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Awolowo blessed Osinbajo as a baby —Shittu

Wahab Shittu

Lawyer and human rights activist, Wahab Shittu, is a former student of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo. In this interview withTOBI AWORINDE, he talks about his fondest memories under Osinbajo’s tutelage
HOwdo you remember your first encounter with Vice-

President Yemi Osinbajo?

Prof. Osinbajo is a big brain, a genius, an exceptional human being and somebody I described in my project as “something else.” He was my project supervisor in the University of Lagos. My first encounter with him was in 1986 and in my class, we had such people as Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi, who is a former Minister of Health; (former Secretary-General of Afenifere) Ayo Opadokun; Adedayo Adeyeye, who is the current Minister of State for Works; and some other eminent people who are now acknowledged professionals in the society. Osinbajo would come into class with just a pen and would take the entire class for up to four hours, while making copious references to authorities and cases, page-by-page, with uncommon exactitude that can only be associated with his rating as a genius. He had passion for his students and an uncommon, unwavering commitment to his job. He was fearfully intelligent in his delivery of lectures. That endeared him to all the members of our class. At the end of every class, we would troop out to his office in order to try and catch a little bit of the ‘anointing.’
His relationship with the students was one of mutual respect and courtesy. Thus, the impression we had was that, apart from being a first-class brain, he had a good manner of approach. His door was open 24 hours (a day). He was accessible; you could go to him anytime and be assured that he would give you adequate attention. This opinion that I’m telling you about was general: He didn’t put on airs; he wasn’t arrogant. He was an epitome of professionalism and civility. That is what I know of him as my former teacher.

As professional colleagues, what is your impression of him?

I recall that when I was defending (former Chief of Army Staff) Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi, he was the one prosecuting. It got to a stage whereby the health of the General deteriorated and he needed to go abroad for further medical attention. The authorities in Abuja were trying to frustrate the trip, but Osinbajo, in spite of being the prosecutor in the case, willingly cooperated because he felt that the liberty of a citizen was at stake.

He merely extracted from me a guarantee that the General would return. Having obtained that guarantee, he endorsed the trip. That is to show that even as a professional, he was not willing to persecute (someone) as a prosecutor. He understood that even the other party was entitled to his rights and he was ready to provide the enabling environment for those rights. That encounter proved to me that Osinbajo is a thorough-bred professional.

I also recall that, as the Attorney-General of Lagos State, he introduced uncommon reforms into the Ministry of Justice in the state, both in civil and criminal procedure reforms, as well as reforms in all the departments in the ministry — so much so that the reforms he carried out became a reference point for other states to emulate.

When did you first notice his leadership potential?

Again, I was privileged to have had a private discussion with a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who had the opportunity of schooling with Osinbajo in secondary school. They attended Igbobi College together.
Osinbajo, while in Igbobi, was a first-class debater. He was the one always representing the school at debating competitions because of his oratorical skills. He did that throughout his period in the school. The records are there.

In my private interactions with him (Osinbajo), there was a time I asked to come to his private residence and there, I discovered that when he was born, one of the earliest scholars in the home of the Osinabjos was the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He carried Osinbajo in his arms and blessed him. A photograph that captured that moment is in the living room of the Osinbajos as I speak.

Do you remember some of the attributes that distinguished him from your other lecturers?

His greatest attribute, in my view, is humility. In spite of all his accomplishments, Osinbajo is a very humble man. He is always willing to listen to you, no matter how bad your case is. He is always very calm and you can see that his record of public service is unblemished.

How did he discipline his students?

When any one of us did anything wrong, rather than publicly scold the person, Osinbajo would call him and convince him that his manner of approach was wrong — in a very polite, civil manner such that you would have no alternative but to conform subsequently. His way of life, as revealed to me, is that you can be effective without being harsh by showing, through your attitude and posturing, that only the path of righteousness can make you excel in whatever you decide to do.

Did he have a special way of assessing students?

Yes, he gave attention to every student. He tried to assess every student based on their peculiarities. I can tell you for a fact that he always listens. He would always engage his students and offer meaningful advice. He listened a lot and would never interrupt your flow. He would allow you to state your problem and then intervene only after hearing you out.

How do you remember your days with him as your supervisor?

I have fun memories because he is painstaking and has a knack for details. He made me work very hard. He would always insist that I cross-check details; he didn’t give me any breathing space at all. He made sure that my area of research was well covered and that I worked extra-hard for that project. He was always telling me,
“This is a project that you want to showcase to your children, so you must do it very well.” As my supervisor in the faculty, I had the benefit of tapping from his wealth of knowledge. He engaged me and allowed me to work. He believed that nothing comes easy without hard work. If I were to describe the experience, I would say he has contributed greatly to making me what I am today and I am very grateful to him.

Did he have any signature quotes or phrases?

Because he taught us the Law of Evidence, he would always tell us that evidence is the heart of civil and criminal proceedings. I recall that he always employed the tool of emphasis. For instance, there is a topic in Evidence called Res Gestae. He could repeat the phrase ‘res gestae’ up to 10 times to ensure that it sinks. That was Osinbajo. He made sure that if you came to class and listened attentively, you would pass because he taught his students with the objective of getting his students to understand the subject and he would not leave the class if he was convinced that he had not adequately delivered his message to the understanding of the student. I recall that he was always emphasising the word ‘integrity’ as the hallmark of professionalism.

Did he have a nickname?

I remember his friends then used to call him ‘Jebbie.’

What did it mean?

I don’t know. That was his nickname. People who knew him in those days, especially his friends, would tell you he is Jebbie.

To many, he is a very scholarly, serious-looking man. Does he crack jokes at all?

When one is in Osinbajo’s company, one will know that he or she is in the company of a real human being. He cracks a lot of jokes. I’ll give you an example: I attended a session that he had with residents of Victoria Garden City, Lekki, around his home, and someone in the crowd asked him a question. The person said, “Don’t you think the title ‘Your Excellency’ should be scrapped?” You know what he his reply was? “You want it scrapped when it is my turn; you don’t even want me to enjoy it at all,” and then everyone laughed. But saying after that, he agreed and explained that he seriously believed that there is nothing attached to a title. A leader should be ordinary. One would find out that constantly, he is a humorous person, even though he is highly serious-minded. He is a family man to the core. He didn’t put on airs at all and he is best described as very humble and accessible. He is very jovial. But he does not treat issues relating to integrity with levity. He will not associate with you if he knows that you are of shady character.
What is the most impactful thing he has done or said to you that has shaped you as a person?

I think all members of my class will attest to the fact that by virtue of Osinbajo’s influence, we are all well-grounded in the Law of Evidence and, as you know, the Law of Evidence is the heart of the trial process. That was his area of specialisation. When I remember Osinbajo, I will remember him for four virtues and in this order: humility, knowledge, character and integrity. I cannot readily recall any of his weaknesses, except to say I find him sometimes too calm. I wonder how he is able to maintain a reputation of humility, in spite of his accomplishments.

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