A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Olatunde Babalola, who is first son of legal titan, Aare Afe Babalola (SAN), tells OLADIMEJI RAMON about his growing up, education and law career
Please briefly tell us about yourself.
My name is George Olatunde Babalola, SAN. I am the first son of Aare Afe Babalola, SAN. I am a Partner at Afe Babalola & Co.
What was going up like for you as Afe Babalola’s child?
I grew up in a very loving and supportive family setting. My parents, siblings, uncles, aunties and other relatives were all very loving and supportive. All of them, in one way or the other, trained me to be God-fearing, industrious, humble, independent, bold, daring and to be a person of integrity.
What were the highlights or remarkable experiences of your childhood?
My childhood was full of pleasant and interesting experiences. I remember memorable moments spent with my paternal and maternal grandmothers; they taught me humility, hard work and the fear of God.
With my father, (there were) moments of discipline that I appreciate now as a father myself; pleasant moments of going with him to the farm early in the morning, travelling with him to Ado- Ekiti and playing Sunny Ade’s music in the car; moments of instilling good habits of hard work and having a daily routine of going to work early and closing late.
As for my mother, (there were) moments of prayer, her watchword is: God first, respect, hard work, honesty, integrity and humility. I also had so many memorable, pleasant moments with my stepmother, siblings, uncles, aunties and other relatives.
What schools did you attend?
I attended Sacred Heart Primary School, Ibadan; Loyola College Ibadan; University of Lagos, and College of Law, London.
Your father being a lawyer probably influenced your decision to become a lawyer. How exactly did you make the decision?
I was destined to read Law. I was actually on another career path. There was a turning point after I finished my WASSCE (West African Senior School Certificate Examination). I was in a mixed science and arts class in secondary school but when my WASSCE results came out, I performed better in my art subjects than sciences. So, I applied for Law and I was admitted.
Do you have siblings who are also lawyers?
Yes, I have three sisters and one brother, who are all lawyers.
What do you love most about legal practice?
I see it as a tool to achieve justice for litigants.
Apart from Law, what other interests do you share with your father?
That would be compassion for the underprivileged, philanthropy and reading.
Does being compassionate involve you offering pro bono legal services to the underprivileged?
I have handled a good number of pro bono cases, both civil and criminal, across the country. Interestingly, I handled a lot of criminal cases for the Legal Aid Council, pro bono and 99 per cent of the defendants I represented were discharged and acquitted. I still handle such cases in deserving situations.
What will you consider as the most valuable advice your father has offered you?
Your hands are your best friends. He prays most, he who works hardest.
What was his reaction when you became a SAN?
He was elated, having helped so many people to become SANs, judges, justices and being the highest contributor to the advancement and betterment of the legal profession in Nigeria.
Despite that your father has a thriving law firm, you’ve had to work in other law firms. Why was that?
Afe Babalola & Co. has one of the most experienced lawyers in the industry. In order to meet these standards, I had to gain experience and exposure in commercial and other areas of law and practice.
I have been privileged to work with leading law firms and the giants in our profession, making my journey a very rich and rewarding experience. I started my law practice in Lagos after Law school and the national youth service. I worked as a pupil lawyer with leading law firms in Lagos; I was attached to great legal minds, SANs, so I learnt first-hand from them. I learnt the rudiments of practice, ethics of the profession, seniority at the Bar, courtroom advocacy, hard work, commitment, integrity, sacrifice and relaxation.
I also learnt how to be a gentleman, even though humble or unassuming, but still very versatile and a consummate advocate in the courtroom. The interesting part of being a barrister is that it gives you the opportunity to travel around the country and to know every state in Nigeria. I have also been privileged to practise in another jurisdiction, London, United Kingdom where I worked in law firms. All these have led to a very rich, fulfilling and rewarding experience.
At what point did you join Afe Babalola & Co.?
I joined Afe Babalola & Co. in 2012 when I was invited to be a Partner. Before then, as I said earlier, I practised in other law firms for several years in Lagos.
Is there a period you will describe as the turning point in your legal career?
The turning points in my career will include when I won some landmark cases in the high court, Court of Appeal and at the Supreme Court.
What do you consider as the highest point of your career so far?
The highest point of my career was when I was conferred with the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Do you have any child who is a lawyer or is aspiring to be one?
Not yet, because they are still very young.
Your father is an influential and famous lawyer. Has it been easy creating an identity or carving a niche for yourself in the light of your father’s professional achievements and titanic public image?
Not at all. My father is a great man, a legend in the profession. He has laid the foundation for us to build on by training us to be independent and to be ourselves. I just continue with his legacy. It is complementary.
Were you under any kind of pressure or expectations from any quarters because of who your father is?
Not at all. Naturally, everybody expects me to be like my father, but my father allows me to be my own self.
What are your family values?
Fear of God, love, support, humility, sacrifice and industry.
What kind of changes do you desire most in the Nigerian justice system?
Independence of the Judiciary as a separate and distinct arm of government in all its ramifications to enable true separation of powers in our democracy.
Members of the public think that most of the judgments coming out of the Nigerian courts are largely about technical justice rather than real justice. Do you agree or do you think it’s a misconception?
I don’t agree and I think it is a misconception. It is difficult for non-lawyers to understand the different ramifications and applications of the law. What they perceive to be technical justice may not be so, based on the facts and circumstances of the particular case. Thus, each case is to be examined, understood and determined on its peculiar facts before one can criticise the same.
How do you love to dress?
I love to dress simply and very neatly. I wear a suit to work and native attire during the evening. White is usually my go-to colour, as I like being neat or tidy.
What is your daily routine like?
I am dedicated to the work I do. I go to work as early as 7.30am or earlier and close late, at times 10pm or later, depending on my work schedule and I work during weekends as well.
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