By Toheeb Mustapha Babalola.

Happy new month, ladies and gentlemen. I welcome you to the year 2021 and another monthly edition of the 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 two women of high repute who did the impossible in the history of the Nigerian judiciary. There is this saying that what a man can do, a woman can do better! Never in the history of this country has been the record I am about to share today.

Even though we have seen male judges who have children that happened to also be in the judiciary, we have not seen a situation whereby two siblings from the same parents succeed each other as the Chief Justice of a state. This was the status quo until the two legal amazons broke the feat in 2014 as Justice Ayotunde Phillips, the then Chief Justice of Lagos State, was succeeded by her younger sister Justice Funmilayo Atilade. This was a feat that, up till now, no one has been able to replicate. We will be looking at the brief profile of these two amazing women. It is to be noted that these women were fathered by Justice James Williams, and they became judges of the Lagos State High Court in February 1994 and July 1996.

Justice Ayotunde Phillips was born in London in 1949, and she was a graduate of the University of Lagos. She started her career at Kehinde Sofola’s Chambers in November 1975 and joined the services of the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation as a Legal Officer in 1976 and rose to the position of Legal Adviser in 1990, the same year she got a transfer to the Ministry of Justice where she became a High Court Judge in 1994.  she was appointed as the Chief Judge of Lagos by former governor Babatunde Fashola before she retired in 2014. In 2016, she was confirmed as the Chairman of the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC), and later on, she was appointed to serve in FIFA. What a perfect career!

Now moving on to her younger sister Justice Funmilayo Olajumoke Atilade, who was also a former Chief Justice of Lagos State. She was born on the 24th of September 1952, and she was a graduate of the University of Lagos. Justice Funmilayo was the principal legal officer at the Nigerian Ports Authority from September 1979 till December 1981, where she was engaged in legal drafting and litigation. She was senior\chief magistrate, Lagos State Judiciary from 1982 till 1996, where she adjudicated over mostly criminal cases, land tenancy cases, and prison visits. She later became a High Court Judge at the Lagos State Judiciary, where she supervised judges in her district and assigned cases to them. Still, in that capacity, she adjudicated over cases and headed the general civil division. She did this from January 1982 till when she was made the Chief Justice of Lagos State in 2014, her time in office witnessed so many remarkable improvements and changes, which has cemented the Lagos State Judiciary place as the best in the country.

Honestly, the tale of these two valiant sisters should serve as a subtle reminder that women should never be relegated to the sidelines on the basis of their gender as they are capable of doing wonders in whatever work or discipline they are in. I hope our future generation, especially the female gender, get inspired by these two women and other valiant women like Chief Folake Solanke SAN, Funke Adekoya SAN and hold on to the principle that they can be whatever they want to be if they work and pray towards it. I wish to thank our readers who have consistently been following these series, and I wish everyone a prosperous 2021.


Toheeb Mustapha Babalola is a Pupil of Law, a content creator, a blogger & a student of Faculty of Law, Bayero University, Kano. He is the Founder of Lex Updates Publications, a Deputy Coordinator, North West Zone, MIPLG. He is interested in advocacy, academic writing, legal writing/history, activism and a  plethora of positivism. To reach him, or contact/whatsapp:08106244073.

  3. Justice Funmilayo Atilade: Treading the Path of Worthy Family Merits to the Seats of Honour by Kemi Ajumobi
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