Last week’s announcement of Oyetola Muyiwa Atoyebi as one of the latest members of the elite club of legal practitioners is one of the best news to come from Nigeria lately. In these days when you wake up daily to absurd and frightening stories of killings, kidnappings, self-inflicted fire outbreaks and what have you, that a 34-year old becomes a Senior Advocate is news to tell the whole world. And this is more so on a personal level because the young man who so attained is someone I know very well.
So now, here is a disclosure: Tola, as I call Mr Atoyebi is a younger friend of so many years. Our path crossed in 2003, when I and Yemi Kasali , my friend of about 31 years got admitted into the University of Ilorin to study Law. It was eleven years after we had graduated from the Performing Arts of the same institution so there was no way it could be not an easy return. We had then started families and one or two other engagements that made being undergraduates again herculean. We realised we needed help!
We desired young blood, someone whose head was still fresh and passionate about studying law to put us through our courses and explain knotty things that the worries of life, which we had embraced in the course of our journey imposed on us. It didn’t take long to find two of such persons. They were this same man that the legal profession now celebrates and another shining light with the name Hamid Abdulkareem, now a Partner with the firm of Aluko and Oyebode.
Tola and Hamid were young, but they left no one in doubt as to the certainty of their direction. They took copious notes in class and made copies of useful materials they laid hands on for us without the asking. Mr Atoyebi was present whenever we needed him and would initiate discussions that we did not even think about. During almost all our examinations, he was in our company, discussing, sometimes throughout the night and in between examinations. He was as selfless as he was studious and compassionate.
There was something else I noticed about Mr Atoyebi in those undergraduate days. He had an unmistakeable grateful and humble heart. He appreciated people for things you would consider inconsequential and made no fuss about anything. But gratitude to man was a small deal in the carefree way he praised and worshipped God. It would be hard for you to see this young man without having one song of praise or the other in his mouth when we were not in class. Just after he was named as one of those bestowed with the Senior Advocate of Nigeria rank last week, a couple of his close friends recreated an experience they had during our time at the University of Ilorin on a social media platform that we share.
One of his roommates recalled: “I could remember when Tola read to the point that his head was just bumping, and he would use a towel soaked with water to cover so it would cool down. Glory be to God for how far he has taken us. I could also recall when our roommates would wake up in the middle of the night and find Tola dancing with earphones plugged into his ears. We, his roommates were scared that he may have lost his sanity and while we were worrying, he told us he was dancing to his God. We all went to back to bed. Hard work indeed pays.” Even as a young man in his early 20s, he gave prime place to God and was unapologetic about his faith.
I have only seen Mr Atoyebi once during a reunion we had when the National Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) held in Lagos two years back but he has made it a point of duty to send a message of prayer every first day of the month for years now. In addition to that, he is a unifying factor for everyone in the large class that we belonged to. Regardless of his busy schedule, he is one of the administrators the class’s WhatsApp’s group and works behind the scene to see that everyone is in sync and makes progress together where possible. So, beyond professional competence and diligence, which his elevation has confirmed, here is a good man, who loves humanity and loves God without any apologies.
But those who have associated with him professionally testified that he has earned the crown. They talk about his love for the practice of law; his distinction and prodigious hard work and readiness to work with others to achieve results, his sacrifices in the face of challenges faced by the inadequacy and conservative practice of public universities facing daunting underfunding. In all of this, they indicate that the young man has remained Godfearing and without any iota of arrogance associated with men of knowledge.
Now, the virtues that brought this recognition to Mr Atoyebi is something that one must commend to every Nigerian youth in these days that hope is fast giving way to despair and many of those who should direct the affairs of the country in the future are migrating in droves. It is gratifying to realise that despite the chaos all over the place, hard work, industry and focus still come with some rewards. This should be an assurance to young people who are hardworking, focused and committed to what they have chosen to do, that becoming what their heart desires is possible despite the stumbling blocks that society may lay ahead of them.
The younger generation is also invited by this young man’s achievement to understand that there is a good place of recognition of professionalism and orderliness. While youthful governors who attained positions through no obvious competence other than the agency of some overfed godfather have pushed Nigerians into questioning the competence of a new generation of leaders, when young senators are beginning to exhibit low levels of emotional intelligence, last week’s confirmation of Atoyebi sends the message that the Nigerian youth is indeed able to hold his own. It is a pointer to young people to roll up their sleeves and get ready to take the control of state rather than remain political thugs and hirelings to politicians.
And if anyone still had doubts about the fact that the Nigerian youth is hardworking even when he has been denied the right environment to thrive, the elevation of this 34-year old to the rank of a senior advocate should convince such people. That the legal profession in Nigeria would give the country its youngest Senior Advocate just one year after the Worcester Barrister Edward Cumming, was named Queens Counsel at the same age of 34 is an interesting coincidence that should inspire both government and people of Nigeria to invest more in the youths of the country.
And speaking about government authorities in Nigeria, we must realise that the country would sleep on its bed just the way it lays it. While young people continue to strive to excel in their chosen fields, it is important to pay attention to the education of all Nigerian children.
Earlier this week, the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities stated that over 500,000 Nigerian children who desire public university education were rejected annually due to decayed infrastructure and reduced manpower. That is not to talk about the alarming rate of youth unemployment, which makes it always confounding when government people speak about a glowing future for Nigeria Do government imagine that serious countries spoke that future into reality without planning for it?
While congratulating Mr Atoyebi for being a worthy example for the Nigerian youth, one should commend the following words that Cummings gave in response to his elevation to the Queen’s Counsel status in 2018 to him: “I am absolutely delighted to have been appointed a QC – but at the same time very humbled. I hope to be able to repay the faith shown in me by the many people who have supported me and provided me with such fantastic opportunities over the years.”
Congratulations dear brother, but know also that this is a huge responsibility to hold the torch for legal profession in Nigeria, the youth of the country and the country itself.