BayoOjo: A Renowned Legal Luminary fostering Values in the Legal System
Chief BayoOjo, SAN, Founder and Senior Partner of BayoOjo and Company, a firm of legal practitioners in Nigeria. He graduated from the University of Lagos in June 1977 where he obtained his LL.B and was called to the Nigerian Bar in July 1978. He started his Law practice before obtaining his LL.M from the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London in 1982. He also obtained a Certificate in Legal Drafting from the Royal Institute of Public Administration, London and a diploma in International Commercial Arbitration from the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, London. He is a fellow of the same Institute, and a Chartered Arbitrator. BayoOjo is a former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice of Nigeria, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association. Excerpts.
Why the University of Lagos (Unilag) amongst the various universities in the country?
I was born in Zaria present day Kaduna State. I had my primary school education in Kano, Maiduguri and Kaduna as my parents were civil servants under the then Northern Region and got transferred from time to time. I then had my secondary school education in Zaria and my Higher School Certificate (HSC) in Kwara State. So, I found that I had never been to the Southern part of Nigeria. My nationalistic spirit then made me to want to go to University in the South.
Then we had only five Universities in Nigeria namely: Unilag, Ibadan, Ife, Nsukka and ABU and there was no JAMB then. Only direct entry from HSC. I chose Unilag because of the allure and pull of the Federal Capital at that time. Ibadan did not offer law then and I had decided I wanted to be a lawyer. I thought Ife was rural as I wanted to be in the city. My wife went to Ife and I know she will skin me alive when she reads what I just said about Ife. She is ever so proud of Ife. But I always remind her that there are only two universities in Nigeria, Unilag and others.
Though you could have first, second and third choices then and end up getting admitted to three Universities at the same time and you now have to decide on which you wanted to go to, I made Unilag my first, second and third choice. Not only that, I also made law my first, second and third choice. The implication of this was that if I did not get admitted into Unilag and the law programme, that would have been the end of my admission for that year. Luckily, I got admitted and for my choice of course. That was almost fifty years ago.
Fortuitously, after graduation and law school, I got posted to Enugu in the old Anambra State for my NYSC which made me come full circle to being the detribalized Nigerian that I am today.
Who inspired you to study Law back then as a fresh student?
I was never inspired by anyone to study law. Rather, an incident that happened when I was in secondary school made me decide to do so. Back then, I had cause to enter a court room to give evidence in a case of attempted “gbomogbomo” which means trying to kidnap a child. You can see that kidnapping has been with us for a long time as this incident happened in 1968. When I entered the court room, I fell in love with it and the manner of appearance of the lawyers and the Judge. That was it. For this reason, I did not attend any career talk in secondary school and Higher School Certificate as I told them that it was unnecessary since I had made up my mind on what I wanted to become.
You must have been impacted by some great lecturers and colleagues in the institution, can you mention some of them?
Yes, I was. Some of the lecturers who impacted greatly on me were Prof A. B. Kasunmu,SAN, He took over from Prof. TeslimOlawale Elias as Dean of the Faculty. We had late Prof. M. I. Jegede, SAN, Prof. A. O. Obilade, Prof. C. O. Olawoye, Prof. Egerton Uvieghara, late Prof. MrsJadesolaAkande, late Prof. AdedokunAdeyemi, late Prof. AbiolaOjo, late Prof. Michael Ajomo and others.
Back then, assistant lecturers only took tutorials. They were not allowed to take lectures for students. Some of my classmates are Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN, CON, late Kola Aluko, SAN, Hon. Justice K. Ogunwumiju of the Supreme Court, Hon. Justice BisiOkunola of the Court of Appeal, MrsBukolaAdeniyi-Jones, Chief ChikeOsanakpo, SAN, Justice Emilia IbokRtd, Mr. Ken Mozia, SAN, and others.
Can you share some unforgettable moments at Unilag?
Yes, I can. One unforgettable moment was when the late Master of Rolls in England and Wales Lord Denning visited Unilag in 1974. We had just studied a landmark judgement he gave in 1947 as a high court judge in Central London Property Trust Ltd Vs. High Trees House Ltd where the doctrine of promissory estoppel in contract law was reaffirmed and extended. I got him to autograph the page containing the landmark case in our textbook on Contract law, Cheshire &Fifoot on Contract. It was a great day for me.
I also participated as lead counsel for the defence in a moot trial in 1975 where the late Justice IsholaOluwa presided. We lost the case. Lol. Other unforgettable moments were when we went to the late FelaAnikulapo’s shrine at Idi-Oro in Yaba on Saturday nights. We had fun there.
If you had not attended Unilag, which other university would you have loved to study and why?
University of Ife. Reason for this is that I had decided to go to University in the South. There were only three universities in the South. Unilag, Ife and UI. UI was not offering law then. So, only Ife would have been my second option.
What is your take on the various challenges bedevilling the education system and how it can be resolved?
The major challenge I find bedevilling the education system across board today is that of falling standards due mainly to lack of funds. It’s almost five decades now that I left the university and standards have fallen all over.
Then, our meals in the refectory were 20 kobo for breakfast, 20 kobo for lunch and 20 kobo for dinner, making a total of 60 kobo for one day. For a whole term you needed three booklets of meal tickets of 18 naira each making a total of 54 naira to feed for one term. And the food was good and comparable to what is offered in standard hotels today. I remember that lunch of Sunday was never to be missed as we had jollof rice, plantain and a quarter chicken with ice cream as dessert for lunch. The hostels were good and not congested. We had cleaners who made your beds and cleaned the bathrooms after we leave for our classes in the morning. You cannot get these again.
The academics was a different ball game entirely. We had a world class law library with up-to-date law journals and books from different parts of the world. The lecturers were also world class. In a nutshell, we had world class lecturers and facilities comparable to any university in the world. To my surprise, when I later got to the London School of Economics, University of London to undertake my masters in law programme, I found that the facilities were not too different from what we had at Unilag.
One of the ways to resolve the issue of falling standards is to allocate more funds to the education sector in order to provide the necessary infrastructure for world class institutions.
Your advice for the Governing Council, Students, other alumni and stakeholders of the University of Lagos as it celebrates 60years of academic excellence?
My advice is for the University to do all it can to get its glory back as the primus inter pares among universities in Nigeria and the rest of the world. Though the Unilag Alumni has been doing a lot to uplift the university, it needs to do more for the university that gave so much to them. We must not rely on government as government has its own financial limitations.