BY HON. NOSA OSEMWENGIE
I HEARD the news of the demise of Mr. Ladi Williams, SAN on Channels Television, Monday evening, October 4, 2021. It sounded unbelievable. His father, Chief F.R.A. Williams, SAN, died 2005 at 85 years.
“Then why Ladi at ‘just’ 74?”, I asked myself. It was a very sad piece of information. I came across Ladi regularly in the premises of Lagos High Court, Igbosere in the mid 1980s. I was working then as a judicial reporter with The Guardian newspapers. He came to the court, most of the time, in the company of his father.
I had the privilege of covering some of the cases Chief F.R.A. Williams handled such as the Fawehinmi v. Akilu case in the Dele Giwa murder saga. I covered that case from the High Court to the Supreme Court. Needless to say that Chief F.R.A. Williams was noted for his extraordinary brilliance, wit and erudition.
His voice in the court was intimidating. Just as his frame. Unlike some lawyers who seek out journalists to give press statements, Chief F.R.A.Williams was himself a news maker. Whenever we (reporters) noticed his limousine in the premises of the Lagos High Court, we knew a big case was in the offing. We sought out the particular court he was appearing in.
Most times Chief F.R.A. Williams came to court with a retinue of lawyers which included his children; Ladi, Folarin (whose appearance in court was announced as F.R.A. Williams Jnr.) and Tokunbo, now SAN. Mr. Babajide Ogundipe, a young brilliant lawyer then, was also often in the team. Whenever Chief F.R.A. Williams was pitched in the opposing side against the late Chief Gani Fawehinmin, as it was in the Fawehinmi v. Akilu case, we knew we were in for interesting session. Chief Fawehinmi also had his retinue of lawyers, which most times, included Mr. Tayo Oyetibo, now SAN; Mr. Dele Awokoya; Mr. Adeleke Sanusi and many others. Whenever there was hot arguments between the two legal giants (Chief Williams and Chief Fawehinmi) and Ladi happened to be in court, Ladi remained unruffled; not betraying his emotions. He was such a perfect gentleman.
One incident occurred, still in that Fawehinmi v. Akilu case, which is still fresh in my memory. Chief Fawehinmi had moved an application which was opposed by Chief Williams.
At the end of the day the court, in its wisdom, granted the application. I filed the story, which I considered to be an innocuous one, with my newspaper, The Guardian Express, an evening tabloid subsidiary of The Guardian group. But the Editor, Mr. Mitchell Obi, picked interest in the story and decided to use it as the lead story for the day with headline “Gani floors Williams!”. The story made me uncomfortable, thinking Chief Williams would come to court the next adjourned date and raise the issue in open court as many lawyers are wont to do in the circumstance. But to my disbelief and relief, the old man did not even give it a thought.
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That was the wisdom of Chief Williams which he bequeathed to his children, including Ladi. It was, therefore, not surprising that Ladi became SAN in 1995 at a fairly young age of 48, which was like a record at that time. I recall there were insinuations, in some quarters, that his father may have influenced his elevation to the rank of SAN. That was unfair insinuation. Ladi was lucky to have been mentored by the legal icon of all times, his father. He was fortunate to work in the ambience of his father’s chambers, which was one of the best in the country at that time. He worked hard and meritoriously earned the rank of SAN. He deserved it.
The puzzle, however, is that some of the lawyers I watched in court, from the press gallery, in those days, the 1980s, who by my assessment were very competent and industrious are still not SANs, even after about 40 years of rigorous law practice. I have in mind the likes of Dele Awokoya, Folarin Williams, Babajide Ogundipe, Dr. (Ms) Tokunbo Sofola who, at one point in time, was a strong pillar in the chambers of her father, the late Chief Kehinde Sofola, SAN. There are many others outside the Lagos Judicial Division that I am not privileged to have met. When you put these older lawyers who have not been lucky to be awarded the SAN rank side by side with some of the younger lawyers who have been made SAN, you begin to get worried.
My humble and respectful suggestion to the appointing authority, Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee, LPPC, is that in scoring the criteria for the award of SAN, seniority at the Bar should be heavily weighted. Similarly, it is difficult to justify the rule that judgments obtained after 10 years cannot be used to support an application for the award of SAN. This, with all due respect, is unfair. Any lawyer who has handled cases particularly at the appellate courts, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, should be allowed to tender the judgments to support application for award of SAN without time limit to the judgments. After all, lawyers still cite old locus classicus such as Madukolu v. Nkemdilim; Macfoy v. UAC, etc., in support of legal arguments. I humbly suggest that this issue should be revisited by the LPPC in the consideration of applications for award of SAN.
Coming back to Ladi, he was not just an SAN but also a perfect family man. I recall one occasion when he came to the premises of Lagos High Court with two young members of his immediate family, a boy and a girl. He later introduced them to journalists who milled around. He said they were his children who were then studying Law. He said he had brought them to court to have a feel of the court environment in Nigeria.
It was obvious that Ladi had started to mentor his children the way he was mentored by his father. Those children must be big people now. My heart goes to them on this inauspicious moment. My condolences also to the entire Chief F.R.A. Williams’ family on the passage of Ladi. May his soul rest in perfect peace. Adieu Ladi Williams, SAN.
Osemwengie, a Member/Judge, Investments & Securities Tribunal, wrote from Abuja