Hon. Justice Babasola Opeoluwa OGUNADE trained as a Teacher at St. Andrew’s College, Oyo. He later read law at the University of London and graduated in 1970. In 1972, he was enrolled as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and thereafter commenced his career as a Legal Practitioner, first as an associate and later partner in the Law Firm of S. M. Olakunri & CoHe practiced as a lawyer until December 1991 when he was appointed a Judge of the High Court of Ogun State. He retired in November 2001. In the course of his career as a High Court Judge, he was one of the Judges whose Courts were designated as anti-corruption courts by the I.C.P.C.
He was an active member of the Nigeria Bar Association and also a member of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association. Apart from being a successful legal practitioner, Justice Ogunade is the Chancellor of the Diocese of Lagos West, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). He is also the chairman of the House of Laity of the Church of Nigeria.
Justice Ogunade was for many years a member of the Ogun State Law Reporting Committee both when he was a Legal Practitioner and as a Judge of the High Court of Ogun State. But he is more known for his service in God’s vineyard. He was actively involved in the establishment of Ajayi Crowther University. In this interview with Church Times, Ogunade bares his mind on life at 80.
Were you looking forward to getting to 80?
I was not. The Bible makes us understand that God knew us before we were born. The Psalmist tells us that God has written everything about us in His palms. When we were created, He didn’t give us the testimonial that as you are going, this is what you are going to be. But he knew how long we would live. He knew where we would be born, who would give birth to us, and the date of our birth. So it is wishful thinking to say one would live up to a certain age. You can say by God’s grace I hope I’ll live to a ripe old age. God is gracious. His words are yea and amen. Nobody changes it. The time He has given to us is like a lease to us. So the number of years he chooses to give us to live here on earth our prayer should be that we can live it in peace and quietness. And that He will give us the strength and the wherewithal to be able to do it. That has been my focus all the time.
Right from growing up till now, can you recall any near-death experience?
In the year 1955, I fell ill, I was 19 and I remember that because of an event that happened which I got to know later. In any case, I didn’t think it was anything, and the way my father used to look at things if you were sick, he had no other answer he would take you to the hospital.
Was your father well educated?
No, he educated himself to the extent that he was able to read and write personally and he knew enough to be a Sunday school teacher. It was the old Sunday school of those days which took place in the afternoon. He was old enough to do that but I think for his exposure, he just believed that when you are sick, go to the hospital. When he saw my condition he took me to the hospital. I was given an injection. When I got home the injection triggered off something in me. It was smallpox I had; which couldn’t have been treated with injection. I think they used to use calamine lotion and the rest. If they had diagnosed it well it would have been that. I didn’t even know what was going on around me but it took about two months before I started getting better.
After that one, I couldn’t think of any apart from all other hazards in the course of practicing the law profession. All the threats of death while I was on the bench meant nothing to me. But in October last year, I almost got involved in an accident that would have claimed my life. But God delivered me and those in the vehicle miraculously.
What is your philosophy about life and life after death?
It’s not more than what I have told you. I didn’t create myself, God created me; He is the one who will plan what I’m going to be. I’ll go on and on and when he says stop, I stop. I have no choice in the matter.
Have you ever had any cause to doubt the Supreme Being?
I have never had any cause to doubt Him. I have always had this belief in God. That’s my upbringing; it’s the upbringing of all of us in the family because our parents didn’t teach us anything else. We needed to go to Bible lessons and prayers.
Let’s talk about your career. You studied Law.
Again, I will tell you this. A friend encouraged me to come to England. I had thought I would end up being a teacher here in Nigeria. The truth is that I didn’t choose to be a lawyer by my own free will. When I got to the UK I wanted to do something technical. But he pleaded with me not to waste my time on the sciences. He then said to me, “I believe you can read law. Why don’t you do Art subjects and go and register for law.” I just believed him because he was the same person who urged me to come to England. So I registered for three A-level subjects in the Arts. I did well at the A/Levels and opted for Law
But did you have any inkling about the law when you were young?
When I was young I used to know the interpreter of High Court Judge. The interpreter stayed in our house. We saw how the judges dressed. Occasionally in Lagos, I would go to where Tinubu Square is now. There used to be a court there, that’s where you had the old Supreme Court of those days. I read of court cases in the papers but was never interested in studying law. It was my friend who stirred the interest in me.
Q Growing up we used to hear that you have to join a cult to be a successful lawyer. Were you tempted to join a cult?
