BY JUDITH UFFORD, Features Editor
ADETOKUNBO KAYODE, SAN, former Attorney-General of the Federation turned 53 recently. When I encountered him last week, it was a fine opportunity to talk about his last public office and he rose to the occasion.About his life: he is grateful to God.
The reason for this is not far-fetched. Life for him has been one of unmerited favours. Looking back, he has always seen the hand of God directing his affairs and he recalls one particular instance.
“ I didn’t have the privilege of attending a nursery school ( he attended Pedro Primary school, Shomolu, Lagos, which he refers to as a village school), but I was blessed to pass the common entrance examination to CMS Grammar School, Lagos which was the most prestigious secondary school in our time.
One of the criteria for admission was a track event-running competition. My father prayed for God’s intervention at this point because he knew I was more bookish than athletic. But again, God was on my side. This part of the interview was cancelled and we just had oral and visual tests. And I did well in both.”
Life for him just as it is for several Nigerians was not a bed of roses. Many times in secondary school, his parents wouldn’t raise the money to pay his fees. “ I was never able to pay my school fees throughout my stay,” he recalled.
“In fact, I could not collect my school certificate result when others were getting theirs because I was still owing school fees.” When he eventually collected it, money was still a hurdle. Although he did well in the WAEC exams, he lost a year before he would gain admission for his ‘A’ level because of lack of funds.
But he eventually secured admission for his ‘A’ level at the Polytechnic of Ibadan and then went on to the University of Lagos for a degree in Law.
Passion for legal practice
Not long after he was relieved of his Attorney-General’s position, he was back in his chambers dealing with cases again. And I just could not help but ask what drives his passion for legal practice?
“I love legal practice,” he confessed. And why not, he’s been at it for 25 years.
“I practised in every court right from the area court, to the magistrate court, customary court, Sharia court of appeal, High Court, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and all the tribunals, including rent, investment and election tribunals.
I just find legal practice very interesting. It is a matter of interest. If you take an interest in it, you would prosper in it. And it is not as difficult as surgery. In surgery, for instance, you cannot afford to make the slightest mistake, but in law, if you don’t go to court with your authority or you are not well prepared, you could find a way to dance around and get another chance.
In legal practice, you must also have the gift to understand facts of cases because facts are sacred. You must understand the logical sequence of facts that are important/revelant to your case. If you can get your factual picture clear, applying the law is simple.
And a good lawyer is the one who knows where to get the law, not necessarily who has all the laws in his head. A lawyer must also be meticulous.
From the beginning, I was interested in procedure and evidence, and I read my procedure rules like the Bible. I never joked with my evidence acts, even till date because I know that is the foundation for which most cases are built. Evidence is what the court considers, not your erudition.
As a lawyer, you must be able to get the evidence required and to block your opponent from getting his own evidence. And even if he gets his, if yours is heavier or more than his, you win and he loses. And if your evidence and his are equal, the court will null suit, that is, that it cannot give judgment to both sides.
You should also know the procedures for the commencement of your case. Is it by petition, motion or summon? All these are technical details that may look extraneous to the facts of a case or the law, but they go to lay the foundation.”
For one long moment, I thought I was in the class room. He could also make a good lecturer if he dares. Perhaps, this is one aspect of the legal profession he’s not given a thought. As he paused to catch his breath, I cut in. What was it like the day you were named Attorney- General? I asked with a mischevious smile dancing across my lips. Was the sun brighter or did you hear the birds singing?
From his looks, the sun shone brighter.
“That day, it came like a lightning,” he smiled, recalling the moment.
“There was no indication that it would happen. We were in a state of political flux and we knew that some changes could take place. For me, I never expected it to happen that day. So, when it happened, I was numbed. It was like drama and I was just looking at the cast from a distance; in this instance, I was part of the cast.
Mr. President just said there would be some changes and that I would move from the Ministry of Labour and Productivity to the Justice Ministry. Thereafter, we took the national anthem, and everybody took off. Some colleagues then came around to congratulate me.
I think I was quite elated and I really appreciated Mr. President’s vote of confidence. And for the short period I stayed on the job, I think I really appreciated the volume and the quantum of pressure on the Attorney-General. It is a very difficult office, though a prestigious one.
Now, I understand that every lawyer who wants to help our nation’s judicial system and the rule of law must honestly support the Attorney-General. He has a very difficult task. If you think something is not done right or he ought to be doing something, send a memo to him.
It is a very interesting office. It is a very influential office. It is an office where one has to be prayerful and circumspect. It is a very difficult office and demands hard work”.
How has life been since he left the Federal Executive Council?
“I had thought that after the council was dissolved, I would take a vacation, but I could not because my old and new clients started coming to me for cases. So I am back in my chambers. I have always wanted to strengthen my grasp of principles and practices of international commercial arbitration, and that’s what I’m doing now. Presently,I am a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitration and member of several international arbitral bodies.
I need to strengthen myself. So, I have been doing some courses under the International Chamber of Commerce and other relevant bodies. So, life after the Federal Executive Council has been very interesting, and I am a better man.
I have a wider world view and I now understand the pressure of government and some of the challenges facing our nation and can contribute maybe slightly better than I could before my appointment”.
One trend I have observed among public office holders in this country is they never leave the corridors of power. So, it came as a bit of a surprise that he did nothing to get back on the ‘boat’.
“I’m grateful for the four-year period I served this country, ” he said seriously.
“In a population of 150 million people, if you are opportuned to serve for four years, one should be grateful to God and the key persons who made that posting possible. Presently, I’m serving the nation as a Senior Advocate, an international arbitrator, commentator on critical issues affecting the country and as part of the nation-building process, contributing my quota to helping the less-privileged in my community.
Skill acquistion key to unemployed
This is why I believe many good things lie ahead. I want to see how I can help the less-privileged, either in the law profession or in vocational training generally. I’m passionate about vocational training. I want to get people to work because that is the greatest challenge facing the country today.
I’m happy the President has identified this and has keyed into it. He must not let it go until he’s able to get on top of it. Employment is so important. When people are employed, poverty would be minimised and we would begin to have a safer society and the crime rate would be reduced.
We have skill challenges and we must emphasise skill development. This is very important. Irrespective of what our youths have studied in the universities, they must acquire a skill to do or practice anything. So, skill development is very important.
The skill challenge facing the country is equal to the challenge of poverty. There is a huge skill gap in the country. We have graduates, but are they empolyable? We must make our graduates employable. There is also skill mismatch.
That is we produce more Arts graduates than Science. We produce fewer engineers, medical doctors. So, everybody including the Federal government, the National Directorate of Employment should emphasis on skill development.
We talking about farming, where are the skills? And those who have the skills don’t want to work on the farm. So, the government must make farming lucrative, desirable and must enhance skills in this area.
If this is done, the problem of hunger would be solved.It is everybody’s responsibility to be in a position to either employ people or employ him/herself.