Lawyer & Mentors; Wale Adesokan: “Litigation Secrets GOK, Taught Me”

— Mike Awoyinfa’s Column

Last week we brought you the first part of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria Wale Adesokan’s echoes of his pupillage and tutelage years under the giant feet of Chief GOK Ajayi, the titanic lawyer who is mentioned in the same breath with the other legal titan Chief Rotimi Williams, popularly known as “Timi, the Law.”  Today, Adesokan who was the Head of Chambers at Chief GOK Ajayi’s Law Firm before leaving to start his own, continues with his nostalgic portrait of the great lawyer who like Rotimi Williams did not leave behind a memoir from which younger lawyers of today would have benefited from reading.

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Definitely, Chief GOK Ajayi was a big mentor for me.  You can have direct mentorship or indirect mentorship.  You see somebody there and you admire him.  You are watching him and copying him and he doesn’t know.  As far back as 1991 when I had worked for less than two years with him, I went to the High Court in Ilaro presided by Justice Shomolu to conduct a case.  Justice Shomolu was his contemporary and he knew him well.  I was conducting my case and at a point, Justice Shomolu said to me in court: “Do you think you can be like Chief Ajayi in every way?”  I won’t forget that statement.  What it meant to me was that “you are trying to imitate Chief Ajayi.”  And for me at that point the “imitation” was unconscious.  Maybe I was gesticulating like Chief Ajayi. Maybe I was talking like him. But it was unconscious.  Just like many preachers could be said to be unconsciously mimicking their General Overseers on the pulpit.  So, in terms of mentoring, it came for me from Chief Ajayi naturally.  

At our regular office meetings, he would tell us his world views, his principles, what he would do and not do.  He had no time for socializing at the club house.  The rare occasions he went to Yoruba Tennis Club, he was dragged there by Chief Sowemimo, his bosom friend.  Some of us have copied that lifestyle.  It’s such a great disappointment that he never put down his memoirs.  It’s such a big loss to the legal profession.  Some of us encouraged him to write but by the time we were encouraging him it was too late.  He had taken ill.  He should have written because his contemporaries wrote or got people to write for them.

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For me, all I am left with are the words of advice he gave us which I cannot forget.  He urged us as lawyers to throw everything into the case you are doing.  Don’t say this is enough.  If you have twenty points, don’t say two points are enough for me to win the case.  Put the twenty, tie all the loose ends.  It’s like you are winning a football match and you scored seven goals against the other team and you are in the eightieth minute and you feel you can afford to relax.  No, Chief Ajayi didn’t train us like that.  You have to try to score as many more goals as possible even at that time.  To him, “good enough” is not good, if it can be improved upon.  For me, until whatever I am writing has left, I keep editing and improving upon it, till the last minute.  I learnt that from Chief Ajayi.  What we have prepared today and I have signed, if I get to the office in the morning, chances are that I would improve upon it again.  What I did yesterday, perhaps some of my people think it is good, it is brilliant, but Chief Ajayi taught us to keep thinking, meditating and improving on the work we are doing.  And if there is a word you need to put, which you have not put, put it.  Don’t settle for excellent, if it is possible to be super excellent.  What you have done may be good, but if you remember something or you know there is still something to add, don’t let it go without adding it.  Don’t give up.  There is nothing like “I have done enough” in Chief Ajayi’s writing or philosophy or style. You have not done enough until you have exhausted all that has come to you and that you have known.  So, you keep on editing.  He inculcated that in us.

CROSS-EXAMINATION, THE GOK AJAYI WAY

The art of cross-examination is another thing I learnt from Chief G.O.K. Ajayi.  I can say that the little bit of cross-examination that I know, I gained from him substantially. I just did a cross-examination in court today and the client was happy.  After God, I learnt cross-examination from Chief Ajayi.  Where I learnt a lot of it was when I went for the Zango Kataf Tribunal Trial in 1992, when the Southern Kaduna people were involved in a crisis and they killed many Hausas.  A tribunal was then set up for them called Zango Kataf Tribunal.  Zango Kataf is the village.  They rounded the villagers, including Gen. Zamani Lekwot and they were made to face trial.  We were there from January 1992 consistently till about September 1992.  We were flying Okada Airline by that time.  We would leave Sunday afternoon and come back Friday evening.  We did that week after week.  Sometimes he would leave me there because there was an urgent matter in Lagos.  He could fly twice during the week to join me there.  But I was there, Sunday to Friday.  Some of the indigenes were being tried for criminal offences.  The government of General Ibrahim Babangida was in power.  It was an uprising by the Christian indigenous Southern Zaria people against the Hausas and the Fulanis.   It was a major crisis, late 1991.  And then the government set up a tribunal to try them.   

Chief Ajayi and I and one other Counsel in the Law Firm moved to defend the people of Zango Kataf.  We would go on Sunday and come back.  And so we did a lot of cross-examination for witnesses for prosecution.  And I learnt a lot.  One major thing I realized was that there is a secret in the details.  Somebody can come and tell a story.  Something happened in front of this building between four and five o’clock.  A witness came to say: “I was there, I saw it.  We did it like this.”  To test whether he is speaking the truth or not, let him give you details.  Details.  Details of everything.  If he is not a truthful witness, he can’t get the details. If you ask people to give details, details of everything, if they are not truthful witness, they would mix it up.  So there is a secret in the details.  When you ask a witness to go into details, he doesn’t know you are asking for details.  You are just taking him on merry go round to arrive at the truth.  Sometimes you even jump.  Because if you start at seven o’clock and you get to ten o’clock, he might expect that you will go to eleven.  You can jump and go to 4p.m., so that he doesn’t follow it sequentially.  And then you come back to eleven or ten.  So, I learnt that from him.  That when you are cross-examining, get into the details.  If he is not a truthful witness, he would fumble.  But if he is a truthful witness, everything would fall in place.  So for me, that is a good technique for cross-examination.  And also for me, you can cultivate the witness from the opposite side.  Make him not to be antagonistic.  Make him to be a bit calm towards you.  I am not saying he becomes your friend.  Because when he sees you in the box, he is already looking at you as an enemy.  So he is already combative, he is already angry towards you. And so he does not want to give you any chance.  He does not want to co-operate.  I learnt all that from my master and mentor: the great Nigerian advocate Chief GOK Ajayi, SAN of blessed memory.  

Mike Awoyinfa

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