Thursday, July 16, 2009

L.O. and his advocacy

IN my little sojourn in legal practice, I have come to realise that both among his peers and juniors alike, the initials L.O. are in a way assuming a proportion where reference to L.O. is easily discerned and decoded, like in the case of WS and in the case of FRA.

I have listened to several of his peers of the Silk call him L.O. As if to put a seal of the acceptance of the initials, I have on several occasions, an instance of which was at one of our several appearances in the Election Tribunal, heard the learned President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, in an exchange of pleasantries and banters easily called and referred to him as L.O.

What fascinates me more, other than the universality of the acceptance of his initials, is the level and nature of his advocacy. I used to know him from a distance, he being a lawyer and I, then, a practising Chartered Public Relations person. In 1996, as the Chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations in Oyo State, I thought of doing a piece on him when news filtered out that Emmanuel Chambers had produced the youngest Senior Advocate of Nigeria who made the Silk at the record age of 11 years post-call. I know him better now having appeared with him in several cases especially at the Appellate Courts.

He is the man to beat in the record of the ascension to the prestigious title of Senior Advocate. I once listened to Mallam Yusuf Alli, SAN, at a ceremony in honour of L.O. at the University of Ilorin that it took him (Alli) about five minutes to complete the form for SAN during his time and that only God knows how many days it would now take an applicant for Silk to complete the form taking into consideration the volume and requirements. It stands to reason that the record made by L.O. is the record to beat by any lawyer aspiring to take silk.

His case reminds me of another friend who pioneered 1st Class in Political Science, 31 years after University of Ibadan was founded and chose to lock the door that opens to first class behind him and reluctantly released the key 27 years after he made his own 1st Class. We can only appease L.O. not to keep the key for as long before another SAN can emerge within 11 years post-call appearance.

Meet L.O. in court, and you will be thrilled by advocacy per excellence. His advocacy is such that respects the ethics of the profession. He will never hit below the belt. When he wins he does so in humility and when he loses, he bears it gallantly and with equanimity. Soft spoken and humorous, L.O. will legally bite the adversary and blow cool breeze to mitigate the wound he had wrought. He has superlatively mastered the use of anecdotes to draw home his points and to adumbrate his briefs.

On an occasion after an eloquent adumbration of his brief at the Supreme Court in AMAECHI V. INEC & ORS. (2007) 18 NWLR (PT. 1065) PG. 79, L.O. dazzled the court with his voice and humour. I told him after the sitting that his velvet voice and sense of humour makes him a mould of Uncle Bola Ige, SAN.

Earlier at the Court of Appeal, Abuja in AMAECHI V. INEC & ORS. (2007) 18 NWLR (PT. 1065) PG. 170, he argued the interpretation of Section 34(2) of the Electoral Act, 2006. According to the section, "Any application made pursuant to subsection (1) of the section shall give cogent and verifiable reason." Section 34(1) under reference states that "A political party intending to change any of its candidates for any election shall inform the Commission of such change in writing not later than 60 days to the election."

In justifying the substitution of Amaechi, the candidate who scored the highest votes at the primary election for the 2nd Respondent, Celestine Omehia, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) the 3rd Respondent stated that Amaechi was substituted "in error". INEC, the 1st Respondent in the case and a co-passenger in the same vehicle with PDP, told the court that Amaechi was substituted because he had been indicted. L.O. had a ready response to INEC. He urged the court to discountenance the proposition of INEC because even the PDP the party that substituted Amaechi never pleaded that Amaechi was indicted. According to L.O. "INEC cannot be more catholic than the Pope."

When L.O. is in court, business is business. He does not sacrifice brief on the altar of friendship. During the Ajimobi v. INEC & Ors. at the Oyo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, his bosom friend, Adeniyi Akintola, SAN for the Petitioner while L.O. for Gov. Adebayo Alao-Akala, the 3rd Respondent. Before court sits, you will always see the two friends in a tete-a-tete, but immediately the fireworks start it will be like L.O. never knew Akintola from Adam, a kind of each one to himself, yet, it is public knowledge that the friendship between the two musketeers transcends legal practice and their common physical heights!!!

The versatility of L.O. is acknowledged by no less a person than the erudite retired Hon Justice Moronkeji Onalaja (JCA) when in his autograph in a copy of his book Commentaries From the Bench, he wrote concerning L.O.: "Very erudite and forensic Advocate classically a mould of Hon. Justice Late Thurgood Marshal of the Supreme Court of America." His former Principal, Chief Afe Babalola, SAN wrote at pg. 118 of "Impossibility Made Possible", his autobiography that L.O. is "a highly talented, intelligent and industrious young man who made the record of being the youngest Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 1996 at the age of 37."

There is something I have seen of L.O. I am not sure if there is a precedent. Apart from the culture of kitting his juniors in chambers, L.O. will take a brief and invite other counsel who are not of his Temitope Chambers to join him and materially benefit from same. When next you see a lawyer from Temitope Chambers, mark his/her shirt, blouse, collar, collarette and bib, L.O.'s hand is in the stuff.

Over and above all the attributes hereinbefore mentioned, God has been so gracious to L.O. "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort but on God's mercy." (Romans 9: 15 - 16.) And I am sure there will be a corresponding reference in the Koran.

It is very clear that this scriptural statement is already established in LO's life, not for being SAN, not for comfort, not for fame, not for versatility but for his humility. It is an endowment of God's mercy to be high and yet keep one's head in humility. He is enormously endowed with humility and this has blinded him to all his superlative achievements. You cannot trace pride in any form to L.O. I personally tasted and experienced his humility severally.

An occasion: The dateline was Owerri, 2007 and the Suit was Araraume v. Ohakim at the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal. I had the privilege of accompanying him as his junior from Ibadan. We were in our suite and ready for court in the morning, L.O. had a small bag which I felt as the junior should be carried by me, behold, he bluntly refused to surrender the bag. Though I am older, fact is that the profession of law emphasises age at the bar and not at the cradle.

Today, L.O., Lateef Olasunkanmi Fagbemi, SAN, our LO, the Ijagbo Prince, the Lord has been kind to you to enable you see your golden anniversary. Keep on doing good things. May the Almighty God continue to grant you good health in His grace and in long life. Happy 50th Birthday.