When the news broke a few days ago that popular Lagos Lawyer, Layi Babatunde (SAN) was clocking 60, it came as a pleasant surprise to many who know him. This is because he does not look it. Over the years, he has managed to keep his youthful look and he has continued to look that way. There is nothing about him that suggests his new age.
A few days back, he clocked that age and held an open house party at his Lagos home. He had every reason to be grateful to God for all He has done for him, from having had a fulfilling legal career, to how well his wife and children have turned out. He is married to Adejoke, a Lawyer and two of his children are Lawyers already. So, he is a happy man. He not only runs a flourishing law firm, he is a SAN. And he also publishes Law Reports that many lawyers have depended on for years.
Layi Babatunde was called to the Bar over 3 decades ago and has remained inactive private legal practice, to which he added Law publishing about 19 years ago. He was admitted to the Inner Bar in 2004.
He is the Managing Partner of Layi Babatunde & Co; a full-fledged service law firm, representing both local and foreign clients. He is also Editor-In-Chief, Judgments of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (S.C Reports) hitherto published by the Supreme Court and now published by Law Breed Limited (on the authority of the Supreme Court of Nigeria)
He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (UK) and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CITN). An Associate Member, of the World Organisation of Notaries and Member of the Inaugural Council of the Business Law Section of the Nigerian Bar Association. A regular facilitator with the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS). He was recently honoured with a Merit Certificate in recognition of his resounding accomplishment by the Business Men Journal. He has to his credit, several law practice publications and served as a Legal Assessor to the Medical and Dental Disciplinary Tribunal for several years. Last week, Monday, City People Publisher SEYE KEHINDE, spoke with him about his new life at 60. Below are excerpts.
How do you feel turning 60?
I feel happy. I am grateful to God for sparing my life up to this time and in good health. Looking at where one is coming from and where one is today, you cannot but be grateful to God. If I look back to when I was in Primary School, I never ever imagined that a day like this will come and that by the grace of God, I will be 60, we will be celebrating a few of the achievements that God has helped me to achieve.
And to realise that you chose to read Law and somewhere along the line, God has made you attain the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria. And you have your family intact. And you got married to a woman who is also a Lawyer and you’ve got children and by the grace of God, they are all doing well. 2 of our children are lawyers now, something a lot of people pray for. God has been good to me. There is every reason to thank God.
You turned 40, then 50 and now 60. What are your reflections?
I believe the older you get, the more tolerant you become. I have seen that. Some years back, there are things I would not just be able to accommodate or stomach. But as you grow older, you are more accommodating and tolerant. Your perspectives get broadened. You begin to realise that there are so many sides to every story. It makes you be a little more sober. Progressively, one will begin to notice some changes in attitude, outlook and all that. But the core values will remain.
Do you feel 60?
It’s interesting because I don’t feel 60. I don’t feel what people say about what those who turn 60 feels. Some of my older friends say once you turn 60 you start feeling somehow in your body and in your joints. The truth of it is that, with all sense of modesty, it is just news to me. God has saved me from all of those things, like body pains, knee problems, being unable to walk. All those things are assumed to be normal, to come with ageing. It varies from one person to another. Of course, you can’t continue to feel as young as when you were young. I think reasonably one can still trust God for sound health. I have every cause to thank God for that.
Where were you born? Where was your growing up?
I was born in Nigeria.
Where in Nigeria?
(He laughs) Let’s leave it at that. It’s enough for me to say I was born in Nigeria. I had all my education here in Nigeria. I schooled in Kano. I was in primary school in Kano when the Civil War broke out and on account of that, we had to move to Zaria, with my Uncle whom I was living with.
So, I finished my Primary school in Baptist Day School, as it was then called in Sabon Gari, Zaria. And then, I went on to St. Johns College, that is now called Rimi College for my secondary school. Rimi College is at AnguanRimi, in Kaduna. So, I went from Kano to Zaria and to Kaduna. Kaduna used to be a peaceful and lovely city, with other schools like Queen Amina, St. Patricks, and all of those Catholic Schools. Let me digress to say that for some of us, who schooled in the North our hearts bleed for what we see that our country has turned out to be. In St. John College in those days, we had people from all over the country. The late, Nzeogwu went to St. Johns College. It was a melting point for all Nigerians. That’s why some of us have friends from all over the country. What is happening in Kaduna now is quite depressing.
