On 14th December 2020, I was admitted to the Inner Bar as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), after having taken one of the most carefully worded oaths of allegiance to the Constitution, truth, justice and the Federal Republic.
Shortly before the oath-taking, there were speeches by the CJN, President of the NBA, the AGF, and the most senior member of the Inner Bar. (The Inner Bar is composed of all SANs; all other lawyers are members of the Outer Bar). In his speech, the most senior Senior Advocate informed us, the new conferees, that our admission to the Inner Bar was a rite of passage from being common men to the Nigerian Oligarchy. I confirmed from the conferee who sat next to me that what I heard was what was said. I got the confirmation.
Now, I did not start life as a child of an oligarch. I am not coming with the shoeless narrative that has become very common when successful Nigerians tell the stories of their early humble beginings. My father, Ezekiel Oyinboegbola Olatubora, (his closed friends called him” E.O.”) died as the Regent of Laragunsin of Iyansan in 2000 at the age of 80. Iyansan is a town in Irele Local Government Area of Ondo State. My grandfather OMATUBARA was the Oba (Laragunsin) of Iyansan. He joined his ancestors in 1952. Our family name, OLAOMATUBARA, is a sentence in Ikale dialect. In rough translation the name means:One who has children has hope, security and possibly, insurance cover.To shorten the length of this name and because of the need to convert it to standard Yoruba for wider understanding, some members of our family simply write Olatubora while some write Omotubora as their surnames. These names should really be Olatoobora or Omotoobora in standard Yoruba.
I was born during and had my first three years of existence in the period of the Nigerian needless Civil War. In Iyansan and of course in the Ikale area of Ondo State, my father was a “bigman”. My Dad was learned by the standard of his time. He had Standard Six Certificate and wrote English in cursive handwriting. My Dad was a timber merchant who also had other lines of businesses in construction sands, granite and gravel haulaging as well as human transportation. So he had Austin and Morris trucks for his timber haulage, Bedford for construction materials transportation and Peugeot 504 station wagon for human transportation between Okitipupa and Ibadan. The foregoing sketch about my Dad is to dispel the shoeless narrative that has often become common with successful Nigerian Oligarchs from humble backgrounds. I had and wore shoes as a child! My Dad actually bought our shoes from Bata Company or UAC in Lagos.
I remember how much we treasured the paper labels that came with the shoes and most times refused to take them off from the shoes as long as that was possible. I have great respect for those who did not wear shoes when they were young because their parents could not afford. As children of these days would say: “Life no balance”. It has never been balanced. However, in spite of my Dad’s relative comfortable economic well-being, we his children (and we are many as my Dad was an active polygamist), were deliberately made to go through all lessons and practices in hardworking.
I was born in March 1967, and in September 1972, I was enrolled in United Native Authority (U.N.A) Primary Iyansan. My Mum, Olufunke Ogunsakin-Olaluwoye, is not learned. She is a cassava and plantain farmer. She is in her late 80s.
After school, in those days, I would along with my siblings and other children, whose parents were also farmers, go to meet my Mum in her farm. We called the farm area Ofiogo. Ofiogo was some 6 to 7 kms from Iyansan. On getting to the farmstead, I as well as my other siblings, would be given some work to do in the farm. Depending on the season, it could be manual ploughing, yam heaps making, planting of cassava or weeding. At the close of work, we would be given loads to carry back home. Those loads could be firewood or plantains or cassava or anything useful.
In those days, we would return home from the farm sometimes at around 6.00pm and sometimes it could be as late as 8.00pm. Whether we came back early or late we, the children, most times alone and some times along with our Mums would be required to go to the river (Owena or Ejie) to fetch water for use in the house. That done, we would settle to cook or join our Mums in cooking. We took our dinners sometimes as late as 10.00pm. If you have been wondering why potbelly is common among village boys, you probably have gotten one here. But no matter how late we the children close with household chores, we must compulsorily read our books, do our assignments or “homeworks” as they were sometimes called in those days, ready for school the next day. My Dad enforced this.
Reading at home during my primary school days was funny. We used bush lamps for reading. That lamp fabricated by tinkers from discarded tins of powdered milk or any other products. The lamp has a wick which extends from its pencil shaped top to its tank. The wick drains kerosene from the lamp’s tank to the topmost end that is then set alight to provide illumination. A bush lamp has a tape of flat iron in semi-circe shape attached to the middle of its tank which serves as its handle. This is the reason the Yoruba call it “Atupa olowo” meaning “hand held lamp” .Those, in my generation in the rural areas, who used Atupa olowo would testify that in the following morning, it was customary to find soots or some black substances in our noses, resulting from inhalation of carbon from Atupa olowo.
