•Justice FOLASHADE AGUDA-TAIWO
Talk of one influential judge in Ondo State Ministry of Justice and Hon. Justice Folashade Aguda-Taiwo, President, Ondo State Customary Court of Appeal’s name will be mentioned. She is the first daughter of a former chief judge of the defunct Western State and Chief Judge of the Ondo State, the Late Hon. Justice Akinola Aguda.
This Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) graduate was called to the Bar on the 2nd July, 1977, (41 years ago) and she became a Judge also in July, 2002. On the 14th of February, 2013 a former governor of Ondo State, His Excellency, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, and the Chief Judge of Ondo State, Hon. Justice Olasehinde Kumuyi, established the State Customary Court of Appeal and she became the pioneer president of the court. Recently, City People’s ADEOLA SHITTU was at her Oke- Ede office in Akure where she opened up on her 41 years at the Bar and 16 years on the Bench in Ondo State. Enjoy!
For the benefit of our readers who is Hon Justice Folashade Aguda-Taiwo?
Hon. Justice Folashade Aguda-Taiwo is married to Tawio, while Aguda is my father’s name. I’m a native of Ondo State, but I was born in Ibadan to the family of the Late Hon. Justice Akinola Aguda.
My father was a former Chief Judge of the Ondo State. I’m the eldest child of my parents. I’m happy to join the Ondo State Bench because it was on the same Bench that my father worked as a chief judge of the defunct Western State before Ondo State was created and he then moved down to Ondo State where he retired. My mother was Chief (Mrs.) Modupe Ore Aguda and she rose to the position of a matron at University College Hospital, Ibadan (UCH) and when my father became the chief judge, she retired and moved down to Akure. Both parents are late now.
Which schools did you attend?
I had my primary education at St. Luke’s Demonstration School, Oke Ado, Ibadan, and attended St. Teresa’s College, Ibadan for my secondary education and Olivet Baptist High School, Oyo for my advanced level Hsc. I proceeded to the famous University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife) where I obtained the LLB (Hons.) Degree in 1976. Thereafter, I attended the Nigerian Law School and was called to the Nigerian Bar on the 2nd of July, 1977.
I had my LLM degree at the University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) in 1983 and I have also attended many other courses. I did the compulsory National Youth Service at the DPP’s office Ijebu-Ode, the Ministry of Justice in Ogun State. I got married during my NYSC programme before I travelled for my master’s.
Could you share with us, how the journey started 41 years ago?
I joined the legal profession in 1977 when I was called to the Bar and this year will mark my 41 years that I was called to the Bar and July 19th, 2002 (16 years ago) that I became a Judge. I did some administrative work with my husband at Ogun State at the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro as an Assistant Registrar.
I also practised law briefly along the line with my late father at Akinola Aguda and Co. It was form there I became a lecturer at the Nigerian Law School, where I served for many years and I rose from the post of lecturer grade 1 to senior lecturer before I left for banking sector as a legal adviser to some banks where I was a Company Secretary of the then Kapital Merchant Group.
When the bank collapsed, I returned to the Law School as a senior lecturer and later promoted Deputy Director, Academics and Head of the Department of Legal Drafting and Conveyancing of the Lagos campus. It was from there that I became a judge at the high court, as at then, there was no customary court of appeal, so I was number 13th on the Bench and I moved up to number 2 on the Bench.
I was next to the former Chief Judge of Ondo State, Hon. Justice Olasehinde Kumuyi and when the Ondo State Customary Court of Appeal was established on 14th of February, 2013, as the most senior on the bench, I was appointed to head the place as the pioneer President of the Ondo State Customary Court of Appeal alongside 3 other Judges. My court and high court are court of coordinate jurisdiction; the only difference is that we only deal with customary cases. We have so many Customary Courts, the Magistrate Courts, and then the High Court.
Thank you very much ma, so, ma can you put us through your growing up days and what they were like?
It was fun and there wasn’t much to talk about. My father was highly educated and my mother too was highly educated because they both met in London and they got married there. My mother was a nursing student, while my father was a law student.
