By Anthonia Duru
Mallam Yusuf Olaolu Ali a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who has won some landmark cases is the Chief Executive Officer of GHALIB Chambers in Ilorin. The successful lawyer with over three decades of experience obtained his first degree from University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University. He was conferred with the highest status in the Nigeria’s Legal profession, SAN, in 1997. He is a member of many professional bodies including the International Bar Association, American Bar Association, Commonwealth Lawyers Association; among others. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, (FCIArb) (UK), Fellow Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (FCIArb) (Nigeria), Member Chartered Institute of Taxation Nigeria (CITN), Fellow Society for Peace Studies and Practice (FSPSP), Fellow Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society. (FNMGS). Anthonia Duru was at his cozy chambers in Ilorin recently and he shared his success story.
Coming into your office complex, there are lots of plaques from awards and honours hung on your wall. I am sure you must have lost count of them.
People out of their goodness who thought we have been doing few things here and there and they thought it is worth the while to recognise and encourage whatever they see one doing that is good. I can’t give money to get an award. I won’t, because I don’t have that kind of money and if I have the money I will rather use it to better the lives of others rather than buying an award.
Sitting down here recently, one professor requested for my CV that it was needed somewhere in United States; after sending it California University in Sacramento he said I was given the 2018 humanitarian and peace award for my contributions towards peace and philanthropy in Africa. I don’t look out for awards; I think it is just God’s doing.
Which do you treasure most?
I treasure and cherish all because people recognize you for different things.
What informed the name of your chambers, Ghalid?
It is Arabic word which means victory. When I was thinking of setting up a chamber in 1993, that was when I thought about it. Before then, I was in partnership with someone who we were working together and I was there for 11 years. I threw it to my late wife and she recommended Ghalid. We started out 1st of June, 1994.
Many of your colleagues would have chosen commercial cities like Lagos to set up a law firm, why did you choose Iloirn and how rosy was it when you started then?
God has been so good but nothing has been rosy in my life. God at every point intervenes decisively in my favour. I started school like every child; got enrolled in Primary School thereafter in an Arabic school. I left primary in 1968, I proceeded to Modern School for three years after that, I worked, then I entered secondary school.
I started out on my own in 1994. The office I rented when I was to set up Ghalid chambers was a flat of three bedroom and the rent was N1,200 per annum and I was required to pay for two years. I didn’t have the money so I went ahead to borrow the money. To the glory of God, Our Building for Ghalid Chamber was fully ready for use and we moved into it in September, 2001.
When I was living in the rented apartment, where we started, I have paid six years rent in advance. The first electronic typewriter I bought when I was setting up Ghalid chamber was paid for in installment. We thank God because he has put a good ending to the story. My paternal grandmother was a Fulani woman from Ilorin. Secondly, I have some friends from my undergraduate days at Ife they often say they will settle in Ilorin. When I told my late father that I wanted to settle in Ilorin he was in full support maybe for nostalgia of his late mother.
I was posted to Ilorin for my one-year National Youth Service Corps and thereafter I decided to stay here in Ilorin. I have built functional offices in Abuja and Lagos but Ilorin is home for me. My attraction to Ilorin is almost indescribable. Anywhere I go, I must come back home which is Ilorin. I also believe that since Allah exists everywhere, he will bless whatever you do anywhere you are.
You sound like a very religious man
I was born a Muslim and I will be about six generation of Muslim in my family. I have no history of any conversion to another religion in my family. I believe that when you profess a faith, the least you can do is to be faithful to that faith. People must know and identify you with that faith because that is a hallmark of a honourable person.
I was born into Islam but I remain in Islam by conviction because I am convinced that is the path for me. I have been observing my five daily prayers unbroken since 1972. My conviction heighten when I got to Ife, I was admitted to study history in 1978 though I wanted law. I wanted to change law and it was almost impossible because the faculty where I was, thought I was a bright student because in my 100 level I had As in all the courses except one where I had B+.
They insisted they won’t release their brilliant student to go to another faculty meanwhile law faculty also wanted me. I took another JAMB form so I will start over since I couldn’t cross. One day, while praying in Mosque, I prayed almost carelessly to Allah that if he will allow me change course smoothly, I will be more dedicated to him. When all hope had been lost, on a Friday in 1979 after Jumat prayer, somebody called my attention that he has seen the change of course and my name was the first on the list.
I remembered my vow to Allah; before then I had prayed but I don’t take part in any activities but I became more committed and eventually I became the president of Muslim Student Society of Nigeria in Ife. That was the turning point of my getting more and more involved in religious activities.
What was the attraction to law?
It is just God. Most of my teachers in secondary school believed that I will study economics. God just directed me to this profession. Not that I have a history of a lawyer in my family, it was just God. I never enter the courtroom until we were doing law school attachment in Lagos in 1982.
Of what benefit has your attainment of SAN been to your career advancement?
Becoming a SAN as a lawyer is a positive professional changing attainment if God blesses it for you. I became SAN over 20 years ago.