In those days, we had so many fantastic schools in Kaduna and we had students from all over the country attending. They came from the East, from the West from the North and we all lived together as a family. We ate together. We played together. We went out together. So, what is happening today up North is very shameful. It is very bad to see how we have managed the situation. I am talking of 1972 to 1976. I did my ‘A’ levels in Kwara State, which is my state. As at that time, we used to sit for the Cambridge ‘A’ level exams. From there I went to the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, which is where I graduated in Law and from there, I went on to Law school.
I did my NYSC scheme at the Federal Ministry of Justice from my experience there, I have come to respect lawyers, who work in the civil service. The ministry is a melting pot of knowledge, we have an amalgamation of very senior lawyers, middle-level lawyers, junior lawyers, everybody meeting minds. You can’t find one law office where you will find the kind of manpower and knowledge available in one spot.
I was fortunate to have served at the Federal Ministry of Justice in Lagos, at Marina. Then, we had the late Nwadialo, we had late Justice Adio, who later became Chief Judge of Oyo State. Incidentally, one of Justice Adio’s children, Seni is a lawyer and a SAN. My daughter works with him now. Then we had Justice Omotade, who also retired as a Judge of the High Court in Ekiti. We had Dr. Ajala then Mrs. Latinwo. She is late now. She was a fantastic lady. Then, we had Dr. Nwazoje. There were fantastic people there at the Ministry. We had as Attorney General, Chief Richard Akinjide, then Chief Sofola. They are all very senior lawyers. As at that time, to the best of my knowledge, the Federal government agencies, including FEDECO, usually approach the Federal Ministry of Justice (Civil Litigation Dept) for legal opinion. That shows you the calibre of people in the ministry. So, I was very fortunate to have been in the midst of these learned men. And I had the opportunity of travelling all over the country. Travelling made it easier for me to set up my law practice not long after that, after my youth service.
I was called to the Bar in 1983. did my youth service between 1983 to 1984, I then joined an existing partnership just for a very short period, which didn’t work out as expected. and by November 1984, I set up my practice. And see where God has brought me to today. That is why I said when I look back it was a very big risk I took to go ahead and set up my Law firm at the time I did and a lot of people were alarmed at my decision. People were wondering how I was going to survive.
But honestly, from what I went through, from the training I got from my seniors in the Ministry I knew I could survive. I had more than one Principal. If I had an issue to solve I could go to any one of them. I could go to Mr. Adio’s office or I could go to Mr. Omotade, or Dr. Ajala’s office or to Mr. David West, who was a Permanent Secretary. It was so fantastic that, I as a Youth Corper, I could go to the Permanent Secretary’s office. That gave me tremendous opportunities. The perm sec was the one who posted me to the Civil Dept. I travelled virtually all over the country. I wanted to do active advocacy. I was first of all posted to Commercial Law division. But I didn’t like it. So, I went to meet the Perm Sec and he changed it for me. Let me confess that on my first day in court in Ibadan, I could not sleep the night before. That was my first appearance as a Counsel. I read the file over and over in the night. It was just a Motion, but I read the file so many times. I will stand up from my bed and go back to recheck it. And it paid off because I realise that something was amiss in the case of the plaintiff. And once I pointed that out to the court the court was surprised. And that was it. I argued the point and the court gave its ruling and threw out the case that emboldened me.
I did that as a Youth Corper. My Principals all encouraged me. They gave us knowledge. They gave us exposure and support. There was a judge I appeared before as a youth corper. He couldn’t believe it. He said “and they sent you to my court? And you are doing Youth Service?” When I got back to work, I told the director who assigned the case to me. He said you’ve been called to the Bar. I am not taking the file from you. He said if they keep sending you away, I will keep sending you back. I went the 2nd time. And I went the 3rd time. This time, I was prepared to tell the court that I was not disqualified as a youth corper in any way to argue my case. As if the court knew what I was coming to do, as I announced my appearance, there was no reaction, no word about my being a Youth Corper. They encouraged us so well and one had confidence and the grace of God to start up my law practice.