They both got married in 1952 and I was born in 1954, so they married in London before they returned to Nigeria. So, I will say it was a good, well-educated background for me to grow up, you know I told you I went to nursery school, even though we didn’t attend any private school, but the school, myself and siblings attended were good schools. So, I didn’t have any problem growing up.
There wasn’t any problem at all, I will say it was a kind of fun growing up because we were driven in cars by drivers who dropped us at school and brought us back home. Even when I was in a boarding school at St. Teresa’s College, my mother and my father would come and visit at the same time and by the time I gained admission into the university, my father was a judge and also a head of the court ( he was Chief Judge), I can remember when I celebrated my 18th or 21st birthday in Ife then, Justice Ogundare (he died when he was on the Supreme Court Bench) and my father visited me.
The two of them came to visit me in school, so I didn’t have any problem and in between, when I was at Ife, my father became the Chief Judge of Botswana, so I never lacked anything. I will say it was a very good and balance upbringing until my father died in 2001, even before I became a judge, I remember, I became a judge the following year, but my mother died in 2009, so I will say we had a very good, excellent and balanced upbringing. So, in a nutshell, I will say I didn’t lack anything and here I am today. You see, I have been able to bring up my children in the same way, at least, to be satisfied with whatever they were given, though my parents were not rich, definitely not, but we were comfortable. And I have a very good relationship with my siblings as the first born and I will say I’m showing good leadership quality to my younger ones so we are up together now.
Do you mean you were born with a silver spoon?
I don’t know what you mean by the word silver spoon, but all I know is that I was very comfortable. As I said, I didn’t lack anything, I didn’t have to work to pay my school fees, I didn’t do any odd job just to pay my school fees even though I worked a bit. Then the school ended in September, the session then was January to September, after my school certificate, I did my HSC (A Levels), so I went to stay with my aunty at Ife, It was then I worked as an assistant registrar for 9 months. My working experience for that period was with comfort because my Aunty had a car, she would drop me in my office in the morning and would drive me home in afternoon. I celebrated my 19th birthday with her that was when I entered the university, she was lecturing then, so I will say, I didn’t lack anything, I was very comfortable.
So, will you say having been born by a lawyer, motivated your choice of career to become a Judge?
Definitely, I will say Yes, as we speak in my family, I mean the Aguda family, I am the 3rd Judge, my father was the first judge, then he had a younger brother of the same mother, Justice Oluwadare Aguda, he is still alive and he is based in Akure. He serves on the same Ondo State Bench. He is the second judge in my family and I’m the third in the Aguda family. Apart from that, I have aunties and uncles, who are also lawyers.
My aunty, Mrs Jegede (nee Onifade) her mother and my dad’s mother were sisters, she is a lawyer, she is still alive, she is over 80 years old. She worked at the Institute Of Advanced Legal Studies, so when I was going to enter the university, my father was in Botswana as the Chief Judge, I didn’t think of any other course to apply for, except Law.
It’s not as if he said I should do it or I must do it, he didn’t choose anything for us because my immediate younger sister too was qualified for law, but she did languages. She did French, but I like the job because I always saw him reading, I grew up to know him sitting with his books in the library every night writing judgment, so when I was going to enter university, I just applied for Law at University of Ife and Ahmadu Bello University.
Both gave me admission, but because University of Ife was nearer home, I opted for OAU. My younger ones also went to Uni-Ife though, they didn’t study Law, one studied French and the other one did Economics, but I took the decision to studied Law. It will, however, interest you to know that the one who did Economics, is in Akure with us. He is a customary court judge now because this Law thing is in us, and I have a daughter too that is a lawyer, she works in the ministry of justice and so are other family members, who are lawyers, the ones I have encouraged to study law and they are all lawyers now.
So, ma, how do you cope with the challenges as a Judge and as a mother?
Hmmm!, though the two roles are very tasking, but I must say as a hardworking person, who doesn’t tolerate laziness, I’ve been able to balance the role very well. You see, I’m the type, who wakes up before my husband and children in the morning to prepared their breakfast and their lunch are ready in their lunch boxes and I would be the one to drop them at school, pick them up from school because my husband is a medical doctor and mostly he is outside the country (Saudi Arabia), so in a nutshell, I will say I look after the children’s welfare when my husband is not around.
