Life and times of Tunji Braithwaite (1933-2016)

Dr. Braithwaite

Dr. Braithwaite

Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, lawyer, activist and founder Nigerian Advance Party (NAP), celebrated his 80th birthday with pomp and pageantry in Lagos two years ago. Here in this last interview he granted the Guardian, he speaks about his life, career and burning national issues.
Tunji Braithwaite was born in 1933, the youngest son of eight children. He was educated at the prestigious C.M.S Grammar School, entering the school’s Preparatory Section in 1946 and completing his education there in 1953. He proceeded to sit for his A Levels at the London University at Kennington College in 1955 and enrolled in 1957/58 as a Law student at the Council of Legal Education, London. He was admitted into Lincoln’s Inn that same year and graduated as a barrister in 1960.
He married his childhood sweetheart; Grace S. Falade in 1956 while they were undergraduates. They have 5 children and many grandchildren. Excerpts:-

You are a right activist, lawyer and politician; how have you been able to combine all of these together over the years?
Interestingly, all three are inter-related. If you are a lawyer, you’ve got to know what the constitution of the country where you are, says. Beyond that, if you are expansive, you will even know the constitutions of other nations not to talk about the United Nations. And you become really international because the world has become a global village kind of. So as a lawyer, concerned with the rights of the society, corporate society and the rights of individuals, you will see that the three: law, activism and politics are related. The profession of law offers better platform for any budding politician. This is not to say other professions; other disciplines are averse to being in politics, but the profession of law gives the lawyer a head start ahead of others. So, it has not been difficult to combine these three together.

Besides, when I started law practice 52 years ago, there were lots of political challenges and as a young lawyer, I was quickly drafted into the defense of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. So, at the very early stage of my life, I had my work cut out for me especially the human rights aspect of it and politics. I was one of the young lawyers who defended him.

Having practised law the much you have, many wonder why you are not a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN)?
I am not interested in the archaic and backward title called SAN. If you know my title, I abhor anything like that. They are characterized by standards that are below mine. Besides, I have said enough about SAN. It’s an importation from Britain, former colonial masters not only Nigeria, but many other countries of the world.
Divisions deliberately created and foisted on the people for the benefit of the British colonisers. The biggest democracy in the world which also has the biggest scope for lawyers, the United States of America, does not have room for such nonsense unlike the artificial titles by British lawyers. They are ego-massage titles. And it is quite unfortunate that this could make some Nigerians to go to any extent, willy-nilly to acquire these titles. We should discourage it.

You were among the team of lawyers who defended Chief Awolowo many had expected you to join his party, but you didn’t. Why was that?
I defended Chief Awolowo, purely on legal basis. By 1978, together with some, dynamic intellectuals, I founded the Nigerian Advance Party (NAP). The politics of the First Republic were unsuitable for what we wanted for Nigeria. What we wanted for Nigeria was and still is a country that is dynamic and will harness both human and natural resources of its people. Chief Awolowo to a large extent did his best. But the country was still labouring and there was neo-colonialism. My politics was to break away from neo-colonial mindset. Up till now, that mindset is still there.

It appears you have been putting in serious efforts to contest for presidency since the second republic up until now, but…
The other time I can say I put in serious effort apart from the 1983 presidential election, the other one I can say I seriously put a big gun out so to speak was the one during Abacha. I didn’t contest any election during the time of General Ibrahim Babangida. I thought it was insulting on the people of this country that a military impostor now decreed a two-party system for them. So I didn’t participate at all. The so-called election that threw up June 12, but the one that Abacha organized in 1996/1997, I seriously participated. I was the first person who challenged Abacha. None of these politicians who formed the PDP/PDM could dare challenge Abacha. And I think it was after I declared that M.D Yusuf also declared. I was the only one who fought Abacha
right through to the Supreme Court. M.D Yusuf couldn’t take his case that far.

