My dad attempted to get rid of his twin boys because of community pressure –Idowu Sofola, SAN

My dad attempted to get rid of his twin boys because of community pressure –Idowu Sofola, SAN

Chief Idowu Sofola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who also has one of his sons as a SAN, shares his experiences with ADEOLA BALOGUN and ’NONYE BEN-NWANKWO

Where do you still get the energy from despite having been practising law for 50 years?

I think it is the grace of God that I became a lawyer in the first place and that I’m still in service. I must confess that I am no longer as young and active as I used to be. I have drastically reduced my court appearances. Now, I only go to court occasionally, unlike when I used to go to court every day.

Why did you choose law; was yours a case of a son joining his father’s profession?

Neither my father nor my mother went to school. My father, as a matter of fact, wanted all of us to belong to different professions. My late brother, Kehinde, was to be a lawyer; the boy next to me was to be an engineer and I was to be a doctor. Somehow, when my brother returned from England as a lawyer, I was impressed and influenced by him. Each time I went to court with him, I watched how he handled cases, among other things, and I was unconsciously carried away. In fact, by the time I was going to England, I had not made up my mind on what to do, but later I decided to go for law and thank God, I have no regret. I was actually with the Federal Ministry of Labour as a clerk when it was decided that I would go to England to study law. So, I crossed to the judiciary to pick some practical experience and I became a court registrar. When I got to England, I found out that my short stay in the judiciary became very useful. By the time I came back from England, the magistrate with whom I worked gave me an offer to be a magistrate because he knew the kind of person that I was. He said that I would be made a senior magistrate but I went to him and thanked him. I was also invited on a few occasions to become a judge; in fact, in the last instance that people talked to me about it, I had to leave my chambers to seek guidance. But I got back home about 3 am and was more confused than I was before going out. In the end, I declined. I am happy that I rose to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. I am happy about all the positions I had held in the bar; I am happy that some of my children are lawyers; that one is already a SAN, while the other one is in the judiciary.

The dream of any lawyer is to become a SAN; how did you feel when you attained that status?

Did you know that I did not know that I would become one when I did, because I didn’t apply when people were applying? But somebody from my town, a lawyer, but very junior to me, came to me and said he dreamt that I and Alayomi Sogbesan were made SANs. Sogbesan and I grew up together in Ikenne. I told him that I didn’t apply, but he said I should go ahead and apply, that his dreams always came true. I went to my elder brother to consult with him and I then decided to apply. The Privileges Committee replied to me and said that they thanked me for the application, but they regretted to inform me that my application was late for the year and promised to keep the application for the next selection. I went to show the letter to my brother, who was then a SAN and he wondered why did they did that, after all there was no time limit. At that time, if you applied once and you were not accepted, you did not have to apply again. What you needed to do was to keep updating your record. During our own time, you must have a number of cases in the Supreme Court, the Appeal Court and so on from one particular period to the other. So, when it was time for the next selection, some of the cases that I put in for in the first year were no longer tenable the following year but I kept on updating my record. For some years, they didn’t take me; so one of my colleagues, who applied after me and thought I would have been a SAN long before him suggested that I should see somebody and I replied that I would not go and see anybody. But when it seemed that something must have gone wrong somewhere, I became worried and decided to see someone concerning the matter. I discussed with a member of the Privileges Committee, Michael Agbamuche (he was my good friend). I told him that I needed to ask him something that I should ordinarily not ask him. I told him that I must have offended someone for the committee to have been denying my application despite updating it every year. He said I did not offend anybody; he brought out my file and after checking, he asked why I had not bothered to update my record after the first time that I submitted my application. I told him that I had been updating it, but somehow, it did not reflect. At the end of the day, I got the professional status and I thank God for getting to the peak of my career.

As a young lawyer, were you nervous during your first appearance before a judge?

Of course, one would be nervous but one had to brave it. Apart from God, the other thing that helped me was that I always prepared very well for my cases before I appeared before the judge. If you prepare very well for your cases by reading very well and cross checking facts, you would be in a hurry for the morning to come when you go to bed. But when you are not ready, you would be afraid and subdued. We used to have a judge then, Justice Idowu Conrad Taylor; very hardworking, thorough. If you wanted to go before him and you were not ready, you would be disgraced and he could not be influenced in any way.