Now, at U.N.A Primary school, Primary 1 and Primary 2 Classes used the U.N.A church hall constructed with mud. In week days, the church hall would be divided into two, using rafia palm mat (ojiko). Whenever primary I and Il had their classes simultaneously, it was a bedlam, a cacophonous confusion. Sometimes it was difficult to know whether certain instructions were from our class teacher or from the teacher of the other class in the other end of the rafia mat makeshift wall. In those days, some of us children, including yours sincerely would have stocked our uniforms pockets with some pepples. We would create some openings in the makeshift rafia wall separating Pry I from 2; target pupils of the other class and throw pebbles at them. Pupils of the other class would also put in their “replies” and often times there would squabbles or fights, sometimes leading to all pupils or the culprits being canned by the teachers.
In our time in U.N.A. Primary School, only Prys III to VI were taught in the available four class rooms. Whatever deficiency we had as a result of inadequate class rooms and burdensome household chores was supplemented by the commitment of our teachers. We had committed Pry school teachers who gave instructions and monitored our academic performance.
I started Primary School the same day with my immediate older brother, Bayo Omotubora. It was Bayo that my Dad requested our headmaster to come early in the morning of a day in September 1972 to take to U.N.A. Primary School, to start primary education. When the headmaster got to our house, Bayo was handed over to him. He took a curious look at me and suggested to my Dad that I was old enough to start primary school. Although Bayo was older with some two years, we both started Primary the same day and round it up the same day in 1979. (We both started secondary school in September 1979 and round up1984. Bayo studied at United Grammar School Irele, while I studied in Comprehensive High School, Irele. We both studied for our Higher School Certificate between 1986-1988 at Sani Luba Continuing Education Centre, Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State. We were both admitted to UNILAG for law in 1989/1990 session and graduated in 1992. We both studied at the Nigerian Law School in 1993 and were both called to Bar the same year).
I was a day-student at Comprehensive High School Irele. I lived in my uncle’s house. My uncle, Baba Z.l.Odimayo, popularly called Baba Saka, was a great disciplinarian and a member of the traditional Irele Oligarchy. He had great children who were also very well-educated. A particular one of my uncle’s children called Sam Odimayo, had a great influence on me, (albeit unknown to him) because he was and he is still a brilliant and very ambitious young man. Through him, I got the idea of Higher School Certificate which later turned out to be the means of my admission to UNILAG in 1989/90 session.
Life as a Worker for my Dad
Now, during every holiday in our secondary school days, Bayo and I would go from Irele to Iyansan to spend the holidays periods with my Dad. During our holidays, we joined our Dad in his timber-sourcing business. The job involved going to the forest reserves or free forest areas to cut down trees. To create bush roads and to load logs of wood into my Dad’s truck. Those logs were usually brought to the beach of Owena River in Iyansan. Usually, cutting and haulage of logs took place during the dry seasons and whenever the rains began to set in, we would start with turning the logs down the slope of the beach to the river where the logs were floated and put together in rafts.
Wood rafting involved interpasing sinkers with floaters and nailing them together with U-shaped nails into wooden rods. The logs are hanged; nailed into the wooden rods. That done, wires would be passed round the rafts and logs were ready to be pulled on along the waterways from Iyansan through Arogbo, , Atijere in Ese-Odo and Ilaje LGAs, through the waterways of Ogun waterside to Lagos Lagoon down to Oko Baba under Third Mainland Bridge in Ebute Metta, where the woods would be measured and sold according to their cubical contents and species to sawmillers.
Life as a Waterboy for my Dad
After rafting logs of wood, the logs as I said earlier, would be pulled by some specialised tug boats from Iyansan to Lagos. A raft in upland logs was composed of between 7 to 9 logs depending on their sizes. After the completion of rafting, we would build some huts on top of some of the rafts. These huts composed basically a rafia bed with overhead wooden facade covered with thatched rafia leaves. The huts were to serve as accommodation for the waterboys. There is usually a place at the legs end of the waterboys’ hut that is reserved for food storage, kerosene stove, cooking utensils, plates, bowls and so on. The job of the waterboys are basically to carry on inspection of the logs in the course of their being pulled from Iyansan or any other locations to Oko Baba, Ebutte Meta Lagos. If the logs are becoming loosened, the U-shaped nails that held them fastened to the wooden rod would be re-hammered. Etc.
My Dad did not spare me from the waterboy job. In 1981 during the long vacation, and after we had joined my Dad’s regular workers to complete logs rafting and got the logs set for haulage to Lagos, my Dad wanted me to go with the other waterboys, principally to help him monitor their activities. It was customary for dishonest waterboys to sell of part of their principals’ merchandise along the waterways to Lagos. The plan to go to Lagos with the woods along with the other waterboys was to be a secret one between my Dad and I. The plan was to be implemented after my Mum had left home for her farm. My mother would be afraid and might break down if she heard I was to embark on such trip. The secret plan between my Dad and I was to force a fait accompli on my Mum. So, in that particular occasion, by the time my Mum came back in the evening from her farm, I had gone with the logs. In that trip, I supervised not only my Dad’s business, I coordinated the other waterboys, some of who were old enough to be my father. But I gave those other workers utmost respect.
