Folabi Kuti SAN: Commemorating an Ascendance to the Inner Bar

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By Lekan Alabi

“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upwards in the night.” –  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

The above evergreen admonition of the 18th Century American poet and educator, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is very apt in describing the jurisprudential journey of the man of the moment, and his legal stardom. I call him ‘Juris’ (jurisprudence because of the depth of his legal knowledge and immense ability to cite the latest decisions of legal issues of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the apex courts of other jurisdictions). 

This legal giant among giants was born into the family of Aruna Olusoga Kuti, a school principal in his lifetime, and Madam Olaide Latifat Kuti, a matron and transnational textile dealer in her time. He is from Sagamu, in the old Remo Division of the present day Ogun State. By my interpretation of the economic ladder, he was born into a middle class family. Yes, there was a middle class in Nigeria before the siege of neoliberal economic policies by the ruling elite in the last four decades, which consequently widened the gulf between the extremely rich but few and the extremely poor but many. The economic reality of the Nigerian people has thrown up serious resistance from the downtrodden and non-state actors in the recent time. Indeed there was a country!

“Bi a ti se wa ye pe a o ri be e naa la a ri (“man is the master of his destiny”, according to an Ifa oracular statement). The man being celebrated today designed his path to achieve today’s result very early in life; and as he once said: “Dad did not have money – just a sack of books/knowledge with which he nonetheless made food and other provisions available”. As far as I know, Folabi cherishes intellectualism in any area of knowledge. He reads widely, speaks eloquently and writes profoundly.

Truly, Folabi really burnt candles at both ends to attain his professional status today. The prediction of an eminent jurist and outstanding advocate has become a reality within a period of two decades. My lord, Honourable Justice Bendict Bakwaph Kanyip, president, National Industrial Court of Nigeria, curiously and incessantly enquired from the man of the moment that: Folabi what is delaying your elevation to the Inner Bar.” Equally, the much respected Idowu Sofola Esq. SAN (may Allah be pleased with his soul) was a man who saw tomorrow when he authoritatively declared that Folabi would make a  great advocate.

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As far back as the year 2015, I was of the conviction that in no distant future, Folabi would be conferred with the rank of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Some of the following instances, among others, made my belief of the current event. In 2015, I was relaxing at the Officers’ Mess, Ikeja Cantonment after a court marshal proceeding with my ideological soul mate, Mike Kebonko Esq., when Folabi called and informed me that they (himself and other legal minds) just finished reviewing the judgments of the following cases I handled before Honourable Justcie Bendict Bakwaph KanyipSuit No. NICN/LA/624/2015: Irikefe Odiriverere Patience V. Global Fleet Oil & Gas Limited and Suit No. NICN/LA/625/2015: Adenekan Titilola Adejoke V. Global Fleet Oil & Gas Limited. I did not attach any importance to the cases, except the moral victory of the oppressed employees of Global Fleet Oil & Gas Limited. However, he drew my attention to a new ground breaking in the National Industrial Court on March 28, 2017, when my lord courageously declared:

It is hereby declared that the failure of the defendant to remit the mandatory contribution to the claimant’s Pension Manager (LEADWAY PENSURE PFA LIMITED) from the year 2009 to the year 2013 is a violation of the provisions of sections 11(7), 89 & 90 of the Pension Reform Act 2004

And the Honourable Court ordered that:

The defendant shall remit all the outstanding mandatory contributions belonging to the claimant to Leadway Pensure PFA Limited. 

Folabi pointed out the uniqueness of the judgment of the honourable Court in the two cases regarding the reliefs relating to pension granted. In all honesty, I did not see it that way before he drew my attention to it.

Also in 2015, at a Chinese Restaurant in Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos, I was having a rendezvous with Toyin Owodunni Esq., Tayo Anuodo Esq., Folabi Kuti Esq., while hosting our colleague, Gboyaga Okunniga Esq., who came in from the United Kingdom. Tayo set the ball rolling by saying that it was his wish that our OAU Alumni Class 2000 should produce Senior Advocates of Nigeria. Responding to the wish of TayoFolabi innocently said that he received court judgments in the United Kingdom immediately they were delivered. Not only did he read the judgments, he equally reviewed them. There and then, I concluded that Folabi had really covered a lot in his jurisprudential journey to greatness.

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Now that he has been conferred with the honour of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in recognition of his distinction at the Bar, despite the thorny path in his professional career, may I ask from our learned senior, what are our expectations from the Juris?

It gladdens my heart that he has a legal relationship with the remnants of the hitherto radical Nigerian Labour Congress. It is my humble view that he will expound the law to arrive at a welfarist state prescribed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) for the Nigerian people. 

Now that the current rulers have unapologetically and unpretentiously hugged the directive of Bretton Woods Institutions to remove the so called subsidy from unavoidable petroleum products, are we expecting the ‘Juris’ to be on the streets with the workers, like the late socialist thinkers and advocates, Alao Aka-Bashorun Esq. and Bamidele Aturu Esq. who were historically relevant in the workers’ struggles, in and out of the courts? Are we expecting a gentleman approach and dignity of the Inner Bar in his intervention in serious economic issues pertaining to workers, who have been consumed, according to Adebayo William’s description that, “mainstreaming is nothing but a buccaneer’s ethos, a shameless appropriation of the national patrimony by a privileged few.”

Folabi Kuti’s elevation comes at a time when the Nigerian state is fragile, delicate and insecure. Are we expecting a radical or liberal approach from the Inner Bar to make a genuine legal input to solve teething social political problems that refuse to vanish from our daily life?

As he enters the Inner Bar, is he going to align himself with the frontal position of the nouveau riche that the Inner Bar is full for now and no elevation should be carried out by the Privileges Committee or is he for the school of thought that says that the sky is wide enough for birds to flock?

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As a legal hybrid who combines international exposure with local practice, what is going to be his position on our privileged seniors who challenge electoral malpractices in State A and make a 360 degree u-turn by defending the same electoral malpractices in State B? Do we call this conduct legal dynamism or economic opportunism? Is the law still certain in relation to embarrassing and conflicting judgments in our appellate courts, particularly on electoral matters?

As Folabi gets elevated to the Inner Bar, I am of unshakable belief that he has the knowledge, courage, character, principle, intellect and resources to add value to the Inner Bar for the betterment of our legal education. The quality of the Bench, most of the time, is a reflection of the quality of the Bar; it is against this background that he is urged to assist courts, irrespective of the side he represents in attaining the quality of judges, as stated by Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 2014 Edition thus:

“A Judge is a pillar in the entire justice system and the public expects highest and irreproachable conduct from anyone performing a judicial function. Judges must endeavour for the utmost standard of integrity in both their professional and personal lives. They should be knowledgeable about the law, willing to undertake in-depth legal research and able to write decisions that are clear logical and cogent. Their judgment should be sound and they should be able to make informed decisions that will stand up to close scrutiny. Judges should be fair and open minded devoid of any kind of political fervour”     

My Learned Senior, it is on this note that I thank Almighty God for His blessing on your life. The Almighty God and Mama Kuti have proved you wrong when you held that, “I wear my humble background as a badge of honour. Father, a school Principal and breadwinner, died in 1993. I was just about starting Year 1, Law in OAU. As he was being lowered, I remembered uttering words to the effect that ‘my Lord is gone forever. The world has ended’. Now his world has just begun; this is a new dawn, learned senior.

Lekan Alabi is a legal practitioner and consultant.

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