SPEECH DELIVERED BY HON. JUSTICE TAIWO O. TAIWO, AT THE VALEDICTORY COURT SESSION HELD IN HIS HONOUR, AT THE FEDERAL HIGH COURT, OYINKAN ABAYOMI DRIVE, IKOYI, LAGOS STATE, ON THURSDAY, THE 22 ND DAY OF SEPTEMBER, 2022.
(1)My lord, the Honourable Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Hon. Justice John T. Tsoho has read a short biography of me and as such I will not recap all he has read as given to him by me. I will just fill in the spaces as appropriate so that all and sundry will know where I came from till this moment. Frankly speaking, and this is known to every one very close to me, that I never wanted to become a judge or senior advocate of Nigeria. I just wanted to practise the law because I have a passion for it. I had been invited to join the bench even before my dear wife, Hon. Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo became a judge in 2004. I remember that my Lord, the former Chief Judge of Lagos State, Hon. Justice Oluwafunmilayo Atilade, asked me to apply sometime in 2003, before she became the Chief Judge. Prior to that time I had been approached to apply to the Ondo State Judiciary because my late mother is from Ondo City, Ondo State. I did not. My joining the bench, I believe very sincerely is more spiritual than physical but definitely not accidental because as a believer and a Christian, from the way I found my way to the bench was actually ordained by God long before I was conceived. I had very deep connections and interactions with judges when I was growing up. One of them was Hon. Justice Olajompo Akinkugbe (of blessed and fond memories), who was married to my auntie Late Mrs Mojisola Akinkugbe. Their house at Iyaganku Quarters in Ibadan, Oyo State was frequently visited by me and my mother. The jurist who was at a time a judge of the Western Region Court of Appeal was a very stern man. If he smiled at you or at all then he was extremely happy. You could hear a pin drop anytime he was at home because all of us, my mother and auntie alike used to talk in hushed voices, if we had to talk at all.
(2)The other person I grew up to know first, as a lawyer and later a Judge, first of the Lagos Judiciary on his appointment by late Lateef Jakande, former Governor of Lagos State, then later elevated to the Court of Appeal of Nigeria was Hon. Justice Omotayo Moronkeji Onalaja also of blessed memory. It was Justice Onalaja that supervised my thesis as a student in the faculty of law, University of Ibadan, Oyo State. The title of my thesis was “MILITARY TRIBUNALS AND THE DUE PROCESS OF LAW”. This was in 1984 when we were under the Military. In actual fact, I knew of the case of LEVERSIDGE V ANDERSON  UKHL 1 at that time because on proof reading my draft, Hon. Justice Onalaja told me to read the case as my thesis would not be complete without citing the case. The case was a landmark decision in the realm of administrative law which concerned the relationship between the courts and the state, and in particular the assistance the judiciary should give to the executive in times of national emergency.
(3)I had mention that I never wanted to become a judge, but how did I find myself on the bench. Sometime in early January 2015, while I was the 2nd Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association I had a matter before my Lord Hon. Justice Ajumogobia sitting in one of the courtroom just by the car park inside this premises. She rose for a while and I decided to stand outside till she got back in. My Lord and my classmate at the law school, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Buba was walking by and saw me. He called me and asked me thus:” this man how you de? Wetin you wan do? You no apply for silk and you no come join us for bench”. I told him I wanted nothing. He went further to tell me that the exercise of appointment to the bench of the Federal High Court was on going if I was interested. I thanked him for the information which I was not aware of even as an officer of the NBA. I went further to tell him that I will inform my wife and pray about it. I told Toyin, that’s what I call my wife, she liked the idea because at that time I was travelling all over the country for the NBA on official duties and she was of the view that the frequency of my travelling will be reduced. I then took it to God in prayers after reading a particular psalm if I wanted a revelation. I went to bed. In the midnight, I saw a vision. I was in a function of the Federal High Court and I saw many faces of judges particularly that of my Lords Ajumogobia and Ademola. When I entered, there was no seat but I saw a policeman sitting comfortably. I went to him, and asked him to vacate his seat. I actually commanded him to get up and that was it. I woke up from my sleep, tapped my wife and told her of what I saw in the dream. I then told her that I would give it a trial by applying to the bench in this court. At that time too, God told me to limit my decision to very few people and that I should not even tell any pastor. Thus, I kept my decision from many of my friends especially one person who is very close to me and was actually doing all he could for me to take the silk, Lanre Ogunlesi SAN and one other highly revered person who is like a mother to me, Mrs Hairat Ade-Balogun. They were shocked, like