My first experience as a waterboy was difficult and dangerous. But I was up to the task. I was 14 years old. At 14, there was no work an adult could do that I was not capable of doing with respect to my Dad’s logging job. I knew the forests, I knew the trees by their leaves, bark or texture. I could take forest guards to all locations where my Dad’s logs were for hammering. I scribed logs with scribbing knife and engraved Government’s approvals indicators on the cut surfaces of logs. At 14, l joined hands with my Dad’s paid workers (we colloquially called them “labourers”), to make truck roads in the forest and to load logs into our Austen and later Morris trucks.
So the first trip as water boy to Lagos took us through Arogbo Junction to Biagbene, to Akpata in Ese-Odo LGA, Obe Nla and Eruona in Ilaje LGA, where the tug boats broke down at a point along the water way to Orioke Iwamimo, directly opposite the workshop of a popular speed boats maker called HACOGEN. We were stocked in Eruona on the 4th day of our journey from Iyansan and was to spend the next 16 days in that spot before the tug boat was repaired by a team of mechanics from Lagos. So from Iyansan to Lagos, that trip took us 30 days on water. I embarked on such trips annually from 1981 to 1986 when Bayo and l Ieft my Dad’s business for our HSC in ljebu Ode.
Life as a waterboy could be nasty and brutish. To some, it could be short too. The work of the water boy is dangerous. When the logs are moving in the inland fresh waterways, the journey’s hazard is limited to massive mosquito bites along the Ese-Odo and Ilaje waterways, particularly at a village called Igan-igbo in Ese-Odo, where mosquitoes reputedly manhandled a dog, leading the dog to run into the river where it got drowned.
When the tug boat and the logs get to Lagoon call Agan, a large water body which spreads from Tekunle to Iwopin, the danger confronting waterboys changes from that of mosquitoes to the effects of Lagoon sea-like waves on the logs. The tug captain must be a good weather man to know the right time to sail through Agan. Many lives have been lost and many logs of wood have irretrievably been scattered in Agan, leading to the ruination of the businesses and lives of many timber merchants. I did in the course of working as waterboy for my Dad experience turbulent sea waves. We had similar experiences in many occasions immediately we exited the cover provided by an island in the Lagos Lagoon around Egbin notoriously called “Palava land”and were heading towards Ebute Metta. Many lives have been lost and many logs lost and logging businesses brought to ruination around the Lagos Lagoon. Imagine that a boy of 14 years went through such experience and loved it.
My Life as Truck Loader and Driver for my Dad
After school certificate in 1984, Bayo and I tried our hands on several admission options but we did not know that my Dad had planned that we would work for him in his timber work before proceeding further in our education. So after our school certificate examination in 1984 and after some attempts at securing admission for higher studies, Bayo and I got admitted to DAVOG INSTITUTE in Benin to study Catering Services and Hotel Management. My Dad sat us down and told us in plain language that we both had to work for him in his timber business to enable him muster enough resources to finance our education. He further told us that the Benin School did not match his own idea of a higher institution of learning.
In those days, children had no say when the parents wanted things to be done in a particular way and time. So between 1984 and 1985 we worked for my father. Bayo and I worked for my Dad as wood fetchers and as waterboys. In the 1984/1985 logging season, my Dad through our commitment made three logs haulage trips to Lagos instead of the usual one or rarely two. At the end of the season, we met with my Dad and requested to go for further education. My Dad sat us down with our Mums, narrated why Bayo and I should work for one additional year before proceeding to higher school. My Dad had his way. In the 1985/1986 logging season, I worked for my Dad as truck loader/driver, wood fetcher and as waterboy.
Finally in September 1986, after a successful logs trip to Lagos for my Dad, Bayo and I secured admission to Sani Luba Continuing Education Centre, Ijebu-Ode, where we both had our Higher School Certificate education. In the 1989/90 Session, we both used our HSCs to secure admission to the University of Lagos where we studied for our LL.B.
The thesis of the above highly abridged narrative of my childhood is that in spite of the relative comfortable position of my Dad, my Dad exposed me and my siblings to hard work. This hard work built us up. It taught us early in life the value of money and how not to be wasteful if we happen to be able to make some. My becoming a SAN may not have come early enough by human calculation, but whenever I reflect on the obscurity of the place I was born and rose from, the quality of early schools I attended, the dangerous and adventurous childhood I had, I come to the inevitable conclusion that God is involved and I give all glory and honour of my elevation to God Almighty, the ruler of heaven and earth. He raised destiny helpers for me along the road of my life, and particularly in the last four months. I owed my destiny helpers a debt of gratitude which God Almighty will help me to pay.
Whereas many of my colleagues in the 2020 SANs list are from the Elite and Bourgeoisie, I represent the rural areas, the down-trodden, the farmers, the carpenters, the bricklayers and the wood fetchers, in the Nigerian Oligarchy.
Remi Olatubora, SAN