She is a distinguished legal practitioner. Mrs Abimbola Akeredolu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Ogun State, and currently a co-partner at Banwo & Ighodalo Associates, speaks with Femi Ogbonnikan, about love, marriage, law and how she made a success of her legal career
Tell us about your background.
I was born Abimbola Adejumo to Alhaji R. A. Adejumo and Adepeju Omolade Karunwi respectively on December 10, 1964. I went to Corona Nursery, Ikoyi, Lagos, Corona Primary School, and subsequently, Holy Child College, Obalende, Ikoyi, Lagos. Soon afterwards, I went to Halidon House School, in Slough, in Buckinghamshire, England. And from there, I went to the University of Lagos; I studied French for my first degree. Then, I did National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Later, I went back to the University of Lagos to study Law. Afterward, i went to the Nigerian Law School, Victoria Island, Lagos.
While in secondary school what were you noted for?
I was very playful. Because I was playful, some teachers would say I was not serious. But the funny thing was that even when I was playing I was always paying attention. So, when the teachers would say, ‘Why are you are playing during classes?’ I would respond, ‘No ma’ and repeat everything the teacher had said. So, some of my teachers knew me as an intelligent rascal.
Could you relive a memory of an event you won’t forget in a hurry while in secondary school?
One that I remember was in 1976 and that was the year Gen. Murtala Muhammed was killed in a bloody coup. My stepmother came to get me from school in the late morning, which was earlier than usual. Around that time, my father was either a member of the Nigerian Lawn Tennis Association, or the president of the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club, I cannot remember exactly which one it was. I knew, however, that we had all these tennis stars in Nigeria playing a tournament then. I think it was the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) or World Tennis Championships (WTC) tennis tournament in Lagos. There were tennis stars like Illie Nastase, Arthur Ashe and other great names then. So, it was a very important time for my dad and I just knew that my dad was under pressure. It was a remarkable time, watching adults handle pressure and such things. It was the first time I had ever seen my father look worried. Now I am older, I am able to appreciate the gravity of the situation at that time.
Were you persuaded or mentored toward a particular career choice?
Nobody influenced or mentored me while I was in secondary school. In fact, when I was in school in England, I wanted to be a movie star. I wanted to be a great actress like Sophia Loren, Greta Garbo, etc. However, with the passage of time, I quickly recognised that I was not a beauty and as I evolved, I found that as a person, I hated cheating in any form. I lived for fairness. When I see somebody being oppressed, everything in me wants to put an end to that oppression. So, that had always been a part of me. I naturally want to defend or support underdog or the oppressed. So, even after I studied French, I still knew something was missing. One thing I remembered from secondary school: a friend of ours, his parents lived outside Lagos. Because his parents were outside Lagos, we had a party in his house. We were there, hanging out, dancing and eating. But unknown to him, his father showed up. Many of us, especially the guys jumped over the balcony of the storey building and bolted away, leaving us – the girls.
The father then said: “Nobody is going anywhere until my son comes back!’ He locked us up in the flat. About an hour or two later, I said, ‘Daddy, you can’t keep us locked up here. This is an unlawful arrest.’ I hadn’t even dreamt about studying Law at that time. I added, ‘Sir, this is an unlawful arrest. You should know that we didn’t break into your house. It was your son that gave us access. So, you can’t lock us up. It is either you hand us over to the police or not.’
The man didn’t say anything. When his son finally showed up, he said to his son, ‘You know, if these are the kind of friends (pointing at me) that you keep, then it would be very good. She is likely going to be a good lawyer. She is very brilliant, brave, very articulate and very eloquent.’ He finally let us go and we all had a good laugh. That is all I could remember. So, I have always hated cheating, lawlessness. Sometimes, even my children would tell me: ‘Mummy, I hope you don’t get beaten up one day!’ And I would say, “In this Nigeria? Ah, the person would not try!’ Being a lawyer is from within. I wasn’t influenced by anybody. I think, that was what God created me to be.
When were you conferred with the SAN?
I was made a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in September 2015.
Did you have a date while growing up in secondary school?
Date in secondary school? No. Though we used to go to the literary and debating society events, inter-house sports competitions and luncheons and I had good friends that were boys, there was no dating in secondary school in my father’s house. I had a few crushes. At least, my friends that were boys and girls could come to my house.