Having put in so much of this effort and it appears you have not recorded much success…
Who says?
I mean recorded much success in winning presidential election…
Who says? Who wants to win an election by bribery and all sorts of evils? I don’t want to win election through such means. Are you saying you don’t know what they do? I was invited more than once to join them, but I declined. So you young ones should get the record straight. Go and read a book by a political giant, Prof. Emi Awah. Go and read what he wrote about us. He was a political scientist for many years in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He said the NAP’s experience convinced him that without a revolution, Nigeria may not attain its potentials.

What is your perception about the electoral system in the country…
Don’t be deceived. There is no election in this country. For me, it is a badge of honour that I am not in any of their legislative houses. The electoral system cannot, I repeat, cannot contain people with integrity.

You have cited revolution as a panacea to challenges bedeviling Nigeria and many will remember how your house was used as a gathering point for many rights activists. Were you motivated in all of these by your conviction of a revolution and do you really think Nigerians are indeed ready for a revolution?
Again, the power mongers among us, the impostors who have been trampling on the rights of Nigeria will have you believe that Nigerians can never come together to overthrow them. There is nothing farther from the truth. In fact, the period you alluded was a pointer to that effect. And it also showed at the time that even without the labour union, the people of this country can organize a revolution. The leadership of the labour unions betrayed the cause of that revolution. That has always been the modus operandi. Labour will alongside the civil society follow a struggle to a point, but when labour is settled, you have the cause of that struggle being compromised.
The fuel subsidy protests were the first set of protests that we bring people together across board. We had done it before on a small scale.
But that of 2012 has already demonstrated that any non-performing or corrupt government is a sitting duck for a revolution. This is a sort of thing we would be remembered for and that gives us joy. That is better than joining government to steal people’s money. So, don’t come here and voice a brainwashed opinion that Nigerians are not ready for revolution.

Interestingly, all three are inter-related. If you are a lawyer, you’ve got to know what the constitution of the country where you are, says. Beyond that, if you are expansive, you will even know the constitutions of other nations not to talk about the United Nations. And you become really international because the world has become a global village kind of. So as a lawyer, concerned with the rights of the society, corporate society and the rights of individuals, you will see that the three: law, activism and politics are related. The profession of law offers better platform for any budding politician. This is not to say other professions; other disciplines are averse to being in politics, but the profession of law gives the lawyer a head start ahead of others. So, it has not been difficult to combine these three together.

As you earlier observed, young people converged here under our leadership and they didn’t converge for the fun of it. There were grounds. There were political, socio and economic bases for them to converge here. They took their destinies into their own hands. By the way, you may not know. That was the slogans of NAP. That Nigerians must take their destinies into their own hands. That kind of the progressive minds cannot be on the decline but will rather be on ascendancy for the sake of this country.
And that leads me to another issue, unless we have a constitution acceptable to Nigerians instead of the military handed down decree known as 1999 constitution before 2015, there will be no election in this country. I said there is a need for a new constitution that is acceptable. Then we also say before there could be a new constitution, there is a need for a Sovereign National Conference. And whether or not Sovereign National Conference takes place, Nigerians most freely agree on the constitution that will bind them together. Not the one that was imposed on them. We have never had the people’s constitution agreed by Nigerian people. The time has now come.

It is also interesting that the timing of this coincide with when Nigeria is to mark 100 years of amalgamation. All these combined; indicate that the issue of Nigerians agreeing freely to hold a national conference is not a mere coincidence with the 100 years anniversary. If you think it is mere coincidence, I bet it is not.
Year 2015 will be a defining moment for Nigerian future. Nigerian future as presently constituted has become rags and tatters. It is completely worn out. A new corporate existence must emerge. People should know that it is not about the agenda of some people who are fragmenting one party or the other with the aim of displacing one another in 2015. That is not the agenda for Nigeria. The 2015 will be a defining moment for Nigeria. It will unfold beyond the elections.

What is the relationship between you and President Goodluck Jonathan?
My relationship with the President? He is the President of this country and I am a citizen of this country whom the press has coined an office for: an elder stastesman. It is the press that coined it for me.
There have been speculations that the President has “settled” you after your participation in the fuel subsidy protest of January 2012. First, a friend of yours who was a major participant in the struggle,
Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu was given an appointment by the same government. Thereafter, you went and visited the President at Aso Rock while the President also graced your 79th birthday here in Lagos. All of these happened in quick successions and speculations were rife that you have been “settled”. Can you clear the air on all of these?

