Wole Olanipekun: The quintessential advocate

Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, gave a glimpse of his future personality when in the early 70s he rose against the oppressive rule of senior students at the prestigious Ilesa Grammar School, Ilesa and liberated the latter from the former.

The 65-year-old Ikere-Ekiti born advocate considered it inhuman the practice of the seniors who reduced their juniors to goat which must be flogged to obey rule.

His courage instantly warmed him into the hearts of the junior students and eventually won him the chairman of Students Representative Council against all odds.

When he, therefore, entered the University of Lagos as a law undergraduate and emerged secretary of the students union, he was on a familiar terrain and indeed on track to become a national figure in his chosen profession.

Evidence abound that Olanipekun’s life is law and vice versa. He was once the youngest Senior Advocate of Nigeria when he was appointed in 1991.

He also headed the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) among other respectable positions he held in the course of his profession, including Commissioner of Justice in Ondo State and Pro-chancellor of the University of Ibadan (UI). His philanthropic service to humanity is an area where he can hardly be outdone.

Olanipekun’s philosophy rests on the platform that every lawyer must contribute to the improvement of the society and refrain from making money and keep it for his or her family alone.

He demonstrated this by donating his salary as the Pro-chancellor of UI into a special fund for scholarship.

He once said: “Any lawyer who practices law making money without contributing to the uplifting of the society, to his immediate environment, such a lawyer would have lived a void life, a life of minus, a life of substitution and I dare say it would have been better if that lawyer had not been born.”

Equally, he believes Nigeria ought to have moved beyond the present level of governance in which poverty walks with two legs on the streets. The lawyer detests corruption with passion and ascribes it to the backwardness the nation is suffering.

The problems in almost all sectors—education, health, transport and others can be tackled if corruption is stamped out of the system.

His trying moment came when he was inundated by threat messages while he was handling the case of the Igwe couples assassinated in Onitsha in 2002. However, he was not intimidated.

Although he does not believe in the use of force to drive home his point, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was not comfortable with Olanipekun during his tenure as NBA president. He was allegedly publicly snubbed by Obasanjo at the opening ceremony of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) convention. Olanipekun rather than throwing a counter-offensive found his way to the former president and greeted him. This is one of the attributes that stands him out as a humane leader and a strong Christian.

Olanipekun got the treatment from Obasanjo due to his role as the leader of the legal team that defended the then Adams Oshiomole-led NLC suit filed by the Federal Government following the protest against fuel price hike.

Did he regret his action against the federal government? Olanipekun would tell whoever cares to know that he would do it over again if he finds himself in the same circumstance.

According to him, lawyers are trained to defend the defenseless in face of tyranny.

“I do believe that a lawyer must not fail to act and close his eyes when the treasury is going down the drain.  As much as possible, we have been intervening, interjecting and intercepting in the affairs of this country.  I also believe that when you do your work as a lawyer, do it with the fear of God because you occupy a vantage position. Don’t do it to bring down the system. What do I mean?  We are in a corrupt environment; lawyers must not instigate, aid or abet or sponsor or connive with corruption.  A lawyer that  reads the statute that God put before us must not offer bribe, must not boast to clients that he knows judges, that when he is charging his fees he is going to give XY thousands or millions to judges. Any lawyer who does that will face the judgment of God,” he stated.