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Why I backed my twin sons to study Law – Ogunba

Why I backed my twin sons to study Law – Ogunba

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Principal Partner, Kunle Ogunba & Associates, Kunle Ogunba, and Tobi and Toba, his twin sons, speak with OLADIMEJI RAMON about their careers, professional philosophies, hobbies and style

As a lawyer, you have built a thriving practice and have attained the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Did you have any moments of doubts or discouragement in the early years of your career?

Owing to my passion to practise Law, there were no moments of doubt per se, rather, only obstacles to surmount in the early years of my career. To successfully break into legal practice, one would have to possess an abundant reserve of resilience and self-determination, which readily came to my aid in those early stages.

Is there any story behind your choice of law as a profession?

As a fresh secondary school leaver, I was still wondering about the appropriate professional career to pursue. At that young age, I was enamoured with a career in the military, which was largely due to the then military regimes and the attendant glamourised coups and counter coups prevalent at the time. I would always fantasise about the behind-the-scene happenings, which resulted in the televised coup speeches but my dad, the late Chief J.A. Ogunba, was actually the one who came up with the idea of me being a lawyer and it quickly resonated with me because of the prestige associated with the wig and gown.

Can you briefly trace your journey in law practice from when you were called to Bar till now? 

There has not been a dull moment since I was called to the Bar in December, 1990. I have been appearing in court since my National Youth Service Corps days when I freelanced with the firm of Ita Enang & Co in Uyo in Akwa Ibom State, and later Niran Akinsanya & Co in Surulere, Lagos, before setting up my own practice sometime in 1996.

How did you determine it was the right time to be on your own?

I made the decision about six years post-call (to Bar). Determined to be the master of my own ship and destiny, having armed myself with years of experience, it was almost the only sensible step I could have taken at that point in my career. Of course, things weren’t perfect, neither were conditions rosy but that leap of faith has ultimately paid off, Smart Business.

Why did you choose insolvency as your area of specialisation?

As I fondly say to my colleagues and employees, I didn’t set out to practise insolvency. It wasn’t such a popular area of practice in the legal profession in those days. As such, I found myself in a peculiar position where I often found myself advising and working for financial institutions, and handling the then largely unprecedented/unregulated space and I built a solid reputation in the area because of the resistance attendant to high-flying delinquent debtors.

What has been your biggest challenge in this area of practice?

I detest failed promises which signpost default obligations issues in insolvency practice. The ubiquitous idiosyncrasies of high-flyer debtors, who would expectedly do anything to prevent the liquidation of their debts.

What personal qualities have been instrumental to your success?

Success is a result of various factors combining to produce the desired result. With all humility, I believe I owe my successes first to the grace of God, as I don’t pride myself in being the smartest person in the room. I will, however, say that I find myself being one of hardest working people in any area I explore. Moreso, my dogged, relentless and endearing spirit is one thing I have been gifted with. It makes me stand out from my peers, especially in unforgiving and harsh circumstances.

 Looking back, are there things you wish you had done differently in practice?

With the benefit of hindsight and more maturity in the chosen field, the strategies are now more enduring and most often, judicially settled which was not the case when I set out in this.

In your area of practice, are there particular government policies you would love to see come into play or change?

It will be a delight to see a better funded and independent judiciary to stem the tide of loan defaults in the overall benefit of the economy.

Since banks always get collateral before granting loans, why then do many banks still have a lot of bad debts, snowballing into litigation, and with the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria having to step in, in some cases?

Loan defaults result from aggregation of multiple factors, which is clearly a reflection of the general malaise in society at large. It is difficult to identify a defaulting customer at the outset for most financial institutions and it is important that the process for instilling repercussions for default is made to be faster and more stringent to stem the tide.

As an insolvency practitioner, who has, on multiple occasions, been appointed as a receiver/manager of assets of companies that are indebted to banks or AMCON, what are your thoughts about the management of recovered assets by Nigerian anti-graft agencies and what advice can you offer?

