LAW HISTORY SERIES DECEMBER EDITION — FAMILY DYNASTIES IN THE NIGERIAN LEGAL PROFESSION
Happy new month ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to another monthly edition of Law History Series which is aimed at promoting and unearthing the history, unknown facts and celebrating the heroes of our beloved legal profession.
In this edition, we will be discussing the families who have metamorphosed into dynasties in the Nigeria legal profession due to the fact that members of these families have made a name for themselves in the legal profession.
FREDRICK ROTIMI ALADE WILLIAMS FAMILY
The former patriarch of the F.R.A family was the late Chief Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams, QC, SAN was the first lawyer alongside Graham Douglas to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). His father and uncle were both lawyers and were called to the Bar in 1927 and 1892.
Despite being given a full scholarship to study mechanical engineering at Yaba Higher College, he chose to become a lawyer. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in 1942 and was called to the Bar at the Gray’s Inn, London in 1943. He set up the first indigenous Nigerian law firm in 1948 with Chief Remilekun Fani-Kayode and Chief Bode Thomas. The law firm was called “Thomas, Williams, and Kayode.”His eldest son Chief Ladi Williams is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the same goes for his grandchildren who are also lawyers.
In a 2013 interview with The Nation, Chief Ladi William said: “When I was called to the inner bar, it was indeed the first time in the legal history of Nigeria that father (Chief Williams) and son who are SANs would appear in court together. Thereafter, my two children started following me to court as teenagers whenever they came home on vacation. They are qualified now. My eldest child is about 15 or 16 years at the Bar and my son is about 12 years at the Bar. It has been a family tradition.”
The Awolowo family has also produced four generations of lawyers which started with the legendary Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the former premier of the old western region, who reached the zenith of legal advocacy when he was conferred with the title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 1978. His shoes didn’t seem too big to fill for his son, Olusegun, who followed in his steps and bagged a Law degree at Cambridge University, England. He was called to Bar in 1962.
But, Olusegun Awolowo died in a car crash at the age of 25 during Chief Awolowo’s turbulent period when he was undergoing a trial after being charged with treason. But not even Segun’s death at 25, could break the Awolowo family legal chain.
Segun Awolowo before he died had a son who also named Segun, followed in his grandfather’s and father’s steps and extended that legal dynasty into the third generation: Segun Jnr graduated with an LLB degree from the Ogun State University (now Olabisi Onabanjo University), Ago Iwoye. His son and Chief Awolowo’s great-grandson, Oluwasegun, has extended their legal dynasty by one more generation, making it four generations of lawyers. Oluwasegun, a Law graduate of the University of Warwick, England, is the fourth in the family to become a lawyer.
The Sofolas are one of the most respected families in the legal profession as they have been able to produce four Senior Advocates of Nigeria within their family. One of them is Chief Idowu Sofola, SAN, who was born on September 29, 1934, and died on March 23, 2018. Another legal luminary in the Sofola family is Kehinde Sofola, he was called to the English bar in 1954. He also graduated with his L.L.B in 1954. He was enrolled as a legal practitioner in Nigeria, in 1954. He achieved distinction at the bar and was conferred with the rank of a SAN in 1978. Another legal luminary is Kayode Sofola, a SAN and former chairman of United Bank for Africa. Kayode Sofola SAN is a renowned commercial litigator and a tax specialist with a reputation for being an adviser to advisers.
The last Senior Advocate in the family is Olusina Sofola, SAN, who is the principal of the firm. He graduated from the University of Buckingham, United Kingdom. He has distinguished himself in the practice of law across diverse areas, culminating in his being appointed Notary Public in 1995 and being awarded the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2010. Another prominent member of the family is a judge of the Lagos State High Court, Hon. Justice Yetunde Pinheiro (married to prominent Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Kemi Pinheiro, SAN).
The Kutigi family are what I will call a “family of judges”, prominent among them are Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, who was born on December 31, 1939, and died on October 21, 2018. He was Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Niger State before becoming a high court judge. Justice Kutigi joined the Supreme Court in 1992 and served as Chief Justice from January 30, 2007, until December 30, 2009, having reached the retirement age of 70. His son, Justice Mohammed Idris, is a judge of the Court of Appeal.
In 1955, Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, son of the then Alake of Abeokuta, Oba Ladapo Ademola, was appointed Chief Justice for Western Nigeria, thus, becoming the first Nigerian head of the judiciary in the country. Three years later, he became the first Chief Justice of the entire Federation. The CJF handed the baton to his eldest son, Adenekan Ademola, who became a judge of the High Court in 1970. Five years later, he became a member of the Court of Appeal. He was on the Court of Appeal Bench till 1991. The third generation of judges in line in the family emerged with the appointment of Adeniyi Ademola as a judge of the Federal High Court.