Well, I have to laugh at the poor insight of those who expressed such views. Let me first and foremost put things into contest. First, Jonathan did not attend my 79th birthday. As a matter of fact, he was unaware that the day he chose for the public presentation of my book, coincided with my birthday. He was not aware prior to that time. It was at the floor that day that he knew. Number two, Kalu Idika Kalu was part of our organization here to protest the removal of fuel subsidy. If Kalu was offered some kind of job, it was based on his wealth of experience as a former Minister of Finance. He was a very sincere member of the organization that fought the fuel subsidy removal.
The only way you can settle Tunji Braithwaite is by being upright. And by demonstrating to him that your only interest in politics is altruistic. It is for the down trodden people of this country. This is because, Tunji Braithwaite has spent the greater part of his life to make sacrifices for the people of this country. He and his God know that for the cause for which he has spent the greater part of his life to pursue, becomes a success. This is because whatever God has a hand in can never be a failure.

And the visit to the President?
Yes, I will put that one too into contest. It was a returned visit. The President first visited me in Lagos and we discussed many things about the country. President Jonathan has many things going for him among which are humility/humbleness, personal charm and I believe transparency. With these three qualities any honest unbiased person will find himself in a position of wanting to give him a chance, unlike some abrasive, uneducated, pompous, stealing successors that were before this young man. With those three qualities, I am interested in nothing but good governance, so, why would I antagonize or turn my back against such a person? I said he visited me first when he came to Lagos and I returned the visit in Abuja and we examined a few things for the progress of this country. When the press accosted and asked me: ‘What have you come to do in Aso Rock?’ and I told them, I came to Aso Rock to discuss with the president one topic: the betterment of this country. If he needs my advice, I will give him.

The downside of this I have told you is the nature of the cabal. The ruling elite. He is a hostage among wild animals.
You mean the President?
Yes. We are talking about the President. I said President Jonathan, because of the nature of the corrupt politics of this country. President Jonathan would appear to be surrounded by or being held hostage by power mongers like wild animals. He is a hostage of them. Notwithstanding that, for the sake of this country, he still needs the existence of unbiased Nigerians, well meaning Nigerians to advise and guide him right. Not for any consideration but for the well being of Nigeria.

I am not interested in the archaic and backward title called SAN. If you know my title, I abhor anything like that. They are characterized by standards that are below mine. Besides, I have said enough about SAN. It’s an importation from Britain, former colonial masters not only Nigeria, but many other countries of the world. Divisions deliberately created and foisted on the people for the benefit of the British colonisers. The biggest democracy in the world which also has the biggest scope for lawyers, the United States of America, does not have room for such nonsense unlike the artificial titles by British lawyers. They are ego-massage titles

As an elderstatesman and as someone who has interacted with the President, how do you think he can break loose from these so-called wild animals?
By the support, prayers and hard work of well meaning Nigerians. And there are many well meaning Nigerians who do not look at any situation from the prism of reward or material reward, he would get out.
As a strong advocate for the convocation of Sovereign National Conference, what do you make out of the recent call Senate President on the need to have a national conference that would however not be attached with the term “sovereign”?
I do not engage in semantics. The Sovereign National Conference which we envisage and which will come on stream is that which does not require the approval of the National Assembly. With or without the National Assembly, the national conference will come because we are talking about the sovereignty of the people. The present National Assembly is a product of a defective constitution. So, how can this National Assembly be the one to anoint or approve the Sovereign National Conference? Let your readers analyse this. The Sovereign National Conference is coming on stream with or without the National Assembly’s approval.
Tunji Braithwaite: Ritual mum did before allowing me to go to court

It was one of those evenings in Lagos, when you wonder if the all demons in hell had been completely unleashed on the city’s roads, and were operating at full throttle. Traffic from Kirikiri Industrial Estate, Apapa, home to the corporate headquarters of The Sun, to Victoria Island, crawled fender-to-bumper most of the way, leaving only little breathers here and there.
After spending two solid hours on a route that should ordinarily not take more than 40 minutes, we finally subdued the ‘demons’ behind the traffic snarls. We got to the massive gates of Beulah, the sprawling residence of Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, one of Nigeria’s finest legal minds, totally unsure if the man had not cancelled the appointment.

