SOLA ADEYEMO writes on life and times of quintessential jurist, Justice Pius Olayiwola Aderemi. The jurist, who retired from the Supreme Court, died Monday, last week in his Ibadan, Oyo State country home at 79. In this encounter, scion of Justice Aderemi law dynasty and United Kingdom-based lawyer, Olakunle, gives an insight into the life and times of his father, who was one of Nigeria’s forthright, incorruptible and quintessential jurist ever to traversed the nation’s jurisprudence
Until his death Monday last week, June 18, Justice Olayiwola Aderemi, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, devoted Catholic, defender of the law, exemplary and incorruptible jurist was a member of the National Judicial Council, the Body of Benchers of Nigeria, and a Papal Knight of St Gregory the Great.
He was one of the very few jurists whose record was intact while on Bench, said his first born, Olakunle, who resides in the United Kingdom, in an encounter with New Telegraph Law in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital at the weekend.
Olakunle had not missed home in the 10 years after they lost their mother about 10 years ago. And two weeks to the passage of his father and judicial icon, Olakunle, who plies his law trade in the United Kingdom, was lucky to be with his father for over a week before he passed on. He said “luckily for me, I saw him that Monday before I left for Lagos.
I left him about 6.30 a.m. with two of my sons being taken back to King’s College. But about 9.40 a.m. my brother called me and said that Daddy had died. I said that cannot be possible because I left him just about two and a half hours ago.
But it dawned on me later that Dad was gone. I came to Nigeria on June 2nd and my Dad was happy to see me because he had not seen me for a whole year. Actually, I slept in his room when I came that evening.
Olakunle had a plethora of his father’s memories. One of them, according to him, was his Polytechnic experience.
‘My Dad didn’t want me to study Mass Communication that I studied. He wanted me to study Law because he was already a lawyer then. I got admission to the University of Ife then to read Law, but I didn’t like it.
I wanted to study Mass Communication at the Ibadan Polytechnic but he didn’t like it. He later referred me to Mr. Felix Adenaike who is his friend to sort me out. Mr. Adenaike said he should allow me to study what I wanted to study and that was how I went to the Ibadan Poly where I read Mass Communication to HND level. I am a trained journalist. But today, I am a lawyer.
I studied Law in the United Kingdom in order to satisfy him. But funny enough, he never knew I studied Law. I never told him till he died. I needed to have a deep knowledge of law because of the nature of work I do which entails contract.
I studied it not mainly to practice but because of my work. We have enough lawyers in the house already. I have a brother who is a lawyer, and a sister who is a Magistrate.
Usually first born and Dad do not always go along, but my Mum was always there to intervene. We quarreled and patched things up till I left for the United Kingdom about 20 years ago. Although he would not want to admit he missed me, he would fly over and visit me, just to say “I just come to see your welfare.’ He was a fantastic man. To him, there are no grey areas: it is either black or white. No in-between. He was very straight forward. He was an honest man and one of integrity.
When Nigeria was 19 States, he had offices in all the 19 states of the country. I knew this when I went for my Youth Service in 1983 in Makurdi, Benue State. He said when I got to Makurdi, I should go to High Level and I would see a block. That I should ask of Mr. Tiwase. My Dad said he handed over the chamber to him when he wanted to go to the Bench. I went there and I introduced myself and lo and behold, he still had his names on the signboard. That was how I got settled for my youth service for one year.
He worked hard; hard work was his passion. You cannot be with him and be a lazy person. I remember when I was writing my School Certificate exams in 1978, I would be at the back of his office at Sango, opposite the Cemetery reading on weekends. We would go to the office by 9.00 a.m. and come back home at 6.00 p.m. He would sit down with me, going through Mathematics with me. He would say ‘you have only one chance in life. Grab it and make use of it. Where you are, other people are desperate to get there’.
He was so workaholic that after court sessions, he would sit down at home, studying till about 2.00 a.m. And by 7.00 a.m., he was up again and off to work. He so much loved hard work and he would always reward it. He would not like you being lazy or tell lies.
You will see the bad side of him if you don’t do well. But he would be the best father to you if you do well. I remember when I finished my school certification examination in 1984 and he said I should be prepared to go to London. I went and stayed there for three months, and he said ‘that is the reward of your doing well’. And that is what he does for all his children. To him, the minimum qualification any of his children must have is Master’s degree because of his background; he was not able to have Master’s degree.
He was a grafter. He grafted himself to study law at the UNILAG; having a first degree then was a luxury. He had to work hard through the ranks to become a successful lawyer. He was a notable land lawyer and had worked with many prominent lawyers like late Chief Rotimi Williams, Chief Afe Babalola. He was a notable land lawyer in those days.
One fascinating thing about him is that he never moved out of Ibadan. He would always tell us that hard work never kills, but laziness sends one to hell. To him it was: ‘if you fail, don’t mention my name; if you mess around, you are not Aderemi. But if you do well and make yourself proud,
I will carry my ‘agbada’ and come and celebrate with you’. Several years after, I began to appreciate the lessons in what he was making us to imbibe then.
Dad was a hard man, such that we thought he was wicked and we gave him a nickname: ‘GOC’ (Grand Officer Commanding). He didn’t know we were calling him such nickname, but his driver Mr. Akinkunmi, who drove him for about 30 years knows. He is now a senior driver at the Supreme Court, Abuja. Our Mum knew also, but she was our accomplice. Eventually, our Dad knew we were calling him Grand Officer Commanding.
