The Wig & Skirt, By Funke Aboyade, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our interview this week has been nine years in the making. At the time I was called to the Nigerian Bar there were not many female judges, so Justice Ethel Adunola Oguntoye’s name was one I was familiar with, more so as she had ended her career as High Court judge in Oyo State where I come from and had grown up. Indeed, she was the second female judge in Nigeria, after Justice Modupe Omo-Eboh; the third was the present Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar and the fourth, Justice Atinuke Ige.
So, when I met Aderemi Oguntoye sometime in 2004 and he mentioned Justice Oguntoye was his stepmother, my interest was piqued. I wanted to interview her for our law pages but somehow this proved an elusive task. At times she had travelled abroad, at other times just when I was certain we would get a date to go to her in Ibadan, her health would put paid to the plan - for she was getting along in age. I never quite gave up though, I merely bided my time.
Our long wait ended last Wednesday, May 29 when Justice Oguntoye turned 90. She’d arrived Lagos the day before for the dinner to be hosted by the Honourable, the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Ayotunde Phillips on her birthday the following day. We were to interview her in the evening of May 28 when she might have settled down at the hotel and could receive us. However, I did not bargain for the rain that poured in torrents in Lagos on May 28! It had started right from Ibadan and for those heading out to Lagos it was simply a nightmare. I was therefore not surprised when Aderemi told me that he and mum (as all Justice Oguntoye’s numerous stepchildren call her) had been in traffic coming from Ibadan for well over 5 hours! Clearly, at her age, being interviewed after such a stressful journey would be the last thing on her mind. I remained upbeat however and it paid off the following day when I received the call I’d been waiting for. Mama was in good spirits, none the worse for the wear, and would see us. I quickly assembled my team and headed, with Aderemi, to Eko Hotel & Suites.
She was having lunch when we arrived but I was ushered in to see her in the restaurant, prior to the interview.
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting but the smallish, feisty looking lady before me certainly did not look like she was anywhere near 90! That was the first shock. I was so flummoxed I wasn’t sure whether to bow or curtsy or both! In fact, I believe I simply just stared for a few seconds before regaining my composure. The second shock was when she spoke to acknowledge my birthday greetings. Her voice was simply compelling! It commanded respect. And her eyes, well they were bright and lively, quickly assessing me. I could only imagine what she must have been like on the bench all those years ago!
After lunch I introduced my team to her and they began the interview. I quite enjoyed the shock on their faces when she came into the room we had reserved for the interview! Quite clearly, the spritely lady who walked in unaided and who had a voice that was strong and steady, was not what they had expected.
Her devotion to Nigeria is remarkable. In spite of the fact that her husband passed away all those many years ago she has chosen to stay in the country she loves so dearly. Her obvious love still for her husband and fierce devotion to his children by other wives is even more remarkable.
I doff my hat to this fine jurist, a rare specie, a true Nigerian, and a woman deserving of great honour.
Our cover today, Down Memory Lane, features Justice Dulcie Ethel Adunola Oguntoye. Enjoy!