Mercifully, he had not. Rather, he welcomed us warmly into his expansive living room, telling us to “please, feel at home.” Moments later, and as we took in the enthralling architecture of the white house, he tossed at us a copy of the programme for his joint 70th birthday celebration with his wife on December 26, 2003. The booklet read like a mini-biography.

-regarded and highly effective in the defence of human rights, Braithwaite has devoted all of his life and a large chunk of his enormous resources to crusading and canvassing liberty for the oppressed. An unrepentant apostle of Marxian socialism, the multi-millionaire lawyer has constantly been in the vanguard of the defence of civil rights in Nigeria. He has expended considerable amount of time and personal resources on social mobilization of the middle and lower classes to fight inhuman policies of some brutal dictators who, at one time or another, had held the country hostage.
Though of a privileged background, the legal luminary has always cast his lot with the people, putting his life on the line a couple times in those dark days of military dictatorship.

When the ICON team sat down with him, lBraithwaite opened his life like a book for over two hours, and revealed what you have never seen nor read anywhere. He spoke about life as a kid, his sweet mother, the death of his father at 46 when he was barely eight, and the many battles his wife had to fight to ward off many of his female admirers who constantly swarm over him on account of his good looks and razor-sharp intellect.

Dr. Braithwaite

Dr. Braithwaite

“My wife had a lot of battles,” he confesses. “She is still having battles even up till now whenever we run into some of them. She had a lot of battles and I wasn’t a (born-again) Christian then.”
The death of a father, at an early age, usually leaves nuclear family members, wife and children, bereft, their lives shattered, devastated. Although, the Braithwaites felt the pains of their father’s demise at 46 to their marrows, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, who turns 80 on September 13, this year, says though the tragedy swept them into a flood of sorrow, it did not, in any way, impact negatively on the family. He affirms that it was not enough to cause any cataclysmic dislocation in the family’s fortunes and future. With vast estates at Olowogbowo Area, William Street, Broad Street and the popular Campos Area- all on Lagos Island, he says his bereaved family had enough to absorb their shock and sorrow. This is not to mention their maternal family estate in the Lafiaji/Okesuna area of Lagos Island.

Born Olatunji Akintunde to Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Adesoye Braithwaite on September 13, 1933, the legal luminary was educated at the premier secondary school in Nigeria, CMS Grammar School, Lagos, and passed out in 1953. He sat for his A Levels at Kennington College at the London University in 1955 and enrolled, two years later, as a Law student at the Council of Legal Education, London. He was admitted into Lincoln’s Inn in 1958 and graduated as a barrister in 1960. He enrolled as a Barrister and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in March 1961 and has had a distinguished career in the temple of justice.
In 1985, Braithwaite earned a Master of Arts (M.A.) Degree from Columbia Pacific University in the United States, and crowned it, shortly after, with a PhD from the same institution.

The seventh of his parent’s eight children, and the last of his mother’s three sons, Dr. Braithwaite, who authored the book, Jurisprudence of the Living Oracles, among others, is married to his childhood girlfriend, Dr. Grace Simisola Braithwaite, a consultant paediatrician, with whom he had five children, who, in turn, have given them 12 grandchildren.
Here are excerpts from the interview:

From what you must have been told by your parents, what kind of a child were you?
My parents were biased towards me, especially my mother. She hardly found any fault with me. But, I know myself that I was a handful to them. The reason for the bias was partly because…
You were the last-born?
I was not the last-born. I was the seventh child and third son of my mother. She had altogether, eight children-five girls, three boys.