The legal dynasty of the family of a former Judge of the Lagos High Court, the late Justice James Oladipo Williams is yet to be replicated in the country. Justice Williams was appointed to the Bench on June 1, 1975, he retired on May 22, 1987, and died on February 14, 1998. Barely five years after his demise, two of his daughters, Ayotunde Phillips and Funmilayo Atilade, became judges of the Lagos State High Court in February 1994 and July 1996. Justice Phillips was sworn in as Chief Judge on June 14, 2012. When she retired on July 26, 2014, she handed over to the next in line in the state’s judicial hierarchy – her younger sister Justice Atilade. Justice Atilade was in office from August 20, 2014, till September 24, 2017.
Former NBA President Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) is undisputedly one of Nigeria‘s foremost legal icons. He became the youngest recipient of the SAN rank at that time in 1991 at the age of 40 years. Four of his children are lawyers, with two being SANs. They are Bode Olanipekun SAN, Mrs. Tope Adesina, Mrs. Busola Araromi, and Dr. Dapo Olanipekun, SAN.
Chief Remilekun Adetokunboh Fani-Kayode Q.C., S.A.N, was a leading nationalist, elder-statesman, lawyer, and politician. His father, Victor Adedapo Kayode, studied Law at Cambridge University and went on to become a prominent lawyer and later a judge.
Remilekun Fani-Kayode went to Cambridge University (Downing College) in 1941, after which he did the British Bar examinations in which he came tops in his year in the whole of the British Commonwealth. He was called to The British Bar at Middle Temple in 1945 and he went on to be appointed Queens Counsel (Q.C.) in 1960 (he was the third and youngest Nigerian ever to be made Q.C. and later Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in 1977 (he was the third Nigerian to be made a SAN). He set up the first indigenous Nigerian law firm in 1948 with Chief Williams and Chief Thomas. In 1970, he established another law firm Fani-Kayode and Sowemimo with his old friend and partner Chief Sobo Sowemimo, SAN. His son Femi Fani-Kayode is also a lawyer.
The first person that comes to mind whenever the name Agbakoba is mentioned is Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN). But the rights activist and maritime law guru is not the genesis of his family’s legal history. Agbakoba comes from a family of lawyers, especially from maternal folks, so he was already familiar with the courts and its environment at a very tender age.
“The story is such that I was familiar with the court even when I was three years old. My father, Godfrey Charles Ubaka Agbakoba, was the first Chief Judge of old Anambra State,” Agbakoba said in an interview.
He is married to Mrs. Lillian, also a lawyer and head of Beverly & Sam Properties, with three children and grandchildren.
The Sowemimo family is also a notable family in the legal profession and prominent among them is Justice George Sodeinde Sowemimo (November 8, 1920, to November 29, 1997) who received a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the University of Bristol in 1948 and also trained at Middle Temple for one year before he returned to Nigeria to set up his law firm. He was appointed a magistrate in 1951 and later became a Chief Magistrate in 1956, he was elevated to the position of judge in the High Court of Lagos in 1961. In 1972, he was appointed a justice of the Supreme Court. After several years of service in the judiciary, he was appointed Chief Justice of Nigeria in 1983, to succeed the late Justice Atanda Fatai Williams. Sowemimo retired in 1985 having attained the statutory retirement age of 65. His son, Seyi Sowemimo is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
Another family worthy of mention is the Abiru family of Ikorodu. It has produced two generations of judges, the first being the late Justice Mubashir Abiru, who was appointed to the High Court of Lagos State Bench on April 1, 1983. Prior to his appointment Abiru was a Senator in the second republic between 1979 and 1983. When the military took over from the civilian administration, he went into private law practice until his appointment to the Bench on April 1, 1983. He retired as a judge in 1985. His son, Habeeb Adewale Abiru, has taken after him as a jurist. He was appointed a judge of the State High Court on May 24, 2001, and he has been elevated to the Court of Appeal Bench.
The Aliyus are one of the most notable families of lawyers in northern Nigeria. They have been able to produce two Senior Advocate of Nigeria ìn persons of late Aliyu Umar SAN, who was a criminal Law guru during his lifetime, and Dr. Nasiru Aliyu SAN. Aside from that, the current Attorney General of Jigawa State in the person of Barrister Musa Adamu Aliyu is a member of the family. Justice Hussaina Adamu Aliyu of the Kano State High Court is also a member of the family.
There are also close to thirty lawyers who are from the family and they’re lawyers too!
We have come to the end of the Law History Series for this year and I wished to thank our readers for taking their time to read and digest our stories. Your positive feedbacks and criticisms have assisted us in stepping up our game. I’m wishing everyone a prosperous 2021!!
About the Author
Toheeb Mustapha Babalola is a student of the Faculty of Law, Bayero University, Kano. He is interested in advocacy, academic writing, legal writing and activism. You can reach him via email:email@example.com or contact/WhatsApp:08106244073