Justice Olusola Williams, is a retired judge of the Lagos Judiciary and the founder, Institute of Paralegal Services in Nigeria. In this interview with SEGUN KASALI, she speaks about experience as a judge, and life generally.
Your dad, Justice Samuel Omotunde Ilori, was a former Chief Justice of Lagos State. Did he influence your career choice?
Certainly, yes. When I finished my secondary school, the first thing that happened was that I worked in the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in Lagos state at just 16. But, when I got my results, waiting to go for A-levels, I worked in a law library, and I think that made me see what people who are not lawyers can contribute, so I became interested. My father felt I was a very quiet person and so, he did not see me as a lawyer. But, he used to say that a lawyer is the most brilliant person in the world because when a lawyer represents a doctor he must represent that doctor better than when the doctor represents himself. The lawyer understands the legal terms and the medical terms in a way that he would be able to point out what the doctor’s case is. And then, when he is representing an accountant, he becomes an accountant for the purpose of that case. When he is representing an engineer, he becomes one for the purpose of the case. So, I wanted to be this brilliant person that can help anybody in whatever instances. So, I was very interested, and fortunately for me, I worked as his court clerk for a very long time during vacation job. I worked with Chief Gani Fawehinmi while I was in the university. I remember while I was working at the law library, there was a book on evidence. My father is not someone who forces you to go for a particular course. I have brothers who read law but did not practise. My father is very understanding. Immediately I told him I wanted to retire, he keyed into it and told me he can start helping to look for a land. So, I told him could you please look for money as well? It is not enough to look for the land but money should also be involved.
You retired early due to passion for paralegal services.
Yes. That is the reason why I retired because there is no way I could combine both in Nigeria. You can’t do something else when you are a judge and I had had this dream since 2009. The company- Institute of Paralegal Services was finally incorporated in 2013. So, I could not wait to be 65 or 60. I retired at age 56.
Any regret retiring earlier than you should?
Absolutely none. As a matter of fact, I remember my brother-in-law said to me that when you retire you would be asking God why didn’t you do it earlier. And I did not want to retire earlier. That is the truth. But, I had wanted to earn judicial pension, and I was told you can’t do that until after 15 years. When I told someone like an older sister who was working in the Judicial Service Commission, she said what do you mean, this and that? She said there was no such thing and that you can get your judicial pension anytime you are entitled to it. All in all, I thank the Lord who has been providing for me.
What are the unforgettable cases that had passed your desk as a judge?
I remember one case because I had a bad experience of a robbery. I was doing a case of people who attempted to murder Senator Abraham Adesanya. I think a few days before I was to deliver a judgment, something had happened and it was said that police were withdrawing all attached policemen and this was a political case which people were interested in and all that. So, I think when I got to court, I said that if there was not going to be policemen around, I would not deliver any judgment. I think I adjourned the matter and then I was at home. Anyway, I was working on my computer on some other things, not the case, till about 2:30am or so. At about 4am, we were woken up. People just entered into my room, shone light on my face and my husband’s face and asked us to get up. I could not even see. The most terrible thing I remember was that they had taken the laptop and I had a judgment to deliver.
Judgment on that particular case?
Yes. Well, thank God for backup and I had to find a way because if I had gone to court again with an excuse, nobody was going to believe me. They were going to say, oh, maybe they haven’t given her enough money or they have given her money and she wants to change her mind or something. So, that was a bit of a challenge for me. And I don’t understand that robbery till today because it was targeted.
Why did you say so?
This was because they jumped over three compounds before they got to mine and other people were not affected. They broke the wall and brought out the air conditioner. They used a ladder to get into my compound and like I said, passed like two other compounds. So, it was a very funny robbery. And two, they were very precise and very calm.
Yes. They came in and said, madam mind yourself. I was not harmed, but I think my husband got a punch in his face because they were asking him for money and he said he did not have or something. I remember my sight was very bad at that because I was trying to touch the back of my bed to be able to get my glasses. They said what is it? What do you want? I said I can’t see. I said I need to go to back of the bed. They said okay go and they stood aside. So, it was very coordinated. They collected all my Jewelry and left. I really thank God.
What about the judgment?