Why did you study Law and not something else?
To be honest with you, it’s providential. That is the honest truth. I didn’t have it all mapped out. When I was in the University my idea was to read Sociology. I didn’t know much about the course really, in truth. But it sounded so nice and fantastic. That was before I entered the University. But when I collected my form, for whatever reason, all my choice, of course, was Law, Law and Law. Every course I chose was Law. And then the admission came.
You are very passionate about all the ethnic nationalities embracing one another. Why are you so worried about that?
Maybe because like I told you I have lived in several places across Nigeria and I have friends who act across the country. We need to see ourselves more as Nigerians, as brothers, and sisters. I had my primary school in the North. I had my secondary school in the North. And I came back to Kwara State because of Admission.
I believe it’s ok to say that: on account of Nigeria’s warped University admission policy – catchment areas etc I lost a year before going to UNife. It was that interlude after my Cambridge ‘A’ levels, that I went to teach at a secondary school, Ipee, Kwara State. That was in 1978. My initial loss became my gain though, as a lot of my students are now my brothers, sisters and friends today. When I lost my mum in 2017 a lot of them travelled from near and far. They came to my village to celebrate the life of my mum with me. Some of them called me, I could not even remember many of them or who they were. They were telling me I was their teacher in a school in Ipee, in Kwara State.
They virtually at their expense, took over my Mother’s burial last year! With the help and grace of God, all things worked out to the glory of God. Our leaders should work harder to tear down the barriers of deprivation erected against the promotion of merit in our country, if we will attain the ultimate destiny of our country, which is to lead our continent and, indeed, the world. We need to build a country that works for all without regard to ethnicity or religion.
I believe we are all one in the sight of God. I have relations and friends, that are Muslims or other members of other ethnic groups. they cannot be lesser human beings on account of that. If anything, I regard them as brothers and sisters. Can’t understand why we keep plotting and hurting one another on account of ethnicity and religion. What is happening in Nigeria today makes the heart of every right-thinking Nigerian to ponder and bleed! May God heal our land.
May we see beyond our individual pockets, bag or purse!
Living up North made me learn how to speak Hausa. It also made me make friends from all over Nigeria. In the North, I have friends from Kano, Gwarzo, Sokoto, everywhere. They are all my brothers. I pray that our country will come to that point that we would see ourselves first and foremost as Nigerians and brothers and sisters with a common destiny. That’s the only way we can build our country.
There are sacrifices we need to make for our country, no doubt, about that. Every developing country requires that citizens must make sacrifices. But our leaders must show examples. Our leaders must lead the way so that we can build a community of Nigerians living together in love. No one is happy about all these killings up and down. How can brothers be killing brothers and sisters killing sisters? We need to live as one. Hunger knows no tribe or Religion. We are all victims, of poverty whether you are Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba. We are all in the same boat and we must not make that boat to sink, for our own sake and the sake of our children and children yet unborn. Let’s come together. I went to a school in Kano where only 2 of us were Yorubas. That was before the Civil war. Many of the other people in that class were Igbo. That was in Kano. That shows you how it was as at that time. And in my secondary school, we had people from every corner of the country. That is why today, as I am talking to you now I have friends from Obiaja, Jos, Calabar, Borno or anywhere you can think off. When we see ourselves, we embrace and laugh. So, how did we get to this sorry state? It’s part of the things that made me be very sad at 60 because I was hoping and thinking that we would develop along that line and our children will be in a different world in a beautiful country. That’s what makes me sad. Professionally, I thank God. I have been able to try my best. But look, our country is our country. One wealthy man in the midst of poverty-stricken people, they are all poor people. The way God has wired us is to live as a community and God has a reason for making my tribe, making your own tribe. If God wants all of us to be one language and one tribe, it’s not beyond God to do it. So, why have we turned ourselves into a people to query God? How did we come to that level and yet we are so religious and we are querying God? Why are we killing ourselves? Yet our problems are the same. Humanity is one. We have a foundation. We call it Lawbreed Foundation. The motto of the foundation is one for the other. The truth of the matter is we are meant for each other. There is no other way. All these my car is bigger than your idea is a lie. It’s only one life that we have. Let us live it well.