By Hugo Odiogor
Twenty years after her father’s tenure as a chief judge of Lagos State, Mrs. Ayotunde Philips mounted the pinnacle of judiciary of the state referred to as the Centre of Excellence as the 14th Chief Judge in one of the most remarkable manner.
Philips, 63 took over as the 14th CJ following the retirement of Justice Inumidun Akande and will be the second woman to mount the stage in a relay that will see three women sitting in that office in the nearest future. But that is not the story.
The new Chief Judge will administer the judiciary with her blood sister Justice Olufumilayo Olajumoke Atilade , who is her deputy and the Head Judge and next in line to the throne. and became the Acting Chief Judge of Lagos State on June 10, 2012,
The story is that the siblings “rivalry” may have ended or may have began on another level as the two will now rely on each other for support, encouragement, advice, etc.
Obey my command
But the new C.J was not mincing words when she thrilled the crowd of eminent persons at Bero Hall, the venue of the event, by reminding her younger sister “That from now to the next two years, I am your boss, I will not be entertaining arguments from you any more, I will give orders and you will obey them.
The hall erupted into hilarious laughter at the joyful turn of events that two sisters of the same parents are the first and second in command in Lagos State judiciary. Ayotunde was born in London while her father was studying law in the United Kingdom.
She spent the first ten years of her life in London before she returned with her parents to Nigeria. She completed her primary school and proceeded to Queens College, Lagos, where she obtained her School Certificate and higher School Certificate.
From Bilingua secretary to the legal profession
Her initial preference was to be a bilingual secretary, a preference which she secretly confided to her mother, sensing the danger that lie ahead, her mother counseled her to perish the thought because it will enrage her father who has plans for her to study law. This set the stage for her going to the University of Lagos to study law.
This was to mark her odyssey into the legal profession. On her graduation in 1973, Ayotunde proceeded to Enugu in the then East Central State for her mandatory one year National Youth Service programme after which she worked briefly with a private law firm and joined Lagos State Property Development Corporation (LSDPC) and worked with the corporation for 10 years.
She transferred her service to Lagos State Judiciary and the rest is history. Married to the Philips family, Ayotunde is blessed with children and has a rare opportunity to work with somebody who understands her perfectly and will share her vision and passion to end bickering among judges and members of the bar especially those who use the media to criticise judicial decisions.
Mrs. Ayotunde Adeleye Philips did not waste time in outlining her vision to computerise the Lagos State judiciary by making it ICT compliant. Her love for information technology was clearly demonstrated as she read her speech from her iPAD.
She told the distinguished audience that the reforms in the judiciary will continue at a faster pace as she has limited time to serve. She pledged to give primus attention to the welfare of staff in the Lagos State Judiciary, accelerate the pace of work to ensure speedy and efficient delivery of service in Lagos State Judiciary and decongestion of the prisons through the use of non custodian sentences for certain offences.
It was an occasion for the old girls of Queens College to show solidarity with one of their own as they sang the college song. The event attracted the eminent personalities in Lagos and federal judiciary service.
The event was not without an executive gaffe from Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola who refered to judges as your “worship,” when he meant your “Lordship,” but he quickly corrected himself by telling them that if you remember thatI have left the practice for over 14 years, then you will pardon the slip, but he was swift to add, make no mistake about it, my law is sharp.