They should develop a routine, stable and established process where such properties are routinely and systematically turned to cash to prevent deterioration and pilferages.

One issue of concern is the manner in which properties that are the subjects of litigation are dumped on the court premises at the mercy of the rain and the sun, thereby depreciating. Why is this so and what can you suggest as a solution?

I think the solution, just as in the instance of security agencies, is in a more vibrant judiciary, in terms of funding and personnel, such that a system will emerge that such properties are systematically converted to cash after a certain number of days, irrespective of whether there are pending applications or appeals, for the benefit of the litigants at the end of the journey.

You have a set of male twins who are lawyers like you. Did you influence their career choice?

My boys have always been very independent, with each person having a unique personality that I’ve grown to nurture as best as a father can. Of course, being their father, I cannot discountenance the influence that my career has had on their decision to study Law. Also, at a crucial point in their lives, especially in secondary school, I gave them the nudge to go for Law as it would benefit them in the long run and give them a foundation to explore whatever area of life they saw as fitting. I jokingly said to them, “Once you get your wig and gown, you can drop it for me at home and do whatever you want”. However, I must say that the decision to study Law was ultimately theirs. I am very pleased with the relationship each one has developed with the law and legal practice as a whole. It is indeed a beautiful thing to watch. Tobi (Taiwo) is a vibrant and charismatic lawyer with a flair for litigation and isn’t one to back down from challenges, while Toba (Kehinde) is an intelligent lawyer with a flair for corporate commercial practice.

Does having lawyer children, who are also like professional mentees to you, put you under any kind of pressure to always get it right and win your cases in court?

I, definitely, have had an extra boost to set a precedent for all my children and indeed younger colleagues in the profession by setting an example on such virtues that a disciplined, hard-working and professional young legal practitioner ought to possess in the profession and how such person ought to conduct himself.

Besides being a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, I have always told them that the rank of Silk is not the end in the legal profession, rather it should be the beginning of their individual careers. This has, definitely, put pressure on me to push, innovate within the bounds of the law, represent my clients to the best of my ability, set precedents in the profession and to show that I am a lawyer, and indeed a Senior Advocate worth my salt.  I have always maintained that integrity should be at the forefront. As a legal practitioner, it opens doors which can bring them to a new echelon in their careers. The same integrity and what they stand for is what will be tested and what will see them through when challenges come, and they shall come.

Have you ever had an unlucky day in court that the twins witnessed and what did they tell you thereafter?

My children have accompanied me to court on numerous occasions. There have, definitely, been good days and not-so-good days. The ‘unlucky’ days in question where a ruling or judgment is not in our favour is always a good opportunity to test the grit of a lawyer. They are inevitable and a lawyer should always prepare for such occurrences. Like I mentioned, with integrity, it will always be tested, and on occasion where such judicial pronouncements are not favourable, I have always encouraged them to stand for what they believe in, even if it means appealing such decisions.

Delay is still a major issue in Nigerian courts. What is the longest it has taken you to conclude a case and what effect did that have on the subject matter and your client?

Delay adversely affects the profession. There are several instances of delay that I can easily identify, the effect of which is very detrimental, especially when cases with high commercial exposure are involved.  The longest amount of time it has taken to resolve a case has to be around eight years with the matter travelling to the Supreme Court on several interlocutory appeals arising from the matter. The matter is still ongoing and we hope the final appeal on the matter will be heard soon.

Do you think the judiciary has learnt the proper lessons from the disruptions caused by COVID-19?

I think the judiciary and the legal profession have learnt key lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic. So many technological and professional advancements were made in the period which gave me confidence in the profession’s ability to adapt to the climes. A lot of law firms have been able to service their clients while working remotely. The judiciary is no exception to this practice, an example of such being the Practice Directions issued by the erudite Justice J.T. Tsoho (Chief Judge of the Federal High Court) that has seen the adaptation of e-Filing, virtual proceedings and even digital service of processes into our practice. Some justices even tweak their cause lists to accommodate the implementation of safety measures, while ensuring an expedient hearing of matters in their respective dockets.