many people when words eventually got out that I had been short
(4)When I decided to apply to the bench, I stopped attending Federal
High Court functions so as not to appear as if I was lobbying despite the fact that my Lord the former Chief Judge of this court, Hon. Justice I. N. Auta always invited me to the functions and would actually ask of me if I was not in the crowd especially after my stint as the Chairman of NBA, Lagos Branch. This was why I did not attend the valedictory session in honour of Hon. Justice Awokulehin. This is a confession. I cannot and must not fail to recognise the contribution of my Lord, Hon. Justice Amina Augie, Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, who contacted judges of the Court of Appeal all of whom knew me when she was the Presiding Judge of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division. I recall that Hon. Justice Tijani Abubakar JCA (as he then was), now Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Sidi Bage JCA (as he then was), later Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria but now the
Emir of Lafia, Nasarawa State after his voluntary retirement from the Apex Court, Hon Justice Shuaibu JCA, Hon Justice Adeniyi Ademola, Hon. Justice Opeyemi Oke, former Chief Judge of Lagos State, Hon. Justice Kazeem Alogba, the current Chief Judge of Lagos State and Hon. Justice Ayodeji Balogun of the Lagos Judiciary were the few people I informed and they recommended me as a judge of this court. Many judges would have recommended me if I had informed them because I did nothing aside legal practice thus I appeared in various courts and in many jurisdictions. Let me say this, I did venture into the property business and I was successful in terms of the money I made but I had to drop it and concentrate on my legal practice because it was affecting my legal practice. I was more interested in legal practice to the extent that I only did some legal assignments for only First Bank of Nigeria out of all the banks in Nigeria and I had to stop because I did not deem it appropriate to share my fees with anyone or be dictated to on how to share my fees.
(5)I grew up in a disciplined environment. I and my twin brother Kehinde Taiwo, an American, who is a retiree like me after working for the Washington D.C. government for many years, lived with Mrs Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti in Abeokuta in our early years. My father Late Archdeacon J.B. Taiwo was a disciplinarian and a single parent to me and my siblings, Rotimi the first born an agriculturist but now a pastor, Mrs Iyabo Sokunbi, who worked in the Ogun State Judiciary after which she established Jacob’s Model School, Sango, Ogun State, Dr. Olusola Taiwo who retired from Shell after many years of service as a medical personnel now a lay reader in the Anglican Church in the UK, Mrs Yinka Marcus, who studied Music at the University of Nigeria, Nsuka, Mrs Olufemi Akinde, an Evangelist, Enitan Taiwo who lives in the UK and Mrs Seun Adeniyi Adenuga. My siblings from my mother are Funmilayo who lives and works in the UK and Adesola Mapaderun, an architect who lives and works in the USA. My father would not allow any of us to sleep if we did not master a song from the hymn book every night while
he played the organ. We all started fending for ourselves at a very young age. My late mother was very generous and kind. We were taught contentment from our early years. This explains why we did not hunger for money or worldly things. I won’t deny that my mother spoilt me a little…just a little. She gave me a car when I was in the university and had access to other cars on holidays, especially after I had an accident with the Peugeot 504 saloon car. Many of my friend in this hall rode in the car when we were at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University. We sure had a good time growing up. I was a DJ in Ife in those days. Therefore, I made lots of friends. We all had money to spend. All we needed was 50 kobo for meals. 10 kobo for breakfast, 20 kobo for lunch and 20kobo for dinner. Most times our meals included well cut chicken, fish and meat.
