I got my good dress sense from dad —Hunponu-Wusu
Justice Solomon Olusola Hunponu-Wusu was “My Lord Justice” before he transited to “My Lord Spiritual” as the current Chancellor of the Anglican Diocese of Badagry. He shared interesting stories of his day on the Bench and little beginnings with SEGUN KASALI.
WAS your father a stickler for discipline just like you?
Ah! My father was. There was no doubt about that. (Laughs).My father was a chemist and druggist, which is today’s pharmacist and he was the manager of one of the few pharmaceutical companies in Lagos. He was working for West African Drugs Company, which was at Marina and he was the sales manager, but trained as a pharmacist. To God be the glory, he had three children who trained as pharmacists. I am the fifth in hierarchical list.
What was the toughest punishment you ever received from him?
I went to CMS Grammar School, Lagos which is the oldest school in Nigeria. I remember that there was some dispute in the school and a few of us had to be sent home. Well, it wasn’t suspension. But, they just told us to go home and call our parents. I cannot vividly remember what happened. But, it bordered on indiscipline and the school authority sent us home. My father was a member of the Anglican Diocesan Board. So, on getting home, because I felt I wasn’t involved and was mistakenly dragged into it, my father asked what happened and I explained a bit. He said ‘get into the car and let’s go.’ So, I got into the car and he took me to the school. He took me straight to the Housemaster and he didn’t even listen to any explanation. He just told the Housemaster that whatever punishment you are giving to them, you would give my son double the punishment. He said he didn’t need to listen to what the Housemaster wanted to say because I should know that having being brought up by him, he didn’t see any reason why I had to be there. So, whatever punishment they wanted to give, they should give me double and he left (laughs). His nickname then was “let’s call a spade a spade”. So, I was left with no option than to undergo the punishment and all that. But, I wasn’t given double of the punishment.
In what ways would you not want to be like him?
I cannot say if there is any particular bad trait from my father. The traits I have taken are more positive because he was a well-dressed man and I try to dress well too. My mum was a very submissive woman although not as submissive as she was, but I try to be firm.
How was schooling in Ofin canal in Lagos Island of those days?
I was born at No 31, Ofin road by Ofin canal, which is in central Lagos and everybody knew everybody in that vicinity. Ofin road is close to Balogun and Balogun is close to Breadfruit. So, I attended Breadfruit Primary School in Lagos and we used to pass through Ofin road to Balogun and then go to school. Every child was everybody’s neighbour. People in the vicinity looked after everybody’s interest.
You sound nostalgic sir.
Going to school at that time, Mondays to Thursdays, were usually very interesting because on Fridays we had what was called a Weekly Report, which you have to bring home and show your parents which they had to initial (sign on), before you take it back to school on Monday. It never ever occurred to me to default and besides, the parents knew what was expected of you at anytime. So, there was no point of not taking it home. You couldn’t say you forgot. I was happy going to school because in the third house and fifth house, I had schoolmates. So, you just banged on their door and say it’s school time, it’s school time and you all strolled to the school. Our teachers in the school instilled cleanliness in us. You had to cut your nails before you come to school on Monday because you would do Hygiene and Nature studies. If your nails were grown, the teachers would use a ruler to beat your hand. Well, I used to bite my fingers. So, I was never a victim (laughs). Of course too, because of the environment in which we were, there were instances depending on the seasons that when we go to school, we always tarried behind and took the seeds of cherry (agbalumo) and kept them. So, everybody had a tin he used to keep as many seeds as possible. Invariably, it was when you were returning from school that you could play with your seeds and of course, it was like a small gambling, where you dig a hole, draw a circle around and begin to play your seeds. So, those were instances one would never forget. Also, when we were in primary four, the teachers in Primary Five were very strict and what some of us used to say was that “we pray that the teachers would have died by the time we get to Primary Five” (Laughs). We used to pray this kind of prayers because we did not want to be beaten by them.
Because we used to have different areas with different masquerades and coming from the Christian home, you were not supposed to move with masquerades and the Muslims were more with the masquerades. So, the masquerades come out on Saturdays and as a Christian, you had to watch whether your parents were close by and so, you could dash out and follow the masquerades. Coming back home after following the masquerade, my dad would beat me. It was interesting and playful. The masquerades would dance and they would teach you how to drum and dance. Different localities have different masquerades. Like in the Ofin area, our masquerade is called Zungoro. Then, when you go to Richards Lane, there is a Bamgbose there. And of course when you move to Glover side, there are different masquerades in that area. Then, they had an annual event, where they come to a central place called Idi ita and all the masquerades would come out and be beating themselves. This was the period between age 4 or 5 to age 9 or 10.
You must be clever in school sir.
