The death of Chief Ladi Williams, SAN, has hit me like a thunderbolt from the blues. It was least expected. It is more painful, going by the news that he died from COVID-19 complications, even after the vaccine.
Chief Ladi is said to have actually been inoculated with the two dozes of the vaccine, as medically recommended. This clearly puts to question the compulsion that the Federal Government is already flying a kite about, to the effect that all Nigerians must be vaccinated, otherwise they will be denied certain privileges, such as international travels and access to certain facilities.
It merely shows that at the end of the day, that COVID-19 has come to stay with us for good, like malaria, tuberculosis, polio, HIV, asthma and other diseases but all of which have been greatly controlled and even tamed.
Ladi Williams’ death is most painful to me because here was a very good hard-working gentleman, who valiantly tried to step into the incredibly large shoes of his late father, Chief FRA Williams, SAN (“Timi the Law”), of “the black table” fame.
But, FRA’s shoes were actually larger than life, as he was simply an iconic colossus in a class of his own. Chief Ladi’s unexpected death is also sneeringly painful because, here was a man given to extraordinary humility. So humble he was that he literally and figuratively wore humility like his second skin.
He was ever so sartorial and gregarious. He was found, either always smiling, or laughing; occasionally with a guffaw. He was simply luminous; incandescent. Chief Ladi simply possessed presence, panache and gravitas. He had class and carriage. He mixed freely. I can recall a particular experience in early 2009, which I will never forget in my life.
Chief Ladi was leading me and other very senior lawyers, who were not only very senior to me in the legal profession, but were also SANs, in a case before the Federal High Court, Lagos. By that early 2009, I was not even yet a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
The case was for arguing a bail application for Chief Femi Fani Kayode (FFK), who had prayerfully urged his legal team that he would want me to personally argue his bail application. He based his humble request on my past performances between 2007 and 2008, when I had defended him in some cases in Abuja.
Of course, I had no mouth to speak on this issue, because I was perhaps the most junior in the legal team. I could not therefore dare to bring it up when he expressed his personal desire to me. I told him clearly in unmistakable terms that in the legal profession, it was not possible for a junior to be heard arguing a matter when his seniors were present .
I told him it was simply unthinkable, as it was a legal anathema and unbespoken sacrilege. I did not know that FFK had also made the same proposal quietly and confidentially to Chief Ladi Williams.
To my utter bewilderment and amazement, when the case was called in court the following day, Chief Ladi Williams stood up, in all his magisterial gait, and announced himself as leading all the lawyers who had appeared with him in the bail application. Then, he dropped the clincher. He said, “My Lord, I would pray that you permit our learned friend, Chief Mike Ozekhome, to argue this bail application on our behalf”.
Expectedly, some other very Senior Advocates in the team who had appeared in the matter, were visibly livid with rage and disappointment. Chief Ladi merely shrugged his shoulders and countered that he was merely exercising his privilege as the leader of the team. I was dumbfounded and greatly humbled. I thanked him and the Judge profusely, for so permitting me, a little fry in the team, to handle the ball application on behalf of the members.
By the grace of Almighty God, I argued the bail application very competently and brilliantly, to the utter joy of FFK, Chief Ladi Williams, SAN, and the presiding Judex, who openly commended me. FFK was admitted to bail on very liberal terms. I was overwhelmed with joy that I did not disappoint Chief Ladi and FFK who invested so much trust, faith and confidence in me. I recall that I left the court that day very happy, energised and fulfilled. Then, Chief Ladi was to throw a bigger bombshell later in the day.
As I was driving to my then humble abode in Igando, Alimosho, Lagos, near the old toll gate that leads to Ibadan, my phone rang. It was close to the spot where the late Kudirat Abiola was dastardly, gruesomely and horrifically murdered. Behold, it was Chief Ladi Williams on the line. What did he want? He was to tell me words I will never forget in my life.
Frightened, and very gingerly, I said, “sir, I want to thank you for the privilege and honour you accorded me today in allowing me handle the matter where legal giants like you and others were physically seated.”
He said he was calling me to tell me something quite different. I was scared. I wondered what it was, half suspicious he was probably going to say something negative. I prayed silently against such.
God, I just wanted to be allowed to savour the joy of the day. Was he going to throw spanners? Why not just leave me alone, I silently moaned, with bated animation. In measured words, Chief Ladi simply said, “Look Mike, I love you and we love you in the legal profession. You make us proud. Your brilliant outing today could only have been done by two lawyers I know of. And do you know the lawyers?” he asked
. I said “no, sir.” He said, “my late father, Chief FRA Williams, SAN, and one young lawyer called Chief Mike Ozekhome”. Gosh! Was I dreaming? I was so shocked at his kind words, that for seconds, I lost my voice.
When I eventually gathered myself together, I lavishly thanked him. And he insisted he meant every word of it. I was not only greatly humbled once more but was fired to do better in the legal profession.
Ever since then, Chief Ladi Williams and I had become close, even if distant in frequent physical interactions. He showed me undeserved love. I regarded him as an ‘egbon’, a very caring elderly brother, tapping from his inexhaustible pool of knowledge and wisdom. He had depth and breadth of these.
So, Chief Ladi Williams was one lawyer in Nigeria that I admired and adored.
There are some other few lawyers (some late, and some still living (whose names I will not mention here, but I know they know themselves), that fall into this my pantheon of heroes.
Of course, undoubtedly, everybody knows my close relationship with late Chief Kanmi Ishola-Osobu (people’s lawyer), with whom I interned throughout my University of Ife days.
He first showed me the beauty and fire inherent in legal practice. And of course, legendary and iconic Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, SAM, with whom I closely worked, and later rose to become the Deputy Head of chambers in 1985. He fondly called me “Ozekbaba”, “mobile dictionary”, and “mobile library”.
These are lawyers that have made everlasting positive impact on me and my career. I will never ever forget them in the remaining days of my earthly sojourn. God bless them. Itsee.
Death is inevitable but the sting is always very weakened and rendered useless by the simple fact that when we die, we shed our corporal body for the spiritual body; the terrestrial for the celestial. At that stage, we become indestructible. We transmit from life of mortality to life of immortality. In that transition process, death itself is vanquished.
So, Chief Ladi Williams has defeated death, because death is ephemeral. He has shamed death by leaving death behind with its ugly visage. He has transmuted to eternity.
So, death, where is thy avowed sting? You too shall die and rise no more. But, Chief Ladi will rise again. So, he has roundly defeated you.
That is the wide difference, shameless death! I believe in the mighty name of our Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth, that God will forgive Chief Ladi his earthly sins and grant him eternal repose of his kind soul in His warm bossom.
There, we shall all meet on resurrection day, and we shall part no more. May God rest Chief Ladi Williams SAN’s beautiful soul. Adieu, Chief. Farewell, the Law. Goodbye, great egbon.
Crack your ribs
“Lawyers wear wigs because you need to be a woman to win an argument”- Anonymous.
Thought for the week
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less”. (Marie Curie).
God bless my numerous global readers for always keeping fate with the Sunday Sermon on the Mount of the Nigerian Project, by humble me, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, FCIArb., LL.M, Ph.D, LL.D. kindly, come with me to next week’s exciting dissertation.
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