Kindness and philanthropy
Our Dad is very loyal to his staff such that up till today, we see Mr. Akinkunmi as our family member. We have a Chef in the house. He is Effiong. He has been with us for 19 years and we are going to continue to keep him. In actual fact, he has said that he has no-where to go. My father is a family man who looked after many people, either close to him or not. He has trained a lot of relations, many of who are now independent in their various positions.
You will imagine how he was able to combine such work engagements with the church. We are seven: 3 boys and 4 girls. You may imagine how he was able to take care of the family and the church. He was a very dedicated Catholic. He made sure he served his God with all his might. He had several appointments with the Catholic Church.
He was Chairman of the Oluyoro Catholic Church from 1997 to 2013 when he ended his tenure. But the Bishop, I remember, told him to stay on as long as he lived. He was a Catholic and he died a Catholic.
He maintained a straight line in faith in spite of all the distractions in a series of denominations that abound. And that takes discipline. He would always tell us: ‘Don’t join the alakatakiti church’ I, like some of my younger ones have kept the Catholic faith also because his Catholic faith which he believed in has been good to him.
Public service/ Appointments
My Dad was recommended to be Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences (ICPC) by former President Goodluck Jonathan but he was not given the job because of what he said at the screening. He said he was not going to receive salary because he was a retired Justice of the Supreme Court.
He said he could not be receiving two salaries at the same time. He said they should keep the salary for the ICPC while he would be collecting his salary as Supreme Court Justice.
This was because, according to him, he only wanted to serve his country the more after his retirement but not to make money and because of this, the people in the Senate said this man would be a problem to them.
And suddenly they knew that he was too old at 70 and so they did not give him the job. I was with him then at Abuja. My Dad said he knew they would not give him the job because of what he said and truly they didn’t give him. He was then later asked to be Chairman of Justice and Peace Commission for Ogun, Ondo, and I think Osun State.
A man walked into this compound this morning and said he saw the white tent and wanted to know what happened. We told him Dad has died. He saw the pictures and said anything we want him to do for us, he would be ready to do it. I don’t know him from anywhere.
The man said my father trained his four children. He said since his first son was three years old, he was unable to pay the school fees. He is a Gardner in one of the estates around here. He said my Dad paid for the schooling of the four children.
Two are now in the University. One has finished SS3, while the last is in SS1. I didn’t even know, and so I was surprised. To my Dad, everybody deserves to be educated, reason he placed many on scholarships. So, the seven of us are privileged to be his children. He is a big shoe to fill, I must tell you.
Keeping Aderemi’s charitable legacies
We hope to continue to keep his charities both from the Catholic zone or other philanthropic areas. I will keep my Dad’s obligations to the Catholic Arch Diocese of Ibadan; his obligations to all his charities as well. We have been keeping our Mum’s charity on scholarship scheme. We are going to carry all these on.
Wishes that didn’t come through
My Dad didn’t have regrets but had some wishes that didn’t come through. A couple of years ago, my Dad sat me down and said ‘I want you to come back to Nigeria. You are my first born; I want you back home’. I disagreed because I said I could not fit into the system here again. I will find it difficult to adapt to some ideals I have been used to which are lacking here.
He flew to the UK to meet me in Birmingham and told my wife that she should relocate to Nigeria. Anytime I travelled home, the first thing he would discuss with me is his wish that I should come back home.
But how can I fit in? The kind of job I was trained to do is not practiced here. Would I come back to practice journalism? Would I bring my children to Nigeria? If I take them back to Lagos and there is power failure, they would panic. My wife is a medical doctor. If she comes to Nigeria, what is she going to do here? Where is the hospital she would work?
I explained to my Dad that coming to Nigeria is not a matter of myself but I need to protect my children and my wife. See, the whole of today, we have been running our generators. The third one is working presently.
Would you run generator in the UK? No. We don’t even have one; coming back home with all these anomalies is not realistic and that is the truth. The issue is beyond emotions. I am a practical person.
The other wish which didn’t come through, according to him was his father”s love that he could study Law. “I actually did, but I think I would rather keep that to my mind. That is another wish he didn’t realize because I didn’t tell him till he died. If he knew, he would have flown to the UK for my graduation. We are lucky to have him as a Dad. A lot of people would be lucky to have him as their mentor.
Our Dad is incorruptible. When he was having his valedictory in Abuja, everybody said he never collected bribe from anyone.
My Dad didn’t socialize. His social life was in church; when his children are getting married; naming ceremonies. He had close-knit friends, about six of them. Anything they wanted to do, he would go, but you won’t see him in all these society parties.
Some of these friends are; Alhaji Ahmed Bola Tinubu, the current Oba of Lagos and Eleganza. You won’t see him going to them, but I have seen them coming to visit him and chat. He was not that social. Some of us have imbibed some of these qualities from him because, to me, partying is like a waste of time. He was a good man. He was our Grand Officer Commanding.
So, his passing on is a celebration of life; we are not mourning. We are immensely proud of our father. He believed in merit. He would not use ‘long leg’ for us. He never did. My Mum was always angry with him on this, but he would insist that we should be allowed to work.
“Hard work doesn’t kill” was his philosophy. To him, those who are successful don’t have two heads. All they do is burn the midnight oil. And that is exactly what all of us have imbibed.
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