Hardly any female Lawyer in Nigeria, can rival her monumental accomplishments. First female Attorney-General of Lagos State, First Chairlady, Body of Benchers, First female General Secretary, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), first female President and first female member of Rotary Club Lagos. Mrs Hairat Aderinsola Balogun OON remains a beacon of optimism, for all Nigerian Lawyers, both male and female. As she turns 80 on Sunday, October 10th, 2021, she spoke with Onikepo Braithwaite and Jude Igbanoi on the secret of her youthfulness and chain of successes, and her views on the legal profession, and the nation generally
O n behalf of all the members of our profession, we wish you a Happy 80th birthday Ma. 80 and still looking svelte and healthy. Kindly, share some of your health tips with us
Looking good and healthy is mostly a proportion of God’s grace. Also, eating sensibly good food including fruits, vegetables and drinking plenty of water.
For those of us who are female, you are a shining example to us – an example of a woman being able to achieve whatever she sets her mind to, in what is considered to be a man’s world. Thank you Ma. You are First female AG of Lagos State, First Chairlady, Body of Benchers, First female General Secretary, NBA and first female President & first female member of Rotary Club Lagos. How were you able to achieve all these firsts, especially in a world that, at the time, was not that woman-achiever friendly?
I don’t think I deliberately set out to be a first in any of those positions except as General Secretary of the Bar, because that was an elective post and I just felt that having held a successful World Commonwealth Conference, I had the trappings of someone who would succeed as a Secretary of the NBA so I put my name up for election. As a matter of fact, six of us contested, myself and five men. Four of the men withdrew, and the choice was left between one man and myself, and I was elected. Of the other appointments referred to, the first was political which was as the Attorney-General of Lagos State, and Chairman of the Body of Benchers came about from a nomination by the late great Chief F.R.A. Williams and the Body elected me Chair. These were appointments/functions for good behaviour and hard work.
With regard to the First female Member and President of the Rotary Club. Again the Club is the oldest in District 9110 Nigeria, and never had a female member since 1960. I was asked to join, and notwithstanding the long prejudice of exclusion of women as members of that Club, I believe that the Club wanted to carry out a resolution of admission of women in a resounding manner.
After 38 years of your emergence as the first female General Secretary of the NBA, last year Nigerian Lawyers elected another female General Secretary. How did it make you feel? Is it an indication that there is gender bias in the legal profession, and that things may be changing for the better?
We have had female officers in senior positions in the NBA, Treasurer, as a 3rd Vice President which was by election. I do not have the records of how many women sought out for election as General Secretary after me. I do not think enough women Lawyers put themselves up for election as General Secretary. Of course, when our present General Secretary came to inform me that she would vie for the post of General Secretary, I was very delighted and gave her a few suggestions.
Spending over five decades at the Bar is not a privilege easily available to many in any profession. What is the secret of your staying power and consistency in remaining active in practice? What is the difference between law practice in your earlier days as a legal practitioner and today? Were some of the ills which seem to be plaguing us now, in existence then, that is, corruption in the profession, poor remuneration for judicial officers, forum shopping, conflicting court orders from courts of concurrent jurisdiction, slow pace of justice administration, overcrowding of prisons etc? What can be done to change this negative narrative?
I think, number one, you have to be interested in your profession as a choice that you have made, not because your father wanted it. Staying power is to be interested in being a Lawyer, so that you transform yourself into the role in every way. You follow the Rules of Ethics closely, and focus on every detail.
Earlier on, people were more interested in the service to the community, than just having a reputation as a Lawyer. Now most people are in it for the profit, not so much for the service but as a passport to other opportunities in the high echelon of society.
Well, in every profession there will be some bad eggs and law is no exception, but, definitely, as corruption has risen high in the country so has it has pervaded the legal profession. I agree that judicial officers should have a higher and better welfare standard of remuneration, because they should be fully committed to their work since they cannot delve into private practice. The high incidence of judicial dissatisfaction and conflicting court orders etc, may be due to lack of correct training BEFORE appointment.
I believe that Judges should be rigorously trained and undergo examinations before they are appointed, so that they understand the essence of case management, necessity to control their staff and coordinate with regard to overcrowding; there should be liaison between the Court and the Prison. A lot of reforms are required to address these issues.