I didn’t believe that I had to join a cult to be a successful lawyer. Not that I didn’t hear people say things like that. I was told and even was forced to go into it but because from the very beginning I had trusted in God it was difficult for anybody to lure me into any cult. The more reason I did not believe it is because of the way the cult people go about their trade in the UK. There was a year in London when the Freemasons did a documentary. It is not as secret as it is here. They did a documentary and told of the beginning of Freemasonry and they relayed what the cult is all about. While in college I didn’t know the person sitting down beside me, an elderly man was a mason. He wasn’t just a mason, he was also a Rosicrucian. During our free time he would engage me in some details I knew little about.
But when I returned to Nigeria, I was told there is no way one can make a success of a profession if one does not have some kind of backers. One of my uncles told me pointedly that I was wasting my time if I was not into freemasonry. I told him I was not going to join any such group. He was a Christian even a lay reader, representing his Church in Synod for many years. They used to pray in his house early morning and evening. His children were trained to recite the Psalms off hand. That’s the training he gave them but he was a Freemason. He pleaded with me to come and join the Freemasons and that there were top lawyers and justices in the Freemasons. But I declined.
One day he asked me to drive him to a function. I knew something was going to happen. So I wore a casual Shirt and I wore slippers. I drove him and his friend. We got to the place it turned out to be the temple of the Freemasons. They entered into an enclosed place and asked me to wait in the car that they would send for me later.
Rather than wait in the car, I stepped out to meet some friends around that area. I later went back to pick up this uncle of mine only to discover that they had been looking for me. The people who told me they were looking for me thought I was his driver. I later saw him. He was so furious; he said “What kind of thing is this? I have prepared a place for you. Many of them knew you. They were ready for you”. I said sir, when you asked me to bring you; you never told me what I was coming to do. You simply asked me to drive you down why are you angry with me? Then one of them who happened to be my cousin said I should be allowed to make up my mind about joining the cult. We didn’t leave the place until 8 p.m. I took them back but we didn’t talk in the vehicle. When we got to his house he gave me a room. But I knew they could also initiate me spiritually.
I then started praying in my mind. I told his children not to lock the door. I took my car from there and drove back to Lagos that night.
When he came out in the morning he couldn’t find me. I had been told I only needed to be somewhere close for me to be initiated. I had to take off. No one talked to me again about joining a cult group. Some lawyer friends occasionally try to talk me into joining. But I have always resisted the temptation. Fortunately, I do not even belong to any social club. I used to go to Country Club when my elder cousin was still alive but I was never a member because I had some other things that occupied my time.
So what are you losing for not belonging to any cult?
Nothing, because I know what God has not ordained will not happen. It is when you pay attention to evil that you are scared; I don’t need any other protection apart from God’s protection
Can you recall the first case you handled as a lawyer?
I wouldn’t remember because I started practicing from a well-established chamber. The early partners I was told were among the first indigenous partners. The late Ladoke Akintola, Chris Ogunbajo, and Michael Adesanya came together to set up a chamber. They defended Soyinka in those early days and many other cases. There was no money but if there was any case the senior practitioners didn’t handle I was given the opportunity to handle them. They did not hide anything from me. I was hardly 2 years in practice when I had to face Chief Rotimi Williams (one of Nigeria’s earliest Lawyers) in the court. The one you called plaintiff, called Claimants now was a very high justice of the Supreme Court, and that eminent Lawyer was his lawyer and the case had to do with the first Chief Registrar of Nigeria. Everybody knew that we were in trouble. I took the case and made appearances in court. I was so happy with myself. After we finished on the first day in court the witness parted me at the back. I did well. They examined my notes at the chambers and encouraged me to continue with the case. It was another lawyer that came the following day from the plaintiff’s end. I knew him, he was so sound. In the end, we lost the case but I was happy. It was that case that opened my eyes that if you are going to court you have to be ready for any eventuality.
You’re a Christian and also a lawyer, a retired judge of the high court. Were there issues that contended with your faith?
I went to legal practice to practice law. I was lucky enough to attend a lot of lectures given by Lord Denin. He was so fond of giving talks to students and he always related his experiences as a lawyer. He had his First class in Mathematics in Oxford before he went to read law. So he said when he started practice, as far as he was concerned you bring your case, he will look for the law that suits your case and if there is law he will make a presentation and decide to create a precedent so it doesn’t matter whether the case is morally right or morally wrong.