I wasn’t the brightest in the class. But, I was intelligent enough and I was sure that my parents were excited with my performance at school.
Was the Omo Eko thing in you going to CMS?
Coming from Breadfruit, which is in the heart of Lagos and going to CMS in 1959, we weren’t looking at others like this one is from Ibadan and that one is from Ogbomoso. Amongst my classmates at that time, were now, Professor Emeritus, Kenneth Ogugwa and David Ejime, Commercial Manager at Texaco before he retired. Even those who were Omo Eko, were not flaunting it.
Your first day at CMS must be strange.
Oh! 26th of January, 1959. White shirt and short with sandals. It was quite interesting because I was relatively young and we were all packed together not as per alphabetical order but as per height. So, I was on the first row because I was not tall. But, on Wednesday the 28th Of January, 1959, we had a teacher who was the Vice- Principal. His name was Chief I.A. Olowu. So, he came into our class and of course, when a teacher comes in, you would stand up and say “good morning, sir” and all sort. He then said, young people, how are you and we said fine. And the next question was, have I beaten you before? (Laughs). And we said, no, sir. There was no way you could have beaten us because it was Wednesday of our resumption on Monday. So, what offence could we have committed that you would have to beat us (because he always held his stick). Of course, we were so young and we couldn’t confront him. So, he said he must give six of the best strokes and he started beating us. We were all taken aback but there was nothing we could do. So, we had to accept it and that was the baptism into CMS Grammar school.
Starting that way, what are your memories?
Well, rightly and wrongly, you must learnt by heart the hymn of the college for the week from the Common Prayer Book and at 4 o’clock, we just had to line up class by class and do an individual recital. After that, you would be given a pack of biscuits, which the boarding house master would provide for us. The Headmaster was Pa Adeyemi. We would not be given a book if we had not recited. Because the boarding house was newly established in 1959, everything was not orderly. So, we used to have our bath in a temporary bathroom. It was just covered with corrugated iron sheet. Close to us at the CMS Grammar School, Bariga, you have the Igunnukos, which is the traditional festival for the Igunnus and we used to sneak out to go and watch what they were doing because the fence then was not too high. But, at the same time, boys must be boys. So, some of us would scramble either on Friday or Saturday morning to go and see what was happening.
Were you ever caught?
Oh yeah, but I was not the one sneaking out. I was a very good student. In fact, I became a prefect of the school. It was interesting. The headmaster had already told us that we must not break bounds by sneaking out without permission. But, because when they do their festival, they always provide food (laughs), we were always interested in the food aspect of it. And of course, what food were they giving us then? It was rice with one piece or two pieces of meat and the pieces of meat were these tiny, tiny things, but we used to look forward to their festival to sneak out. But,course, the housemasters knew where they do the festival. So, they too would be on the lookout to see whether they were students from the school who would jump the fence to go and be watching them.
You had girlfriends at this time?
There was an Anglican Girls Secondary School very close to us then and many of us used to have girlfriends there, even as at early years of Form three, Form four. You would start this friendship from debating competition and all that and you start writing love letters. We seemed to enjoy it and it was when I was in grammar school that they had this quiz programme being run by the NTDA then and two of my classmates took part in the competition and they did very well, because we won the competition. Yes, I had a girlfriend. I was not really influenced by peer group but because I was quite chubby. So, you would see someone who would like you and would come and pull your cheeks (Laughs). And they used to call me Papa cheeks (laughs). So, it was from there a lady would say I like your cheeks and I would say yes I like you too.
So, where were your hangouts then?
There used to be a Cinema house, which was close to Igbobi college. It was Globe theatre.
Since it was a boarding school, did the issue of seniority play out?
Oh yes, right from class one. But, one was lucky to have seniors who liked you and I still see a few of them now, who are much older because they took to me when I was much younger. One of my seniors then was a lawyer, Yinka Mosanya. He was in Form five when I was in Form one. And Shodinmu and a lot of them like that. They like you because I was very neat coming from my father, who was very neat. You don’t make the mistake of having your uniform stained with ink. We learnt that from Breadfruit School.
Were you social?
Yes, I was. I was so much in the football and Literary and Debating Society that when I went for my higher school, which was at Igbobi College, we staged a play with girls from ‘Measure for Measure’ and I was the director, coordinating the actors and actresses. This was in 1964.
Igbobi College should be different.
Igbobi College was a more disciplined school than CMS Grammar School. At Igbobi College, they had rules and regulations, which they would give you on the first day you come to school. It was written down like the Nigerian Constitution.
What were those rules, sir?