Some are of the view that the Supreme Court is overburdened; that it is not a question of appointing more Justices to the Apex Court, but that there are many appeals, some of which should not lie to the Supreme Court. Take for example election petitions, that we should revert to the time when only the Presidential election petitions went to the Supreme Court, and all election matters should terminate at the Court of Appeal. What are your views on this?
They can only appoint the number of Judges as specified under the Law, so they cannot appoint more or less than stipulated. I agree that election petitions should stop at the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court should also review its own administration of its cases. Judges in both the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court are not business like; for instance, Lawyers appearing before these courts do not keep to the rules of engagement when their appeals are being heard, and the Justices look on and ignore them and the necessity to control their proceedings with firmness.
You were Chairman Body of Benchers and a Life Bencher. There have been concerns about the quality of new wigs admitted into the profession. What can be done to ensure that the best standards are maintained at the Bar? Do you believe that there should be some mandatory pupillage for new wigs? If so, for how many years? Some have even suggested that Law should be a second degree like it is in America. Is the Council of Legal Education admitting too many Lawyers in Nigeria? Now, an average of about 8,000 Lawyers are called to the Bar every year; or do you believe that in a population of over 200 million like ours, the number of Lawyers being churned out is nothing to write home about?
Better standards at the Bar can be maintained, by ensuring that everyone abides by the rules of Admission to the Law School which must be closely followed. I suspect that Admission is becoming a victim of politics.
Sometime ago, it was mandatory that Lawyers should not appear in the Supreme Court unless they have been in practice for at least five years; this was abolished, so I think that there should be compulsory pupilage that is enforced to ensure the right calibre of Lawyers appear in the courts especially. Some Lawyers appear in court a day after Call to the Bar. This is unnecessary and ridiculous. Who trained them in Advocacy?
Legal Education in America, is different from the Nigerian System.
Yes. There are far too many Lawyers admitted to the Bar at every call Ceremony, and this is because the Law School does not keep to their own rules. They must review the system of admitting law graduates to the Law School. The system should be overhauled. The method of admission for law students should be to admit only the number accredited for each University, and this can be addressed by sending of the list of the names from the Universities to the Law School as soon as they commence their University course. Students who have failed the Bar Final Examination should never be twice allowed to remain in the school, but be sent away to try another career. Three or more chances is scandalous and disruptive. They choke up the Lecture Halls.We do not have enough Lawyers for the population, because many of them go to law school for the wrong reasons. They come out of Law School, and go into fashion design and become musicians. and announce that they are Barristers for status symbol.
The ongoing controversy as to whether graduates for the Open University should be admitted into the Law School, is yet to be settled. On which side of the divide are you?
I will never accept that students from Open University should be admitted to Law School, because there are certain nuances that are connected to the course of study at the Law School that are not available to correspondence or part time University. They are half baked Lawyers.
You once held the view that the Nigerian Law School has outlived its usefulness. What is the basis of your opinion?
Yes, because it is no longer a “practice school”. It is no longer focused on the lectures that will qualify them to be practicing Lawyers. Too many subjects in the curriculum. A thoroughly trained Lawyer, only needs to know how to find more information and read.
As we are enter the twilight of the Buhari administration, how would you say the administration has fared vis-a-vis its three main campaign promises – fighting corruption and insurgency, and revamping the economy?
You have said it, he has not kept his campaign promises. My main complaints are, where are the Women? Why are 50% of Nigerians kept out of Government. Why are the Youths and Women Professionals, not put to use?
What are your views on restructuring? Many are saying that the VAT case between the Rivers State and the FIRS and the judgement of the Federal High Court giving the States the power to collect their own VAT, is a step in the right direction to fiscal and true Federalism? Do you agree? Or do you think that the old sharing formula should continue, constitutional or not, in the interest of the States that require that revenue to survive?
I agree that the VAT actions, are commendable. What is the sharing formula? Let every State develop and control its own Resources.
What is your view about States like Kaduna refusing to pay ransom to kidnappers? Do you agree with the campaign by Sheik Gumi, that bandits etc should be granted amnesty?
