Chief Robert Isaac Clarke was born in July 11,1938 to a British father who came to Nigeria in the early 30s as a Civil Engineer working in Jos.

His mother was a Hausa-Fulani from Bauchi. His father named him Isaac while his Muslim mother named his Isa. The 73 year old Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN speaks on his life, challenges and how he was able to overcome seeing that he was just four months when his father died.

I was four months old when my father died and that was when I started my journey as a child. We were four children, two boys and two girls. The eldest sister and I are the only surviving children of my parents.

Clarke

My mother re-married and had three other boys for her new husband. When my father died, she was relatively a young woman so my father’s friends asked her whether she wanted to keep us because my father’s friends were all Europeans. So, she decided she would re-marry. I, being the youngest after sucking her breast came to Lagos and we (my elder sister and I) were adopted by our father’s good friends including late Venerable Arch Deacon Jadesimi, Bishop Kale and that was how we came to Lagos at early ages. I was about six years then and I started school in Lagos at CMS Grammar school in 1948 in the preparatory class. My classmates were the former Head of State, Ernest Shonekan, retired Justice Tajudeen Odunowo of the Federal High Court who is still alive, Akin Disu, owner of Eagles Print, also a lawyer and Odunsi, a lawyer of over fifty years at the bar.

I finished my secondary education in Abeokuta Grammar school because the CMS Grammar stopped its boarding system when they were moving to Bariga. So, I had to move to boarding house school in Abeokuta where I spent two years. I had as my classmates, the present Oba Adedapo Tejuosho, the Isile of Oke-Ona Egbaland, Obasanjo’s elder brother, Doja Adewolu who is alive. I was privilege to be a classmate to late Fela Ransome Kuti, known as Fela Anikulapo Kuti and late Beko Ransome Kuti. I have also Siji Soetan, former Solicitor General of the Federation as classmate. I was privileged to have schooled both in Lagos and Abeokuta, Ogun State and today, most of my classmates from the two schools are my best of friends. It goes to show me that the friends you make from your early life time if they are really genuine would continue to be over the years. We are all still good friends.

When I was a child, I never knew my parents.I started knowing my mother after the age of nine or ten whenever I went on holidays. And I hardly spent quality time with my mother because I wasn’t used to her.

I never lacked anything in my life as a child. Venerable Jadesimi took us as her children so, we never suspected that she wasn’t our mother. And when they were moving to Ijebu-Ode in 1946, we were transferred to Bishop Kale, and we had a very nice time. After a little while, he was transferred and I had to move to the boarding system. So I have been a boarding house student all my years in the school. And I’ve also encouraged all my three children, a boy and two daughters to know the importance of boarding system.

I was in the Ports Authority and served another six years in the chambers of Fani-Kayode and Sowemimo as associate -in- chambers. I set up my private properties in April 1980 but I discovered that the six years I did and the years I was working in Ports Authority like a slave helped me when I started my chambers. I started with only one junior lawyer and today God has blessed me, I have about thirteen lawyers as associates and three partners- in -chambers.

My wife came from a aristocratic family. My father-in-law (late R.O Okodudu) was a lawyer of high repute. He was the first agent- general of Western Nigeria, U.K. By virtue of that appointment, all his children including my wife started their primary school in England. And when I met my wife, she was already my senior at the bar and very sophisticated but God joined us together. We got married in 1978. Although she is a lawyer by profession, she no longer practices law but runs a boutique and fashion store.

Life has been kind to me. And God has been kind to me too. Whatever success I have achieved in my profession is through the grace of God. But, there is one thing to acknowledge, hard-work never kills.

The way you work for people is the same way you will work for yourself.

I have passed through the period of colonialism in Nigeria at my adult age where I can discern what is right or wrong. I have seen Nigeria pass through the period of colonialism, I have seen Nigeria attaining independence in 1960, I have seen the military incursion in Nigeria in 1966. I have seen the return of civilian rule in 1979 and the re-incursion of the military in 1984 and the return of civilian life in 1999. So, I have traversed all these areas in life.