Were guys not wooing you while at the University of Lagos?
No! Guys didn’t run after me at the University of Lagos because I had someone I was dating.
Shortly after being called to the Bar, where did you start your legal practice?
After I was called to the Bar, in fact, on the last day of the Law School, a gentleman, one of our classmates, Engineer Ademosu – I never knew him but I only met him in the Law School. I would always greet him adding ‘sir’. I was polite and courteous to him. So, on the last day of the examination at the Law School, Engineer Ademosu walked up to me and said, ‘You know, I have watched you and you seem like a well brought up girl. I have a company and I am looking for a company secretary. Will you like to work there?’ I was so surprised because it must have been in September of that year after the Law School examination, and I said: ‘Well, I am getting married in April. I am going to join my husband outside Lagos. But if you don’t mind, it would be nice to keep me busy.’ And that was how I got my first job as a company secretary of Afri-Trust Limited. I worked with Afri-Trust for between about seven months before I got married. I got married in April 1992. I think I stopped working with Afri-Trust in March 1992. Thereafter, I joined my husband who was rounding off his postgraduate study in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University Teaching Hospital in Ibadan. When I left Lagos to join my husband, I was pregnant. My husband and I had agreed that, since I was pregnant I would stay home and have a baby and look after the baby. After sleeping and watching videos at home for two weeks, it was like I was going to die of boredom. Then, I told my husband: ‘Mr. Man, please find me work!’ He said: ‘But you are pregnant!’ I told him, ‘I don’t want money. I just want to work. Please, find me work. Sleeping and staying at home is not going to work for me.’
So, my husband spoke to one of his colleagues at the hospital and that friend spoke to another friend who was a lawyer and he asked me to come for a chat. That was how I met Mallam Yusuf Alli. Then, he wasn’t a SAN. He is a SAN. I entered the office of Yusuf Alli and sighting my stomach, he said: ‘Madam, you are pregnant. Are you sure you can work?’ And I jumped up and responded: ‘Sir, look at me, I can work.’ If you know Mallam Yusuf Alli, he has a great sense of humour. He said not persuaded by my determination: ‘Ah, so fe boyun je ni?’ (Meaning: ‘Do you want to abort the pregnancy?’) From there, he asked, how much I wanted to be paid.
But I told him to just give me work to do. He asked me when I wanted and I said immediately. And this was on a Friday afternoon; he exclaimed and urged me to start on Monday. And that was how I was employed in the office of Adegboyega Awomolo. At that time, Chief Awomolo wasn’t a SAN when I joined the Chambers but that very year, he became a SAN. That was how I started to practise of Law and I never looked back.
Let’s talk about your love life. Was it when you were in university that you met your sweetheart or when called to the Bar?
I met him when I was studying Law. When I first met him, the first thing that came to my mind was: ‘This is a nice person to talk to.’ But then, he was a medical doctor and I didn’t know where I got the idea from that medical doctors were flirts or womanisers. This was because I had a friend who had been going out with a doctor and when she would visit the doctor she would come back and say she did not see him all weekends; that she only saw him for just 30 minutes during that period. So, when my husband came knocking to date me I said I could not date him. He asked me how many doctors I knew who were like my friend’s guy. I could not answer. Here we are today happily married to the glory of God with three daughters.
Did he suffer to win your heart?
He got irritated at a point. He actually said: ‘Ko b’ara e da s’ohun.’ Yes, he got upset after a while. Whenever he wanted to see me, I kept deceiving him.
Did your parents approve of him the very first day you introduced him to them?
Well, I lost my mother when I was very young. But my father loved him immediately. And other people – including my siblings – who mattered in my life loved him immediately too.
You were once Ogun State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice. What was the experience like?
It was a wonderful time. It was not without some challenges, but challenges are the spices of life. They are meant to be surmounted and often they turn out to be opportunities. It was as if, over the years, God had prepared me for that job. Because when I look back at the different experiences I went had; the different professional issues that we faced were as if I had been trained to meet them all. It was definitely the hand of God. Professionally, it was a wonderful time and the governor was a delight to work with. Even though he would not take what you say hook, line and sinker, he would want you to defend your position to be sure of what you were saying. And once he confirms that you are sure of your position it would make sense to him. So, it was a great time for me, professionally.