TRIBUTE TO HON. JUSTICE SHEHU TIJANI BOLARINWA OYEGOKE BABALAKIN BY DR. BOLANLE OLAWALE BABALAKIN
BORN INTO A DISCIPLINED FAMILY
From the earliest days of my life I knew, I was born into a very disciplined family. Considerable emphasis was placed on education, health, good behaviour and respect for elders. My father wanted me to be very successful in every sphere. At a very tender age of two years and six months, I was sent to nursery school. They were my golden years. By my tenth birthday I was on the way to secondary school. My father was made the Chairman of the prize giving day partly because I was carting away virtually every prize for academic performance. My father was very happy with me. Of course, my doting mother was very glad. Our only point of difference was that I wanted to go to Aiyetoro Comprehensive High School, Aiyetoro, while my father insisted on Government College Ibadan. In later life I concluded, as I would on many subsequent issues, that his opinion was the correct one.
Our interesting rendezvous as father and son continued into Government College Ibadan, especially when within a few weeks, he was informed that I had come first at the Grier House, House Test. I think my first year in secondary school was probably the only year of cordial relationship between us during my Ordinary Level days. From then on, our relationship seriously nose-dived. My performance in school was deteriorating rapidly. I virtually stopped going to school. Classes were, for me, very voluntary. I took an unusual interest in going out of school without permission (bolting). I was to be found at discos and film houses but hardly in school. My father’s reaction was drastic. I had become a very big disappointment. He could not fathom what had gone wrong. He was a very dutiful father and ironically had given birth to a very troublesome child. I received very regular beating usually a combination of serious whipping and very heavy blows. I really cannot recollect escaping this thrashing session for more than three days. My mother was extremely unhappy. While she could not really fault my father’s disciplinarian position, it was most difficult for her to see her darling son Olatokunbo in any form of pain.
MY FATHER DISAPPROVED OF MY MOTHER INDULGING ME
My mother’s “indulgence” of me did not go down very well with my father. He felt very strongly that I had refused to do well in any sphere of life because my mother showered me with excessive love, affection and money. He once told her in my presence, in a lawyer’s language that she was directly responsible for my failure as a child. I must state that even undeterred in her complete conviction that whatever I was not doing right was only an aberration.
Olatokunbo was in her view the epitome of scholarship, confidence and good behaviour. She was probably the only one who held this view then. The hostile relationship between my father and I continued unabated. I was very fond of arguing with him and challenging some of his established positions. I later learnt that he appreciated the arguments on their own merit but could not really accept them from a child who was not pursuing his studies diligently.
The hostile relationship climaxed around 1975 when my father summoned me to his study for a discussion. He told me he was convinced that I will not have a university degree. He urged me to think of a trade instead of wasting his resources on a career path that I could not fulfil. He spoke glowingly about his members of staff who had taken advantage of the opportunities he gave them to become graduates and emerged as successful men in the society. He was particularly fascinated by a young man who his steward, but who he had sent to one of the best schools in Nigeria and was going to become a medical doctor soon. He urged me to work very hard so that one of his former stewards may find me deserving of employment.
As he spoke, I was full of rage. I wanted to cry but I was determined not to break down before him. I bottled my frustration and anger until I left him and went straight to my mother. As soon as I saw her, I broke down completely. I gave her a graphic explanation of what transpired between my father and I. In a few minutes we were both crying profusely. After some time, we stopped crying and then she played the master stroke on me. She said “Olatokunbo, why don’t you put your father to shame?” This was exactly all I wanted to do. I wanted to know how to achieve this feat. In reply to my inquiry, she said that all I had to do was to excel in my studies and the old man would have to stop ‘insulting me and may even apologise for some of his hard words. She told me that if I achieved this objective, she would give me more money than she had been giving me but on the clear understanding that it was between us.
THE POSITIVE TURN AROUND
I left my mother on that fateful day determined to do very well in school if only to “shame” my father. I started attending classes on a regular basis and even started reading for about one hour every day. For me this was a great departure from the past. The effect was immediate, my school results improved dramatically. To create more time, I stopped going to cinemas and discos. I spent half of this additional time studying, I could not believe the effect on my performance. I moved straight to the top echelon of the class. I started to relish academic work. I recollect a particular lecturer in my Advanced Level class, Mr. Oyegoke (Mamluke) who felt that I was such an outstanding student and ought to be allowed to take the Advanced Level examination in the lower sixth form. He approached my mother telling her he was sure I would pass the examinations. My mother laughed loudly. How could her son who was not doing well a few months ago now be able to take an examination earlier than scheduled. She told my teacher that she was not convinced about this position and she dared not mention it to my father.