Why was it difficult for you and your brother to work together?

Well, I don’t know. Not only that he became a lawyer before me, he was the one that trained me. When I came back, I was in his chambers for about eight years before I set up my own. We were blood brothers from the same father and mother. My mother had 11 children and I am number 11. She had twins three times. By the time she died in 1968, I was six years in the bar and seven of us survived her.

Your parents did not go to school, but they supported their children to be educated…

Yes, especially the males. In those days, things were a bit tough. I talked about twins. In those days, when you had twins in my country home, they would ask you to get rid of one. The first set of twins my mother had were girls and people were worried that one should go. But as my father told me, he said he was not going to touch any of them because he wasn’t sure which one would make it in life. The next set of twins were boys and he was told that there was no way he would not do something about one of them. When the worries were getting too much for him, he said he would take one out. He said he made up his mind one day to bow to their pressure so after my mother had prepared them for bed, he tried to take one of the twins. But as he tried to remove him, the child cried and he dropped him immediately. He tried the second; the same thing happened; then he decided to damn whatever comments anybody made about the children. He said he was not going to get rid of his children. That was how the twins survived.

Are you saying that people in your area still eliminated twins after the advent of Mary Slessor?

I don’t know. Those days when I was born (1934), there was no single hospital in my area. For example, I was born with ear problems, causing white smelly substances to run out of my ears. Because of that, I couldn’t go to school when everybody had enrolled in school. Apart from that running substance, I could not hear well. In fact, people needed to shout very well before I could hear anything when I was growing up. The only hospital that we had then was in Ijebu-Ode, about 65 miles to Ikenne, my town. My mother would carry me in the lorry and people avoided us like plague because of the smelly substances from my ear. At times, she would take one of my father’s caps to cover my entire head; still, the smelly substance would run out. Then, she would remove her head-tie to keep away flies. Anywhere we sat in the vehicle, people would leave the place for us. That was how bad our area was at that time; no maternity, no hospital until later on when they said there was somebody in the neighbouring town that could cure the ear infection and I was taken to him. The man fried coconut oil and he poured it in my ears while people held me down. The stuff eventually burned my ear scalps and they started treating it again. That I could be a person capable of hearing today was a miracle. When I started school in 1945, I was 11 years. One day when I was taking my son to school I told him that I started school at 11 and he said, ‘What nonsense is that; what were you doing at home for 11 years?’ At 11, my mother usually strapped me to her back and whenever my age mates returned from school, she would put me down to play with them, but anytime I was knocked down, she would put me on her lap and give me breast to suck. That was when I was supposed to be in school but my parents were petting me. I thank God that I was able to achieve something in life because the petting was so much.

Just because you were the last born?

Apart from that, they did that because of my ear problems. My father told me this: When I was to start school and he wanted to take me to school, my mother said, ‘Let this boy accompany you to the farm; after all, other male children are already in school and you are old. If anything happens to you in the farm, he can come and tell us.’ But my father said he would not want a situation that I would curse him in future for denying me education. All of us males were well educated, but few of the females got up to Primary Six because in those days, people were not keen in training girls. They said no matter how much you spent on them, they would end up in the kitchen.

When you started school at 11, your mates would have gone very far; how did you cope?

I caught up with some of them. I had the advantage of double promotions a few times, which I was advised not to take then. I was always coming first in the class and this helped me a lot.

Did you go to England on scholarship?

No, my father was responsible. Then, there was only one university in the country, the University of Ibadan, which did not offer law. So, if you wanted to study law, you had to travel abroad. Again, the government then was not thinking of giving scholarship to people to go and study law because they thought that we had a sizeable number of lawyers.

For you to have studied abroad without scholarship, it means your father was rich. What was he doing?

He was a big time farmer. He had a very large farm where he cultivated cocoa, kolanut and more; he employed many hands to work in his farms. In fact, when I was growing up, I knew some people who would claim that they trained me. I would argue with them and remind them that they only worked on my father’s farm and were paid for it.

