Mr. Olatunji Ayanlaja, SAN – The Passing of a Legal Legend

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By George Oguntade, SAN

“When a great Man dies, for years the light he leaves behind him, lies on the paths of men”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I received the shocking news of the passing of Mr. Olatunji Ayanlaja SAN on the morning of Tuesday 26 July 2022 with deep sorrow and regret. I convey my deepest sympathies to his Family, Mr. Bambo Adesanya SAN and colleagues at the law firm of Ayanlaja & Adesanya, and the entire community of Nigerian Legal Practitioners.

The demise of Mr. Ayanlaja signals the passing away of one of Nigeria’s finest forensic legal minds. As a Founding Partner in Odujinrin, Adefulu & Ayanlaja, and later Ayanlaja & Adesanya, Mr. Ayanlaja was a towering figure in Nigerian Litigation Practice for upward of five decades. With a sharp and principled legal mind, Mr. Ayanlaja was a man of strategic action whose vast and encyclopedic knowledge of the law allowed him to deploy all available legal remedies in pursuit of his meticulous and passionate representation of his clients.

I had the privilege and good fortune of working in the firm of Ayanlaja & Adesanya between 1991 and 1993 and witnessed firsthand the amazing and incredible work ethics of Mr. Ayanlaja. It was second to none. This work ethics was underpinned by a dedication to punctuality and sheer industry and diligence. This was indubitably the secret to his great success as an Advocate. His resumption time back then was 7.30am and any lawyer who arrived one minute after for whatever reason was adjudged late to work and was duly reprimanded and sanctioned. Many of us found ourselves on the receiving end of his often sharp and caustic rebukes. I certainly did on a number of occasions. To him, time was truly of the essence for an Advocate as a minute late was a minute lost. Our weekly Friday meetings usually started whenever Mr. Ayanlaja was ready [usually well after 7pm and had no closing time!] Needless to say, it was fruitless for any of us to make any firm arrangements for Friday evening “socials” as everything depended on Mr. Ayanlaja’s busy work schedule. Girlfriends and Boyfriends broke up under the strain of Mr. Ayanlaja’s Friday meetings while parents worried at what type of work could keep their children so late in the office. Regardless of complaints, Mr. Ayanlaja did not bat an eyelid!

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It was crystal clear that his passion and desire to excel was the cornerstone of his successful practice. He was an expert at obtaining Preemptive Remedies having mastered all the principles on the subject. I recall that a foreign textbook on this subject was his constant companion, which he often read as if it was a novel!. It was quite a sight to behold watching him in the library researching legal issues. You will constantly find Mr. Ayanlaja reading Australian, Indian and English Law reports, SIMULTANEOUSLY in order to better articulate an argument he was seeking to make in Court on a point of Nigerian law. His desk was permanently submerged with Law reports and it must have been quite a task for the Librarian to return those Reports back to the rightful position on the shelves on a daily basis.

It is truly remarkable that for a man to whom there did not appear to be enough hours in a day, Mr. Ayanlaja still found time for sartorial elegance in and out of Court. He was always immaculately turned out. In Court, you will hardly find a better dressed lawyer. His waistcoat was always superbly fitted and his bibs and collars always as white as snow. Out of Court, his suits were bespoke and well tailored while his trademark traditional outfits always commanded attention and admiration. Mr. Ayanlaja was a fine gentleman in all respects. The best of the very best.

Mr. Ayanlaja clearly enjoyed the intellectual rigour of law practice and the drama of the craft, confident in the knowledge that he was always well prepared. Despite his prodigious knowledge founded on hard work, Mr. Ayanlaja remained extremely humble and very respectful to both Magistrates and Judges alike. To him, the Institution they represented was sacred and therefore, the judicial officers commanded total deference and obeisance.

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In his later years and after working incredibly hard for decades, Mr. Ayanlaja made a conscious decision to find time to enjoy himself and how truly he deserved to. He travelled to England regularly to relieve the stress of everyday life in Nigeria. In his social moments, he particularly enjoyed PILLASTRO, a rich dark velvety Italian Red Wine and he was always quick and delighted to recommend this beverage on account of its health benefits! I continue to thank him for this recommendation.

I and indeed many of us who had the opportunity to pass through the portals of Ayanlaja & Adesanya owe Mr. Ayanlaja an eternal debt of gratitude for all that he taught us, though it may not have been immediately apparent to us at the time. The various qualities that we imbibed from our association with him, particularly, his attention to punctuality, to the fine details in legal documents and punishing work ethics have indubitably made many of us who we are today and for this, we say a big “THANK YOU” to Mr. Ayanlaja.

The passing of Mr. Ayanlaja has most certainly left a huge void in the Nigerian legal Fraternity as a whole. The Great Titan will be sorely and surely missed.

To the Family of Mr. Ayanlaja, although it is difficult today to see beyond the sorrow, May looking back in Memory of this great man help comfort you tomorrow and beyond. I wish you strength, grace and peace during this very difficult time.

Mr. Olatunji Ayanlaja SAN, my Great Tutor, Mentor and Friend, I bid you Farewell Sir.

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May your Noble Soul Rest in Peace.

George Morounfolu Oguntade SAN
16/08/22

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