Was it a polygamous home?
No. My grandfather was a missionary. As a matter of fact, he was the first missionary who opened up Epe-Ijebu Division to Christianity. He built a church (St. Michael’s), and the Church is still standing there. That church remains the only Anglican Church in Epe for more than 100 years. At its centenary, we (the Braithwaite Family) now built another church in Epe. That is, Revd. Braithwaite Anglican Memorial Church. It is standing there now. My father passed on relatively early. He was 46 when he passed on.

What happened?
Well, he died naturally. Exactly a week ago was the 71st year of my father’s death. I was only about eight years then. I remember very well, it was on a Sunday. His corpse was there. I saw it. It was not taken to the mortuary. I just saw that he was dressed up and laid on the bed. He died pretty young. But my mother lived, and then, we had a stepfather, Pa Solade, a very wonderful man. He even spoilt me more than my mother.

How many children did your mother have for your father?
We were seven, and I was the last-born of my father. But I had a younger sister (stepsister).
How did the early demise of your father affect you and your siblings?
It did not have any negative impact on us. No, it did not, because as I said, we came from a very strict Christian background and we were relatively well off. I remember some of our family properties by the Lagoon and at the end of Broad Street that dovetails into the Marina. So, it (father’s death) didn’t have any negative impact on us. My brothers and I were in the choir of the church, but that did not necessarily make us Christians. But school continued. All of us attended CMS Grammar School, Lagos. CMS Grammar School, Lagos, was a far cry from CMS Grammar School, Bariga. It was located in Broad Street, Lagos. Well, you could say there were only three main schools at the time-CMS Grammar School, was number one, then, Kings College, and Methodist Boys High School. So, to be in the Grammar School at that time was, in itself, unique.

But for your privileged background, things would have been very tough at the death of your father because eight children is quite a crowd. Was growing up by any means challenging?
I remember that one of my elder sisters was married a year or two before my father passed on. I remember that I was the ‘omo iyawo’ to her. I lived with her for a couple of years.
So, she helped train you?
She did not help train me, as such. I was a bit spoilt. The reason was this: I was surrounded by girls and older boys. All the house chores had been fanned out to everybody. So, there was very little left for Tunji to do, other than just running little errands for the older ones.

What were the pranks you played as a boy?
(Laughs) Well, I cannot remember most of them. But you know, in the Grammar School of my time, it was as if they deliberately moulded your mind to be independent and to be non-conformist. It was as if that was a policy. If you were a conformist and gentle in my time, you were likely to get into trouble than the rascals. We had wonderful teachers and principals. They were expatriates. There was Bishop Kelly, one of the best. He was my principal. He was succeeded by Archdeacon Adelaja.

Can you remember some of your contemporaries?
Yes, Ernest Sonekan was there. Then, there was Fashanu, a one-miler who represented Nigeria in the Olympics in those days (in the 1940s and 1950s).

Where are all your siblings now?
I am the only surviving one now. Even, my younger sister has died.
Did your mum remarry because she was pretty young by the time your dad died or needed help to be able to cater for you, the children?
It was not because of the need to cater for us. I don’t think so. Well, I cannot really rationalise.
You never asked her?
Of course, not. You don’t ask such a thing.
That was in your time. Children of these days would ask.
Well, I would have considered that a taboo.

Apart from the early death of your father, was there any other tragedy in the family that really shook you? And then, shaped you?
The passing on of my mother in 1974 really shook me. She stayed in my house. We were one of the earliest settlers on the entire Victoria Island. Her passage affected me a lot. As I said, she was staying with me; she had a slight illness. She was a diabetic, but not serious diabetes. She was a very beautiful woman. She was beautiful both internally as well as exterior. She was very sweet, very motherly. They called her type of diabetes maturity onset. There was a debate that my mother was the same age as the century. So, if she had been alive, she would have been 113 years now. She died at 73.

So, what made her death devastating at that point?
Until then, I had not felt impact of death. Death was not close to me even though one of my older sisters pre-deceased her. What made it painful was the fact that she was very close to me. Though she had her own house and everything, she still came to live with my family. Wherever we went, she had her own apartment within the same house. Her death was sudden. Perhaps, it was the suddenness of it that made it painful.

