which she did.
DNL L&S: Who or what have been your inspiration in life and career?
Dele Adesina: I have several mentors both directly and indirectly who have impacted very positively in my life and who have been sources of inspiration to me. Bishop David Oyedepo, the presiding Bishop of the Living Faith Church is my spiritual father and he has made tremendous impact on my life. Through him and his teachings, I have a deep understanding that with God nothing is impossible. That is to say that everything is possible with God. Through him I realized that success in life is not a magic but a product of calculated planning, dogged pursuit of that plan with diligence, passion and without reservation recognizing that every miracle is a product of partnership between God and man. Also a very significant mentor is Prince Julius Adelusi Adeluyi in so many respects and areas of life such as self discipline, integrity, ability to carry oneself with self consciousness and confidence without being proud or arrogant.
In the profession, I have quite a number of mentors, some of who never knew me directly. In this category are Chief GOK Ajayi SAN of blessed memory from whom I also cultivated the act of carrying myself with dignity and candor. In Aare Afe Babalola SAN and Chief Wole Olanipekun SAN both of whom are my first contacts from Ekiti State, I learnt the virtue of hard work, resilience and a never give up mentality. In Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN I learnt the act of dedication to client’s case and aggressive advocacy. Once we have decided to accept a brief, we give it all commitment and dedication to the course of the client within the limit allowed by the profession. I tapped into the culture of impeccable appearance from Olisa Agbakoba SAN. I hope that mentioning the names of these gentlemen will not embarrass them. The truth is that they have all contributed to who Dele Adesina is today and I am eternally grateful. I am an embodiment of grace from God and inspiration from many people.
Let me say that the idea of mentoring either directly or indirectly is a very significant growth process. Somebody says that if you have no role model, you will not be able to play your role well. So, identify a role model in your life and build a picture of what you want to be around it. Your picture determines your future.
DNL L&S: How do you relax aside from law?
Do I really relax? I am not sure. We have a table tennis board at the back of the building. Occasionally, we play table tennis after work and sometimes on Saturday. I also enjoy visiting friends on weekends when I do not go to the office. I read non law related books when I want to relax. I am inseparable from the books of Bishop David Oyedepo, Mathew Ashimolowo and John Maxwell leadership series. I try not to take a single law book whenever I travel on vacation. I take mostly motivational and leadership books with me.
Another thing I do when I am not under pressure is to watch movies and you will be surprised that I watch Nollywood movies especially Yoruba films. In Yoruba films, I have learnt tremendous native intelligence, very accurate use of Yoruba idioms, proverbs and philosophies. I don’t watch foreign films at all. I don’t belong to any social club either. I belong to Winners Chapel (club) if I may say so and that is enough for me.
DNL L&S: How many of your children are lawyers?
Dele Adesina: Two of my children are Lawyers. One is the Managing Partner in this Chambers. He is about 11 years at the Bar. The other is an Associate Solicitor in the Chambers of Bello Osagie & Udo Udoma. Both of them have very great potentials and the desire to make a mark.
DNL L&S: What would be your advise to Young lawyers
Dele Adesina: To the young Lawyers, I will like to assure them that the Legal Profession is the best profession in the world. The only learned noble and honourable profession. Notwithstanding the present low esteem which I insist is a product of the wrong perception of the Profession at present. Because of a combination of many factors, including but not limited to this wrong perception, the economy which has led to poor practice atmosphere, the juniors have become victims of a situation they did not create. Notwithstanding, I say that they have a glorious future as long as they have a clear vision of what they want to be in the profession and they are dedicated to this vision and pursue it with single minded determination as if their lives depend on it. With the required discipline, success is assured. Of course, they must also give pride of place for hard work and perseverance. They must also cultivate a big dream for themselves and see success as something tangible that they can feel and hold. God’s word says that “as far as your eyes can see, I have given to you for a possession.” What you expect is what you possess.
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