My concern was how I was going to deliver the judgment on the adjourned day because nobody would believe me. And that is why it is important to have good paralegals because if you have them, there would be backup. This is because they understand that the judges may lose their documents anytime.
Fortunately for me, I had trained my paralegals. So, they rallied round and everyone had a piece of something and worked overnight until we are able to fix the judgment again. And I thank God that I eventually delivered the judgment.
The robbery must have been because of the case then.
Well, I don’t know whether the intention was to stop me from delivering the judgment. I don’t know where the robbers came from, because the fact is that I was expecting policemen in my courtroom but there was none. Besides, I had been told that evening that one of the policemen should come to my house but I refused because I am one of the people that don’t use escort and all that. If you remember the fact of the case- there was an attempt on Senator Adesanya’s life. So, some people were arrested and of course this matter had gone all around and around different courts and this was not very long after I had just been elevated at that time.
Regarding your elevation, what do you think set you apart from others?
Why do you think I was set apart? (Laughs). I won’t say that myself. I don’t know. I just know that when we (26 of us) came in, we were young people. There had never been something like that. I was just 38 years old. So, it was very rare. I was not the youngest and not the oldest. So, it was breath of fresh air for me. So, that was called the millennium set. Some people had gone to the Court of Appeal. So, I won’t say that I was set apart. It is just that I have a different view.
I remember when I told my colleague I was leaving and she said ‘really? And you are so passionate about law’. I remember one of the judges saying this is like a case of a man and a wife that the husband is sick and the wife says I love him very much and I want to help him but I am going to leave him while he is still sick. He was talking about the judicial system. And I said yes, we have tried so many other ways and nobody is even looking at that aspect. I know how difficult it is. Judges are complaining because a lot of these paralegals don’t have a stake. There is no professional responsibility. There is no accountability. So, these registrars destroy all the works. Some of them forge judges’ signature because there is nobody holding them. A lawyer can’t behave like that because the bar is there to look at what you are doing. And it is important for them to have ethics and code of conduct.
How were you combining your roles as a mother, wife and a judge?
I said, I was fortunate. First of all, I went to a boarding house at a very young age. So, I said my children would not go to boarding house. But, I had to eat my words-they went to boarding house because there
was no way I was going to cope with them. My husband was supportive in his own way, that was what helped out. And I have a strong faith which has really helped me out. Just yesterday I was discussing with someone about cases. I don’t remember names because I don’t look at them. There was a particular case and I was young at the bench then. And this was one of the many old matters. And I said look, I have called this matter for trial and it is going to go on, come hell or high water. After I finished all my cases, I was then told that an old lawyer on the matter wanted to see me and I said for what? He came in and said they don’t speak like that. He said you don’t say a matter is going to go on, come hell or high water. But, I told him that was what I would do. And he left. I felt it. I don’t have malaria because I am AS. But, I was so ill and was admitted. I went to LUTH. The nurse had to take me to the shower every 45 minutes because I was going to convulse. Of course, I did not take that case. The message was clear-you can’t say the matter would go on. But, that did not scare me. I thank God I came out of it.
How do you relax now, ma?
Exercise is what I love doing. I love dancing even though I am not a party person. I like drama. And I am very afrocentric. I remember I used to tell people that as soon as I saw Africa Magic, I stopped other things (laughs). I used to read a lot.
The secret behind your beauty even at 56
(Laughs). I really love exercise. I love to do things perfectly so I could keep this body because I believe I have a duty to look after what the Lord has given me.
How are you giving back?
About giving back, I am on the Board of Trustees of Joyful Smiles Foundation. Its vision of impacting lives for positive development and social change, is strategically pursued through educational/vocational assistance, empowerment as well as guidance and counseling. Using social and humanitarian precepts, JSF concentrates on personal development and rehabilitation of these vulnerable groups, who are outside the economic mainstream to become economically empowered, responsible and useful members of our society. To stay safe at home, there must be food to eat. Otherwise hunger may kill even if COVID doesn’t come knocking. Joyful Smiles Foundation has been giving the needy (widows, orphans and less privileged) food since 2010. The burden of the Foundation is greatly increased in the recent lockdown. The needy that we have been catering for are finding it almost impossible to feed. I am also a member of the BOT of Awesome Treasures, a faith-based NGO with a vision to raise transformational leaders in Nigeria.
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