Barrister Babatunde Ogala, a former member of the Lagos Ssate House of Assembly and now the national legal adviser of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), in this interview, speaks to the Editor, FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, on the state of legal profession in Nigeria, his passion for lawyering and personal life. Excerpts…
What are the qualities a good lawyer should have?
To be a good lawyer, one must be industrious, have a good grasp of the law as well as keep abreast of current developments in law and polity. He must have an idea and knowledge of all other sectors and be a voracious reader. He must be a good listener and above all espouse high integrity and confidence.
Why did you choose Law for a career and was Law practice your first dream?
I really can’t place a finger on why I chose law. My only other interest was Mass Communications and I just found myself applying to study law. Perhaps, it may have a lot to do with my outspokenness from youth.
The opposition would believe that being the ruling party’s lawyer could affect your judgment on inter-party legal disputes; do you think so?
My training as a lawyer comes first in all I do as Legal Adviser and respect for the rule of law will under no circumstances will not be encouraged or tolerated under my watch. I am first a lawyer before being a party man and my law comes first. My being Legal Adviser cannot be a hindrance in my judgment on inter-party disputes. I do have a duty to defend my party to the best of my ability as Legal Adviser but if the courts determine against my party, my position will be to respect the rule of law and obey lawful orders.
Within the short time that you were elected the All Progressives Congress national legal adviser, which of your undertakings has given you the most satisfaction?
I was elected at the national convention of the All Progressives Congress on 24th June 2018. I have derived the most satisfaction from the reforms I have brought to bear both on the legal department of the party and strengthening the legal department. Through my office, I have been able to bring the party to appreciate more the fact that our operations and existence as a party is governed by laws of the country and our constitution. The legal department has been transformed under my watch from being a department that just firms out briefs to law firms to one that is a law office where law is practised. I have also brought to bear and very strongly the need for adoption of alternative dispute resolution mechanism in settling disputes that are intra party. That way I have saved the party a lot of money is litigation. I have also inculcated in the staff of the legal department the need to espouse high ethical standards and values and always reminded them that we are lawyers whose profession and conduct are regulated by rules of professional conduct. We have also developed a model of engaging in legal practitioners work in the department and I dare say the legal department of the party is today the most respected in the party administrative structure. We are today a full-fledged law office and the staff have their confidence renewed. We work as a team and engage each other in robust discussions before taking positions on any issue. I now have a team.
Please, share with us a complex legal issue that you had worked on before or after you had become the APC legal adviser and what the result was?
They are just too many that I have encountered in my 33 years at the bar. I can’t really place a finger on any in particular. We have dealt with complex litigation, complex negotiations, complex commercial transactions, novel issues from restructuring to debt management. There have been political issues that we have deployed our skills to resolve; just too many. And in most cases we have come out with satisfactory results.
Tell us what your typical day is like now compared to when you were not yet appointed.
My typical day now runs for 24 hours especially in this season of serious politicking. I was elected and assumed office almost immediately after the party congresses with too many legal issues and litigation arising therefrom. And while still at that we came into issues of party primaries, many of which gave rise to misunderstanding and disputes and litigation. Besides, we receive loads of petitions almost on an hourly basis and we have to respond to them. The usual response time in the new legal department is 48 hours. This is besides the political issues that we also have to contend with. I dare say I have never been busier in my life and my phones have never been more engaged than they are now. I have never received the volume of visitors I now receive with one complaint or challenge or the other, all of which one must attend to. I also still have my private law office to run. It’s been tough and hectic, but God has guided us through.
Who is your legal hero and what are the person’s qualities that fascinate you?
My legal heroes are just too many including even my juniors. I adore them all for different reasons.
Why do you think people assume that the law is there to protect the VIP but is applied to punish the common man?
It’s not true that the law protects the VIPs and applied to punish the poor. Absolutely untrue. The law is no respecter of persons and all persons are equal before the law.
Share with us what your social life looks like.
I have a very active social life. I work hard and play hard. And being in the public eye and involvement in politics and managing people also comes with additional responsibilities of imposition of social responsibilities and obligations. I belong to some social and recreation clubs including Island Club, Ikoyi Club, Ikeja Golf Club, Lagos Country Club as well as various other church related societies and community associations as well as cultural organizations. It is indeed a very active social life. I also have an active work and political life and I ensure I strike a balance while also keeping an eye on family life which must be and is also of top priority.
What else do you do in your spare time?
I hang out with friends when I can spare the time and used to also knock around the golf course until my arm gave in.
What are your hobbies?
My number one hobby is engaging in healthy arguments and discussions on topical issues and sharing knowledge. Then soccer is another and Chelsea FC and Vining United Football Club which plays in the Nigerian Nationwide League Division 2. I am the Chairman of the Club. So I am also a football administrator.
As an experienced lawyer, what do you think is a common misconception people have about lawyers?
The major misconception is the assumption in the eyes of the public that lawyers define their clients’ cases. No we don’t. What we do is to work on the facts of the case as presented and narrated to us by clients and lay them before the courts while applying the laws to argue for them. The other misconception is the fact that the average person doesn’t realize that the job of a lawyer goes far beyond litigation and going to courts. A lawyer is a trained problem solver whose skills are needed in all facets of our lives as our lives are regulated by laws, codes, ethics and even convention. Even the scriptures are laws. There are possibly more lawyers practising outside the courts than those engaged in litigation.
What are the gains and pains of being a celebrity lawyer?
I don’t see myself as a celebrity lawyer and I may not know the gains and pains.
Tell us briefly about your family and future political ambition.
I am married to a wonderful and God-sent woman who is also a lawyer and currently serving as a jurist in one of the high courts and we are blessed with three children one of whom is also a lawyer and the other also studying law while the third is studying computer science and cyber security. They are all adults.
Future political ambitions are close to my chest.