He would say bring the money, brief me, and I’ll look for the law. There is a legal maxim that says when there is a right there is a remedy. If it was a criminal case, the story I’ll always tell them is that the lawyer is like a doctor. If you go to a doctor you have a headache or migraine but you only tell him you don’t know what’s wrong with your stomach. He will examine you and give you a drug for your stomach; you will go away with your headache because you didn’t tell him about your headache. I always tell my client you have to tell me the whole story, no half-truth because if you don’t tell me the whole truth and I get to court and start asking questions that will favour the other man you have yourself to blame. If you have truly stolen, I will tell you to say it at the court. I will plead with the judge or the magistrate to be lenient with you and he will be lenient. Invariably if you don’t tell me the truth and you allow witnesses to go on and the judge finds out you are lying, he will give you the full length of the judgment.
Were there cases that were legally okay but morally not, that you presided over?
I was not a judge of moral issue and moral is not for the court. The court is for justice. There was a time when a murder case was brought before me. Some witnesses confirmed that the person committed murder. Now the main evidence that would have linked that man with the murder was from one of the people that were there. He said the man had come to warn them in the school before that if the children came to the farm they would see what would happen to them. The man went to the farm and saw them plucking his oranges and he fired at them. The headmaster was there and he talked about it. The man admitted that he fired the gun but when he fired he didn’t know they were human beings that they looked like antelopes and the farm was thick and it was dark. He said it was when they shouted that he knew he had killed a person.
He admitted that he fired the gun but he didn’t have the intention to kill. In a murder case, the onus lies on the lawyers of those who brought the case to establish that the murder was premeditated. If two people were fighting and they settled but the other person went home to take a knife and killed the person he was fighting with, it is a murder case. But if it is not premeditated it cannot be murder.
But the question is: Should the man who killed be allowed to go home? It’s like driving a car and a child dashed across the road and he is knocked down. The driver can’t be charged with murder, if the child presumed you ought to apply breaks, and you didn’t, it’s not murder but manslaughter. Before a judge can convict anybody he has to look at the circumstances.
Were there cases where the person in the dock was your relative?
What oath did I take? I took an oath to do justice to all manner of people irrespective of kin, tribe, religion, or sex. I had one such case. But I didn’t allow it to get to court. My court is the only High Court judge in Ijebu Igbo and the case they were litigating happened to be a land that is my family land. There is no other judge to whom I could pass it. I wondered why they were fighting over it. The whole land they were fighting on would not be up to a room. They made efforts to meet me. I called the two of them involved in the case because as a judge you can persuade people to settle. So I called the plaintiff, do you know this man he said yes he was born in my presence. I asked if the land he was fighting over was the land he bought; he said it was a family land.
I said so the man in contention with you was born in your presence and you are fighting over the land. I asked them to draft the terms of the settlement and bring it to me. They left and they later did a letter of settlement and I did a judgment on the terms of the settlement. If I had to do the case I’ll do it. If any of them was wrong then he was wrong.
There was a case about judges recently, about harassment of judges by the DSS, what is your perspective?
My perspective is simple, newspapers published it. I wasn’t there. It is the DSS who went there and said they found money in the homes of some judges. The judges themselves said they were being harassed. They said they were being victimized because their judgements did not favour the government. I don’t have the facts, I don’t comment on things I don’t know. But I know that the legal profession is sacred. If you pervert the course of justice, it is there in the Bible, you will account for it.
People say lawyers are liars?
No lawyer is a liar. Lawyers only represent the people in the court and they act on what they have been told by their client. If he has gone to court that this thing is so and so; it is because his client told him so. No lawyer on his own would lie. The lawyer acts on the information from his client. It is up to the man sitting at judgment to see whether the lawyer is true to life or not. He is the one to adjudicate later. However, the lawyer handling the case should be able to ascertain the truth of what is in the matter. A lawyer can find a way around the case of his clients if he knows that the case is a bad one. He can plead with the judge on behalf of his clients. I did it in my practice so many times. Even as a judge, you can tell two people to go and settle out of court.
You are a judge but there is a greater Judge above to whom you give account if not here you’ll do it there above and this is a Judge to whom there is no advocacy or appeal and He would give you adequate judgement according to what you deserve.
Were there cases where people have tried to induce you with money? How did you handle it?
I resisted it. I told them it was not necessary. I was paid to do the job why should I take their money? I knew what I was earning.