(6)I ought to have read law as a first degree but for the fact that I went on holidays to the UK in July of 1977 and didn’t come back till sometime in October when everyone else had started lectures. My late Uncle, Prof. Iluyomade tried to get me into the law faculty but there was no space. I therefore decided to study History/Politics. I rebuffed all entrities to do pre law because I had A’ Levels. I had always believed in the American system that a first degree is a must before a law degree. After my degree in History/ Politics, I went for the NYSC in Kaduna and was posted to the Nigerian Defence Academy as an instructor in International Affairs. While in NYSC Camp, I took part in the intergroup debate organised in camp and I was also the group leader. The current Minister of Internal Affairs, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola was in my group. We were both activists although he held communist beliefs while I believed in free market economy. After my youth service year, I moved back to Ibadan and I was employed by First Bank as a Supervisor. In those days, work was waiting for those who wanted to work. However, I worked for about 9 months before my mother paid almost £7000 (Seven Thousand Pounds) to commence my law degree in Holborn Law Tutors, a private school in the UK. I had to return to Nigeria barely
3 months into my law programme because my mother, loving, kind and ever ready to provide for me and my siblings died as a result of injuries sustained in a motor accident on Lagos/Ibadan Expressway on the 29th of October, 1982. I was 25 years old, 40 years ago. Her sudden death meant a sudden departure from a life of comfort and pampering for me and my siblings. I therefore left the UK to come back to Nigeria, not for lack of money but on the advice of my late uncle Archdeacon Iluyomade and late Professor Oladipo Akinkugbe who was monitoring my mother’s progress at the Intensive Care Unit, University College Hospital, Ibadan. My mother was the only child of her mum and my grandmother was still alive when she died. Her death was devastating for everyone, not only in her family but in the Ibadan business community and her church, the Anglican Church, Oke-Bola, Ibadan.
(7)I had always loved my freedom and I grew up doing what pleases me and gives me joy. I had always loved freedom of association and the fact that the whole idea of a society is that which is governed
by law. To this end, I did not join any society or association whether for relaxation, connection or business. Maybe now that I am retired, I may have to start playing golf which will necessitate me joining a club. I don’t know yet because I find it hard to subject myself to any form of association that will require me to be at a particular place at a particular time. I am spontaneous in things I do. However, I believe that in any society, the normal means of enforcing necessary discipline is the rule of law. In fact, the main element of discipline in any society is a sense of justice and equity, a sense of willing association by all in the fight for the betterment of the society. If we obey the law, we are liable to find that that course is far safer in the long run than all other calculations we can ever make. Our liberty and progress is complete in a society where we genuinely ascribe to the rule of law. A fish can leap out of water in search of greater freedom but the liberty of the fish is complete without the added capacity for self-destruction. The liberty of the fish is complete in water, not outside it. The specific end of the
State should be the attainment of public good, the commonwealth. Under the Rule of Law, the state is subject to the law, governments should respect the rights of individuals under the law and provide means for their enforcement and the individuals too have fundamental human rights which the state must not trample upon. We must evolve a society in which the dignity and worth of human person is a must. I shudder at times what type of society we live in where a dead body is left on the streets till it decomposes, while we go about especially, officials responsible for health, as if nothing is wrong. We have lost our sense of empathy. How can you explain a visibly blind man with a cane walking in the middle of the road in broad day light in Lekki phase 1 and nobody cared to come to his aid? Why would people kill for the sake of religion? I attended a Muslim school, Ahmadiyya Grammar School (now Anwal Islam Grammar School), Iwo, despite the fact that my father was a reverend. He saw no difference because after all, we call on the same God.
When I attended the school, I can’t remember anyone been forced to wear Hijab. In fact, I could count the number of students who did. The end result was for everyone to be educated. It is only God who knows how things crumbled and our institutions have now become more of a religious enclave than a place where knowledge is imparted.
(8)I must state here that I have had my share of running from pillar to post in search of spiritualism. I was born into Christ Apostolic Church, crossed over to the African Church, had a taste of K&S, Celestial Church, Redeemed Church, MFM and more lately back to church where I attended with my grandfather in Ondo and my mother in Ibadan, the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion. I am the Chancellor of the Ondo Diocese by appointment to that position by the Rt. Rev. Stephen Adeniran Oni, the Bishop of Ondo Diocese who by the grace of God is in this hall today. My Lord Bishop, I thank you for coming with your amiable wife, Mama Ondo. I know my God and call on him in prayers, songs and psalms. In most of the situations I faced in legal practice and on the bench,
His name is continually on my lips. On the bench when I had to respond to petitions, I prayed and sang before responding to them. I sang “GUIDE ME THOU GREAT REDEEMER”, “LOVE DIVINE ALL LOVE EXCELLING”, “O GOD OUR HELP IN AGES PAST”,” O GOD OF BETHEL BY WHOSE HANDS” “ORE OFE SHA NI IGBEKELEMI” “ONWARD CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS” and other songs to lift my spirit. As Christians, we wrestle daily with principalities and powers but then we have been told to put on the whole armour of God. I read psalms 121, 19, 23, 123 and 91 whenever I have issues in my years of service at the bar and on the bench. One of the passages in the bible that guides me and to which I whole my life of contentment is Habakkuk chapter 3 verse 17-19. I have a lot on my mind on the issue of religion but time will not permit me to pore out my mind. I will therefore stop here.