Can you share with us some of your defining moments as a lawyer?
The first defining moment for me professionally was in 1989 when I became notary public, that was significant for me. In 1996 I was appointed as the sole judge of election tribunal in Kwara State and I attended to 16 petitions in 30 days. The icing on the cake for me was in 1997 September when I became a SAN.
Do you have low moments as a lawyer?
Losing a case for me is not a low moment as such but when you lost a case and you start hearing things later that are quite unethical, those moments are quite disturbing for me. I try to remain an upright person both privately and professionally. Being an upright lawyer for me implies that as a lawyer you observe all the rules of professional ethics, you do not cut corners and you should not have or carry out any corruptive intention in your matter and in other people’s matters.
You should also be incorruptible. You also try to be a model not just for your juniors but your peers and the larger society. I do tell clients whenever they want me to handle a case for them that they are not paying me to win at all cost but to try my best for them.
Have you ever had a time when a client walks away because you told him or her the truth?
No. It has never happened because I will always say the truth. I won’t rubbish my integrity for someone who has none. I tell clients that I will do my best professionally and give all my best. I also tell them their case with me can never be compromised because I know truth is very sacred. I also tell them only God knows how their case will end but I will do my best. When I lose a matter, I do self-introspection; I don’t look for scapegoat and I don’t start making stories up. I ask my colleagues how we faired and what we did that we ought not to have done. I also do this when we win.
Do you socilaise outside your career?
Yes I do. I honor invitations. I am a sticker to time and I don’t compromise on that. Invite me to an event, I know how long I will stay and I don’t exceed that time even if you have not started. I don’t go late to events. When my father died, a governor who is a friend was invited and I told him we will start by 11am and by 12.30pm we are done because I have earlier told the clerics. The governor told me he is having an event for 11 and I advised him to come earlier, spend few minutes with us and go.
He however came around 12.45 and by then we were done. That’s my kind of person and many people around me know me for this. My father was not just very strict, he was very upright. There were stories I heard when he died that he was a special breed. When he fell ill for the first time in 2015, he called everyone who kept one thing or the other with him to come collect them so as at the time he died he didn’t owe anybody anything.
You have won some landmark cases which further launched you to limelight in Nigeria. How did you feel when you won these cases?
I was part of the team that defended Late Umaru Yar’Adua, I was the principal at former Governor Fayemi’s election tribunal and I was Ladoja’s lawyer during his illegal impeachment. Until Ladoja’s matter nobody has ever been impeached and returned to office in Nigeria. After Ladoja’s case it has become a good precedent in Nigeria. I feel good about such things because I am making my modest contributions to the legal profession.
Some of your colleagues are in politics now, are you nursing any political ambition?
I don’t have such plans. I had the privilege of being invited recently to be the Attorney General of the federation, I rejected it. I don’t want any political appointment.
Why did you reject such a juicy offer?
I don’t want to get involved in anything in which I won’t make a difference. I am old enough to know Nigeria and the way we go about our things. I have not seen any Nigerian who will emerge as president and will totally abide by all the tenets of the rule of law.
You just sounded as if there is no hope for Nigeria.
No, this is just my observation. An Attorney General is only a minister appointed by the virtue of his or her qualification and experience. Any other person can be given any portfolio. When I was invited to be Attorney General of the federation, I told the person if I give you a legal opinion as Attorney general, I don’t mind if due to superior argument you don’t follow it but if you jettison it based on exigency or politics, I will take it as a vote of no confidence in my ability and I will just walk away.
Are any of your children taking after you professionally?
Only one; my first daughter is a chartered accountant, the second one is the lawyer, the third is a medical doctor and the last has a PhD in engineering.
Will it be right to say you are a fulfilled man?
I am still praying for fulfillment in all areas of life because I am still a young man.
What are some of your guiding principles?
I want to be faithful to my faith and I want to do unto others what I want them do to me.
It is strange that a legal luminary like you does not hold any chieftaincy title
I don’t want to be called a chief, I am okay. Many people call me Mallam. I don’t reject chieftaincy offers, I just tell them I will like to remain who I am.
Your wife passed on over a decade ago, what are some of the marks she made in your life before her demise and do you intend to remarry soon?
She was a 100% supporter of everything in my life and she was a fantastic woman. She had everything a man will desire in a wife. As regards remarrying, everything is in the hands of God and we are not closing our eyes. We are taking our torchlight to search. I am not transposing her qualities into anyother person, whoever comes in I will take the person the way I found her.
What informs some of your philanthropic gestures?
I believe it is necessary we give back to the society. I get encouragement to do these things from people around me but beyond all these, I believe it is not right just accumulating money because you want to accumulate wealth. You need to be able to impact on other people’s life one way or the other.
What is your take on the grazing law?
Anything that will make us differentiate genuine people from those who are not is definitely a welcome development. All we need to do to move this nation forward is to abolish the indigene and settlers syndrome. Let Nigerians take their rights and obligations from wherever they live.