The first rule was that all school prefects must be obeyed whether of your house or other houses. At Igbobi College, seniority was well entrenched, while it wasn’t at Grammar School. At Igbobi College, an Upper Six students can punish a Lower Six student and it goes down like that and that was why they gave the school rules. At Igbobi College, we had what was called Conduct Order Note, which means you must be of good conduct.
Did you ever flout any of the rules?
Unfortunately for me, I entered Igbobi not as a young person but in my lower six. So, flouting the school rules is not something I would ordinarily do, considering the fact that I was coming from grammar school as a prefect. So, I was able to cope fairly well.
Half past five, they would ring the first bell and you must get up. At Igbobi College, we had two sets of uniform-you have the khaki shirt and short and you have the white shirt and khaki short on Sundays. Woe betide you if you wear a white shirt when you were supposed to wear a khaki shirt because that is punishment straight. And because discipline was so entrenched in Igbobi College, you must not leave any shirt unbuttoned.
How did Igbobi sojourn end?
Oh, it was great. I had high grades in two subjects- I think History and Religious Studies.
Any regrets sir?
Well, I cannot think of any positive thing which I should have done that I didn’t do. Maybe I did not study more language when I was in the school. But, that is neither here nor there.
Like now, when we were in the grammar school, we did Latin and French. But, French was optional and Latin was compulsory. If one had envisaged that we are going to have all these francophone countries, one would have spent more time to master the French language so that it would now be useful in business and whatever one is doing.
Who were your close friends then.
Professor Soga Sofola, who used to be Provost at College Of Medicine. Dr. Olumide Philips is the Chairman, Board of Directors, Dowen College. Chief Raphael Osahame, Bishop Oluranti Odubogun and so many of them.
So, studying Law was an accidental passion?
So, it is (Laughs). When I was at Igbobi College, I wasn’t thinking of reading Law. When I finished at Igbobi College, I worked for some nine months at National Bank and I was thinking of studying Economics. So, I went to University Of Ife. At Ife, I spent one year. I didn’t do well in Economics and got transferred to Lagos.
What was the problem?
Well, I failed two subjects out of the three or five subjects. Ife, to me, was far off. It wasn’t because I was into ladies. If I had not been out of Lagos, it would have been better. So, getting to Ife was completely novel. So, I now got into the University of Lagos to study Law. At the Faculty of Law, we were lucky to have Professor Teslim Elias, who came from the Ministry Of Justice to teach us Constitutional Law, Professor Adeyemi, Professor Adeogun and so many other fantastic lecturers.
Since law was accidental, how were you able to settle in?
I wanted to study Criminology, because even when I was at Igbobi College, I had flair for Criminology. So, the Economics was just a by-the-way. But, having said that, I got on well at Unilag.
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But you didn’t become a criminologist.
Because as at that time, it wasn’t a well-developed discipline here. So, we had to abandon it because it would have necessitated my going to study in America which my parents were against for reasons best known to them.
How much of Unilag did you rock?
(Laughs). Looking back at the University Of Lagos, I really, really enjoyed it. Academically, it was good. Socially, it was very, very good. All that glitters is not gold and in the University of Lagos, I belonged to the Zee Club. It was a social club and I was their treasurer. I remember that in 1970, we invited Fela Anikulapo to come and play for us. We used to have our annual dinner like the Sigma Club of U.I. The event was organised at the Great Hall in Idi Araba. It was quite an interesting night. Also, at that time, we had very powerful Students Union that looked after the students’ interest and we used to have annual ritual excursion that took some of us to England. And in those days, going to England was like peanuts. I remember that I went to England in my first year. I am trying to remember the amount we paid. But then, it didn’t cost us much.
Any indelible experience Unilag left with you?
Because again I was lucky being in the Law Faculty, the Ghandi Library was at the basement of the University of Lagos. When it’s about 6 o’clock we usually get to the quadrangle, we all sit round the quadrangle and we watch the girls go backward and forward. Some years earlier on, I had problem with my stomach which gave me ulcer. So, I happened to belong to the group of people who eat pepperless food. What that meant is that while others are queuing for food, I would just go and meet the caterer and say oh I am here. They had the list of those of us having pepperless food.
Were there circumstances you leveraged on, in your profession?
