He breathes the law the way regular folk breathe air. He has done so all his life. His father, Kehinde Sofola (who passed away a few years ago) was one of those who defined the practice of law in Nigeria during those definitive years of the sixties and seventies. Choosing the same profession as such a father is likely to have one or two effects: getting overshadowed or becoming rebellious. The Senior Advocate of Nigeria escaped both; and has clearly and patiently proved his mettle without the proverbial chip on the shoulder.
For a “silver spoon kid”, he is of a firmly conservative disposition. This is written all over him, from the Cartier frames to the Saville Row suits, He also endorses character as the ultimate style, naming Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and the late Tai Solarin as examples.
A particularly noticeable practitioner in the sea of black and white, Kayode Sofola boasts an easy, almost effortless elegance of style that can be easily missed by the unpractised eye, on account of its simplicity.
But then, the world is his playground, meaning he can speak with authority about traffic in Italy or security on a Caribbean island. He rates the Nigerian judiciary in contemporary times high, in spite of “bad eggs”. Though he thinks we have seen better, he explains today’s judiciary is beneficiary of good precedence from the first generation and is definitely not on the level of some banana republics
Conservative and publicity shunning, he is all about family, and refers constantly to his closest relatives: his father, his lovely wife, and his grandson, whose photograph he prominently displays.
On his elegant Ikoyi premises, he takes an easy trip down memory lane with Morenike Taire, and chats about the things which make him tick.
Your decision to read and practice law, how far was it influenced by your father?
He was clever enough not to ask me to read law. But he took me to court when he was doing some really fantastic cases.
Can you recall any such case?
There was a case in Ijebu Ode. Politicians trumped up a witness to the box to testify that he saw them at the night of the incident, with the permission of the judge. They killed some policemen. They came back in as they had been coached . I also witnessed the case for the first minimum wage. Despite that he was very careful not to tell me to read law.
Were you like a rebel?
The earlier part was very tough. He was a strict disciplinarian. All my propensities to be mischievous, rascally and all of that, were very rigorously curtailed at that time. As a lawyer I was doing submissions in which I had to do thorough research by myself. People think that I’m just regurgitating what I had been told in the office. I remember this justice; I’d had a submission and he just reacted immediately and said: “tell your father I disagree with him!” I had no idea what I was going to say in court.
I was going to come to that. I was going to ask, were there times when you were disadvantaged?
We come from a culture where people identify you with the clients you represent. Sometimes you get to court and you find a judge totally contrary. I don’t mind. I know I’ve had advantages for being his son, I must accept the other side.
Do you have any recollection of the famous Awo trial, the one in which he was convicted?
I won’t say I was personally caught up with the particular episode. Anybody who was in Nigeria knew the impact. There were more substantial cases.
You have had the distinct opportunity of seeing the practice of law as an insider in two generations. Can you make comparisons?
I think the previous generation were more likely to behave with a sense of propriety, more ethical, more exposed. Having said that, there are very distinguished professionals in this generation. Our judiciary is one of the best . We have people we can hold up
What is your idea of a good vacation?
A chance to walk around with no care in the world. Be incognito. You keep jumping up and down in Nigeria, you almost actually have no use of your legs. London and Paris. I was taken up by Cancun. It has a lot of very beautiful places, they have security.
Are you a particular dresser?
Yeah, I’m my wife’s tailor’s dummy. She sells fabrics. I’m of the view that every Nigerian woman is a designer. You will tell the sewing mistress or the tailor how to fashion out your garment. Really creative.
What other designers do you like?
Very simple. On the last day of my vacation, that’s when I do my shopping. If I see something I like it, I wear it and it hangs well on me, end of shopping. The top end of the business; the conservatives, Saville Row, you have those who are developed like Knightsbridge. Places you walk into you know that this is the type of place you find the kind of suit or the kind of shirts…
Do you do bespoke?
The bigger shops now have segments where the big designers are located. It used to be just Harrods before but all the major shops, even Marks and Spencer’s have designer stands. If you see the type of style that is your style, you will say to yourself, “I’m done!”
Are you particular about designers?
It doesn’t matter although at the end of the day the better ones have clothes that hang a little bit better. Hugo Boss, and so on. It’s just that a practicing lawyer will deal with a lot of caution.
Do you have a personal style?
You get to a stage where your clothes no longer define you, you get bigger than what you’re wearing. Wole Soyinka does not wear the most expensive clothes, but he’s Wole Soyinka. Tai Solarin would go around in khakis, yet he is Tai Solarin.