As a Judge, I handle my work within the working period, but don’t forget that the best time for us to read is in the evening. So, most of my works are done in the evening and when I am preparing to deliver my judgment, I can stay all night till the next day or maybe till 12 midnight to write the judgement. You see, these are part of what I saw my father doing and I believe that is the best time for me to read because there would be no distraction and I will be able to do my research and write my judgement.
You see, to get to the top of this career as a Judge can be very competitive because I’m a woman and the only thing I think men should do is to provide for their family because they are the breadwinners. All other things are done by the woman at the background. So, for you to get to this stage of my career is tough. The race is competitive, we have many men in the profession and this post I’m occupying is a political post. There is competition to become chief judge, to become president customary court of appeal, but yet I thank God for His faithfulness and the wisdom he gave me to balance the two roles perfectly.
Ma, there is no doubt that you are a very hardworking woman, as a matter of fact, a very disciplined one, your hard work has earned you the Ondo State female role model award of the year, how do you feel?
First of all, it wasn’t as if I was surprised, but then I didn’t know I was noticed because I’m a very private person. Even if I go to parties, I just go there quietly, celebrate the person, spend modest time, but I’m aware that people know me because I’m a public figure. On the other hand, I was happy, it’s not that I didn’t merit it because I have contributed a lot to the temple of justice and other areas. I have society activities in church that I attend to, I have about 700 people working under me in the court and before I moved here, I was in the high court as 2nd in hierarchy, but now I’m 1st in the hierarchy of the judiciary in Ondo state. So, I’m not surprised, that means I have worked hard to merit that.
Ma, 18 years ago, when you were appointed a judge and 4 years ago as the head of the customary court of Appeal, what were the thoughts running through your mind?
My 18 years journey was not an easy race. I applied generally, I was a lecturer, I have been in practice before, I have lectured, I have been in the banking sector. I have been in the ministry of justice, so I have done everything, so it just came like that, I was in my lecture room, when they called me to become a judge and I was sworn-in two or three days later, I was happy.
It took place when my 2nd daughter was graduating aboard and she made a first class, I couldn’t attend, but my husband went. I couldn’t go because I had to concentrate on my investiture and it was the same day. So, I was happy that I was called to the Bench. Though, I could have even been on the Bench before then because I applied to the Lagos state judiciary for the post before then.
There was a time Lagos State, took about 40 judges. The panel interviewed 2 persons before it was my turn. My name was among the last four that were short-listed into batches of 20, but for reason best know to them, and my father wouldn’t go and talk to anybody that they should pick me, because he felt I should continue with my lecturing job, believing that when you are old enough, you would be appointed a judge.
So, I became a Judge at the age of 47. He didn’t really push me, but when he died, I said yes, I must replace him and I was happy that I was called to the Bench in Ondo State because if I was called earlier in Lagos State, I won’t have been anything, because people were then going back to their states to work. For instance, everybody working under me, couldn’t go and work in another state, if you are not from that state.
So, in my case, I was happy that I had to work for my state and also the state where my father worked. So, I was happy the day I heard the news and I knew uneasy lies the head that wears the crown because everyone would be looking at me and also be looking at my father. So, I had to work harder than other persons, because no one could ever be compared with men of that generation, because they worked harder than us.
They read more than us. Now, we are distracted by one thing or the other. My father always read mostly when he had nowhere to go to, but we are still better than our children, I knew from day one that I came to the Bench that my uncle was there supporting me, so I have to work hard, so I knew I have to work hard, I don’t want to say because of him, I got to this position, so generally speaking I was happy. I was called to Bench in 2002.
Do you have any regrets in your choice of career?
I had no regret at all, though, generally speaking, the challenge I face is the competition and, of course, the society adopts men, but I have been able to prove my worth that I can do it. And I wasn’t selected because of my father’s name, rather I too added my own name and I worked hard for it. They won’t say because of her father that’s why they put her there, No, because if I didn’t merit it, they would not put me in this position, I had worked hard for it and a lot of people are emulating me. As I also emulated my father.
