Anikulapo: The burden of a second-generation lawyer, by Olanrewaju Onigegewura


For almost everyone who has seen the award-wining movie, ANIKULAPO: The Rise of the Sceptre, one of the biggest revelations of that superb flick is Bashorun, a role skilfully interpreted by Owobo Ogunde. As it turned out, Owobo is the son of the legendary thespian, Baba Hubert Ogunde, the pioneer and doyen of the Nigerian Theatre. For many days and weeks after the movie was released on Netflix, the social media was dominated by rave and critical review of Owobo’s powerful delivery of his role. What is more surprising is the fact that almost everyone commended Owobo for being a true son of his father.

Owobo is fortunate. He is extremely fortunate that he is not a lawyer called to the Nigerian Bar. He is fortunate that he is not a second-generation lawyer [SGL]. His accomplishments as a professional notwithstanding, if he had been a lawyer, he would have been tainted with the brush of nepotism. He would have probably been accused of getting the role by virtue of the fact that he came from the loins of Ogunde. His deft interpretations of the role would have become a secondary issue. His case would have been made worse by the fact that the blockbuster movie was produced by another second-generation star, Kunle Afolayan, the son of Ade Love of blessed memory.

I strongly believe that the fact that someone is the daughter, son, wife, brother or husband of someone in the legal profession should not automatically disqualify them from making their own mark in the profession

I have observed that anytime an appointment is made in the legal profession, be it appointment to the Bench or elevation to the Inner Bar, there is a growing tendency by a small band of critics to condemn every SGL on the list as being unduly favoured by the fact of his or her birth. It appears that the presumption is that every second generation legal practitioner is unable to achieve anything on merit. Unlike Owobo Ogunde, second generation lawyers do not have their own Anikulapo on Netflix for a proper and critical review to be done in order to assess their competencies.

I recall a conversation I had with a senior colleague about 12 years ago. The learned senior was speaking in an uncomplimentary manner about a member of the Bar who happened to be a second generation lawyer. I asked him whether he had read any brief of argument written by the senior counsel or whether he had done a case with him or whether he even knew him. He shook his head, and magisterially responded: “Does it matter? We know them.” Incidentally, MBG [I have written about him in The Unsung Encyclopaedia of Nigerian Law] had just given me copies of some briefs of argument written by the subject of our discussion at the time. I gave one of them to this senior friend. Later when we met, it was his turn to graciously admit: “Well, it was a good brief. He must have learnt from his father.”

I am not a second generation lawyer. In fact, I am the first lawyer not only in my family but in my ancestral quarters. I was closely followed by my brother, Ibrahim Olatoye Lawal, the Head of Chambers of Olujinmi & Akeredolu. I therefore do not carry the burden of having my Onigegewura’s legal writings and my modest legal practice attributed to my father or my mother. This is therefore not a defensive piece. I however think that we are being uncharitable to every second generation lawyer when we fail to interrogate them on their personal and individual accomplishment but rather conclude that their achievement is a gift donated to them by virtue of their filial relationship.

it is my conviction that every appointment -be it first generation, second generation, or in fact no generation, must be examined critically using the same indices

Rather than this blanket condemnation of every second generation appointment, I want to believe that the questions we must be asking are: is he qualified? Is she competent? Does she possess the required credentials? Did she apply through the normal channel? Was the process of recruitment transparent? Were others disenfranchised because of him? Was she unduly favoured by the recruitment process? Can we subject this appointment to external and independent scrutiny?

I believe that these are the questions that we need to ask if we want to be forensic in our analysis.

I believe that it is in the best interest of the legal profession for us to insist that only the best get appointed to the Bench and to the Inner Bar. There is no plausible argument to the contrary, and there cannot even be. Whilst it is thus my position that the Bar and the Bench are not fungible properties to be willed to beneficiaries, it is my conviction that every appointment -be it first generation, second generation, or in fact no generation, must be examined critically using the same indices. There must not be dual matrixes of measurement.

I strongly believe that the fact that someone is the daughter, son, wife, brother or husband of someone in the legal profession should not automatically disqualify them from making their own mark in the profession. If that were to be case, would we have benefitted from the judicial contributions of His Lordships Adetokunbo Ademola and Adenekan Ademola from the illustrious Ademola Family? I believe that our jurisprudence is the richer for it today for the existence of Kehinde Sofola SAN, Idowu Sofola SAN, Kayode Sofola SAN, and Shina Sofola SAN. The duo of Justice Olufemi Ayoola and Justice Olayinka Ayoola were once described by Dr. Bolanle Balakin SAN -incidentally a second generation legal practitioner of the Inner Bar – in the following words: “The Ayoola brothers, Olu and Yinka were a phenomenon in 1967. Olu Ayoola at 39 years old, was appointed a High Court Judge of Western State of Nigeria. His brother Yinka was appointed in 1976 at the age of 43 years old. Both were very great legal practitioners. They were part of the dominant group of outstanding legal practitioners who were appointed to the Bench in old Western Nigeria.”

When we dismiss every credible accomplishment of a second generation practitioner as an act of patronage without proper foundation being laid, we are indirectly discrediting the legal profession which we all profess to belong. I have argued above that legal appointment and privileges are not hereditary, I am therefore not to be taken as advocating that every daughter of a judge must be made a judge. The point I am making is that the daughter of a judge who is qualified and competent, and who aspires to be a judge or a senior advocate should not be arbitrarily condemned as a beneficiary of her father’s goodwill, without more.

It would have been better for us to isolate individual cases and adduce reasons such an applicant does not deserve the appointment or the rank rather than casually and lazily claiming that ‘they are just being gifted’ the appointment. Without mentioning names, I have been privileged to appear before second generation Judges and I have also done cases with and against second generation lawyers. Shorn of their parental affiliation, I see no difference in the way and manner they conduct their cases different from others.

Every time I hear of this blanket dismissal, and without particulars being given, beyond the fact of filial relationship, the questions that come to my mind are: Is it a sin for a child to emulate his parent? Is a child guilty by virtue of the fact that she aspires to exceed her parent? Must a child of a lawyer perpetually carry the burden of his parent’s accomplishment as an albatross? Can we give second generation lawyers the Owobo Ogunde treatment by demanding to see their CV and the cases they have done and subject these to empirical examinations? Would this not be a better approach rather than dispensing our magisterial submission and blanket condemnation without credible evidence?

In peroration, I do not believe that a second generation lawyer has any burden. It is a privilege. The burden is on anyone who claims that a second generation lawyer is not deserving of an appointment to come up with proof to the contrary.

Every Owobo Ogunde in the legal profession deserves to play his own Bashorun. And every Kunle Afolayan reserves the right to produce his own Anikulapo.

-Olanrewaju Akinsola [Onigegewura]

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