How did it happen?
She was admitted to LUTH (Lagos University Teaching Hospital). LUTH was a very decent place at the time. They had facilities. One of my cousins, Sir Mobolaji Bank Anthony, and my older brother, Bayo, decided that we should take mummy to the UK for treatment. She had been going to the UK before then. I felt there was no need for taking her to the UK, that it was not necessary. I disagreed with her going to the UK. The sisters (three of them) were on my side. One brother was neutral, but the oldest, Bayo, and Sir Bank Anthony said we should take her to England.
The night before we took her to London, I visited her at the hospital. She was conscious; everything was okay. She said to me, ‘Olatunji, o se gbemi lo sile, ka wa ni Chapel? (Olatunji, why not take me home, to the chapel?). My reaction was like: what’s all this fuss about going to England? That was the very night preceding her travel.

To cut a long story short, that same evening, my brother called me to say that according to the regulation of the airline, mama would need to be escorted by a doctor, that I should let my wife accompany her. My wife is a medical doctor. In spite of my objection, I said, no problem, that she would be willing to. So, in the morning, I went to the hospital very early to try and see her.

She left the LUTH at about 7:30 a.m. with my wife and two other sisters accompanying her. I saw them off at the airport. It was on Wednesday, July 10, 1974, and I calculated that it was about six or seven hours’ flight. By 6p.m., I started calling our home in London, but nobody answered. When I called again, my wife answered, and as she was answering, I was hearing loud wailing at the background. I didn’t quite comprehend what it was all about. Then, she put the phone down. When I called again, she picked the phone and said, ‘Mummy has gone.’ Then, I said, ‘Gone where?’ I was alone in the house. So, I put the phone down to recover. Then, I called again, and said to her, ‘What are you saying?’ Then, she told me the whole story.

What happened?
My wife said when the plane took off from Lagos Airport, mummy was okay. But when the plane got to Kano (they didn’t land but they were giving them flight progress from the cockpit) mummy slipped into semi-unconsciousness in-flight. But my wife didn’t disclose the condition to the sisters. But she mentioned it to the flight stewardess. She said after about two hours, one of the sisters said, ‘Doctor, what kind of sleep is mama sleeping for such a long time? Won’t she eat?’
My wife said she allayed their fears, but she didn’t tell them about her condition. But when the flight was about to land at Heathrow, because she had told the stewardess who in turn had told the pilot, and they had radioed Hammersmith Hospital, she then told the sisters what was happening. As soon as the plane touched down, there was pandemonium. They brought ambulance to the tarmac and they rushed mama to the hospital. My wife rode on the ambulance, leaving behind the sisters to clear the luggage. But as soon as they entered the hospital, she breathed her last.

So, naturally, I felt it. It was as if she knew. And she told me (to take her home). So, when my wife gave me the story, spontaneously, I went into the chapel and I sat there for about half an hour. When I recovered from the shock, it became my own duty now to go to my brother to break the news. I drove to his house in Ikoyi to inform him and I asked him to inform Sir Bank Anthony.

In what practical ways did that event shape your life? It shook you, no doubt, but there must be some lessons you took from it that helped you further in life?
It taught me that there is only one step between life and death. As I said, she was a source of encouragement and inspiration to me. I remember some of the very difficult and risky cases that I handled in those days, especially that of Olabisi Ajala, where I ended up in the same dock with my own client, when the police decided to charge me alongside Ajala.

What was your offence?
They came up with one rubbish; that I was guilty of harbouring official secret document, which carried 14 years jail term. It was just something to sort of intimidate me into giving up Ajala. Ajala was perceived as a double-dealer against the police. So, they were bent to nail him at all costs. But they saw me as standing between them and their evil plot.
Ajala was flambouyant. He loved the good life and company of beautiful ladies. But did you believe, at the time, that Ajala was a double-dealer?