The President recently urged Appeal Court judges to help his administration’s fight against corruption in the country. Will you say the judiciary has been supportive of the government in that regard?

The panacea for this is the provision of better conditions of service for our judges and judicial personnel as a whole. The take home pay and general welfare (of judges) is appalling, which ought to be improved upon to acceptable global standards to stem the tide of corruption. Financial autonomy, as represented in the recent Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria strike, should be the first step to take in this direction.

It is often said that behind every successful man, there is a woman. What is your personal story in this regard and what personal or special traits of your wife has your career benefited from?

To the glory of God, I am privileged to be reckoned with as a successful man in my field. This feat, definitely, would not have materialised without my wife. She has sacrificed a lot and is indeed the backbone of my successes. I fondly recall how she sacrificed her career to nurture our kids while I chased my career. This true sacrifice is one that has benefited our whole family. Now that our last child is heading to the university, she can sit back and enjoy the fruits of her labour.

When did you meet your wife, what attracted you to her and how long have you been married?

I met my wife back in my days at the then Ogun State University (now Olabisi Onabanjo University). We remained best friends from the beginning even till now. She is a truly loving woman.

Lawyers are quite busy. How do you create time for the family and what is your favourite holiday location?

As a busy lawyer, I don’t take any downtime for granted. I take advantage of most annual court vacations to spend quality time with my family travelling on holidays to several destinations, or downtown in Ijebu Ode (Ogun State) on most public holidays.

How do you love to dress and what is your favourite fashion item?

I won’t say I am really a fashionable person, but I love dressing professionally and indulge in quality ties, good shoes and waistcoats.  I am fully in control when it comes to my professional appearance. However, outside the professional realm, I’m still a humble Ijebu man at heart and I find myself leaning on my son’s expertise when it comes to less formal wears.

My brother and I approach legal practice differently — Toba

As a lawyer working alongside your dad, what is a normal workday for you like?

There is no normal working day per se. Each day brings its different challenges and peculiar tasks that one has to be ready for. So, I would argue that each day is dynamic and one must be on one’s toes to do well.

At a time when many young people are clamouring to leave the country to work overseas, one would have thought that since you had your law degree abroad, you would stay back to practise there. What informed your decision in this regard?

A lot of my colleagues and friends have moved abroad to start new chapters (of their lives). However, working in Nigeria has never been negotiable for me. I have always dreamt of practising in Nigeria.

Coming back to Nigeria, did you have the choice of working in another law firm besides your dad’s?

After my call to Bar in 2016, I was privileged to work with Solola & Akpana (Barristers & Solicitors). I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with the firm and gained experience.

Is there any day you can describe as very memorable since you began practising as a lawyer?

There are many memorable days that I’ve encountered since I started practice. I think my most memorable experience thus far is appearing at the Supreme Court for a matter that I had appeared in from the Federal High Court. It was a surreal moment for me.

What are some of your major concerns as a young legal practitioner in Nigeria?

Welfare. Of course, there are opportunities for those who are hard-working and dedicated to their craft, but even for those, the reward is not as beneficial when compared to other jurisdictions. I believe the welfare of young lawyers is something worth considering by all stakeholders, to raise the bar of the profession. A top to bottom approach, whereby a review in the scale of charges for legal services are made, will definitely improve on what many principals can offer their juniors.

Technology is changing the faces of everything, including legal practice. What technology have you found really useful in your work and will you say technology gives today’s lawyers an advantage over old-time practitioners?

It is definitely the introduction of legal resources on various digital platforms. Of course, from time to time, manual research can be refreshing or even necessary, but nothing beats the advantage of being able to conduct legal research on the go.

Based on your experience so far in law practice, what advice will you give to law students on their way to being called to the Bar and joining practice?