Do they come after judgment to say thank you?
No, no. I watch out for such. When I deliver judgement and it is in favour of one of the parties, I have only done what I was paid to do and I have satisfied my conscience. If I have done my bit and you are not satisfied, you can appeal. The whole point is this, if you go on to collect bribes or gratis there is a tendency for you to subvert justice. Whether before or after, I resisted such temptation.
When we lost our house to fire, we lost everything. My wife lost more, I was in Ijebu Igbo so I had a few clothes with me but my books, scarlet gown, and her side, everything, her small business of aso oke went with the fire. The fire was mysterious because people said it was coming from the air-conditioner in one of the rooms. But there was no NEPA light. It was a traumatic period. The salary of a judge was so small, it could not build a room, and judges were poorly paid. Fortunately, we had a ground floor, and we had a tenant there. I had to ask the tenant to go so we could occupy the place. But by the time I came from Ijebu Igbo, there were three young men whom I thought I had assisted while in practice. The three of them now came to the house; one of them was my wife’s relative. They quickly called an architect and asked him to redesign, demolish, buy blocks, and start building. Quite a number of our friends and relations came and started building; people came and asked what they could do. I told them God was assisting us. I turned down the money offered.
Recently a retired priest sent a text message to me and said some time ago, your house caught fire and the PCC of my church wanted to support you and you rejected it outright. I didn’t want anything to reflect in the church account that they would say it was for me. And God assisted us within three months the house was rebuilt. There was no way I could stop those whom God used.
But don’t let me claim perfection. Unknowingly, some might have crept in but as far as we know, we didn’t allow anyone to take advantage of the incident to offer us money that would not make us free again
Have you ever delivered a death sentence?
They also have taken someone’s life. The soul that sinneth shall die. He who kills by the sword also shall die by the sword. Unfortunately, I had to do that. Four young people got such judgment from me. Their lawyers fought hard, despite all the evidence because it was a murder case. It had to go through appeal stages. It went to the appeal court at Ibadan, they threw it out. It went to the Supreme Court they still did not win.
Let us talk about your involvement with the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion especially your involvement in the creation of the diocese of Lagos West.
Before the creation of Lagos West, there was a committee called GOK Ajayi Committee. The Bishop then was thinking Lagos Diocese was too large for him and that more dioceses should be created
The committee recommended four dioceses. But the diocesan board approved one. We all felt the second one was Lagos Mainland but the issue was the cathedral. There was a question of where the Cathedral would be. St Jude’s Ebute Metta or St. Paul’s Idioro. St Jude had always been designated but Idi Oro said they didn’t have a Cathedral they were building so they approved Lagos West and made a recommendation. The then primate, The Most Revd. Abiodun Adetiloye conceded and the synod agreed for Lagos West. I was then the assistant registrar of the Diocese of Lagos. I was from Agege and Baba Adetiloye always called me chancellor for Awori. When Synod had approved, Baba Adetiloye came with his Crozier and called me and said when the diocese was about to be created, he handed me the Crozier to present to the Bishop to be announced for the diocese. I didn’t see it to mean anything but people saw it as symbolic.
What are the lessons you have learnt since being the chancellor of Lagos West?
In my position, I come close to many priests. It’s sad to say that even among the Clergy, there are so many things they are not aware of. So a good number of them will do things that do not align with the laws governing the church. The training as a clergyman because you are not trained as a priest. But when it comes to the organization, in which we all operate, it is written in English. Even at Synod, I announce openly that the constitution is not made by me. There are lots of complaints among the clergy and the laity because there are people who don’t know the rules and regulations of the church. Often, the clergy forgets their ordination oath and that is the reason at times, they are at loggerheads with the congregation and sometimes with the Bishop. God has put priests in charge. We should defer to them as our fathers in the Lord. But they are called to serve. They are shepherds. Jesus called himself the true shepherd. He washed the feet of his disciples. He said I have not come to be served; he said he was called to serve. When you see a priest saying I’m in charge he is abrogating to himself power belonging to God. If he tells me by the grace of God I’m the priest in this church I cannot question it but if a priest should defile the constitution and say we want to spend N100,000, the treasurer writes a cheque and the committee didn’t give the power to spend, he has exceeded his limit and authority. That is why the Constitution is there to guide all of us but often some priests set aside the Constitution which is quite unfortunate. But by and large, I think we have many wonderful priests in the Church of Nigeria.