I’m Elated I’m Not Conferred Posthumously-Oyewo SAN-Designate


I’m Elated I’m Not Conferred Posthumously-Oyewo SAN-Designate

Professor Ajagbe Toriola Oyewo, a nonagenarian, is a man of many parts: a legal practitioner, university lecturer and local government administrator. He was called to the London (Lincoln’s Inn) Bar in 1962 and the Nigerian Bar in 1963. Some 58 years after, he is one of the 72 lawyers elevated to the Silk rank by the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee (LPPC) for 2021. The Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)-Designate speaks with DAPO FALADE of the Newscoven.ng on his fulfilments and other issues.

How did you feel becoming a SAN- Designate at a very old age?

When you have been looking for something and you didn’t relent until you get it, once you receive it, you will be very happy. I am very elated and happy. The honour coming to me at this age shows two things: One, God does not forget His people. Two, that if you tried once and you didn’t succeed, try and try and don’t give up, for as long as you are alive. This is because God knows what He has in stock for you.


I am very happy that, if history is written today or tomorrow, it would be written that there was once an aged man, a man who has made a distinction in his field of study as a professor, and now a man who has been conferred with that prestigious title of a SAN. So, I am happy; I am very happy and I thank God that the title is not given posthumously. I will take the title myself by the special grace of God.

You are a man of many parts, how far has the journey been, as a lawyer and an academic?

Well, I remember the 16th day of July, 1962 when I was called to the London Bar, Lincoln’s Inn. I was very happy and I said I will climb to the hill. Then, on 11 January, 1963, I was called to the Nigerian Bar; where you are called there, you will be called here too. By that time, there were a lot of riots going on; lots of criminal cases and election cases and I said I want to be a lawyer and that I must be a lawyer.

You have reached the peak of your career, both as a teacher and as a legal practitioner. Which one did you find more fulfilling between being a professor and being a SAN?

They are both good, but it depends on from what aspect you look at it. I rose to the position of a Chair, that is, Professor of Law. I thank God for that, but I am coming back to the world to do my business. I will not stay there for long. I came back to do my duty and my duty is honourable; my profession is honourable.

In the court, unless you are elevated to my status now, you will sit down among the crowd of lawyers, not withstanding your age; your grey hairs will mean nothing to them. But now, with my old age, and as a SAN, can I be sitting down with all these boys again? Any court that I attend now, I will be in the first row.

If there is any case going on, no matter what years you have reached in the Bar, I, Professor A Toriola Oyewo, will mention my case first. I will not waste time in the court. As a SAN, you are more assessible when you give an opinion, you help to develop the Law. Those virtues are more alluring to me and more fulfilling; ‘SAN, what do you have to say?’

All my clothes, I have about three gowns, are of no use to me now. I am going to buy another one. I don’t know how much, but I know it is Silk and I admire it very well. I have been praying that I want to be using the Silk when I had the money. But now, well, I will try my best.

You were a member of the House of Representatives, representing Lagelu South Federal Constituency. How did you see legislative business then and now?

Well, I hope and I think seriously that God will be with Nigeria. In those days when I was there, in fact, I was the chairman of the Local Government and Legislative List Committee 18 at the Constituent Assembly, Abuja in 1988-1989. I was working night and day to ensure, as far as I am concerned, what and how the local government system should look like. I was concerned with how to improve the local government?

Incidentally, some of our proposals are still there. Some were taken; some were kept on the fences, still waiting there until the Doom’s Day. But the most important thing is that they agreed that so many existing local governments should be created, as we suggested and they created them. But the bulk of the local governments, what they should do, they have not been able to do it.

Do you think the legislative arm of government, as we have it now, is doing enough to promote and entrench true democracy in Nigeria?

Democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people. I will ask you, to what extent has the present government in Nigeria been able to fulfill that? If your answer is yes, that they have been able to fulfill that, then we thank them. But if your answer is negative, it means that you are comparing them with the little we were able to do in the past.

I have been saying it that the whole polity is corrupt and, for as long as that hydra-headed monster, called corruption, remains with us, Nigeria will not move forward. I am not a politician; I am an academician per excellence and a lawyer recently elevated to the honourable position of a SAN. I know that to whom much is given, much is expected. We shall do our best. But until the hydra-headed monster called corruption is taken out, there will not be a better Nigeria.

The local government is the closest tier of government to the people, but they are not feeling its impact. As a former local government administrator, what did you think is accountable for this?

One, what is responsible for all these is that we are flouting the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution where you have the governor of a state choosing the chairmen and the people to run the local government. When you have the money meant for the working of the local government being directed by the governor of a state, what would now happen? When you see a local government being run by the state government, what do you have? Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and unto God what belongs to Him.

Now, the Constitution of Nigeria says that for the local government, the local government administrator should be democratically elected. Where is democracy when it is the governor that is choosing those to run the local government? And, don’t forget, that the mouth does not usually bite the finger that feeds it.

What do you think of that local government where it is the governor of a state who choose all the personnel there? They will not be responsible or responsive to the wishes and aspirations of the people, but much more dependent upon and honour the man who is giving them food. We love food everywhere in Nigeria and we must be loyal, not to the people, but to the man who is providing the food.

And then, from that perspective, the man who provides the food encroaches, even on your assignment as a local government personnel. He is putting up markets, like we have in the case of the New Gbagi Market. The state government put up the market, whereas there is a local government chairman in that local government area at that time who should be responsible for that market. The money they are deriving from there should not be for the state government but the local government…

But the state government built the market and, expectedly, it must have some returns for its investment…

The local government can build the market; it is the function of the local government to build it. It is not the duty of the governor or the state government to build the market. Local government can borrow money, as the state government can and it should be allowed it to run. That New Gbagi Market should have been for Egbeda Local Government Area and it should have serve as a major source of revenue for the local government. There are a lot of things that the state government does but which are primarily the duties of the local government.

Given what you just said, don’t you think the local government has outlived its usefulness and should be scrapped, as suggested in some quarters?

They should not scrap the local government, otherwise you would be giving a lot of works to the state government and the state government will do nothing. They will only worsen the situation. If you scrap the local government, who will work for the state government at Saki? Who will be working for them at the other remote parts of the state? Who is who in the Nigerian government?

We must have a patriotic and participatory democracy, not a vindictive politics and not taking people by surprise, as they are doing now. They are just there to eat and when they finished, that is all.