I used N4,000 loan my mother took from cooperative to start my law firm —Olaoluwa
Mr. David Olanrewaju Olaoluwa is the receiver manager for Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) and also a Managing Partner of Matrix-Solicitors LLP law firm. In this interview with SEGUN KASALI, he speaks about his life experiences.
WHO is Olanrewaju Olaoluwa?
My name is Olaoluwa and Olanrewaju. I have an elder brother who is the first child of the family. His name is Abimbola, which means someone born to meet wealth. I suspect that my parents were happy at their financial status at that point in time and also had expectations of improvements. My surname, Olaoluwa, is an adoption of my pentecostal faith. That name is special to me. I believe that is a name God gave me personally. Our family’s name is Ogundokun. Ogun is the Yoruba god of iron. I felt there was the need to change my name with the permission of my parents. I told them and I came up with Olaoluwa. Olaoluwa is not as simple as it is on the surface. The Olanrewaju part is manifested because my parents took good care of us. We grew up in Surulere. We were able to go to good schools. I remember going to Corona Primary School, Apapa. From there, I went to Surulere Baptist Primary School, and then Government College, where I finished in 1981. So, I took an extra year for HSC at Igbobi College, Yaba. Then, I was offered admission into the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University to study Law.
Were you spoilt as a child?
Not at all. My parents couldn’t afford to spoil anybody. There were eight of us. So, you can imagine the funds to take care of eight children. We used to have a large family. I am not sure that you can say that a Surulere boy is a spoilt child. We learnt to do everything for ourselves. At the time I started primary school, we walked to school and back. I never had that privilege of being driven to school. My mother was a headmistress. That helped us because I learnt to cook very early. I don’t remember us ever having a gardener.
How often did you get caned?
Many times. I was a bit adventurous. I got into all sorts in the neighbourhood. When playing football, I would break somebody’s window. I got a caned for such mistakes. My father was strict and firm. With him, there was no such thing as a free pass. He was a stickler for discipline. I think that was the only way he could cope with eight children. I am grateful for that because everyone of us went through the same phase of education. I remember when I graduated from the university and my father said: he had seen me to the stage I shouldn’t get scared anymore.
Your academic performance must be ‘A’ as a teacher’s son.
As a teacher’s son, I didn’t have a choice. She was not going to take any excuses. I don’t know about never going below expectation, but I never met my expectations always. My parents must be reasonably satisfied. In retrospect, I finished primary school at the age of nine, which is not what I will encourage now.
I finished secondary school are the age of 14. I finished my HSC at the age of 15. I became an undergraduate at 15. I finished my first degree at the age of 19. I was called to the Bar at the age of 20. It leaves an important part of childhood. I think an important part of childhood is what is being advocated in the European countries now, which is learning through play. Let children be children so that they can have more time before taking up the responsibility of adulthood. In Africa, we take on the responsibility of adulthood rather too quickly. I have been earning income since 20. For me, it is not ideal because it can put children under pressure. I think it may not give them time to mature quickly before achieving their potential.
What traits did you get from your parents?
From my mother, I learnt the practical ways of getting things done. It doesn’t matter to her how well you knew something, but how well you did it. In my case, I became the best car washer in the house. My parents wanted me to wash their car because they knew that if I did, it would be very clean. I was the smallest in the house and I had to stand on a bucket to get to the roof of the car. My father encouraged creativity. He made us think. He made us solve problems. He would always ask what is the answer to this? If you say this is the answer, he would say why did you think that is the answer. You have to explain to him how you got an answer. So, he encouraged us from early childhood to think. That has helped me a lot in the choice of my career.
Did your parents make you to study Law?
No. When I finished secondary school, I had credits in all my subjects and I did subjects from both Arts and Science. I had the option of going for either Arts or Science courses. I would have gone for Dramatic Arts, but it wasn’t professional like Law. So, my father asked me which I preferred. I told him that I didn’t know about either of them. He tried to explain to me what both professions involved. I was a very curious person. I liked the option of exploring different areas, so I chose Law because I thought it would expose different varieties of our society.
Not at all. I tell people that Law has taken me all over the world. I have worked in arbitration all over the world. I have taken cases in London, France. I have spoken as an expert on different areas of Law. I didn’t believe a Surulere boy would be using that platform to achieve all that. A young man could look at life and say a lot can be achieved despite hurdles. That was the perspective I took it from. While some of my friends were going abroad, I ended up becoming a lecturer.
Is that because you could not get a job as a lawyer?
Even if there were no jobs, you had to be an elite to get a lecturing job because the university would not accept people that cannot reduce their workload. Lecturing was a privilege. It was when they interviewed us that a faculty in LASU discovered that some of us could be converted to lecturers and I was one of the chosen.
How were you able to cope with female students as a young lecturer?
You have to understand that I was 21 at that time and maybe the average age of female students was 18. So, they had more sense than me. The chance of a 21-year-old dating an 18-year-old was very unlikely. Anyway, I had a lot of what young men have and tend to feel that a lady likes me because of my position, whereas it should be my personality. But because you could never tell if the person was your student, the tendency was that you would look for girls that were not your students so that you would not have such issues.
How did your four years of lecturing experience go?
There were hitches like every other place. You learn to work with different people, not all of them to your liking. You may agree with some and you may disagree with others. The academic community is a liberal one because everyone is entitled to his own opinion. Again, cultural dynamics of Nigeria does not give you the opportunity to express your opinion. They would say you are a bit too forward. The biggest challenge was that the remuneration was just poor. That is actually the reason I left. At the time I left in 1991, my take-home package was about N1000 per month. Whereas this is something you could make on one good case. Obviously, you would be challenged and tell yourself you want to try your luck at something else.