My advice, especially for law students who studied abroad, is to gather as much work experience as possible, through internships before even going to law school. Law students can benefit from an early acclimatisation into the profession that such exposure can afford them.

Do you share the view by some that more lawyers are being produced from law school than the country needs?

I do not share that view at all. I am of the view that there are a lot of opportunities for young lawyers to exploit, especially in this digital age. The Nigerian legal landscape really needs to adapt to maximise the resources it has in young lawyers.

Besides law, what other interests do you have and how do you like to unwind?

I enjoy participating in sports such as football and Formula 1 (car racing). I also enjoy photography. I spend whatever time I can visiting art galleries and exhibitions or musical performances. I am very inclined to the arts in general.

What are some of the remarkable reactions you have got from people about the fact that you and your twin brother are lawyers?

Most people react in shock that we are ‘twin lawyers’ and were called to the Bar on the same day. I won’t blame them really because once in a while, I’m surprised by that as well. But, the most interesting thing is how distinct we are even with our practice. We both have our different relationships with legal practice but the core foundation in our early years of practice remains the same— hard work, diligence, dedication to work and an eagerness to learn constantly.

Who influenced the other to study law?

I think my brother decided later than I did, but we ultimately realised our calling towards the last days of our secondary education.

In your experience, are there benefits and downsides to being twins?

We are not identical twins, but for some reason, we always tend to do similar things. However, a lot of people have noted how very different we are. From my personal experience, it is mostly pleasant and amusing, with some fun aspects like being mistaken for each other once in a while.

What kind of future do you envision for yourself in legal practice?

When I envision my future, lots of physical things, people and plans come to mind. I consider myself to be a ‘Type A’ personality, so planning is something that comes naturally to me. I am always thinking ahead to my next goals.

More than anything, when I envision my future, first, I envision a feeling of peace and calm. Currently, I am pretty much the opposite of peace and calm in this profession, always feeling rushed, busy and disconnected. When I think of what I want my future to look like, I envision a much more peaceful, calm and relaxed version of myself with so much knowledge and understanding to pass to the younger generation. I would also like a future where the legal profession in this country is free from a considerable amount of corruption with myself, and like-minded colleagues, being front runners.

What are your favourite fashion items?

I love shoes and wristwatches. I am known to frequently proffer my unsolicited fashion advice to family and friends. I believe that one day, they would appreciate me.

Besides law books, what other kind of books do you enjoy reading?

I’m sort of a history buff, so most non-fictional works on past historical events always pique my interest. Some of my recent favourites are Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, and Formation: The Making of Nigeria, From Jihad to Amalgamation by Fola Fagbule and Feyi Fawehinmi.

What will people never catch you doing?

I will never be caught undercutting my colleagues.

Is there any change you would love to see in the Nigerian legal practice space?

We need a digital transformation in several sectors, most especially with respect to filling of court processes and more adaptations of virtual hearings. A fun change would also be the relaxation of the requirement to appear in wig and gowns.

No one is a born lawyer — Tobi

What was it like for you growing up as a son of a lawyer?

It was quite normal for me. All I knew was that my dad was a lawyer, and he worked all days of the week, including weekends and public holidays. So, I knew it was quite a taxing job.

Take us through your academic journey.

I obtained my Bachelor of Law degree from the University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, in 2015. I was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2016. After a few years of practicing, I proceeded to obtain my Master of Law degree from Queen Mary University London, UK, in Corporate Commercial Law in 2019.

Aside from being lawyers, what other interests do you share with your twin brother?

Actually, that is about the most common interest we have. Other than that, we are entirely dissimilar, even with the type of law we are inclined to. I am more of a barrister while he is more of a solicitor. Other similar interests we have may be in sports.

Did it come to your parents as a surprise when you chose Law and was it something they encouraged?

It was not a surprise at all. It was more of what we were geared towards and prepared for from the beginning. We were encouraged from a young age, so when it came to picking what to study, it was already sorted.