(9)I am bothered by many issues I noticed in all my years in active legal practice and most especially in the few years I spent on the bench. One of them is the spate at which lawyers instigate their clients to
write petitions against judges. I must state that I am aware that in some instances there may be justification for it, but more often than not the petitions are frivolous to the extent of being ridiculous. I am aware that some lawyers engage in this practice when their case is bad, when they want to delay the matter or when they would rather prefer their case to be handled by another judge other than whom is assigned. How can you write a petition and ask that a case be transferred because a judge asked you to go and serve your court processes out of jurisdiction of the court in Nigeria when cases abound on service without leave? It happened to me. How can anyone write a petition against a judge for granting an ex parte application when you could file an application that the order be discharged? How can you write a petition alleging that the judge does not like you and he is always giving judgement against you, a conclusion that is not entirely right? I am bothered by the arrogance of some members of the inner and outer bar when conducting cases in court. Some have no respect anymore for the
bench. How can one explain a senior advocate of Nigeria asking me to come and handle the cross examination of a witness just because I informed him that the venue of the commission of a crime is better left for the address stage. But for the intervention of other gentlemen of the inner bar present in court on that day, I had made up my mind to commit him for contempt in facie curia. I am of the view that respect begets respect and that as a lawyer you must respect the bench. You can insult a judge in words if you so wish, but it does not portray you as a gentleman in line with the ethics of our noble profession. I am also bothered where some senior members of the bar send juniors to appear in cases because they want an adjournment. I can go on and on. In all my years at the bar, I never wrote any petition against a judge even in one or two instances when I should. I would rather withdraw from the case which I did on one or two occasions or appeal any judgement or order. I’ve had to return files to my clients to engage another lawyer, when I knew I could no longer appear before a judge.
Lawyers should desist from filing frivolous cases and applications, the end of which will delay the course of justice and erode the confidence of the public in the judicial process.
(10) I belong to the NBA by reason of my profession. I love the association for its role as the mouth piece of the down trodden. I want the best for the association especially for it to evolve a democratic and transparent way in the election of its officers. I am of the firm view that election of the President of the NBA ought to transcend a situation where the next President is known before a new one is sworn in. I see danger ahead if the means of election of officers is not amended. I say this because I was informed that a particular person is going to take over after the current President, even before the past President Olumide Akpata left office. I asked myself how is that possible, knowing fully well that star gazing or clairvoyancy are not courses in law. I want to propose that on Election Day, all those interested in voting will go to their various branches physically to vote electronically as been done by INEC.
This will ensure transparency in the electoral process in the NBA. That been said, I was elated when at the valedictory session for my Lord, Hon. Justice Abdu Aboki JSC on the 15th of September, 2022, at the Supreme Court, the President of the NBA, Mr M.C. Maikyau SAN touched on lawyers criticising judgments of courts. Some even do so without reading the judgement of the court. Something needs to be done to curb this trend as it portends danger for our profession. I read with total unbelief when a head of an agency referred to a judgement I delivered in a case. The said head of the agency did not refer to me by name but he stated his paper thus: “a recently retired judge of the High Court…….”. Who else is the recently retired but me. Let me quote him for emphasis: “ICPC’s prosecution of this high ranking officer to recover all implicated assets was strangely and pervertedly frustrated by a recently retired High Court Judge who decided to forfeit some assets to the FGN and the rest left to the suspect…. While the commission has filed a notice of appeal, this strange development aggravates an already bad situation and escalates insecurity and impunity”.
The said head of the agency failed to inform the audience and indeed the world that I granted an interim forfeiture order on certain properties and after publication certain persons approached the court with papers claiming ownership of some of the said properties. I am not clairvoyant; I deal with affidavits filed before me. I released some properties to those I find in my estimation to have proved ownership and forfeited others lacking in proof to the FGN.