So you mean lecturing was a mixed blessing?
No. It was an unqualified blessing because my exposure took me in good stead in my entire career till now. There is absolutely nothing I regret about lecturing. The pay cut was a sacrifice for my career. Now, I know how to talk to professors that they would respect my opinion. And of course, I continued lecturing part-time till now. I lecture at the Institute of Advance Legal Studies. I teach a course on Information Technology Law till today and I have been doing that for 30 years.
How was it starting your law firm?
The only option if I were to continue in lecturing was to to go for further degrees and that would have meant investing two or three years in Ph.D. And the reality was that even though there was a possibility, it won’t cover all the expenses. My family couldn’t afford to send me on a Ph.D, so, it was a disincentive. For some of the people that stayed, they had some kind of sponsorship. Before now, all the contracts were awarded by the admin people. Lecturers began to understand their powers. It became a different environment and not the one I was comfortable with. Don’t forget I was a young man just going to 25. So, I went to do what I could do under my own control not somewhere I need to be in somebody’s good books. But I didn’t want all that willingly. So, it was like let me go and do what I understand willingly. Just like everything in life, there were some challenges starting my own law firm. My mother gave me a loan of N4,000. She borrowed it from her cooperative. I told her I wanted to start a partnership with a friend and we found that the cost of setting up would cost each of us N4,000, which included buying furniture, paying rent and other miscellaneous. I brought N4,000 and he brought same too. That was how we started. Although we later went our separate ways, he is now more or less a full-time pastor, while I stayed in practice full time.
When did you hit it?
I haven’t hit it yet. Anytime I am coming to the office and I pass through Osborne Phase 2, I see a very beautiful six or seven storey building which belongs to a lawyer. That is an inspiration. When you talk about ‘hit it,’ you can go and ask the popular lawyer. Here, we are just trying. It was a very interesting growth from a startup of N4,000, which was probably an equivalent of $800 to a place where you have probably 22 staff members, maybe another 20 non-lawyer staff staff members. It is a big shift. I believe firmly in the hand of God. We have come a long way. We started in two rooms and one room on Itire Road and now we are here in Ikoyi with a whole building. We have one in Abuja where we have many lawyers and staff. We have been able to represent clients all over the world across all different kinds of areas. We have been able to make a living from that.
How did you meet your wife?
I met my wife in a church like it happened in most places. My wife and I were both members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. I went through the ranks and I became one of their pastors heading one of the branches in Ikoyi. I was reporting to a popular parish, City of David. My wife was one of the church’s office workers. I used to go there every month to meet the senior pastors reporting on what we were doing and I would see this young lady I found rather nice. I tried to get her attention but it didn’t seem to work very well because she was on a break between masters. So, where we got to know each other is that it turned out that she wanted to study Law. And I was referred to her as one of the junior pastors who is also a lawyer. So, I quickly encouraged her to study Law at the University of Lagos because I thought that would keep her around. But she said she was not interested in going to the University of Lagos but wanted to travel to the United Kingdom. So, it meant that we were out of touch. By the time she finished her Law course, I ran into her again. She was in one of our churches in the UK. She was then working in the hospitality department. Eventually, I was able to re-establish contact with her and as we started conversing, I said this is somebody I would like to settle down with.
What did you see that made you to say that?
She was someone that was clearly serious about her Christianity. It is not everyone that is a good company. By the time I asked her to marry me and it appeared she would have to relocate to Nigeria, a lot of people wouldn’t have wanted to do that, but she took it cheerfully. That, of course, also endeared her to me. For a lot of the ladies, once they relocate, they don’t want to come back.
Having told her your interest, what is happened?
I think she was not too surprised. I had been paying her some attention, sending messages, phone calls and all that.
What are those things you do that she is not okay with?
Apart from eating late, I think her own major effort with me is that she would like me to relate with more people. Before now, I wasn’t a social person and it took my wife some time to get used to it. I was a triangular person- church, work and home. I have a friend who we have been together for 10 years or more and I have never been to his house. He had been to my house several times. When I told her I had never been to his house, she was shocked. So, my wife wasn’t comfortable about that. So, she said I had to relate with people more before people start to think that I was a snub. So, that is one thing I think she has been able to try a lot on. Apart from that, my wardrobe. When my wife married me, I was dressing like a ‘Redeemed pastor.’
In Redeemed, we don’t pay much attention to fashion. So, my typical dress then was maybe one black suit, maybe one blue suit and maybe one free suit. Only black shoes and your shirts are either white or blue. If you have any native, it is one white Agbada. She helped me a lot. Like my friend was saying, he likes me in suit. Of course, if you had known me before, you would never have agreed I was the one who chose this tie.
What gives you so much joy?
At this stage, when you find somebody and you have been able to build a home that you are happy to go back home, that is not something to take lightly. So, you hear cases of those who don’t like to go home to meet their spouses. It is not automatic in the profession that people are doing well or you are able to meet your needs and you are able to have peace of mind. So, that piece of mind is a very important attribute and for me, it is something that I really treasure.
How do you unwind?
I don’t play football again but I ride a bicycle which may surprise some people. I am a member of a cyclist club. I’m not brave enough to ride on the highway, but I do around Ikoyi. I find that as a very great sport. Sometimes you fall off the bicycle, which I have been a victim once or twice. Then, I really enjoy getting together with friends just to discuss and think about solutions to Nigeria’s problems because our generation feels a deep bond to Nigeria.