Interviewed by Funke Olaode
What influenced you into studying law?
As a child, I argued about everything. I always knew that I wanted to be a lawyer. When I filled forms to go to the university, I chose law as my first and second choice.
Ironically, my father was in the army and the first priority in my place (Benue State) then was to pitch your tent with the army. I wasn’t fascinated by it because I had charted a path for myself as a child. I chose the University of Lagos. It was my first time in Lagos.
Why the preference for Unilag?
There was this urge in me to explore other terrains. My father wanted me to go to the Ahmadu Bello University. I rebelled against that decision because I wanted something different. I chose University of Lagos as my First and Second Choice. I stood by my decision despite the fact that the cut-off point for UNILAG was very high. Nigeria was a country of merit then. I didn’t know anybody at the University of Lagos. I submitted my results and within four days I was admitted.
How would you describe your experience coming to Lagos for the first time?
I came to Lagos for the first time ever in 1980. I arrived midnight. It was shocking to street light on Ikorodu road. I was confused; there was a lot of anxiety. It was amazing seeing little children in school uniform running after Molue to get to school.
And your experience at Unilag?
I ended up becoming the first Secretary General of the Students’ Union from the north in 1981. My professors were essentially from the south but with modesty, I was still amongst their top students. It showed that tribalism, favouritism had no place. You had to prove yourself. I spent four years in UNILAG and came out in flying colours and went to the Nigerian Law School in 1984. To God be the glory, we all excelled. After youth service in 1985, I got one or two offers but decided to be my own boss.
What gave you the conviction that you were going to succeed?
It was the best thing for me, I tried it and it worked. Whatever level I attained today, I didn’t get it on a platter of gold. It was a long walk to career fulfillment. I remember when I started out as a young lawyer in Kano, it wasn’t easy. I had no money and had only two suits which were fading. I had no car and had to trek from my house to my office pretending as if I was strolling. I didn’t have the money to pay for taxi. I refused to live above my means and to be realistic with my expectations. I was focused and God was with me.
When would you consider your greatest moment?
My greatest moment was when I withdrew from politics and returned back to the practice of law. It was a big challenge because they are two different worlds. I have been in politics. I had no money and nothing. When you go into politics with a lot of money you come back with nothing. A lot of people don’t know this. When I left politics in 2007 and returned to my law practice I couldn’t afford to pay my rent. I was able to pay for my office for one year. I have been chairman of a local government and later Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Benue State. I had nothing eight years ago and I thank God today.
How did you survive those hard periods?
I have always been fortunate. I work very hard and I thank God for prospering the work of my hands. The Bible says ‘God rewards those who diligently seek Him.’
What lesson has life taught you?
Life has taught me humility. One needs to be humble. One needs to fear God and respect money minimally. Money cannot give you happiness. Hard work pays and above all, the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. I also believe in the saying that Godliness with contentment is great gain.
If you could rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10 what would you score yourself?
I would score myself eight and leave the remaining for some things achievable but not yet done. There are lots of things that I wish I can do especially for my people. I go home and see households that are not well-equipped, the roads are bad, and people don’t have good pipe-borne water. I wish I was in a position to be able to use my resources to do that. I do that in some other ways, without playing to the gallery. I have provided electricity to seven villages. I wish I could do more.
Did you influence your two children who are lawyers?
I didn’t insist that they should be lawyers. They decided to be lawyers on their own. My first son had his first degree in another discipline and went abroad to do a second degree in law. I just guide them and whatever they want to be in future I wish them luck. For instance, my father’s desire for me was to be a lawyer and I am happy he was alive when I was called to the bar. He never knew what a Senior Advocate meant. He was a very strong influence in my life. I remember when he was alive I was able to do a matter for him in which he had an interest and the matter came out positively and he was happy. I am available to counsel my children, but won’t force them to do anything.