Saturday, 12 August 2017

Late Olu Onagoruwa blast judges, Police & elite lawyers in last Interview + How he fell out with Abacha over Ogboru

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Dr. Gabriel Olusoga Onagoruwa, former Nigerian Minister of Justice

Dr. Gabriel Olusoga Onagoruwa, a former minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (between 1994 and 1996) died last July, 21st at the ripe age of 80. He born on November 13, 1936 and lived in Odogbolu (his home town in Ogun State) where he sojourns to Lagos three times every week before his demise. The former Justice minister and special adviser to the Ethiopian Government of constitutional matters suffered and recovered from stroke at several moments of his later years and built a new passion for agriculture-apart from law which he practiced since the late 60s. Unperturbed by criticisms for serving in the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha (who died on June 8, 1998), Onagoruwa in one of his famous interviews on earth said he is happy about his feat as a public officer. Your Africa’s Number 1 Celebrity Encounter blog, Asabeafrika brings back memories of the interview this Saturday morning. Enjoy the excerpts.
Tell us some secrets we may not have heard about you?
Late Chief Onagoruwa

I am Olusoga Onagoruwa. Born into the Onagoruwa family in Odogbolu, Ogun State. I was educated at St. Cyprian’s School, Port Harcourt (Rivers State). Then I came to Lagos and I attended Eko Boys High School, Mushin. By 1958, I had passed my London matriculation. In 1960, I passed my advanced level and then, attended London University from 1961 to 1968. That is where I got my LLB, LLM. I am a Nigerian lawyer. That is me in brief.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Port Harcourt in the Eastern region in those days. I grew up with my uncle, Christopher Onagoruwa. We lived in Port Harcourt, I enjoyed Port Harcourt life. It was a nice environment and then I attended school there.
What year did you get married?
I got married in 1967
Can we know how you met your wife, where and when?
Late Onagoruwa
This is a very long story. I was living at Herbert Macaulay Road, not far from here. 132 Herbert Macaulay Way. Then, I was living with my brother. And that night, this lady came in to see another lady who was living next door to us. We normally share the same kitchen, and she came in and sat down and that lady was attending to her. I looked at her and said ‘this is a very pretty girl’. And I told that lady that this is my future wife, and she was very angry with me. And that was my first time of meeting her. This was around 1956. And she went away. So, I was asking the lady living in my house that ‘who is this lady’, and she said ‘she is the daughter of Oba Nle Aro from Odogbolu, Ogun State’. I said ‘from Odogbolu?’ I had just returned from the Eastern region and I did not know much about anybody living at Odogbolu. I met her maybe once or twice later, and she agreed to my love proposal in 1958. So, we started a relationship as boyfriend and girlfriend, until I went to London in 1961. And then I went again to London in 1964, and we really became lovers. I love her very much. That is her first son, sitting down. Her full names are Lillian Titilola Onagoruwa, nee Odunaiya Oba Nle Aro. They are very good business people.
Tell us about your parents, we understand they died early?
Onagoruwa: Fell out with Abacha over his stern principles on law and order
My mother was called Folake, my father was Adeneye. I did not actually know my parents. My mother died when I was around four, and my father died thereabout. So, I rarely knew them. But the Onagoruwa family brought me up. They gave me everything I needed to become a good child. And I thank God that I grew up well.
What informed your choice of law as a course?
I had the desire to study law because I knew that with law, you can help people. You can fight for people’s right and their liberty. My mother was arrested because she purchased a chicken at Ikenne, and she was accused of stealing the chicken. And my uncle was a lawyer (Chief Onagoruwa). He came all the way from Ibadan. And when he got to the Police Station, the police paid attention to him—and they gave my mother bail. So, I followed my uncle to Odogbolu, and then I was very impressed with the way he threatened the police, and that was how my mother gained her freedom. I then made up my mind that I was going to become a lawyer. I studied law and I graduated in 1968. I got my LLB in 1964, my masters in 1966 and my doctorate in 1968.
How was your tenure as the Attorney General, Federal Republic of Nigeria? What prompted you to accept the offer? Especially when the Abacha regime was likened to many uncomfortable activities?
General Sani Abacha, late Onagoruwa's ex-boss
Yes, whatever may be your position; government will always be manned by human beings. When Babangida was there, we had proposed to him a Constitutional Conference, and Babangida did not agree. He himself went and organized a constitutional Conference which was a fake one. But when Abacha got to power, they got in touch with me. And I said the only condition under which I will accept to become Attorney General is if he would allow us to form a Constitutional Conference, and they agreed. So, that was my main motivation. I know a lot of lies have been told about it, but I know that was my own main motivation to become Attorney General. And the man gave me the support.
During that period, was your personality affected or at stake?
I don’t know. That is for my adversaries to judge. If you go to my adversaries, they will tell you ‘oh yes, he finished him’. I don’t think I was finished by anybody. I am still what I am.
Can you give us a low down on your work experiences—from when you graduated till you became the Attorney General of the country?
Abacha & his Jerry Boy
 I left the law school in 1973, and I was in the habit of writing articles for (news) papers. And one day, they phoned me from the Daily Times, which was the largest (news) paper in the country then that the chairman wanted to see me. He said ‘look, we want you to become the legal adviser of Daily Times’. And I told him I will do it if he will give me the permission to be doing my legal practices. They said no problem. So, that was how I got into the Daily Times. The work was so much that I did not have time to go to the court any more. But I was still keeping in touch with movements and events, and I wrote over 500 articles, if not more than that. I am trying to publish them, so that they will know what I really did for Daily Times and for this country. These articles focused on issues, issues of the day, if we publish those articles into a book, and you read it, you know that events are made to go up and down; because I covered almost every aspect. So, when I left the Daily Times, I went into private legal practice. I was the consultant to the Ethiopian Government on constitutional matters. I became a Fullbright scholar to America, where I spent three months at various other institutions like that, and then in legal practice. I am grateful to God that I am a success.