I did not release any property to any suspect, there was no suspect before me. I am baffled why the head of the agency should indict my judgement when the matter is already on appeal. He ought to have allowed the court of appeal to decide the matter which is sub judice. I leave the people to judge, but I must state that the said high ranking military officer was not charged to court at all, at least not before me and if I am correct, not before any judge to date.
I think its time the judicial arm must have an information department to set the records straight because as judges, we cannot go on air like any other individual to counter any item in the public domain. Judges need to be protected from negative and unsubstantiated allegations. We should be protected from being unduly slandered and scandalized.
(11) I have kept to my oath of office in the discharge of my judicial functions. I am human, just like anyone else that can make mistake of the law. That is why we have above the high courts, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. The greatest mistake a judge can make that is not good is that of conscience. I have performed my duties with my conscience as a banner. I have had to deal with issues as I see it in law and in law only. I must confess that twice I had considered leaving the bench before my statutory retirement. We are being hounded, blackmailed and intimidated in every way. We have even been placed on the list of PEP and I we have our bank accounts and private lives investigated for no reason other than, that someone do not like your judgment. Some people are happy am leaving the bench.
Can I stay forever when the law says I should retire at 65? I laughed when I was told that some people are happy. It only shows how myopic they are and foolish too. Even if I do not retire which is not possible, will not I not die one day? We shall all leave the institutions we serve one day. We shall all become history. Therefore, do your best, perform your functions without fear or favour. Do not perform out of envy of anyone or because you want to deal with anyone because you think you have power which is transient. Perform your task in line with the law. When you have to investigate, be thorough, when you want to prosecute, do so without being sentimental and without being vindictive. You cannot win all cases because we are all fallible.
(12) The political class can assist the judiciary in the attainment of a just society and the entrenchment of our democracy and democratic institutions. A lot have been said about the poor salaries and allowance of judges. I will ask that the situation must be addressed as quickly as possible. The political parties can address the issues of fake, forged or falsified documents so as to free our courts from having to decide this matter. I barely proffer a simple solution out of experience. When I applied to the bench, I could lay my hands on the original certificates of all the educational institutions I attended. What did I do, I went to the University of Ibadan where all my certificates from primary school up to my first degree were retrieved and certified. I did the same at the law school where these documents were also retrieved and certified. I therefore see no reason why political parties, cannot on their own check educational information of their candidates.
(13) Today is a special day for my family, it is the birthday of my wife and she is 65years old today, so she exits from the bench of the Lagos Judiciary after 33years of service. I thank you my darling wife for standing with me and by me in the journey of life which we both began formally on the 8th of January, 1981. God bless you and may He grant you good health to enjoy your retirement with me, which I believe is our honeymoon. To my children, Yomi Taiwo, Mrs Yewande Aina, Mrs Tomilola Ogunkelu and Boluwatife Taiwo, Ithank you for your understanding of the terrain which I walked on which at times seem like a mine field. To our grandchildren including the latest addition two days ago, the hands of the Almighty God will continue to rest on you and guide you. By His grace, we shall spend many years together in love and in praise of the name of the Lord. My brothers and sisters, I thank you for your show of love and affection at all times. I have friends too numerous to mention who have assisted me in many divers ways and those who have enriched my knowledge of the law by their publications and law reports. I cannot end this speech if I do not remember Late Hon. Justice Watilla, my friend and colleague who has transited.
I remember also my late Driver Phillip Fasunloye who was my driver for 14years before he transited. May their souls and that of the departed continue to rest in perfect peace.
(14) I thank my staff in Ado Ekiti and Abuja divisions of the court for their assistance in ensuring a seamless period in my sojourn on the bench. God bless you all. My Chief Judge and my brother
judges, I thank you all. Words fail me to capture the understanding of my Chief Judge whenever I explained to him what I faced. I found your advice very impactful and helpful. God bless you sir. In rounding up, I want to publicly acknowledge the Hands of God in my life and that of my family. In fact when my daughter, Mrs Ogunkelu put to bed on the 15th of May 2022, I named her daughter, my granddaughter “Oluwadarasimi” meaning “ God has been good to me” while she and her husband named her “Oluwadunbarin” meaning “ It is sweet to walk with the Lord”. These names are indeed apt in describing me and my journey so far. Glory be to God, the Ever Present and Faithful God. Thanks for listening. Enjoy the rest of your day.
HON. JUSTICE TAIWO O. TAIWO 22 ND SEPTEMBER 2022.