Why did you return home after your studies in England?

Those days when we went to England, people over there were so sure that Nigerians only came to learn and rush back home. They trusted Nigerians more in those days. Back then, I remember when they said a Nigerian was charged to court for stealing and the judge said there must be a mistake somewhere; that it was not possible for a Nigerian to come and steal in England. At that time, it was ‘go there quickly, learn and come back home.’ We had opportunities after studying abroad. I remember that Segun Awolowo and I were called to bar same day. While he arrived in Nigeria by sea, I came by air. Even now, I still believe there are openings and opportunities for Nigerians. just that it depends on how they go about it.

It appears that you were active in union politics as a lawyer, taking up positions here and even abroad…

When I was a student in England, I was very active and most of my friends were saying it might affect my academic performance. Initially, I was interested in politics because I was a member of the Labour Party when I was in England. But when I came back to Nigeria and saw the way they played politics, I could not cope. Up till now, I have never registered as a member of any political party in Nigeria.

What happens if you are given a political appointment?

Even when I was younger, I had said to myself that the only appointment I could consider was the attorney-general of the federation.

Why do people have the perception that lawyers are liars?

That is ignorance. When someone is charged to court for stealing, for instance, it behooves on the person that took the accused to court to provide all the ingredients to prove the case. The lawyer would not ask his client to lie, but it is the duty of the person making allegation to convince the judge that the person actually stole. I have never sat my client down and told him to tell a lie. I listen to him to see the merits and demerits of the case, listen to the arguments of the opposing side and see a way of puncturing their facts.

Is it true that one must join a cult to be a lawyer?

No. That is a wrong notion. In fact, I am about to write my address at the upcoming call to bar and I am going to address some of these issues. To be a lawyer is not only book knowledge. You may make a first class, second class but that may not necessarily qualify you to be called to the bar. Character is key. You can score anything but in the law school, if your character is nothing, is repulsive or you were found to be a member of a cult, you cannot be called to the bar and there is nothing you can do about it.

Has there been a brief you took and later regretted it?

I remember a case I took in Ode-Remo. The Oba and the entire community took a family called Lekanna to court over a land matter. They wanted a declaration that the land belonged to the Oba, but the Lekanna family disagreed, claiming that their forefathers were the first settlers on the land. The Lekanna family hired my services. The case was very tough and it really tasked me and at a point, I was afraid for my life. One day, I came to court and then I just bought a brand new Opel car but when I was about to go, I tried to start the car engine but it refused to start. A brand new car of about one month! How possible? I was shocked and informed my colleague that the car engine refused to start. He said, ‘Omode lo n se yin, take your car and go.’ And the car started working as if nothing had happened to it. I was so shocked. I was afraid to switch off the car engine even when I stopped over somewhere until I arrived in Lagos. Because of the difficulty of the case, I could not find any lawyer to appear on my behalf and I could not leave it even though the family was not paying me well. The majority of the town people were backed the Oba, and that made it tougher. In fact, for the judgement, I looked for a lawyer to represent me, I couldn’t find one. Eventually, we won but I was not in the court when the judgement was delivered. I read it in the papers. I was even afraid to go to the town because the Oba’s supporters saw me as being against them.

At what point in life did you meet your wife?

The truth is that she was the first lady I ever talked to in my life, but it took us 10 years before we got married. When I first talked to her she said no; she said her father had big plans for her to send her to England to train. Those days, the way we did courtship is not the way you people court these days; there was nothing immoral between us. Along the line, I met other girls here and abroad but none of the relationships worked out until the two of us came back to get married 10 years after we had first met in December 1953. We got married in December 1963.

Are all your children lawyers?

No, two of them are lawyers, while two are in other fields. The last child whom I got from somewhere through no fault of mine and who is getting married presently, read insurance. He made a second class upper division in the University of Lagos.

Did you influence those that are lawyers?

Funny enough, I did not. The one who is now a SAN decided to read law on his own. I wanted his sister to do something else so that everyone in the house would not be lawyers, but I could not stop her. The two of them have masters in law, though the lady is in the judiciary. 


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