I agree that Kidnappers should not be encouraged. They are criminals! It is worse than being an accessory to the fact. They are criminals, and they should be so treated.
You have an Award at the Nigeria Law School for best student with disability? Can you tell us how this came about?
The Law School Prize named the “Hairat Balogun Special Prize”, was instituted by me for handicapped graduates of the Nigerian Law School. Those who are blind, crippled or lame, and yet, struggled through and passed the examinations to be Legal Practitioners. I see them as special people. The prize was instituted about 40 years ago. I have always been interested in the handicapped, and I believe that those who became Lawyers are special, hence, the title of the prize.
Can you say something about your involvement with the attempted movement of the Law School from Lagos to Abuja and attempted gifting of the Lagos Law School. This was an act of Military and executive lawlessness, which you have fought in your career?
The Military Government of General Abacha just issued a military order that the Law School at Victoria Island in Lagos should be closed, and students moved to “Abuja” A meeting of the Body of Benchers were given marching orders to relocate the School, which had been specially built with an auditorium to hold 1,200 students and a dining room to hold 450 – 500 students at each Dinner with a Library, offices, conveniences with spacious grounds for a car park. A plot of land was hastily found in Abuja, precisely in Bwari which is about 80 kilometres from the Centre of Abuja.
At the time these marching orders were given, I was the Chairman of the Body of Benchers. We were also informed that the entire Victoria Island premises had been allocated to a Business Magnate for storage of his merchandise, mostly rice, a portion was allocated to the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (which at that time was accommodated within the University of Lagos at Akoka), and also to the International Council of Conciliation.
I was horrified. I called a meeting at the Metropolitan Club (It was the prerogative of the Chairman to choose the venue) and the Quorum meetings was nine according to the Law. I was able to secure attendance of at least 17 members, two Chief Judges, two Attorney-Generals, four very senior Lawyers including late Chief Rotimi Williams QC, SAN, and some others, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and we passed a resolution for court proceedings to restrain the Military Government from total ejection.
I filed a suit and obtained an Interim Injunction against the transfer, and raced to the Law School in my car to serve the Director, Mr. J. K. Jegede who had the keys all marked and was waiting for 10am before allocation of the building to those concerned. I told Mr. Jegede my mission, he looked at those gathered and said “I am a Lawyer, I have to obey the order of Injunction from the Court and cannot hand over any keys to anyone”. He turned, and went back to his office.
The School was under lock and key and students stayed home, and a backlog resulted. General Obasanjo became President, and I had been member of his think tank, so I wrote him a letter to explain that the Bwari Law School was woefully inadequate, we must open the Victoria Island Law School. I was afraid of defeat, so I begged a very stern and principled colleague, then the Chairman of NBA Lagos (now deceased), and without hesitation he followed me to Abuja. General Obasanjo said he would order the school to be opened, because my letter also made a case of a backlog of about 3,000 students. So, we begged that two schools would not solve the bigger problem; General Obasanjo asked how many more schools would be needed, and just approved two more making four – Enugu and Kano. The backlog was eliminated, but another problem arose.
We are aware that you are instrumental to the building of the Body of Benchers Complex in Abuja. How was this project conceived and implemented?
With the increase in States to 36, we had 36 Attorney-Generals and Chief Judges, more Divisions of the Court of Appeal, above more Supreme Court Justices, so we could only accommodate our members in the large Court room of the Supreme Court, and Call Dinners were held in a make shift hall (a large canopy), and the Ceremonies of Call in the Abuja International Conference Centre because the Bwari Law School could no longer accommodate the large number of Graduands.
The Body of Benchers took a decision to build its own hall, to accommodate its Secretariat and all functions of the Body of Benchers – Committee Meetings and Dinning Room, and a 3,000 capacity Auditorium. I was appointed Chairman of the Building Committee. Many of the original members left the Committee, but to the Glory of God, the Benchers Hall is now completed and hopefully to be commissioned before the end of the year.
It was a tough task chairing the Building Committee, but I had to be steadfast, as practicing in the Legal Profession is considered by me as my most valued possession and asset specially endowed on me by the Almighty.
Thank you Ma.