Well, what I believed was of no relevance, in the sense that he needed help. He needed legal representation, and I am always doing that. That was the same thing that drove me to defend Chief Obafemi Awolowo (during the infamous 1962/63 treasonable felony trial).

Did you do the Ajala case pro bono?
No. His people gathered money to pay. They were always there, crying. It was not a serious case as such, but as I said, the government, in an attempt to intimidate me charged me along with him. It is one of the professional hazards. At that time, when I would get home, instead of my mother saying, ‘ah, be careful’, and so on, she would say, ‘the man needs help. Olatunji, come let me pray for you.’ She would pray with me and encourage me. She would say to me, ‘don’t mind the threat. You should be seen on the side of the down-trodden.’

Was she doing that frequently or in respect of every case you needed to handle? Was it a ritual?
It was a ritual of some sort. That was her life. She was a strong prayer warrior. She brought us up prayerfully, and she would always tell all of us that the only place we can find help is not from man, but from the Lord. And that we should pray about everything. That was her lifestyle. It was the same thing that happened when I was defending Chief Awolowo. I was marked. But by the time Fela’s case came up, she had passed on. And I missed her prayers and words of encouragement.
Did she also pray for you when you were handling Awo’s case?
Yes, of course.

You must have been very young then in 1962?
Yes, I was very young. I was in my late 20s.
And how did you find yourself in the legal team?
That was the very interesting thing, that even relations who were in government would come to her (mama) and tell her to put me on a leash, so to speak. Yes. They would said to her, ‘Warn him.’ I don’t want to mention names, but they would tell her, ‘what does he want? Why should he be seen with that man (Awo) that man has no future? He is finished.’ They would tell my mum that Tunji was only risking his life and future. But mama would say, ‘you are asking what does Tunji want? That is the irony, Tunji is not thinking in terms of what he wants. Tunji is thinking in terms of pity for a man who needs help. A man abandoned by everybody.’ At that time, that was the situation. In fact, that was the thing that attracted me to Chief Awolowo. He was completely abandoned. Up till tomorrow, Chief (Mrs.) H.I.D. Awolowo would still say, Tunji is a wonderful man, a young man sticking out his neck, risking his life.

You also went all the way with Fela…
Yes, all the way. The military actually came to ask me to hands off Fela’s case. They said they were not expecting a serious lawyer like myself, that they were expecting his own friends, that they would have dealt with all of them. They said they came on official instruction to tell me to hands off Fela. I said well, if you were the ones who educated me, I may even consider hearing you, but then, get out of my house!

What was their reaction?
Well, they left. One of the people who came later became Nigeria’s Head of State.
Sir, even at almost 80, you look extremely handsome. Who did you take your good looks from? Your mum or dad?
My mother, essentially.
So, her beauty rubbed off on you?
I should say so.

How did you deal with girls in those days? Somebody as handsome as you are and with your radical disposition would have girls swarming over him. What was your experience like?
Well, my wife had a lot of battles. That is all I could say. She is still having battles even up till now whenever we run into some of them. She had a lot of battles and I wasn’t a Christian then. Despite mama’s prayers, I was not a Christian in the true Christian sense. I was a churchgoer. I remember one occasion, I left choir practice one evening and I was going to my chambers at Broad Street and a very beautiful, very popular Western Nigeria beauty queen was hanging around my chambers.
What’s her name?
(Hesitates, laughs…) Julie Coker.

So, what happened?
I left choir practice, which was pretty close to my chambers. All I can say is that those were the tempting days. I knew her, of course, before then. My wife, for some time, was in the university and I was alone.

Where did she train?
She trained both in the UK as well as in Ibadan (then University College). What happened then was that I had finished in the UK in 1960. We were both in the UK, and she was studying Medicine. So, she transferred to Ibadan, which at the time was a college of London University. She, then, completed here. They were only two medical female students in her set. I think she was in the same set with Professor Jubril Aminu.
Before you go too far, I want to kno

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1 Comment
  • Rest in peace,man of peace. The memory of the righteous is blessed. May your memory be blessed.