90-YEAR-OLD SAN: My mum told me my riches’ll come from teaching

Professor Ajagbe Toriola Oyewo, a multiple traditional title holder, was born at Erunmu in Ibadan on January 11, 1931. He went to school through sheer luck as the second born of his mother in a family where the father would only send his first born to school. His senior brother (now late), who was sent to school, suffered a stroke in Standard 1 and refused to return. Toriola’s father did not want to set precedent of double value and so he did not send him to school. It was his mother who single-handedly took up the task. Both are now dead. SOLA ADEYEMO met the 90-year old SAN designate in Ibadan and he talked about his life and fulfillment.

Toriola who passed his School Leaving exam of Standard Six and was later sent to the Seventh Day Adventist School, Oke Bola in Ibadan, said: “My mother did not live to enjoy the fruit of her labour. She was ill and I was sent for. I went to Erunmu and saw my ailing mother who was about to die. When my mother saw me, she said I should look at her. She died in my arms, but before she died, she said ‘Tori, face your studies.

You will be a teacher and that is where your riches will come from. Please face your studies’. And she later died. The words sank into me and I cried. I finished my teacher’s training that year and I came first. I did examination to Government College and I did another one to Ibadan Grammar School. The Government College would take me as a fee-payer, but the Ibadan Grammar School was ready to give me scholarship. I preferred going to Ibadan Grammar School, but on getting to Ibadan Grammar School, because I came from a village under the Ibadan municipality, I was denied scholarship at first.

They gave native scholarship to Joseph Akinpelu and Salami who were sons of the soil. Then Dr. Agbaje of blessed memory who was the Chairman, kicked. He said’ this man who came first merits it’. And as God would have it, he sponsored me by giving me scholarship. As a poor boy, I did my best. At the school, I saw many pupils in sandals, many amenities. Many of them had wrist watches, but as a poor boy, I had no means. But in my aspiration, I followed my mother’s directive that I should face my studies. She told me that I would be rich if I become a teacher. Then in Erunmu, you either are a teacher or a Nurse or you go to seminary school. But my mother loved my being a teacher.

At Class Four, I did the preliminary Certificate to Cambridge at one St. Tokas in Lagos. I did the exams and passed and did my school certificate privately. By the time I came back to school in January, the result came and I passed. I was worried because my late Principal said he saw my name in the paper that I passed the school certificate. He said he was grooming me up to read Latin. And I lied that it was not my name and that it was another person’s name. I however later confessed to him. By 1954 or thereabout, I was admitted at the Ibadan District Council.

I was living with my Aunty Mrs Ogunsola. From there, I was living with the Esan family where I did my best. Later, I was taken over by the Esan family. Her son, Bunmi Esan (now of blessed memory) later went to England. When I went to England, I was very excited. But my brother did not want me to study Law but Secretarial Studies. I loved it very much because as at that time I was earning £10.6 and 8 and the Secretary of the Council was earning £50 plus.

So, I said when I go there and come back and become Secretary of the Council, it would be a lot of money for me. Chief Kola Daisi came to meet me in England in company of my classmate Dele Ajani. Basorun Kola Daisi and I were living together. I was studying to be a Secretary and I was beating all of them in the General Principles of English Law. When I was doing the Intermediate, Kola Daisi called me by my nickname ‘Olympic’ and asked me what I was doing, though then nobody asked another what he was reading or doing. Asking such would lead to quarrel. I told Daisi that my brother asked me to study Secretaryship and that I should not listen to anybody. And he said ‘Olympic, I want to tell you; you are going to study Law. He said a lawyer can be a Secretary but a Secretary per se cannot be a lawyer.

He insisted and in the course of months, he asked me to do my A Level in order to go to the University. I had the opportunity of going to the University College, London. In 1960, I fulfilled what they wanted me to do. I did not know that with L.LB one could not practice Law. So, he told me I must do BL. I was marveled that Kola wanted to leave me in London and come home. Upon getting my BL in honours, I came back to Nigeria but they hadn’t got a place for me at the Ibadan District Council. So, on 17th July 1962, I was called to the Lincoln Inn Bar in London.

Then in 1963, I came to Nigeria again and equally called to the Nigeria Bar on the 11th of January, 1963. When there was no space for me, I started to practice Law with Chief Adisa Meredith Akinloye. Akinloye was paying me well and I was the Secretary.

I used to remember my late mother’s directive that I must face my studies. Having practised for some time, I later saw an advertisement in the paper that they wanted somebody at the University of Ife. I realised that all the qualifications and criteria that they wanted I had. Then I was employed in 1979 at Ife as expert in Local Government Law and Administration. It was later converted to Fellow in Local Government Law and Administration, thus bringing to fulfillment the prediction of my late mother. I did M.PA (Master in Public Administration) at Ife. At another breadth, as an external candidate, I put in for Ph.D in Administration in a University in America through Correspondence. They said I must do another P.hD here in Ife, but I said I already had a P.hD and so instead, I would have another degree. Do, I did my Master of Philosophy (M.Phil) at Ife.

Fortunately, having expired my quota, I went to the Constituent Assembly of Nigeria in 1988. I was the Chairman of Committee 18 Local Government and Legislative List. Many local governments after then came through my recommendation. Because I love reading and wanted to be proud I was from the parent University, I saw an advertisement again asking for people to teach African Law. I said I am an African and I am proud of my colour. Because of Dr. Hallot who taught me in London and a teacher of African Law, I left Ife and came back to Ibadan. At Ife, I did my M.A in African Law and came first. I was teaching and later did my P.hD in African Law.

They retained me at Ibadan but sometime I saw Prof Owoeye of Lead City University. He is my very good friend. I applied to his Institution and I was accepted to be a professor and Dean of Law on contract basis. I was later asked to Abeokuta Crescent University of Justice Bola Ajibola. I love the place also.

They had 84% for accreditation. The records are there. I was later called at the Al- Hikmah University, Ilorin in Kwara State. I kept writing not only on Nigerian context, but for the world at large. We had Prof. A.T. Sheu as the Dean then. He was wonderful. Though they have given me appointment till next year, I felt Ilorin is too far and the road was bad. I wanted to come home and so I left and came to Adeleke University, Ede. In terms of expansion, in terms of caring for the welfare of staff, that is Adeleke. So, having worked in six or seven Universities, I can judge and postulate which one is which. Apart from ABUAD (Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti), there is no University which is very vast except Adeleke University. I am the Editor-in-Chief of the Adeleke College of Law Journals.

You either write or perish in academics. We have got many editions now. There is someone I must not forget to mention without whom the story of my life is not completed, that is Aare Afe Babalola SAN. I have got to know now that life is worth living when friendship is true. I met Aare Afe Babalola in early 1955. He was a Produce Examiner then and came from Ekiti. He is an icon of the highest order, a very brilliant and amiable friend. I feel absolutely fulfilled and I thank my God that it is not a post-humous award. My message is that you try, try and try again until you succeed. Sooner than later, luck will smile on you.




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