She decided to pay for the examinations herself. When the results were released, I passed. My father came into the house and saw my mother and I dancing in the living room. My mother was so elated and told him about my performance in the examinations. We were expecting him to share in our joy. What we got from him was a different reaction. He advised my mother not to celebrate prematurely as he was very sure that there was a mix up in the results. He was not convinced that any student could have such a turn around. Two days later my father’s emissary to the examinations council returned from his assignment of cross checking the results and confirmed that I was indeed the student who had passed the examinations. Notwithstanding this confirmation I did not get any remarkable congratulations from my Dad. I later learnt that he was not sure it was sustainable and decided to adopt a wait and see attitude.
A NEW CORDIAL RELATIONSHIP BEGAN
At the end of the Advanced Level course, I was admitted to a number of universities. I wanted to study in England. My mother and I were sure that this was the next course of action but knew we could not take the decision ourselves. My father left us in no doubt about who the decision maker was? We both planned to approach him and break the news to him in a most acceptable way and at an appropriate time. On a Sunday morning in his famous study, I expressed my desire to study in England. His response was acutely hurtful to me. This time, unlike the previous occasions, he spoke in a low tone. He expressed his desire to educate me to any level I could aspire to but could not send a child who had not done well consistently abroad. He felt my recent performances, though commendable, had not been consistent enough to justify such a decision. In his words sending me abroad at that stage was simply “suicidal”. He then assured me that if I did well in my First Degree programme at a Nigerian university, he would send me abroad for my postgraduate education. Once again, my father had refused my request. I went straight to my mother, who on seeing my face knew that our plan had not worked: I started crying again and in no time my loving mother joined me.
UNIVERSITY OF LAGOS DAYS WERE SIMPLY REMARKABLE
My university days were simply blissful. I had such a good time with my father. My results were consistently good. Of note though is that contrary to assumed notions between lawyers and their children, my father never forced or directed me to read law. On the contrary, on my way to the University of Lagos, he told me to pursue any course of my choice. My personal fulfillment was very important to him. I read law out of personal conviction. On graduating from the University of Lagos as one of the best students in the class, my father was very excited. He attended the graduation ceremony happily. While I was at the Law school, he bought me a brand new car. I could not believe this gesture. On being called to the Bar he promptly reminded me about his earlier commitment to send me abroad for the post graduate studies. In his traditional way, he kept his promise. I left for the University Of Cambridge.
RELATIONSHIP IN CAMBRIDGE WAS BLISSFUL
If my relationship with my father in the University Of Lagos was blissful, then my relationship with him in Cambridge University was near paradise. It started on shaky grounds as my father was determined to control my expenditure. However, he was very happy with my performance and consequently over-looked some of my expenses. When he learnt that I had become a Commonwealth scholar, he was extremely happy. However, there was a pleasant shock in the offing from him. His house in London was my holiday residence. I thought the house could benefit from some improvement. I also believed that I could turn it around for him by mortgaging or selling it. I sent a written proposal to my father on what to do with the property. I advised him to sell it and invest the money in a better manner including buying another house. I do not know where I got the courage to write this letter from. I was expecting to be thoroughly rebuked for this effrontery. At best, I was expecting him to ignore the letter. I got the shock of my life when I received a parcel from him. The parcel contained a properly sealed document. What was the document? A Power of Attorney from my father duly signed and sealed transferring the property to me and allowing me to do whatever I pleased with the property. I was confounded. How could my father decide to give his only property outside Nigeria to me? How could his failure of a son suddenly become someone he could trust with his most valuable asset? How did he conclude that a twenty three year old boy could manage such a major asset? If my mother was guilty of indulging me, how could one describe his own recent actions? I was taken aback; I was flattered; and I was determined not to let him down in life.
We have received a lot of commendations from many quarters about how we took care of our father in his latter years. He deserved everything and even more. He was a good man. His final prayers will hold in a four thousand seater hall, built by me in his honour as a center for the dissemination of knowledge, which was one of his great I am still struggling to achieve his standards. My father is probably the most principled and consistent man I have met in my life. He has also been one of the greatest influences in my life. I have a lot more to say about this great disciplinarian with an outstanding mind and character. I have only been able to say a minute part of it in this tribute for so many reasons including constraint of space. I have no doubt that God willing I would write a book about this generous man who has the highest moral principles and whom the almighty God also blessed with a very great wife (my darling mother).
I had the rare privilege of being born and raised by a man who was:
a) An outstanding intellect,
b) A person with undoubted high integrity,
c) A very humane person,
d) A gifted communicator in English and Yoruba,
e) A distinguished Nigerian who functioned pleasantly in every part of Nigeria.
t) An exceptional man of faith,
g) A remarkable legal practitioner,
h) A trusted judge and epitome of comportment on the Bench,
i) A demonstrable national leader,
j) A great family man and more.
May the Almighty Allah accept him in Aljannah firdaus.
Abdul Rauf Bolanle Olawale Olatokunbo Babalakin
Culled from the FIDAU Programme Booklet in honour of Hon. Justice Bolarinwa Oyegoke Babalakin, JSC, CFR