In politics, I can’t say there is a particular event that is giving me a lasting impression, having known the quality of the politicians in 1960, and the first set of politicians from 1979 to 1984. I am ashamed to say today that the quality of politicians has degenerated so low that what we knew as service to the nation no longer exists. Rather, it is service to themselves and their pockets. It is hard to see a single sign of government development. The roads are bad, there is no railway system, no electricity.

You cannot see the functions of government in your life. You can’t see the functions of local governments in local government development areas. But you will see individual Nigerians who are public servants or politicians building mansions thereby making the areas beautiful. My regret is that there is nothing spectacular in the country but a retrogression.

I’ve traveled to America but I never grew up there. My culture is never tinted to that environment so I still believe that Nigeria is my home.

When it comes to my profession, I can say that advocacy is a forensic act. It must be in your blood to be a good advocate. No matter how hard you work as a lawyer, if you don’t have that forensic act in you, it will be good in solicitor’s work but not in advocacy. By the grace of God, I have been privileged to have that forensic act as a gift from God and nature. And what makes a good advocate is to look at the judge and know what stand he has taken on a topic.

If he has taken a different stand, the first thing is to convince him that the stand he has taken is not correct. Then, convince him that your stand is the correct one and thereafter, convince him to change his mind and accept your own. That is what a good advocate portrays.

I was determined to go into Law. I started my career as a private student and did the GCE advance as a private student. I did my Intermediate of the Bachelor of Law, London. During our time, there wasn’t an opportunity for parents who don’t have money to study because no government agency grants scholarship for Law. Right from my youth, I have been a trade unionist because I love to fight for the underprivileged. At the same time, I was reading Law as a private student. I abandoned Law in 1962 when I passed my Intermediate of the Bachelor of Law, London as an external student. I abandoned Law because I became a full time trade unionist. I had a scholarship from the federal government to study Industrial Relations and my classmates in England were trade unionists. So, I abandoned my Law to finish my Industrial Relations in 1967. The day I came back was the day Ojukwu threw a bomb in Lagos in August 1967. So I said I am going back to London but I didn’t go at the end.

What I saw was that some of my colleges with whom I studied together then were coming back to Nigeria as qualified lawyers.

Even though I was the Union General Secretary with late Alh H.P Adebola, in 1969, I decided to go back to finish my Law. At that stage, I was already too old to be a student. I was about thirty-one and some of my friends warned me not to do it because I drink a lot.

But, I was determined, so I handed over all the documents to him and merged his union with mine. And at the end, I got admission into three to four universities. So, I decided to go to Unilag to study Law. My friends opined that I should go to Zaria or Nsukka that I will not concentrate but I went to Unilag for a three -year course.

In my early years, when I got to Lagos in 1944, I did not understand a bit of Yoruba language. My main languages were English (father’s tongue) and Hausa (mother’s tongue). But because of the circumstances, I lost my mother’s tongue. Within a year, I could no longer speak the Hausa language . That was at the age of seven. Within a year, I took over the Yoruba language and today, nobody speaks the Yoruba language better than I do. The way I think now has been Yorubanised but that doesn’t remove the fact that the challenges I encountered were not based on who or where you are. Rather, the challenges were on the limited available resources in the country especially for those of us who are lawyers.

There were no scholarships to read Law and the only three or four universities in Nigeria were offering Law. Before 1960, anyone who wants to read law will have to travel abroad. And when you get there, you have to work hard except the ones from elites family. There were not much money flowing around as it is now. And there was no available institution to study law.

I have been staying in Surulere for over 40 years as a practicing lawyer. This is why many of my friends challenge me. They believe I have money and they believe that I should be staying in either Lekki or Ikoyi. I just find out in life that I don’t like moving about if the environment is conducive.

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