What was your greatest achievement during your appointment as an Attorney General?
Ogboru: His brother's release caused Onagoruwa's job and loyalty with Abacha
My greatest achievement then was that I made the military government to obey the laws of the land. I said nobody should be arrested in the country unless it was justly done. Two, the 1995 Constitution was a product of my effort; Three, when Ogboru was released from detention, I released him and Abacha called me and said that I was not loyal to him. And I said, “What type of loyalty are you talking about?’. ‘As far as I am concerned, my loyalty is to obey the laws of the land. And the court has said this man should be released.  I have given instructions to the minister in charge and he has been released’. That is where the quarrel between me and Abacha started.
IBB & MKO @ June 12: Onagoruwa was seen to have played out against MKO's wish and the larger Yoruba nation
There was a lot of argument, there were a lot of fireworks between us and he later told me that I should choose whatever ministry I wanted in the whole spectrum of power. So that they will give me another ministry, that I will leave the ministry of justice. I said ‘No, I will not leave Ministry of Justice’. I can’t achieve what I want to achieve in this country. What I want to achieve is that the Constitutional Conference should finish, and I said I did not want any other position. So, I did my best for this country. Rotational Presidency was introduced because I urged it. The division of the country into six geo-political divisions was my achievement, and revenue allocation was my achievement.
During that period, was there any decision you took and sitting back now you regret such?
No, there was none. All my decisions were well calculated and they were good decisions.
Compared to what is obtainable in the other parts of the world, will you say our judicial arm of government is worth relying upon?
Nigeria's Minister of Justice, Mr. Malami
Oh, Yes, One can count on it. Except that the judiciary has gone aberrant, and many people are misbehaving in the judiciary. It is very shameful because the judiciary should be the solid rock of the nation, the society. But now you have many judges misbehaving; really misbehaving on a very large scale. And it is very sad. The society is not doing well because the judiciary is not doing well.
So, are you saying it is not worth relying upon?
No, some of them, not all of them, many of the judges are very corrupt.
As a legal practitioner, up till date, we find people being arrested and detained against what is stipulated in the constitution. Why is this still happening, especially now that we are in a democratic dispensation?
When you have such situation, it is possible that the court has committed them. The court has power to detain the person.
Even at the police station?
Late Onagoruwa
No, in the court; oh, you mean the police station? That is due to the corruption of the police. What are you talking about, that is the corruption of the police. The police is so rotten now. We have no police system in this country—they are just too rotten. And it is a pity. So, that is the corruption in the police system. It is too much. So, if you have the police detaining people for more than 24 hours, then, they are on their own, they are not following the constitution of the land. It should not be so nice we are in a democracy. The purpose of democracy is to make sure that people behave according to certain rules laid down in the constitution. You cannot arrest somebody except he has committed an offence. But the police now, they just detain you, which is wrong. So, that is the fault of the executive branch of government because they are in control of the police. The executive arm of government should endeavor to improve the police system.
What is the former Attorney General doing now?
Late Onagoruwa
He is in legal practice. You can see me in my office, Olu Onagoruwa & Co
How many lawyers do you run your chambers with?
About six, their names are Kola Olufon, she is now in America, but she comes around when she has to do something, and we liaise regularly. I have Seun Onagoruwa, we have Mr. Adefioye, Mr. Gbadebo.
Tell us one or two of your prison experiences?
General Babangida locked up Onagoruwa for supporting late Tunji Braithwate 
In 1979, a judge ordered that I should be arrested in Lagos because of a publication about Dr. (Nnamdi) Azikiwe and his refusal to pay tax. Then I wrote an article that this man is not being victimized because he is an Igbo man, but because he refused to pay tax. I was in prison for two weeks in Enugu.
Late Zik of Africa & Owelle of Onitsha got Onagoruwa locked up over an article on his personality
But I later won the case in the court of appeal, that the judge was wrong. In 1991, Ibrahim Babangida imprisoned me. I don’t know for what. He said I was defending Tunji Braithwaite, and then this man from Benue State. And they arrested me. I was there for about a week because I was defending people in court, people who were arrested falsely.
Will you say you are a fulfilled person?
I am still a young man now (laughs). I am just 67. I am a young boy. It is just that I was sick—I had stroke that was why. But I have recovered. Don’t I look recovered? I am a highly fulfilled person. Whether Nigerians acknowledge that I did something for them, it is irrelevant. I know that I am a fulfilled person. I am happy with my children and happy with my wife. I am a highly fulfilled person with my family.
What is your advice to upcoming law graduates?
My advice to them is that they should face their law and read their law properly and fight for justice; because a lawyer without an addiction for justice is not a lawyer. We have a lot of senior lawyers in this country. They have made a lot of fame and money, but they are not fighting for justice. They don’t believe in it. When you sue the government, it is they who will go and defend the government. There is no sense of mission. So, a lawyer should have a sense of mission to fight for justice.
Finally, how do you relax?
I come here three times in a week. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I come from Odogbolu in Ogun State to the office three times in the week. If you come to my compound in Odogbolu, you will see how I get to relax. It is a very big compound. We do farming, me and my wife. We do farming, we bring palm kernel, and we produce oil. We have a very big farm. I also play drought and now I am trying my foot on football.
Culled from Encomium Magazine

Gbenga Dan Asabe

Africa's Number One Celebrity Encounter Blog


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