My father was a senator of the First Republic and he died in 1977. But before he died, I had been a member of the Awori District Council from 1975 to 1978. During this time, we had to install a new Akran Of Badagry and I was in the team or committee that interviewed the three ruling houses and then selected among them which was the appropriate ruling house. And amongst the appropriate ruling houses is the present Kabiyesi’s ruling house. He is not the oldest member of the ruling house that would have been a kabiyesi. But as at that time, the oldest member was an illiterate-he couldn’t read and write. So, when they put forth his name as the most appropriate person, I said we can’t be going to a meeting in Lagos and the kabiyesi would have to take another interpreter in this day and age. He should be able to understand what they are saying in the meeting just like in the Bible that they were telling Jesse ‘don’t you have any other children because these ones are not qualified.’ So, the man said we have one Babatunde, who is a journalist somewhere. So, I said since he is your son, let him come and that was how the present kabiyesi came in because he had an older person who would have been. But because he was an illiterate, we didn’t take him. So, having now done that, he now felt that well here is someone who has assisted him in making him a king. The other chiefs felt Badagry was being marginalized in terms of people on the bench and that was how I got into Judiciary in 1986. Before I was elevated in 1986, I was number 30 and five of us were elevated on the same day-Justice Shotuminu, Justice Adeyinka, Justice Olugbani, Justice Muri Okunola and myself. That was February, 1986. Gradually, we were promoted and promoted till Justice Segun retired and Shotuminu became the CJ. When Shotuminu became the CJ, we used to have two Judicial Divisions- Lagos and Ikeja. But, we now felt that with the volume of cases being filed everyday, it was necessary to break them down into divisions. So, we now created two major divisions- Lagos and Ikeja and inside of each divisions, we now have sub-divisions, which is criminal, probate and family, land and commercial. I became the Admin Judge in Ikeja Division. And because Ikeja Division is the seat of Lagos Judiciary, we had the Head Judge in Lagos and the Chief Judge in Ikeja with the Admin Judge in the same rank. So, that was how I became the Admin Judge.
Were there cases that gave you sleepless nights?
There were two cases where I delivered judgement of death sentence. We had this case of ritual murder, where two girls were going down the stream and the younger of the two girls was accosted and taken, while the older one ran to the village head to inform them that they had kidnapped her sister. They were able to surround the area and saw two men-one of them was carrying a bag and inside the bag was the head of the girl. So, it was like actual caught-in-the-act. This is because if you have the head of a person with blood in a bag, how did you come across it. When they took the man to the palace, the older girl who ran away said this was the man that took my sister. So, she was able to identify the defendant as the person that took hold of her sister. So, when I looked at that case, I felt, how did Jesus look in the Garden Of Gethsemane, let this cup pass over me. I mean, one, the girl was murdered, the girl was found with you in the bag. So, the girl could not have had an accident and cut the head of herself by herself. So, somebody did it. So, who did it? Evidence pointed to the fact that it is you although nobody actually saw you when you were cutting the head but the circumstantial evidence was positive and direct that it leaves no other room except that you actually committed the offence. That was one. Then, the second case was also a criminal matter. There was one young boy who came in from Benin to Lagos, Ajegunle precisely. And he had just finished his school certificate examination and his result was out. So, he came to meet his parents in Lagos to show them the result and they told him to go and do a photocopy. He went and they did not see him again. But, somehow, when they were searching, they now saw some toes in a swamp pointing up. They discovered that the body of the boy had been weighed down with big stone and it was only the toes that were pointing out. Evidence led by an investigation showed that the first accused person was the one that had a room. When they searched the room and they removed the carpet, they saw that there was fresh digging in the room, which means they had slaughtered something there. The second accused person was an Alfa. This means they were using it for rituals and all that. So, those were two naughty cases I had and I sentenced them to death.
How peaceful were you making these calls?
That was why I used the expression-I could imagine what Jesus felt in the garden of Gethsemane (laughs). You know you are going to commit the man. You know you don’t have a choice. If there was a way in which you could say no. But then, the laws are there. When someone killed someone and there was enough evidence to show that the person had committed this offence. Then, the law must take its course. So, the night before, I couldn’t sleep. I remember I was tossing and my wife was asking me what was the matter and I told her is it not tomorrow’s judgement. Coincidentally, I copied it from my senior brother’s in-law to give my judgement on Fridays because administratively, it allows you to come from Mondays to Thursdays and on Friday when you give your judgement, you will feel relieved. It’s like a woman in the labour ward, you are under pressure. But once she is delivered of the baby, she feels relieved.
Is it true Judges always have sleepless nights?
That is very true. You can ask my wife and I am sure she will tell you more about that. This is because invariably when I get home about 7:30 p.m., I would eat and then go to the study room because you always have cases that you have to write judgement on. I would do that till about 9:15 p.m. and listen to the news. By quarter to 10 p.m., you are back and continue writing until you feel sleepy.
Do you still dance at 74 plus?
Yes, if my leg will allow me.
Was there any incident that almost took your life?
One day, I had an accident which would have taken my life. I was driving to Badagry and as I got to Okokomaiko, the front tyre came off and the windscreen got shattered, and because the front tyre came off, it was going towards the gorge. Those who were in front of me were pondering is this man going into the gorge or not. Fortunately, there was a heap, which I was able to steer the towards.