Generally speaking, for a job to be successful, you should not be corrupt, I don’t think I can tolerate corruption, I can’t tolerate laziness and, of course fraud. When you say you are corrupt, that means your integrity is at stake and your family’s name is at stake, if my father could rise to that stage of a Chief Judge, and still has a good name, of course, there is no way I could tarnish that image.
So, I have to look up to him. My mother was the Iya-Ijo of St. Thomas Church. My mother was very religious, and it’s the religious part of her that I have copied, but the bigger aspect of it was my father I emulated and my uncle, my father has been dead 16 years ago, right before I became a judge, but my uncle is still alive. He has been the one assisting me when I have issues. So, definitely, I don’t regret anything at all or anything I have done, and I’m happy the way everything has turned out and I’m satisfied.
As a judge, a mother, a very disciplined and hardworking woman, what is your word of encouragement to the younger generation, who are aspiring to become lawyers?
The same advice that I have given to my son, who is one of my legal assistants and all of them. The advice is even relevant to my other colleagues that are judges, especially, those who were appointed 4 years ago, I have been appointed 13 years ago, so they are junior to me, I always advise them to work hard.
That there is no easy way to success and there is no cheating to success. If you work hard, your work would speak for you. I prefer to do things on merit, I don’t like people just bringing names and picking them. Let it be competitive. Let the seekers do the test, so when they do well, they would be promoted, I like that.
So, there is no one who would work for me that would be lazy, I can assure you that, I have told my children and my advice to them is that they should be dedicated to anything they are doing, to work hard and to be prayerful, because it’s one thing to work and not supported with prayers, it would just be as if you are just working.
Nobody would recognise you. Anytime there are challenges, face them. If they give you any work, go and do your research very well, read this, read that and be ready to have a go at it. I encouraged them to buy their law books, law reports. They should have their laptops and do their research. Whether you are a lawyer or not, before you can get to the top, it’s not easy. And to those graduates looking for jobs, they should go into trading, plumbing, electrical work and other vocational training in other to support themselves and their families.
The administrative aspect of you will always reflect in what you are doing. So, generally speaking, they should have integrity, they must have a names and also protect their name and they must be hardworking and prayerful. Then, if you are on the lower rungs of the ladder don’t try to overtake those who are ahead of you. If it’s promotion that is okay Merit the promotion, that’s my advice.
As a successful judge, do you really have any role model?
My role models are my parents, my mother as a mother when we were growing up, she would wake us up early in the morning for prayers, no matter how sleepy we were in the morning. We all had house duties to do. We were not spoilt even though we had house helps, but we all had our different roles to play in the house. So, I appreciated her, if I didn’t go through those training, maybe I would have been a very lazy person, I would just sit down and be looking for an opportunity that if I mentioned my father’s name they would put me there, when you don’t even merit the position.
They would say ah! This one is a let down, would pull down the family’s name. Look at her, she is so lazy, so my mother was my role model as far as hardworking and prayers in the home are concerned. But as far as my work here is concerned, my father and my uncle are my role models because when my father died, my uncle took over. We are very close. So, those are my role models. Aside family members, I also have some older people too, like Justice Kayode Eso, one of my father’s friend. He too was very good. Alhaji Fasiro is almost 100 years, he is still alive, his daughter is justice Kekereekun. She is in the Supreme Court, I lived with him when I was in the Law School, he was my father’s classmate, but the most important persons are my parents and Justice Dare Aguda.
Ma, owing to your status and tight schedule, how do you relax?
Ah! I like going out, if your daughter is getting married and I know you, I might come and spend about one hour or two with you, I will support you very well and go back to my house. I like travelling attending conferences, even when on holidays, I like to know places. I’m a private person, I like gardens in my leisure time I do gardening, I like reading, but I like socialising. I like church activities, meetings, even though the way I relate with them, they won’t know I’m a judge, most of them are even older than me, at their level I get to know them, I respect them.