What do you love most about being a lawyer?

For now, I love being able to prepare my arguments to aid my clients. I get extremely excited when I get to work on a case and prepare arguments for it, especially when it’s a good case and the chances of success are pronounced.

Have you had the opportunity of arguing a case in court yet and if yes, what was your experience the first time?

Yes I have actually done this a lot and at this point, they have become a bit blurred. But, I’m sure I was elated, considering I would have been the one who prepared the arguments.

What are some of the most valuable things you have learnt so far in practice?

One of the most important things I’ve learnt or I was taught is, no one is a born lawyer. Even after you get called to the Nigerian Bar, that’s when your journey in terms of learning the actual job commences.  Mistakes would inevitably happen, but it’s always important to have it at the back of your mind that no one is a born lawyer.

Are there things you’ve found in practice that you wish you were taught back in school?

No, I don’t think so.

Since you work with your father, are you able to create a difference between being at home and being in the office in terms of work?

We work intense hours and we also cherish our weekends/downtime. So, things ultimately remain normal even though we live and work together.

What are your major concerns as a young lawyer?

If the judiciary in Nigeria would actually be allowed the independence to be an actual arm of government and not what is being suppressed or used as a tool for personal gain as we see today.

If you have the power, what will you like to change about legal practice in the country?

Everything, starting from how we file processes. There’s no reason why the filing of processes has not been digitised.

Will you say there are ample opportunities for Nigerian lawyers today?

There are opportunities, but they are either inaccessible, or stringent and unreasonable, especially for new lawyers who are optimistic and are keen to see what the profession offers.

Does technology give young lawyers some advantage over the older generation of lawyers?

Absolutely, especially in terms of researching legal principles. We have digital platforms that assist or make researching legal principles easier. Sometimes, one ends up having to dig out the books when there’s a gray area one is trying to test, but the digital platforms are a blessing.

Besides your dad, are there other senior lawyers you admire and what do you appreciate about them?

I often think about the late Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, and admire all he was able to achieve, despite his challenges. That has had a lasting effect, even till today when he’s no longer here. My spirit flows with his.

What is the picture of the future you see for yourself in legal practice?

The picture is extremely bright. At this point, I am entirely certain it is beyond my imagination, so I am not even going to attempt to paint a picture.

As a lawyer, working alongside his dad, what is a normal workday for you like?

A normal day is quite intense having to either draft court processes or put up appearances in court.

Did you have the choice of working in another law firm besides your dad’s?

Absolutely. I worked in F.O. Akinrlele & Co. for three years, prior to joining my dad. It is a fantastic firm. I definitely would not enjoy law as much if I did not work there, especially under the supervision of Demola Akinrele, SAN; Olumide Aju, SAN; and Azubike Okoye.

Is there any day you can describe as very memorable since you began practicing as a lawyer?

Every day is memorable for me. But, I especially enjoy execution of court orders and judgments.

Technology is changing the faces of everything, including legal practice. What technology have you found really useful in your work and will you say technology gives today’s lawyers an advantage over old-time practitioners?

For starters, we have Law Pavillion, as well as the online version of the Nigerian Weekly Law Report, which are both fantastic. We also have our Westlaw and lexis nexis as well. All these give younger lawyers, who are more technology inclined, an advantage.

Based on your experience so far in law practice, what advice will you give to law students on their way to being called to the Bar and joining practice?

No one is a born lawyer, you own what you become. Keep at your heart desires and you’d be fruitful.

Besides law, what other interests do you have and how do you like to unwind?

I have interest in different things, from music to sports. I unwind by either hanging out with friends, running or playing football.

What are your favorite fashion items?

I am very simple when it comes to fashion. However, my wrist watch is constant.

Besides law books, what other kind of books do you enjoy reading?

I am not a casual reader. So, I mostly read the news.

Is there any change you would love to see in the Nigerian legal practice space?

I would love to see things go digital soon.

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